From a museum above the city’s most famous church to a modern art gallery set in an antique palazzo, here are Venice’s best museums to add to your itinerary.
As you walk through the winding streets or take a vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal to admire centuries-old palazzos, it’ll become clear to you that Venice is a city crammed with history. To discover this history in more depth, the best museums in Venice will take you through an exploration of the city’s religious, cultural and artistic past.
The Museum of Glass is located on Murano, one of the lagoon islands of Venice that has always been synonymous with the craft. There are records of a glassmakers’ guild on the island dating back to the 13th century, though there’s evidence that the art had been practised for much longer than that in the Venetian area. The Museum is housed in the former residence of the bishops of Torcello (a nearby island), decorated with ceiling frescoes and large glass chandeliers. Visitors can follow the chronological collection beginning with noteworthy Roman-era works, and continuing through the centuries of Murano glass production up to the 20th century. With many world-famous masterpieces on display, this is a museum experience that can’t be missed when visiting Venice.
As glass is to Murano, so lace is to the island of Burano. Called merletto in Italian, the art of lacemaking is celebrated in this museum, which was the seat of the famous Burano Lace School from 1872-1970. The museum opens the archives of the school to the public, with exhibits such as drawings and clothes demonstrating techniques learnt and practised. It also exhibits examples of lace from the 16th century up to the 20th century that show the changing fashions and patterns of the intricate art over the years. The museum aims to preserve the art of lacemaking and ensure it’s not forgotten; therefore, lacemakers practise their craft live in the museum, and there are even workshops available for families wanting to learn the skill.
The Scuola Grande di San Marco was once one of six charitable and religious institutions in the city; today, the ornate marble facade now fronts the city hospital. However, the first floor is open to visitors, and it’s here that you can explore the Museum of the History of Medicine. In palatial rooms with gilded ceilings and Renaissance marble altars, visitors can browse over 8,000 medical tomes (including texts by ancient physicians Hippocrates and Galen) as well as display cases of surgical equipment dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Once a noble residence, the Fondazione Querini Stampalia was opened to the public in 1869 by Count Giovanni Querini, the last descendant of the family. This palatial building is a window into the daily life of an 18th-century aristocratic Venetian family. One of the best-preserved examples of this type of museum in Europe, it allows visitors to wander through traditional reception rooms and living quarters replete with frescoes and stucco decoration. The Fondazione also houses a Library that is open to the public in the evenings and during holidays (in accordance with the Count’s wishes.) The museum also frequently hosts classical music concerts and contemporary art exhibits.
Palazzo Centanni, a 15th-century Gothic palace in the San Polo district, was once the home of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni and is now a museum dedicated to his life and works. Born in the house in 1707, Goldoni wrote prolifically, and produced 137 comedies among other works during his life. The ornate Gothic exterior features a beautiful quadruple-mullioned window with pointed arches, while the interiors are furnished with paintings and furniture that recreate ‘Scenery Settings’ from some of Goldoni’s most famous plays. There’s a ‘Videotheque’ where visitors can watch a documentary about the playwright’s life, and even a puppet theatre to entertain younger visitors.