The Top Things to Do in Venice

Venice boasts a wealth of art and architecture alongside traditional foods and artisan treasures
Venice boasts a wealth of art and architecture alongside traditional foods and artisan treasures | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
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Home to a rich history, a wealth of art and a wonderland of canals, Venice is one of the most popular destinations in Italy. It’s no surprise, then, that there are innumerable things to do and see in this city. Here, we’ve selected unmissable destinations that readers should explore, from the Bridge of Sighs to the Campanile.

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Visit the Bridge of Sighs

One of Venice’s most famous architectural jewels, the Bridge of Sighs is in the heart of the city near Piazza San Marco. Its name derives from the fact that it was part of the Doge’s Palace prison complex, and convicts had to cross it to go from the Doge’s interrogation rooms to the New Prison once they received their sentence. It was the last thing they saw before their incarceration, so many sighs could be heard as they walked over the bridge, resigning themselves to their imminent fate. Today, the bridge has much happier connotations, with millions flocking each year to witness its beautiful design.

Visiting the Jewish District in Venice is one of the top things to do in the city. It was the world’s first ghetto (in fact, the word ghetto itself comes from the Venetian word for foundry), established in 1516, when the Venetian Republic restricted Jews to this area of the city. Today, there remains a distinct Jewish population in the area, with numerous synagogues, Jewish restaurants, delicious bakeries and a museum, making the area a fascinating source of culture and history.

Explore Piazza San Marco

Four of Venice’s major sites are located in this square: the Basilica di San Marco (a Byzantine marvel), the Torre dell’Orologio, the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace – a Gothic palace that was also the seat of the government under the Venetian Republic. The piazza itself is majestic, and if you travel to Venice in the autumn or winter months you might even see it flooded, with wooden platforms set up to enable people to move around, and with the locals wading through the high water (known as acqua alta) in thigh-high rain boots. There are numerous cafés and restaurants dotted around the edge, making it the perfect place to relax and take in the local culture.

Go for aperitivo

Do as the Venetians and go for aperitivo in the evening. Locals head to bars to order a drink and eat some cicchetti (snacks), a quick and authentic Italian way of having dinner. The traditional aperitivo drinks are made with a bitter orange alcohol, such as Campari or Aperol, and there are three main options: negroni, spritz and americano. Try one of Venice’s rooftop bars, or go for a more informal setting at Osteria All’Arco, which is frequented by locals and known in Venice for its delicious bar snacks.

Climb the Campanile

For a bird’s-eye view of Venice, you can ride the elevator to the top of the Campanile (bell tower). Completed in 912, it is the tallest building in all of Venice, and one of the oldest, too. In 1902, disaster struck, and it collapsed completely, but it was reconstructed while trying to stay as true as possible to the original, so today you can see pretty much the same tower that Venetians saw over 1,000 years ago. The Dolomites mountain range can even be seen in the distance on clear days.

Take a ferry to Murano, Burano and Torcello

Murano, Burano and Torcello are the three most famous islands near Venice. Murano is famous for its beautiful glass, Burano for its lace, and Torcello for its cathedral. You can take a guided tour of one of the glass-blowing factories and shop for pretty glass products at Murano. Burano’s lace, meanwhile, was taken to be the most exquisite on the entire continent, and the island is a cute mini-replica of Venice. In Torcello, the cathedral was built in the 7th century, and the ruins of its baptistery are a striking example of Byzantine art. You can tour all three in one day or choose to explore one of the islands in depth.

Relish the cuisine

Venetian cuisine is known around Italy, especially because of the high quality of seafood that is served in the area. The lagoon is a local source of fish that is freshly caught each day and served in many restaurants. Baccalà mantecato is one of the most typical fish dishes, consisting of dried, salted cod that is blended with garlic, parsley, potatoes and cream to make a delicious mousse. Goose, meatballs and lobster are just a few of the other delicacies you can taste in Venice. The Veneto region is also known for its white wine, with some of the best vineyards in all of Italy.

Go shopping

Foodies will enjoy the Rialto markets, where the freshest food in all of Venice is sold each day, usually to the restaurants in the area. Since seafood is an essential part of traditional Venetian cuisine, the fishmongers are a must for those visiting Venice. The vegetable stands also offer excellent produce, much fresher and more varied than at any supermarket. Another must when in Venice is shopping for Italian classics such as leather goods (especially shoes and handbags) and cashmere, available at many different shops throughout the city. Venetian masks can also make a good gift or memento from the trip, and for those who are really fascinated by Venice’s carnival, full outfits are available at specialist shops.

Cruise down the Grand Canal

Once the main route in Venice, teeming with merchant ships, the Grand Canal is still a heavily transited waterway that runs through the centre of Venice, from the railway station to San Marco. On the sides stand the beautiful palazzi – even the infamous Casanova lived in one of these – which were initially built as business hubs by the city’s merchants. The vaporetto, or water bus, is a great way – and the least expensive – to explore this canal, but water taxis are also available, as well as the iconic Venetian gondolas, although tourists should be careful to avoid scams.

Enjoy the art museums

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection houses the art of the most influential European and American artists of the 20th century and is a popular spot for art lovers. It is located in the Dorsoduro district, not far from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which displays Venice’s most important historical paintings. The museum is made up of three buildings, which all used to have religious ties. Napoleon was responsible for the location of this beautiful museum because he closed churches all over Venice, took their artwork, moved the works to the new locale and established that it should be a gallery as well as a school.

Discover the best boutique hotels in the city, or for those on a budget, there’s a range of places to stay that won’t break the bank, and affordable things to do. After a day exploring, relax in one of the most atmospheric bars in Venice. If you’re wanting to explore further, head down to Bologna where there are some unmissable attractions and historic museums to explore.
Fancy exploring more of Italy? Foodies should book our four-day Mini Trip in Bologna or our five-day adventure in Puglia. After a longer getaway? Check out our Northern Italy,Southern Italy or Sicily trips for an immersive experience travelling the region over 10 days.

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