Rich in history, bursting with culture, dripping with marvelous architecture, full of life; this is Venice. Loaded with marvelous museums, historical buildings and located just a short ferry ride away from several wonderful islands there is no shortage of things to see and do here. From the bustling fresh seafood markets to the authentic restaurants tucked away in corners to the delicious coffee; you won’t go hungry in this city. Gondola tours, ghost walks and panoramic views of the city from the top of a bell tower are just a glimpse into what you may discover in Venice. Hop aboard as we discover ten things to see and do in this magnificent city.
10. Take a Gondola Tour
When one mentions the city of Venice it’s hard not to immediately think of those iconic gondolas. Although they are full of tourists and not as romantic as the movies make them out to be, your trip to Venice wouldn’t really be complete without one. Choosing the right person to take you out can make all the difference and getting a recommendation when you are in the city is the best choice.
Whether you choose to ride through the Grand Canal or your gondola takes you through the smaller canals and rivers it is truly an experience you can’t get elsewhere. The views of the aged buildings with the ornaments stuck in the walls, the architecture that exists, the crumbling foundations of the waterlogged structures, the intricate designs of the doorways; these are what make the gondola tours so incredibly remarkable. Don’t bother booking ahead for a tour as there are an abundance of operators wherever you choose to take your gondola from. For a more traditional way of crossing the water, try your hand at riding the traghetto where locals stand up as they cross from one side of the canal to the other in a small transit gondola.
9. Explore the Rialto Markets
Often described as a visual feast, the Rialto food markets will have any foodie salivating as you explore the fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood. Set your alarm to wake up early and watch as the barges arrive at dawn and the vendors start to assemble their stores. Most of the shops close up by noon so getting here early is a must as by 8am shop owners are already busy haggling and bargaining with customers. Work your way from left to right after you have crossed the Rialto Bridge to maximize your experience at the markets.
The Erberia Market is the vegetable market which you will encounter first bursting with colour and variety with the freshest produce available to purchase. Feel free to bargain with the vendors but remember to pay them a fair price. The next market you will happen upon is the fresh fish market; also called the Pescheria. Watch as the sellers toss the fish to one another having fun while doing it as you enjoy marveling at the variety of seafood choices. Spend the morning at the markets and get a sense of the true culture of Venice.
8. Dine at an Authentic Restaurant
Traveling to Venice without finding one authentic restaurant hidden in the many nooks and crannies of this beautiful city would simply be a travesty. You will have no problem finding plenty of eateries catering to tourists, often at high prices and with lower quality food. The real test is to find where the locals eat. Luckily we are here to help you with that. Stepping off the main roads and entering into the side streets is where you will find the best of the best.
Osteria ai 4 Feri is one place you will find authentic Italian food in a lively atmosphere that is full of locals. The handwritten daily menu is in Italian so bring along that dictionary and try to make a reservation the day before as it does fill up quickly. The favourite in this local eatery is the fresh seafood. Just a stone’s throw away from a very busy tourist area is All’Arco; one of the best bacari around. Luckily this well loved place is still unknown to most tourists. The food is to die for, the staff are all family and the patrons speak the beautiful Venetian dialect. Step away from the busy streets, ask a local for a recommendation and experience true Italian cuisine in the city of Venice.
7. Head on a Ghost Walk
Venice at night is full of mystery, romance and if you are a believer; plenty of ghosts. The rich history of the city includes ancient cemeteries buried beneath the grounds, secret passageways, haunted houses and “The Street of Assassins”. Many visitors choose to join a guided walking ghost tour which combines the tales of intriguing ghost stories with a lesson in history of the city. Most tours depart from the Rialto Bridge where an experienced guide will meet you and take you on a 1-2 hour ghost walk.
For the really brave souls that want to venture out on their own there are a few “haunted places” that even the tour guides won’t take you. Head to Casin degli spiriti in the north where the literal translation is “house of souls”. Legend has it that this palace is cursed from years of religious sects coming to invoke spirits and demons and a suicide by a famous painter along with a discovery of a sunken body in a trunk, all of which have contributed to its “cursed” reputation. Ca Dario on the Grand Canal is perhaps the most haunted house in Venice and is known to locals as “The House of No Return”, as all of its owners have been cursed, died or been severely injured. The chain of bad luck began in the 15th century and continues to this day with many horror stories from each owner. If you dare, it is often for sale. Whether you are brave enough to venture out and discover these haunted places in Venice; well that is really up to you.
6. Campo del Ghetto
Campo del Ghetto or the Jewish Ghetto is the area in Venice in which all Jewish people were forced to live from the 16th-18th century and is now a quiet area rich in history and definitely worth a visit. The history of this place is what makes it so unique; surrounded by water with only two entrances manned by Christian guards keeping the inhabitants safe and segregated, the Jewish people remained here until 1797. Today the ghetto is an open space surrounded by tall buildings that house synagogues on the top floors; as in the past, Venetian laws forbade the separate building of synagogues.
The Museo Ebraico is where you can get tickets for the guided tour of three of the synagogues; each one hidden in the top floor of a building. The Museo also highlights centuries of the Jewish culture with Hanukkah lamps and Torahs along with handwritten wedding contracts in Hebrew. Make sure to stop by the two Holocaust memorials that are placed on both sides of the Casa di Riposa building. Visiting the Campo del Ghetto in Venice is a great way to spend an afternoon strolling through history.
5. Day Trip to Burano or Murano
Just a short ferry ride away, a more expensive water taxi away lays two great islands that are worth a visit when in Venice. Popular for different reasons; Burano is full of colourful houses and lace makers where as Murano is famous for its centuries of glass blowing. We don’t suggest trying to fit both places in one day but give them each a day in order to explore their entirety. Both islands are truly unique and a great way to escape the busy streets of Venice.
Burano has an interesting history of the colourful buildings that line the waterways. Families used to paint their houses in order to show where their families quarters ended and the neighbours began; as well as painting them as bright as possible so they could be seen from the sea. Local fishermen provide the freshest of seafood to the local eateries so you can be assured if you choose to eat on this island you will not be disappointed. Make sure to stop into one of the authentic lace shop where you can find women inside stitching away. Murano offers visitors amazing glass blowing demonstrations and galleries housing thousands of original pieces as well as its own Glass Museum.
4. San Rocco (Scuola of St. Rocco)
Any visitor to Venice that appreciates art must make time to visit the Scuola of San Rocco and its amazing collection of paintings by painter Tintoretto. There are two buildings on site to enjoy, first the Scuola which was designed as a “great school” by a group of Venetian aristocrats. The building is open daily for tours and admission includes an audio guide. The carved wood walls, the painted ceiling, the stunning works of art and the mirrors that are provided so you can view what is above you is just a taste of what you will discover inside.
The church next door is named after Saint Roch who is known as the patron saint of the sick. Visitors can view the glass tomb in the church where his body is encased. Breathtakingly beautiful, less touristy than the main streets of Venice and a quiet place to appreciate art and tranquility makes San Rocco a great stop while in the city.
3. Ride to the top of Campanile di San Marco
Campanile di San Marco or as you may know it as the bell tower of St. Marks has stood for just under a century, or over a thousand years; depending how you look at it. The original bell tower collapsed in 1902 and the structure that stands there today was completed in 1912 and is an exact replica of the tower. The five bells used to convey five different messages and are still rung today; but only to maintain tradition rather than as a means of communication.
The way to the top is by the lift that whisks you up in one fluid motion, stopping at the top to let you out into the viewing area. Prepare yourself for the most epic views of the city from this vantage point. The roofs, the water, the harbor, the mountains and the square can all be seen from this 360 degree view. Spend as much time as you want atop this tower taking photos and marveling at seeing Venice from a whole new perspective. The cost; 8 euro’s at time of publication which you’ll agree is a true steal once you are on top and taking in the magnificent panorama.
2. Tour the Palazzo Ducale
The Palazzo Ducale also known as Doge’s Plaza is a masterpiece of Gothic Architecture that spans an impressive three blocks. This huge palace was once a place of government, a palace for Duke Federico III da Montefeltro and a prison. Touring this palace can take several hours especially if you fully immerse yourself into the incredible art, fascinating architecture and interesting history that await you here.
Keep your eyes peeled for the world’s largest oil painting that is housed in the Great Council Hall and is described as a dynamic dark piece of art. Point your eyes toward the ceiling in the Senate Chamber to view the magnificent works of Tintoretto. Dare to walk across the bridge of sighs where prisoners often caught their last glimpse of freedom before heading into the prisons. And don’t miss out on the secret itineraries tour where a guide will take you through hidden passageways, private apartments, torture chambers and into the rooftop prison.
1. Piazza San Marco
You didn’t think we had forgotten about the infamous Piazza San Marco did you? We decided to save the best and arguably the most important place to visit when in Venice for last. The public square of Venice, the centerpiece of social, religious and political matters, the drawing room of Europe; there are so many different names for this important centerpiece in the city. Dominated by the magnificent St Mark’s Basilica, the incredible marble decoration and arches and the four horses; this is one area everyone visits when they come to the city.
The floor is thick with pigeons, the air smelling of rich coffee, and the sound of different languages fill the space as tourists from all over the world make this a stopping point on their journey. A magnificent pedestrian only space where students lounge over books, tourists sip Prosecco at outdoor tables and beautiful monuments and buildings tower over you. Take in the sights and marvel at all this city has to offer.