Born as a city-state, Venice, in its prime dominated the seas of the Mediterranean and naval trade is truly an extraordinary architectural masterpiece. When visiting, prepare yourself for a spectacle of palaces, churches, art, and the series of canals separating the 118 small islands on which Venice was built in the fifth century.
This romantic city of, canals, gondolas and hidden gems has an endless history to explore. While you might be yearning for a gondola with you special someone, these overly tourist rides are €80 for a 40 minute boat ride, with space for 6 on the boat. It is best if you find a large group to limit the cost per person.
Walking and Boat Guide to Venice
Top Attractions in Venice, Italy
The Jewish Ghetto
In medieval times district Cannaregio was known as the ghetto or a foundry (a workshop or factory for casting metal). It is from the 16th to 19th centuries that this part of Venice turned into what today is known as the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world, although Venice’s Jews were not as disturbed as in other places. After Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice he ended the separation of this part of the city. At times, the Ghetto had more than 5,000 people living there.
Once in the district Cannaregio, there are a few churches that may also catch your attention such as the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli built for the purpose of housing Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna icon that started miraculously weeping in its outdoor shrine in 1480. Then, there is also Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto filled with works by Tintoretto and a church where he is buried.
Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi is a wonderful example of Venetian Renaissance architecture and a palace that many other Venetian palaces were modeled after in the 19th century, built between 1480 and 1504. It is where the German opera composer Richard Wagner died in 1883.
Fondamenta Turchi and the Natural History Museum
Almost opposite of Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi is situated one of the oldest palaces in Venice, a Veneto-Byzantine style palace. In the 17th century and 18th century it served as a combination of home, warehouse, and a market for the Turkish merchants. Today here is situated a Natural History museum with geological and zoological collections and where you can learn about the animal life in the Adriatic.
Built in the mid 17th century, this Baroque marble palace is impressive for its double order of colossal columns and colonnettes as well as arch-headed windows and a lavish interior. Today it is a home to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, one of the most important collections of modern art in Italy and to Museo d’Arte Orientale, a collection of Far Eastern art.
The Ca’ Pesaro museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10AM to 6PM. Tickets are €14 per person.
On the right bank of Canal, Ca’ d’Oro is a perfect example of Venetian Gothic architecture whose original gilded facade has faded but not before granting it the name – House of Gold. The museum inside this 15th-century beauty portrays how Venetian nobles lived in the late Middle Ages with Galleria Franchetti art collection adding to the historical setting of the palace.
The gallery is open Monday from 8:15 AM to 2PM, Tuesday through Saturday from 8:15 AM to 7:15 PM, and Sunday from 9AM to 7PM. Tickets are €12.5 if the whole museum is open and €8.5 if the second floor is closed.
Venice’s biggest canal and busy main water street connects Venice’s top attractions filled with gondolas and water taxis (vaporetti). From the Grand Canal tourists can admire many palaces, as it was a sign of wealth to build along the water.
Built first as a wooden bridge in the 12th century, then a drawbridge which collapsed in the 15th century, the current Rialto Bridge was built 16th century as a 22-meter bridge supported by 6,000 timber piles under each side. It is considered to be one of the most photographed bridges in the world.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi (German Commodity Exchange)
Located at the San Marco end of the Rialto Bridge, its prime location tells the importance of German merchants who lived and worked here. Because of a high commission had to be paid to Venice for every purchase and sale, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Fondaco was called “the golden ark of the Senate.”
Piazza San Marco
One of the most impressive squares in the world, described as the ‘Drawing room of Europe’ according to Napoleon, Piazza San Marino is the epicenter of life in the historic Venice. The square is dominated by St Mark Basilica, Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio), the Procuratie Vecchie, Ala Napoleonica (Napoleonic Wing). Its smaller, adjoining lagoon facing square San Marco is graced by Dodge’s Palace, Biblioteca Marciana, and two huge columns topped by the important symbols – the winged Lion of Venice and St Theodore, the city’s original patron saint.
Napoleonic Wing & Museo Correr
After a small church located between the two procuracies was demolished in 1810 it was replaced with the Napoleon Wing, after Napoleon realized he needed a large site for his administration and lodgings for his court when on a state visit. Today the Napoleon Wing houses the Museo Correr, a museum dedicated to Venetian art, history, and culture.
The Museo Correr is open daily, March 26 through Oct 31 from 10AM to 7PM and November 1 through March 25 from 10AM to 5PM. Tickets are €20 per adult and includes entrance to the Doge’s Palace and the combined itinerary of Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.
On the northern side of Piazza San Marco stands Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower dating from early 15th century. It is decorated with many statues such as the Lion of Venice and it shows the time in both Roman (hours) and Arabic (minutes) numerals. What really stands out as a peculiarity of this clock are the 12 zodiac signs on it. To visit the Clock Tower, you need to book your tour in advance and note if you want to climb the tower there is no lift but narrow steps.
The clock tour requires advanced online reservation for tours. There are English tours Monday through Wednesday at 10AM and 1aAM and Thursday through Sunday at 2PM and 3PM. Tickets are €12 per adult. Holders of the ticket also get free admission to the Museo Correr, the National Archaeological Museum and the State Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana.
On Piazza San Marco are situated a three monumental connected buildings. The Procuratie is divided into Procuratie Vecchie (Old Procuratie) dating from 12th century and Procuratie Nuove (New Procuratie) dating from the 16th century which had housed the offices and residences of some of the most prominent Venetians. Enjoy a drink in the most beautiful square of Venice, look for restaurants and cafe bars under the arcades of the Procuratie.
Basilica di San Marco
One of the most famous and recognizable Venetian sights, the Byzantine-style Basilica of San Marco was built in the 11th century in a form of a cross, inspired by the Church of the Holy Apostle in Istanbul. The most dominating features of the basilica are domes and 8000 square meters of golden mosaics covering the and lavish high altarpiece (the so-called Pala d’Oro or Golden Cloth), encrusted with nearly 2000 precious gems from where originates the nickname of the basilica – the Church of Gold.
San Marco Campanille, the bell tower, is 98.6 meters high and you can climb it and enjoy the view of Piazza di San Marco, multiple domes, the spires of the cathedral’s rooftop, the city of Venice and the Grand Canal. Visit the Cathedral’s museum if you are interested in rich sacral art collected over centuries.
The basilica is 0pen Monday through Saturday from 9:45am to 5PM and Sunday from 2PM to 4PM. The Bell Tower is open 9AM to 3:45 PM in the winter, 9AM to 7PM in the spring and 9AM to 9PM in the summer. Admission to the basilica is free, museum is €5, Pala d’Oro is €2, Treasury is €3, and the Bell Tower is €8.
Porta della Carta
The main entrance to Doge’s Palace linking it to Basilica San Marco is full of ornamental and allegorical figures. Above Porta della Carta you can see a sculpture of Doge Francesco Foscari kneeling before the Lion of St. Mark symbolizing the Venetian Republic where the individual bowed to the power of the state.
Translated, Porta della Carta means Paper Gate, a name believed to come from those who waited here to hand their petitions to members of the Council. From the stump of a column beside the gate laws of the Republic were proclaimed.
Following the idea of famous poet Francesco Petrarca, in the 16th century Venice’s historical library began, housing one of the world’s greatest collections of classical manuscripts and about 1 million printed books.
The books can only be viewed by written request. The Zecco palace in which the library is situated also is worth the visit in its own right.
You can visit the library only by purchasing a The Museums of St. Mark’s Square ticket at the cost of €20, which allows you to also visit the Correr Museum, the Doge’s Palace, and the National Archaeological Museum of Venice.
Biblioteca Marciana is open daily, April 1 to October 31 from 10AM to 7PM and from November 1 to March 31 from 10AM to 5PM.
The Doge’s palace is a unique example of Venetian Gothic architecture marked by striking balconies, loggias, capitals, facade and sculptures featuring some of the finest stonework in Europe. The Doge’s palace was for 1,000 years the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice.
It opened as a museum in 1923, where you can admire the original art created to decorate the palace. Take note of the space between the ninth and tenth columns made of red marble from where death sentences were once pronounced.
Palazzo Ducale is open daily in April through October from 8:30 AM to 7PM and November through March from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Tickets are €19 per adult and include entrance to the Museo Correr.
Bridge of Sighs
At the end of the facade of Doge Palace on the side of the Grand Canal, you will see another very famous Venetian symbol, Ponte dei Sospiri – the Bridge of Sighs. The baroque bridge connecting the Dodge palace to the prison got its name as the place from which the prisoners took the last glimpse of Venice before being sentenced or worse.
The Accademia Bridge over Grand Canal connects San Marco district to Dorsoduro district. You might be surprised to come by a wooden bridge where everything around you is made of stone, but that is what gives such a special atmosphere to this bridge from the nineteenth century.
Gallerie dell’Accademia (Fine Arts Museum)
The Gallerie dell’Accademia houses the most important and comprehensive collection of 15th-18th-century Venetian painting. Some of the highlights include the works St. George by Andrea Mantegna, St Jerome and a Donor by Piero della Francesca, Madonna and Saints by Giovanni Bellini, Portrait of Christ by Vittore Carpaccio and much more.
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15 AM to 7:15 PM and Monday until 2PM. Tickets are €12 per adult.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Located in the 18th century Vernier palace that was never completed, in 1949, its single floor became the site of American art collector Peggy Guggenheim’s Venice museum containing cubist, abstract, and surrealist paintings and sculptures.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is open Wednesday through Monday from 10AM to 6PM. Tickets are €15 per adult.
Santa Maria della Salute
The monumental Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute is visible from across the Grand Canal from San Marco, with its massive dome calling for your immediate attention. It was built as thanks for the end of the Plague of 1630. To support its immense weight, more than a million timbers were driven into the floor of the lagoon. The Sacristy is known for keeping some real art treasures including Tintoretto’s Marriage at Cana.
The Basilica Santa Maria della Salute is open from daily from 9:30 AM to noon and 3PM to 5:30 PM. The Sacristry is open Monday through Saturday 10AM to noon and 3PM to 5PM and on Sunday from 3PM to 5PM. Tickets to the Sacristy are €4 per adult.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Impressive like so many other buildings in Venice, the marble Scuola Grande di San Rocco was built in the 16th century for charitable society dedicated to San Rocco. It is most known and recognized for the works and paintings in the interior done by the great 16th-century Venetian artist Tintoretto. There is a story how Tintoretto cheated on getting the works on the Scuola by offering an amazing ceiling work done by himself as a gift.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco is open daily from from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. Tickets are €10 per adult.
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
The Gothic Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church houses the second highest 14th-century bell tower hiding great artistic works inside.
The Basilica is open Monday through Saturday from 9AM to 6PM and Sunday from 1PM to 6PM. Tickets are €3 per adult.
Palazzo Rezzonico offers a glimpse into life in Venice during the Baroque and Rococo periods, in the 18th century. Its costume collection highlights the importance of silk production and luxury goods, especially clothing and fashion, for the Venetian economy from the middle ages to the 18th century.
Palazzo Rezzonico is open Wednesday through Monday from 10AM to 6PM in the summer and until 5PM in the winter. Tickets are €10 per adult.
One of the six districts of central Venice, Dorsoduro is your way out of the overly touristy side of Venice, but equally charming with accompanying palaces and picturesque small canals. It is a relaxed and artistic area where you can come for late night drinks and great art showcases.
Do not miss Punta della Dogana, a modern gallery exhibiting large-scale contemporary artworks on the premises of the 17th century abandoned customs warehouses. The warehouses have undergone a major architectural intervention and are definitely worth a visit.
The Arsenal and the Museum of Naval History
Venetian’s shipyard, the largest and busiest in the world until the end of the 17th century once employed 16,000 workers. Venetians were very protective of their naval trade secrets and production methods so the Arsenal could be reached by one land and one sea approach only. The land entrance is impressive with a Renaissance-style triumphal arch guarded by lions brought from Greece.
In the adjacent Museum of Naval History is displayed a whole range of booty brought back from many maritime wars of the Republic and wonderful collections of votive paintings made on wood panels in thanks for rescues at sea depicting different scenes of sea life. Equally interesting are replicas of vessels used by Venetians in times when it was an unprecedented sea power.
The Museum of Naval History is open Monday to Friday from 8:45am to 1:30pm and Saturdays from 8:45am to 1:00pm. Tickets are €5.00 per adult.
Actually, named the Napoelonic gardens are known as the Biennale gardens after the famous contemporary art exhibition in Venice – the Biennale. The gardens originates to the year 1807 when Napoleon ordered a creation of a public green area in the city of Venice. The pavilions of the Biennale occupy an area of approximately 42,000 m², while the rest of the Gardens, 18000 m², is still used as a garden.
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo)
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the second official church after San Marco, this Gothic church dates from 15th century with 25 doges buried here. Its stained-glass window near the side entrance mesmerizes with brilliant colors and the church is, of course, filled with amazing sacral artwork.
The Basilica is open Monday through Saturday from 9AM to 6PM and Sunday from noon to 6PM. Entrance costs €2.50 per adult
San Giorgio Maggiore
Located on a small island across the San Marco Piazzeta, San Giorgio Maggiore stands one of Venice’s greatest churches. San Giorgio Maggiore holds some of Tintoretto’s most famous works: The Last Supper, The Fall of Manna and The Deposition. Climb the bell tower and enjoy the views across the city!
San Giorgio Maggiore is open daily from 8:30 AM to 6PM. Entrance to the bell tower is €6.
Murano and Burano
The nearby islands of Murano and Burano are known for their amazing glass work are often included in a must-see sites once in Venice. Glass workers were sent here in the 13th century to decrease the risk of fire in city, although it is most likely the main reason was to keep the secrets of glassblowing a Venetian monopoly. In Burano, there is also Burano’s Lace Museum featuring exhibits showing the history of art and craft highly lucrative.
Lido is a 12-kilometer long strip of sand separating the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. It was Europe’s first real beach resort welcoming royals and celebrities at the turn of 20th century. You can explore Lido and its Art Nouveau villas and hotels on foot or by bicycle.