No matter how many times we visit Venice Italy, we approach the city with wonder and awe. Now, it might be because you arrive by water taxi and pull up to your hotel in a boat - a thrill in itself - or it might be because there are a few things we have to see and do every time we visit that just never get old. It is a magical city like none you will ever see. It makes us so sad to know Venice is literally sinking and often prone to flooding. For now, that will not keep us from visiting.
If this is your first time, here are several quick FYIs. Venice is made up of 117 small islands connected by bridges, mainly that are over fabulous canals. A few of these islands are only accessible via boat or water taxi. A great portion of Venice is listed as a World Heritage Site. Sitting between the Po and the Piave Rivers and in the Venetian Lagoon, it is the architecture that makes the city so unusual as well.
Whether you are in port for the day with a cruise or sending a few nights, here is our list of what you must see and do in Venice, Italy.
Tips for Visiting Venice Italy
Day and Night...Seeing Venice both during the day and at night is a must. This is truly a city that becomes completely different at night. Between the lights, sounds and people, it's like you've been transported to a wonderland.
Exploring...Venice is a city that is easy to get around on your own and leaving time to explore the city and the areas just off the main avenues is a must. We have come across unbelievable gelato, shopping districts not on the tourist maps, and we even stumbled upon the Venice Bianale one year. You seriously never know what hidden gem is around the corner, especially the alleyways. Be prepared to for a few OMGs.
Hire a Local Guide...We have started hiring local guides for most cities we visit even if it's just for an afternoon. Especially if you are visiting during high season, we suggest you hire a local tour guide to get you into certain sites early, so that no time is wasted in lines. Local guides also often come with many other benefits, like meals where the locals eat and history you may not get from travel guides! We love booking through Virtuoso or True Italy to help us get just what we want, plus the extra perks.
What You Must See in Venice
Plaza San Marco...Truly a work of art and designed to be a true city center, Plaza San Marco is stunning. The square is a series of sites that must also be enjoyed. The Campanile, the famous brick bell tower is there as well as Torre dell'Orologio, an enameled clock tour that still strikes every hour. It is simply stunning. Then, as to not top the bell and clock towers, three sides of the square are defined my three palaces. There is also Basillica di San Marco with the bronze horses and Crown of Byzantine domes.
Palazzo Ducale...Or as we all know it, the Doge's Palace. Built in the beautiful Venetian Gothic style, the Palace sits on the Lagoon with one of the best views around. Now open as a museum, the palace has had many uses over the years from a prison to a home of the government. It is now also home to the most beautiful 14th Century sculptures. The palace is a must visit.
Galleria dell'Accademia...I do not often suggest visiting art museums when you have limited time in a city, but the Galleria should not be missed. The masterpieces alone are worth a visit if you are in Venice. There are pieces by Giorgione, Lotto, and so many more. Moved to it's current location in 1807 by Napoleon, even if you are not a lover of Renaissance art, please stop by.
Ponte di Rialto...The Ponte di Rialto is impossible to miss sitting in the middle of the Grand Canal. It is the tallest bridge in Venice. Although a real trap for tourists as it is lined with souvenir shops, you must make your way there just to see it and people watch. Built by and named after Antonio da Ponte in 1951, it is built of stone and connects San Marco and San Polo. It is a must see and must walk on, if for nothing else but the amazing views.
St. Mark's Basilica...St Mark's Basilica is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. The stunning architecture is Italo-Byzantine which is ornate. It has been the city's chapel since 1807. The gold mosaics, which Venetians considered a symbol of wealth and power, gave the church the nickname Church of Gold.
What You Must Do in Venice
Hire a local guide to visit Murano and Burano...Murano and Burano are always on the top of the list when people ask us what to do in Venice. The short trip via private boat or water taxi is well worth it. We suggest a local guide for two reasons. One, they will have a private boat, allowing you to be on your own time. Second, and more importantly, they will get you into some real local shops. When you arrive on a group tour, you will most likely end up in the same shops as all the other tourists.
The local guides get you behind the scenes and allow time to interact with the craftsmen, as well as have time to wander around the islands as well. Murano is knows fo the artisans in glass work. I have many pieces from the Island and treasure each one from my jewelry to larger pieces in our home. Burano is the island know for the lace artists. The artisans create each piece by hand and each tells a story. But, if lace is not your thing, you can even go just to see the houses in Burano. They are a feast for the eyes with all the brilliant colors of the rainbow.
Shopping on Le Mercerie...Whether you are a seasoned shopper or window shopper a stroll down Le Mercerie is a must. This series of streets is home to the best of the best shops and designers around the world. I would consider it a shoppers feast! When you think of those classic shops in Venice filled with fashion forward items as well as the classics, they are all right here. And please do not be afraid to stop in the stores. The shopkeepers are more than happy to fill you in with their knowledge.
Italian Designer Shopping at Salizada San Moisè...If you are looking for the true Italian experience, head to Salizada San Moisè where you will find all the top Italian designers. A stroll in the area will bring you to a whole new appreciation of the influence Italy had in past design and even more importantly, our modern design world. Even if you are not a shopper, a stroll is a must to truly feel as though you have been in Venice.
Street Bites...There is no real need to make reservations if you are out exploring Venice. Yes, there are lists and lists of fabulous restaurants, but to truly feel as though you are a local, I suggest you do the three following bites. The first is when you need to sit down and chill a bit. Find a restaurant or cafe in a square, sit outside, and savor a local cafe and a few plates that are specialists of the establishment. The second is when you pass one of the pizza shops with slices as big as your head. Stop and get one. And finally, eat all the gelato you can find. This is simple, see a gelato shop, stop, order, eat, and repeat.
Gondola Ride...You must take a gondola ride when in Venice. Okay, it may be corny, but where else will you ever have the chance - Las Vegas is just not the same. But we highly recommend taking the ride at night. Once you experience Venice at night, you will understand. In everyday Venice life, Gondolas are not just for tourists, but how supplies get delivered, kids get to school, couples get to dinner, and families visit each other. They are a part of every day life.
Most homes and restaurants have entrances on the canals. At night the city lights up and the gondolas become magical and what you think of when you think of Venice. Make sure your ride is long enough to take in the amazing architecture and the sites and sounds of the city. Most gondola rides start and finish at the Grand Canal. Be sure to leave time before or after your ride to enjoy the beautiful canal.
There is never enough time in Venice. There are all the classics, all the shopping, and all the food, but there is always something special happening! Be sure to check the local calendar to see if there is a festival, show, or concert to attend, so you can hang with the locals.
How long will you spend in Venice on your next trip? What sites will you be sure not to miss?