Venice is filled with history, romance and hidden gems along its winding canals. Here are the best things to do in Venice.
There’s the Piazza San Marco and its famous pigeons. There are the splendors of Doge’s Palace and the hidden courtyards and narrow sidestreets.
Venice is like no place on earth – and it’s my absolute favorite city.
You’ll uncover more hidden gems with each visit.
Venice suffers from overtourism and it’s sinking under the weight of cruise ships. But somehow it still has that authentic Italian charm.
Here’s my ultimate guide to the best things to do in this Mediterranean gem. It’s based on my visits – and insider recommendations from other seasoned travel bloggers!
Use this guide to design your perfect itinerary:
1. St. Mark’s Square
This iconic square is filled with architectural gems and some of Europe’s most stunning architecture, perched right on the lagoon.
St. Mark’s Square is sprawling and wide – and such a contrast to the surrounding narrow streets. It’s perfect for people-watching and has some incredible museums too.
And while it’s easy to get lost in Venice, dozens of signs all around the city lead you to this stunning square.
The relics of St. Mark, the city’s patron saint, were brought here 1,200 years ago after they were stolen from Egypt (in pork barrels!) by a group of crafty Venetian merchants. The Venetians then build a chapel to house the holy remains and named the square after the saint: the Piazza San Marco.
St. Mark’s Clocktower is a gorgeous example of early Renaissance technology. It displays the time, the phase of the moon and the dominant sign of the Zodiac. Two bronze figures (nicknamed “Moors”) strike the bell every hour.
The 1,000-year-old St. Mark’s Basilica dominates the square. Its lavish Byzantine facade boasts 500 columns and is topped by four bronze horses looted from Constantinople during the Crusades.
St. Mark’s Campanile offers incredible views of the entire city.
Historic storefronts around the square are home to iconic cafes like Cafe Florian and Caffe Quadri – both dating back to the 1700s.
The square is also famous for its swooping swarms of pigeons. But feeding these tenacious birds is now illegal as authorities say the pigeons eat away at marble statues and peck gaps in the city’s facades.
The nearby piazzetta offers ethereal views of the lagoon and the gondola boats tied to wooden beams.
This dazzling Gothic palace was the headquarters of the ruler of the Venetian Republic. It boasts opulent interiors and incredible views of the city.
Today the Doge’s Palace is a dazzling, gold-packed museum filled with grand staircases, intricate ceilings and art masterpieces. Ornate and decadent, the Doge’s Palace is a must-see on your itinerary.
You can’t miss its glorious facade laced with patterns of pink Verona marble. It floats airily above the water.
Inside, the palace is filled with mind-blowing rooms that were once occupied by the rulers of the republic during its 1,000-year-old reign. It was build as a testament to the prowess of this maritime power.
But this famed palazzo also has a darker side. The Doges often ruled with an iron hand. And their palace was also a prison where people were tortured and sentenced to death, including the famous Casanova.
A Secret Itineraries Tour includes access to these torture chambers, secret passages, hidden doors, prisons, and the Bridge of Sighs, which the unfortunate prisoners crossed on their way to their doom and caught their last glimpse of Venice.
Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Great Council Hall) – the seat of the lower house of Venice’s parliament, where as many as 1,800 citizens gathered to vote. The Doge sat in front of Tintoretto’s Paradise, the world’s largest oil painting. The walls are lined with portraits of the Doges, including a blacked-out portrait of beheaded Doge Marino Faliero.
Prisons – including cells and humid wells designed to torment prisoners. Casanova was the only man that escaped the damp and dimly lit prison in 1756.
Armory – a sweeping collection of arms and weapons from across centuries, including those used by Venice’s secret Council of Ten, torture apparatus, and Turkish artifacts taken from battle. The more horrific items include the predecessor of the machine gun.
Your ticket to Doge’s Palace also gives you entry to the Museo Correr, National Archaeological Museum and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. But your ticket is good for one day only. And if you want to hack the waiting lines, then head to the lesser-visited Museo Correr and get your ticket there.
3. St. Mark’s Campanile
Ride to the top of this iconic bell tower in St. Mark’s Square for the best views of the city.
Looming some 98 metres tall, the campanile offers 360-degree views over the lagoon and – on a clear day – even see the Dolomites.
The panoramic views are especially spectacular at sunset – but it’s best to reserve your spot online to avoid the crowds. The elevators only take a dozen people at a time.
The Campanile di San Marco is the highest point in Venice and an incredible spot to get aerial photographs of the domes of the basilica and the surrounding lagoon.
The present structure is a replica built in 1912 to replace the previous tower that collapsed. It was originally built as a watchtower and point of reference to guide ships coming into the harbour.
Notably, it was used by Galileo in the 1600s to study and observe the skies. A daring tightrope walker once amused the doge by walking from the campanile’s belfry to the Doge’s Palace.
Today the red brick campanile is a simple, square tower with a belfry. It’s topped by a pyramidal spire with a golden weather vane in the shape of archangel Gabriel.
The belfry has five bells that all served a function in Venetian life. And these bells still ring on certain occasions. You’ll hear the Nona daily at noon.
4. Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs, or Ponte Dei Sospiri in Italian, is a small bridge that spans the Rio del Palazzo canal. It connects two important monuments – the Doge’s Palace and the New Prison.
But if the Bridge of Sighs conjures up a romantic gondola ride, then its history is much darker.
Venice’s prison was housed inside the Doge’s Palace up until the 16th century. But as the population grew, so did the number of criminals. The palace’s cells quickly filled up, and a new prison was built next to the palace.
Architects Antonio Contino and Antonio Da Ponte, the mastermind behind the Rialto Bridge, designed a completely closed bridge in 1602 to connect this new prison to the palace: the Bridge of Sighs.
But this name doesn’t refer to sights or Venetian lovers passing through, as many believe. It actually refers to the prisoners (like Casanova) sighing when they walk towards their doom and gaze upon Venice for the last time through the windows of the bridge.
The bridge’s dazzling facade is famous and is made of marble and white Istrian stone in a baroque style.
You can admire it from the Ponte della Paglia on the Riva degli Schiavoni for the best view.
But be patient, the Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous landmarks in Venice and it’s packed with crowds at all hours. Another option is to take a gondola ride on the canal and pass under the bridge.
Much starker than the exterior, the interior of the bridge is divided into two corridors separated by a wall that let prisoners pass without seeing each other.
If you want to visit these corridors, it’s included in the ticket for the Doge’s Palace.
– Contributed by Nesrine from Kevmrc
5. Get lost in the sidestreets
Take an afternoon to wander the sidestreets of Venice without an itinerary. You’ll have an unforgettable experience – and you’ll see an incredible city off the beaten path.
Venice shines in the off-season. And if you’re brave enough to visit in the autumn or winter months, you’ll get sunny days and far fewer crowds.
Wander down a side street just a few steps away from the main route. And it’s as peaceful as a small town on a Sunday afternoon.
Because even a block away from the Canal Grande, the city is so quiet it feels like you’re trespassing.
You’ll spot a few other tourists just as curious as you. But you’ll feel like you’ve got the city all to yourself.
You’ll see women having conversations with neighbours from across their balconies as they hang laundry. And you’ll see couples walking together pushing strollers. All of this against a backdrop of terracotta plant pots spilling from tiny balconies.
And you’ll walk down a narrow alley where the sidewalk cuts off abruptly at sea water.
You’ll find shops with vintage dinnerware sets from old cruise ships, and shops where the clerks protectively guard miniature puppet theatres made of paper. Waiters take their cigarette breaks in alleyways and a windowsill displays vintage Pinocchio figurines.
6. St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica is a stunning Byzantine cathedral in the heart of the piazza, full of gold mosaics and Venetian paintings – and topped by four famous bronze horses.
The waiting lines are often very long to this architectural marvel, so arrive early before it opens at 9:30 am, or late (the last admission is at 4:45 pm) to catch the sunset from the balcony and avoid the crowds.
Consecrated in 832 AD, the Basilica di San Marco houses the relics of the city’s patron saint (which were smuggled from Egypt by Venetian merchants and hidden inside pork barrels). The relics are now housed in the church’s high altar, held up by marble and alabaster columns.
The basilica is a mix of eastern and western styles, and it once served as the chapel for the doge before it became the city’s cathedral in 1807. The present church was begun around 1063 and built as a symbol of the republic’s wealth.
The stunning facade was decorated over the centuries with rare marble, columns, reliefs and sculptures – many of which were spoils from the Fourth Crusade. It’s filled with mosaics that narrate the life of Christ and the history of St. Mark’s relics – including the sea storm that the smugglers braved to bring the relics to Venice.
Above the entrance are four ancient bronze horses that date back to ancient Greece. They were brought to Venice after the sack of Constantinople. But what you’ll see on the basilica’s balcony are exact replicas – the original horses are inside to protect them from air pollution.
Inside the basilica
The interior is spectacular with gold mosaics of saints and biblical scenes filling every curve.
Nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro, or the Golden Church, the basilica contains some 8,000 square meters of mosaics, mostly gold, that shine ethereally in the dim lighting. The iconic golden mosaics are made with a thin layer of gold leaf laid two layers of glass.
Entrance to the basilica is free, but certain sections require additional tickets. The museum (7 euros) gives you access to the balcony for a closer look at the horses and great views of the square, along with the chance to view the original statues and see the basilica’s mosaics up close.
And the Pala d’Oro (5 euros) gives you access to the basilica’s Byzantine altar screen of gold, packed with precious stones including 1,300 pears and 300 sapphires.
7. Rialto Bridge
This famous decorative stone bridge was once the epicenter of all commercial activity in Venice. Merchants once bartered and traded goods along its steps. Today more than 20 boutiques span the bridge selling jewelry, Murano glass and (very overpriced) souvenirs.
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal, and was originally constructed as a floating pontoon bridge in 1173. It was later replaced by a wooden bridge that eventually burnt down and collapsed.
The present structure was built in just 3 years and considered so audacious that critics predicted it wouldn’t stand for long. Antonio da Ponte beat out Michelangelo for the design of the bridge and built it from Istrian stone. Some 12,000 wooden pilings were hammered into the waters to support its weight.
And the Renaissance engineering marvel offers some of the best views of the Grand Canal.
It’s always crowded with people taking photos and watching the gondolas pass underneath.
The bridge leads to Rialto Market (open every morning from 9 am to noon). Browse the vibrant produce, freshly-caught fish and local delicacies. Or book a local food tour to get the full experience. You’ll learn to shop for Venetian seafood and finish off the tour with a cooking class.
– Contributed by Linda of La Dolce Fit Vita
8. Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a high-end department store on to the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge. It’s housed inside a former German merchants building that dates back to the early 16th century. The stunning historic interior is lined with grand columns and high ceilings decorated in the Italian Renaissance style.
You’ll find a tempting lineup of international luxury brands. And the Fondaco dei Tedeschi is great for luxury Italian, like the iconic Milanese fragrance house Acqua di Parma and the artisanal bakery Biscotteria Veneziana. There’s also AMO, an Italian restaurant presided over by the world’s youngest three-star Michelin chef.
But there’s more to Fondaco dei Tedeschi than great shopping.
Its real treat is the rooftop terrace on the top floor that boasts some of the most breathtaking views of the city.
The terrace is free to visit, but you need to book in advance as they’re careful about the maximum capacity.
The views are stunning and stretch out over the Grand Canal, ochre rooftops and the church towers and domes of the city. If you’re on a family holiday to Italy, the terrace is a great way to get an overview of Venice – there’s a handy map too that points to all the landmarks.
You get a 15 minute slot on the terrace to take in the views, so make sure you arrive on time. And there’s a great cafe if you want to stop for an espresso or a sandwich during your visit.
It’s best to book your 15-minute slot in advance online, but you can also visit the desk on the 4th floor and score a spot if there’s an opening. The terrace is open from 10:30am to 6:30pm.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi also hosts cultural events like exhibits, concerts and artist talks. Entry is free of charge, and tickets can be booked online.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a true hidden gem and a great way to experience a different side of Venice.
– Contributed by Nichola of Family Hotel Expert
9. Go on a treasure hunt
Photos courtesy Macaco Tour
Your kids don’t need to have all the fun when you’re visiting Italy with kids. A treasure trail through Venice is a blast for all ages.
Macaco Tour offer a brilliant way to discover Venetian hidden gems and quirks that you’d never notice on your own. Their tours pit teams against each other, or you can work as a family to solve the riddles that lead you across the city.
Macaco Tour was founded by a pair of passionate art history experts who aim to make Venetian culture an interactive and sensory experience.
The Sketch Hunt navigates the Santa Maria Formosa Square in search of her mysteries. The Brave Lion tour leads you through Venice’s Castello district to discover the secrets of the Arsenal, the city’s famous shipyard and former seat of the empire.
The Cannaregio Treasure Hunt leads you across the Jewish Ghetto to uncover the city’s quirky characters. Who were the Moors, and what’s a camel doing in Venice? This tour unpacks the city’s enigmatic past.
With games, riddles, secrets and clues to solve, Macaco Tour is an incredible way to make the city’s history accessible to your children and give them an unforgettable experience.
– Contributed by Nichola of Globalmouse Travels
10. Take a gondola ride
It’s touristy, and it’s expensive, but a gondola ride through Venice is an experience that you just shouldn’t miss.
These traditional, flat-bottomed rowing boats are an iconic fixture of Venice. Used since the 11th century as a common watercraft to get around the city, gondolas today are mostly a tourist attraction. Some 400 licensed gondoliers serve the city – down from about 10,000 in their 16th century heyday.
If you’re just looking to get around, the vaporetto (public waterbus) is cheap and easy. There’s also the traghetto, a public gondola ferry that carries 10 passengers and gets you across the Grand Canal for 2 euros.
But a gondola ride is an experience – romantic, memorable and quintessentially Venetian.
The craft of the gondolier is a tradition passed down from father to son. And families often proudly maintain their own boats. The boat itself is full of symbolism from the six prongs that stand for the city’s six districts to the curved top to signify the Doge’s cap.
Gondolas are easy to find – they’re dotted around the city whether you’re at St. Mark’s or the narrow canals of Cannaregio. They all charge a standard fee of 80 euros for a 40-minute ride, and 100 euros for evening rides after 7pm.
You can book through a hotel or an agency with an additional surcharge. For a bargain option, book a group ride of up to five people and split the price.
Take a gondola from St. Mark’s or the Rialto Bridge to experience the rush of the Grand Canal. For a quiet romantic ride, take a ride away from the water taxi stops. You’ll see a more local part of the city off the beaten path.
Gondolas don’t provide any shade or umbrellas, so pack a hat and some sunscreen in the summer.
But don’t expect an opera performance. Some gondoliers sing but for an extra tip, but most do not. They will often provide stories and anecdotes about the districts you pass through.
The Jewish Ghetto is in the heart of Cannaregio, a vibrant Venetian sestiere full of narrow canals, local shops, cozy restaurants, schools and homes. It’s a quieter, less touristy side of Venice that still boasts a lively Jewish community.
The Ghetto is divided into the Ghetto Nuovo (New Ghetto) and Ghetto Vecchio (Old Ghetto). It was once connected to the rest of the city by two bridges and formed a gated island.
The Campo de Nuovo Gheto is a charming square surrounded by weathered buildings. And it’s a great spot to begin your tour.
The leafy square contains the three oldest synagogues in Venice, dating back to the 16th century and each serving distinct ethnicities. Watch for the baroque dome of Scuola Italiana (the Italian Synagogue), the wooden dome of Scuola Canton (the Canton Synagogue) and the oldest of all, Scuola Grande Tedesca (the Great German Synagogue), known for its five arched windows.
The nearby shabbo (Chabad di Venezia) is an impressive art studio and photo gallery that illustrates the history of Jewish Venice.
The Soportego de Gheto Nuovo (the entrance to the Ghetto) is a picturesque tunnel lined with arches. Nearby is the Ponte de Gheto Nuovo, an understated wooden bridge with fantastic views down the bustling canal.
The Jewish Ghetto is located in the far northern section of Venice on a tiny island (tiny even by Venetian standards) buffered by the busy Misericordia canal, famous for its terrific restaurants and popular canal-front bars.
It was instituted in 1516 by a decree of the Doge, and put its Jewish residents under round-the-clock surveillance with strict penalties for any resident who broke the curfew. Buildings reached unprecedented heights of six stories to accommodate all residents in the cramped area.
It wasn’t the first historic instance of Jews being forcefully segregated. But the English word ghetto comes from the Jewish ghetto in Venice – the term originates from the Italian word for metal foundry, “geti,” since the first Jewish quarter was near a copper foundry.
The segregation held until 1797, when Napoleon liberated Venice’s Jewish population and planted the “Liberty Tree” in the center of the square.
In 2016, the Jewish Ghetto commemorated its 500th anniversary with exhibits, lectures and a production of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Its small yet resilient community aims to keep the city’s Jewish culture alive.
– Contributed by Dean and Laynni of Routinely Nomadic
12. Take the Vaporetto Line 1
The Grand Canal is the big curvy vein through the heart of the city, and a boat trip on line 1 of the water bus, or Vaporetto, gives you an incredible overview – especially if you only have a limited time in Venice.
The Vaporetto is the Venetian public waterbus. And Line 1 is the busiest and most important of the 19 that traverse the city.
Line 1 hits all the major landmarks along the Grand Canal from the Main Station of Venezia Santa Lucia to St Mark’s Square all the way down to Lido Island.
If it’s your first time in Venice, take the complete journey and sit back and enjoy the scenery and the splendid palace facades that line this famous waterway. You’ll spot the Ca d’Oro, the best surviving palazzo in the Venetian Gothic style, and the majestic Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
Line 1 also passes under the iconic Rialto Bridge and Ponte dell’Accademia, and gives you a different perspective on the Venetian landmarks. The ever-popular line makes about 15 stops for a leisurely journey that takes about 45 minutes.
The water bus runs every 12-20 minutes, from 6am to 10pm, but it gets busy in the peak seasons so board in the early morning to beat the crowds. And grab a seat up front if you’re taking photos.
Tickets are 7.50 Euros per ride and good for 75 minutes. Or if you’re in Venice longer, opt for 1-day (€20), 2-day (€30) 3-day (€40) or one-week (€60) passes. You can also take the Vaporetto to the popular day trip destinations of Murano and Burano.
Buy tickets online or at ticket offices at Piazzale Roma, Ferrovia, Rialto, and San Marco. You can also buy them at tobacco shops, newsstands or anywhere with the ACTV logo.
– Contributed by Kenny of Knycx Journeying
13. Take a mask painting workshop
Vibrant masquerade masks pack the shops and stalls across the city – and they make for colourful souvenirs. Traditionally used to conceal the identity of Carnival revellers, the ornate masks have become a symbol of the city.
But crafting your own Venetian mask just makes it all the more special.
There are several mask painting workshops in Venice but I recommend Peter Pan Masks. This tiny yet charming shop is hidden away in a 17th-century building in the backstreets of the San Croce district – and half the fun is trying to find it.
The masks here are the real deal and made from papier-mache, unlike most of the tourist ones made of plastic. Inside, masks adorn every inch of wall space, made by the Franceschini sisters who aim to keep this ancient tradition alive in the city. There’s an endless variety from caterpillars to cats to columbines.
There’s a tiny workshop in the back where patient teachers guide you through this exacting art.
You select the shape of the mask then pencil in a design. Next is painting in a rainbow selection of colors.
Your mask will dry overnight and you return the next morning to collect it. Book your workshop at the beginning of your stay to make time for this process. Courses cost €35 per person and last about an hour.
The quiet district of Cannaregio is perfect to immerse yourself in local Venetian life.
Cannaregio is less touristy and more down to earth than other parts of Venice. This residential sestiere is packed with cafes, small boutiques, morning markets and cozy restaurants.
It’s the site of the former Jewish Ghetto and still boasts synagogues and a small but active Jewish community.
The Ponte de Chiodo is another neighbourhood curiosity: the oldest bridge in Venice, and the only one without rails (which were added to all bridges in the mid 1800s). With no barrier between you and the water, crossing the bridge is a dizzying feat if you’re not comfortable with heights.
But be prepared to encounter lots of wedding photographers – this bridge is a favourite with locals for its beautiful backdrop of colourful houses and the curious lack of tourists.
Splendid palazzos line the district’s Grand Canal, like the sumptous Ca d’Oro with its columns mirroring the Doge’s Palace, and the Palazzo Labia with its frescoed ballroom.
But the neighbourhood has humble roots that grew from working class housing and manufacturing.
Marco Polo and Titian both once called Cannaregio home, as did masterful painter Tintoretto who’s buried in the neighbourhood’s Church of Madonna dell’Orto (a must-see masterpiece of gothic architecture).
Fondamenta della Misericordia is lined with great bars and restaurants and it’s especially vibrant in the evenings. Try the lively tavern Paradiso Perduto for hearty Venetian dishes and regular live music. Or Ostaria da Rioba for creative takes on local recipes.
Strada Nova and Lista di Spagna are both busy streets filled with shopping, bars and young people.
Have a lovely appetitivo with some Venetian tapas (cicceti). And make sure to try the local speciality of fritoìn washed down with an Italian classic Aperol Spritz, which was invented right here in Venice! Have a great night out in Fondamenta Ormesini – where locals and tourists rub shoulders and enjoy the best of the city.
For more adventures, venture outside the city for a roadtrip through the stunning North East of Italy, a region filled with some of Italy’s most beautiful nature and lakes!
A must for any art lover, the Gallerie dell’Accademia is a brilliant collection of pre-19th century Venetian art and the city’s most prestigious art museum.
Founded in 1750, the Gallerie dell’Accademia specializes in Venetian art from the 14th through 18th centuries, including masters like Bellini, Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian. The collection contains some 800 paintings, many depicting saints, martyrs and Biblical scenes.
Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man, showing man’s ideal proportions, is also in the collection. But it’s very seldom displayed because of its fragility and sensitivity to light.
Highlights include Feast in the House of Levi by Veronese, which occupies an entire wall and includes incredible details and expressive faces. It was originally intended to be a Last Super painting, but the artist changed that title after the Inquisition called the painting irreverent.
And don’t miss Bellini’s Procession in St. Mark’s Square, another massive work that depicts a procession carrying a religious relic that miraculously cured a young boy.
16. Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Photos courtesy Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Housed inside a sprawling palazzo on the Grand Canal, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of Europe’s most important exhibits of 20th century art.
From the Cubist works of Pablo Picasso to Jackson Pollock’s paint-splattered abstracts, the collection reflects the eclectic tastes of the American heiresses and art collector.
The museum features artists as diverse as Bacon, Dalí, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian and Rothko. The core collection has stunning works of Futurism and Surrealism, along with masks and sculptures from New Guinea, Sudan and Peru.
And the setting is just as spectacular. The museum is housed inside the luxurious Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which Guggenheim called home for the last 30 years of her life. The palazzo has a small terrace overlooking the Canal Grande and a sculpture garden where Guggenheim is buried alongside her dogs.
The museum feels like a luxurious private residence. And it offers a fascinating look at the life of Peggy Guggenheim herself: champion of emerging and female artists, socialite and bohemian.
Book your tickets online to avoid long lines. Check their website for special presentations, free tours and events.
Full of elaborate ceremony, the carnival takes over the city’s canals from mid-February to Ash Wednesday. It also brings in 3 million visitors from around the world.
Attend a glamorous costume ball, don a mask or stroll the streets to people-watch and take in the festive atmosphere. But book your accommodations in Venice in advance to join the fun.
The streets at carnival are full of masked strangers dressed in decadent 18th-century costumes. And the atmosphere is unbeatable.
There are boat parades at night with festive crowds showing off their finery, and illuminated floats with dancing animals and glittered acrobats. There are also street fairs, concerts, markets and formal masquerade balls.
The celebrations center around St. Mark’s Square and spill out through the rest of the city. Check online to find carnival events (and make reservations) in a sestiere near you. Many events are free while others (like masked balls) are a splurge and need reservations – or a special invitations.
There’s something for everybody from mask competitions and ice skating to classical concerts (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Salone Capitolare). Pub crawls are also a tradition in themselves where you bacaro hop and indulge in cicchetti and wine.
The Carnival originates from the celebrations of the Venetian victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia (an ancient Roman city) in 1162.
The celebration got bigger and more decadent in the 18th century and attracted masked revelers from across Europe. The various elaborate disguises stripped the wearer of their social rank and class. Masks were a rare chance for Venetian upper and lower classes to mingle as equals.
They also allowed people to indulge in illicit activities without the fear of being recognized. When rape and crime rates began to rise, Venetian authorities restricted carnival costumes and masks in 1339.
But crime still occurred, and carnival was banned entirely for nearly two centuries after Austrians occupied the city in 1798. It wasn’t until almost two centuries later, in 1979, when Venetians celebrated carnival again in full pomp and glory.
Here are the major events you shouldn’t miss:
Flight of the Angel is the carnival’s official kick-off event, held at noon on Sunday in St. Mark’s Square to packed crowds. It’s a historic event that dates back to a daring 16th century rope walker. Though nowadays, the “angel” descends into the piazza down a very safe zip line.
Daily costume parades are held on each day of the carnival, and all the winners compete in a final event at the close of the carnival.
Daily mask contests are held on a stage at St. Mark’s Square – they’re open to anyone and free to enter.
When it’s all over, attend Ash Wednesday services at the Basilica San Marco for post-party solemnities.
– Contributed by Yulia of Miss Tourist
18. Campo San Barnaba
Campo San Barnaba is a gorgeous landmark off the beaten path – and a refuge from the tourist-packed canals of Venice.
It’s also where Harrison Ford busts out of that manhole in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And where Katharine Hepburn falls into a canal in Summertime.
This charming square is packed with small eateries with none of the usual hiked-up tourist prices. Nestled in the Dorsoduro sestiere near the Accademia Bridge, Campo San Barnaba is full of pizzerias, bars, local shops and tempting gelaterias. Don’t miss Grom Gelateria for some of Venice’s finest gelato.
There’s also a local fruit and vegetable market with crates of tomatoes, celery and leeks piled high on narrow boats.
And don’t miss the church of San Barnaba and its Neoclassical facade. The church has a small exhibit about machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It also has an 11th century campanile and a pine-cone shaped spire that’s one of the oldest in Venice.
Street artists and musicians often perform in this quaint square. Campo San Barnaba offers a real glimpse of the hip and young side of the city – even if you just have one day in Venice!
– Contributed by Dan of Urban Abroad
19. Learn to row a gondola
Gondolas are a symbol of Venice and a tradition that goes back to the 11th century.
But learning to row one yourself is a totally different experience!
The gondola lesson starts at a marina in the non-touristy Cannaregio sestiere. Real Venetians live here and there are no gondolas in the canals – just working boats used for daily life, moving cargo or picking up trash.
The boat is a batellina – similar to a gondola. You row standing up, just like a gondola.
After learning to use the oars and keep your balance (not especially easy!), you practice rowing around the local canals. Then you head out into the lagoon.
The water is rough – and very challenging when you’re standing up! You realize the city’s gondoliers only make this look easy.
The lesson takes an hour and a half and can be booked online. It costs $38 per person and there is a two-person minimum for each class.
– Contributed by James Ian of Travel Collecting
20. Libreria Acqua Alta
The Libreria Acqua Alta is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world with its quirky and very Instagrammable waterproof book collection.
Libreria Acqua Alta translates to “high water bookshop,” and this place is well prepared for Venice’s notorious flooding. Piles of books are squeezed into bathtubs, rowboats, canoes and waterproof containers to keep them dry during the tide rise of the Adriatic Sea. When the water’s high, Venetians and savvy tourists browse the stacks in raincoats and rubber boots.
You’ll be greeted by some furry friends – aka the adopted stray cats living there – as you walk in. This tiny bookshop is packed with tomes squeezed into tall shelves, and a gondola piled high with books in the main aisle.
There’s also a cheeky fire escape – a door that leads into a canal.
The books are new and used, and mainly in Italian though English and other languages are also available.
It’s also famous for its staircase made of water damaged books. Climb on top for a great photo opp and gorgeous views of the canal. There’s also a quaint courtyard that sits on the canal. Use it as a reading corner to tuck into a new book. And enjoy the waterside view – if you can snatch a spot from the influencers.
And it’s a treasure trove for old Italian children’s books, postcards, vintage prints and a wide array of books about Venice. The chaotic wonderland is made from vintage knick knacks, weathered patio chairs, potted succulents and assorted curiosities that all create a disorganized charm.
Libreria Acqua Alta is a short walk from the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square. But go early to avoid the crowds.
The celebrations continue past midnight so dinner is served after 8pm. Call a few weeks in advance for a reservation if you want to dine at a restaurant. A dinner cruise is also a great way to see key Venetian landmarks like the Rialto Bridge. The traditional New Year’s Eve dish is cenon di capodanno, or sausages and lentils.
After dinner, head to Piazza San Marco for the annual “Love” event. A giant blow-up Bellini bottle marks the entrance – and you get a small bottle of bubbly to toast with at midnight. Street performers and live musicians set the atmosphere for a lively celebration.
Everyone heads to the water for the midnight fireworks. Head to Riva dei Sette Martiri, a lovely waterfront area along the Grand Canal, for great views. Riva degli Schiavoni, the sprawling waterfront alongside St. Mark’s Square, also offers unbeatable views.
And dress in layers so you’re comfortable all night. The restaurants are warm but the piazza gets chilly.
Beyond the piazza
If you love classical music, La Fenice Opera House hosts an annual New Year’s Eve concert in the afternoon. Performances are also held on December 30 and 31, and New Year’s Day.
And if late night fireworks aren’t for you, join the Auguri di Capodanno sulla spiaggia del Lido di Venezia in the morning on January 1st. It’s a polar plunge in the Adriatic Sea that will get your blood flowing for the new year.
No matter how you celebrate, you’ll be glad to be in Venice to soak up the atmosphere.
– Contributed by Pamela of The Directionally Challenged Traveler
22. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
With its iconic dome and Titian altarpiece, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is a must-see for art lovers. It’s a jewel in the city’s skyline.
The baroque-style basilica was built in 1631-87 after the bubonic plague devastated the city. It honors the Virgin Mary with gratitude for the survivors’ good health (or salute). A parade is held every November to celebrate deliverance from the plague.
Seated on the Punta della Dogana, where the Grand Canal flows into the lagoon, the basilica has a stunning white facade ornamented with scrolls, volutes and 125 statues. The broad steps leading up to the entrance are filled with people chatting, resting and sipping on takeaway cappuccinos.
Inside its airy and relatively minimal by Italian standards. A lot of art references the Black Death. There’s also a Titian alterpiece and ceiling paintings.
The basilica is easy to reach with a vaporetto stop right in front.
The Museo Correr offers a fascinating look at the everyday life of the historically great Venetian republic.
It houses artworks and antiquities from Venetian life, including historical collections on Venetian institutions, daily life and the city’s urban history. It’s not as grandiose or packed as the Doge’s Palace. But if you love art and maritime history, it’s an airy and intriguing exhibit that chronicles the rise and expansion of Venice.
A fascinating array of artifacts all bring the past to life, from ships flags to navigation instruments to old maps and paintings celebrating naval victories. Themes include the sea, weapons, crafts, parties and games – a real slice of Venetian life.
Highlights include a coin collection that spans a thousand years, and the apartment of Sissi, or nine beautiful rooms where Austrian Empress Elisabeth lived.
The Napoleonic Wing once housed the sovereign when Venice was under Austrian rule. The neoclassical rooms include a collection of sculptures by Neoclassical master Antonio Canova, a ballroom, throne room and banqueting hall.
The painting gallery includes a great collection of Venetian painting from the 16th century, including Lorenzo Veneziano, the Bellini family and Carpaccio.
The museum is inside a former palace right in St. Mark’s Square. Don’t miss the Empire-style cafe for unbeatable views of the piazza. You don’t need a museum ticket to visit the cafe.
Your Museo Correr ticket is also valid for the National Archaeological Museum and the Marciana National Library (decorated by Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto). You can easily visit all three museums together.
Standard tickets to the Doge’s Palace also include entry to the Museo Correr. And if you’re visiting both museums, head to the Museo Correr first to get your ticket to the Doge’s Palace without a line.
Nearly all Venetian restaurants cater to the tourists that pour into the city every day. But there’s a great way to avoid the crowds and enjoy the local food – snacking on cicchetti in Venice.
Venetians love cicchetti (pronounced chi-KET-tee), or small nibbles often paired with wine. Happy Hour can start in the early afternoon and last until midnight. After a busy day, munching on cicchetti at a local bar (or bacaro) is Venice’s way to unwind and socialize.
You can easily spot a good cicchetti bar tucked away in a narrow alley with crowds spilling out the door. Many of the best ones are in Canareggio.
Since most bacaro are small with just a few tables (if any), most patrons stand outside engrossed in lively conversation. Just step up to the bar, point to what you’d like to try, and pay for it on the spot.
Cicchetti refers to the unique hors d’oeuvre-like appetizers served at the bar. These can vary from one bar to the next. But usually they include olives, small crostini, and other small plates and bites skewered with a toothpick. For drinks, have the local wine (or ombra) or the ever-popular Aperol Spritz.
Here are some favorite cicchetti to try:
Baccala Mantecato – mashed cod and creamy paste formed into balls.
Sarde in saor – sardines with a mix of cured onions, raisins and pine nuts.
Crostini – toasted bread slices with toppings like baccala spread and olive spread.
Cicchetti usually cost around 1-3 euros each. It’s a great way to try the local specialties like cheeses, seafood, and violet artichokes, when they’re in season. And cicchetti can be filling enough to skip a big dinner.
Most Venetians jump from one small pub to another to mingle and enjoy various cicchetti. With no cars to worry about, it’s safe enough to do a pub crawl with the locals.
Cicchetti bars are a delicious way to experience the local Venetian culture. And there’s an array of food tours too if you really want to dig in.