Everybody knows Venice or has heard of it. Venice is a city for lovers with its gondolas, canals and majestic bridges like the Rialto or Bridge of Sighs which connects the interrogation room to the jail where Casanova was incarcerated. However, is Venice worth visiting?
Venice isn’t just these things. It is a magical place like nowhere else in the world. Venice is a city on water where cars are replaced by boats. Venice is more than a picture perfect postcard, so I’m going to share with you my 21 reasons to visit Venice.
Where is Venice?
Venice is the capital of the Veneto region of Italy. This area is in the north east of Italy. Venice has an international airport and the journey to the centre is easy but can take some time.
What to do in Venice?
1 The Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is one of the most recognised landmarks in Europe. It was first built as a pontoon bridge in the 12th century. Later, the bridge was built in wood, but it burnt down several times and collapsed. Eventually, it was built as you see it today and completed in 1591. The bridge is large and features many shops. The best view of the bridge is from the banks of the Grand Canal where you can take some great photographs.
2 Doge’s Palace and Bridge of Sighs
The Doge’s Palace is great place to visit but you need to buy your ticket in advance to avoid spending all your time in the queue. Below are some great tours of the Doge’s Palace.
The Doge’s Palace was the residence of the Doge and the home of the government which administrated the Republic. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Venice. On the façade, you will see an alignment of columns on the first floor. Try to find the two red columns (9 and 10). These two columns indicate where the Doge attended ceremonies in St Mark’s Square, but it is also where the death sentences were pronounced. For this reason, the columns are red.
The Doge’s Palace is very interesting and full of history. You can discover Casanova’s cell and cross the Bridge of Sighs inside. Can you imagine a prisoner crossing the bridge and catching a glimpse of his last views of Venice through the little windows?
3 St Mark’s Square
Piazza San Marco is the main square in Venice. Locals call it the Piazza and use the word ‘campi’ for the other squares. There are many things to see on this square. You have St Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile or Bell Tower and you can take a gondola ride (see below for my tips, as I don’t recommend hiring one here). St Mark’s Square is the heart of Venice and where everyone gathers. The Piazza contrasts with the rest of Venice. You will find yourself in the middle of a large open space compared to the rest of the narrow streets in Venice. Around the edge of the Piazza are cafés and bars. Some have musicians playing as you eat and drink but this is a touristy place. Take your time to enjoy a drink and people watch. From St Mark’s Square, you can then venture down one of the narrow streets and start exploring the rest of Venice.
4 Saint Mark’s Basilica
Saint Mark’s Basilica or Basilica di San Marco is located on St Mark’s Square next to the Doge’s Palace. It is well-known worldwide for being an excellent example of Italo Byzantine architecture. The façade of the cathedral is superb with gold frescoes. You can go and visit inside when the Basilica is open to the public. Sometimes it’s closed for religious ceremonies. As with most churches, there is no fee to enter, but you need to wear appropriate clothes and respect this sacred place.
5 St Mark’s Campanile
St Mark’s Campanile or the Bell Tower is also open to visit. Inside, you take an elevator to the top where you will find one of the best views of Venice. Again, the queue can be long, so we recommend buying your ticket in advance. Make the most of your time visiting landmarks, rather than wasting your time queuing! The Campanile is one of the most recognised symbols of Venice. The tower is 98.6 meters (323 ft) tall. Originally, the tower was used as a watch tower and lighthouse.
6 Grand Canal
The Grand Canal is the biggest canal in Venice. It is located between the railway station and St Mark’s Square at the other end. If you look at the Grand Canal from above, you will see a reverse ‘S’ shape which goes through the central area of Venice and divides the city in two parts. You can take a vaporetto to travel from one end to the other. There are also plenty of gondolas. However, in my opinion, this isn’t the best place to have a gondola ride. If you take the vaporetto, you will pass under the Rialto Bridge and it won’t cost you a lot of money. Using the vaporetto is generally a very good way to travel from point A to B in Venice.
Did you know that Venice isn’t just one island? In total, there are 118 islands in Venice and one of them is Burano. When you disembark from the vaporetto and set foot in Burano, you will notice a big difference from Venice. This island has a real charm with plenty of vibrant colours. The houses are painted with warm colours and make it a living watercolour. It is very nice to wander aimlessly around the streets of Burano. In the past, Burano was mainly inhabited by fishermen. You will still find plenty of nice restaurants to taste sea food from the lagoon. In addition, you can also taste a local butter cookie call as ‘bussolai buranelli’.
Murano is famous worldwide for its production of exceptional glass. The glass from Murano is expensive but is hand-crafted from generation to generation. You can go and visit the Musseo del Vetro to learn about the history of glassmaking. You can easily visit Murano and Burano in the same day as they are in the same area of Venice.
9 Lido di Venezia
The Lido di Venezia, or Lido as locals call it, is a long island (11 km long) which separates the Venice lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. There is a beach on the Adriatic side with a lovely view. The Venice Film Festival is held on Lido and is generally a cheaper accommodation option than other parts of Venice. You can check below for great deals on hotels.
10 Get Lost in the Back Streets of Venice
This is one of my favourite things to do when I travel. I love to explore the back streets which tourists don’t usually find. I can tell you that Venice is an ideal place to get lost in its maze of streets and escape other tourists. By doing this, we found very peaceful places with almost nobody around and had a great experience eating in small authentic restaurants with locals. So, don’t follow the crowd and make your own path.
11 San Giorgio Maggiore
The San Giogio Maggiore Island is quiet and off the main tourist path. Here you will be able to immerse yourself in the beauty and history of Venice. The earliest building on the island dates from 790 AD and was a church. The island continued to expand over the years and today you will find plenty of historical buildings. You also have the chance of catching another excellent view of Venice by climbing to the top of the Bell Tower. There is no need to buy advance tickets, as the queue is very small or non-existent.
Off the Tourist Treadmill Tip: When you are inside the church, check if there is a queue for the elevator. If there is, you can start your visit with the church first then take the lift later to the top of the Bell Tower.
On the island, you can also visit the former monastery which is now one of the best international cultural institutions. There is plenty to see inside about the history of Venice and it also hosts G7 summits.
12 See Venice by Boat
The best way to enjoy Venice is from the water by boat. You can hire a beautiful taxi boat to have a comfortable ride, or use the public vaporetto. You can go all over Venice in a vaporetto as they play the role of our buses. If you want to combine a boat ride with an excursion, we advise you to take a vaporetto to Murano and then Burano which are islands in the same direction. You will experience local commuter transport and enjoy spectacular views from the boat. The ticket price is low and enjoy the skill of the Captain as he navigates the busy lagoon.
13 Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, or Salute for locals, is easily recognisable by its big dome. The church was built to celebrate the end of the plague which killed a lot of the Venetian population. The church was devoted to Our Lady of Health (Salute in Italian) and is free to enter from 9 am to noon and from 3 pm to 5.30 pm.
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14 Venice Gondola Rides
There are gondolas everywhere in Venice and they are an integral part of the city. The price for a gondola ride is the same everywhere in Venice – 80 Euros in the daytime and 100 Euros at night.
If you want to hire a gondola, we advise you not to take one from outside St Mark’s Square. Although the tour takes you under the famous Bridges of Sighs and down the Grand Canal, it is very busy. For us, it was too touristic. The gondolas are stacked one behind the other and, from my point of view the ride loses its charm as you crawl along.
Why not try walking further into the city centre and head away from the main streets? You will quickly find gondolas moored in quiet canals where you can enjoy a more relaxing and peaceful ride. Although you won’t be completely alone, the canals are narrow with less water traffic jams! It’s also cool to see how easy it is for the gondoliers to navigate these narrow canals.
15 Food Specialities
If you love Tiramisu, you should taste it in Venice because the original recipe came from the Venice area and it is very good. Other specialities include:
- Sarde in Saor.
Sarde in Saor is a sweet and sour dish of fried sardine fillets. This recipe came from the ancient method of preserving food. It’s definitely a must, so try it when you visit.
- Baccala Mantecato
Baccala Mantecato is another speciality and is made of dry cod. The cod is poached and blended to make a fish mousse. You can have it on toasted bread.
Moleche is only available in spring. Venice is surrounding by water and this dish is for crustacean lovers. It is baby crab which doesn’t yet have a hard shell. You can eat the crabs with salad.
- Bigoli in Salsa
This is a simple pasta dish cooked with anchovies or sardines. It is just delicious and is served as a starter.
Venice is a cultural city and has so many events during the year. The major one is the annual Venice Carnival where everyone is dressed up in disguise and wears masks. If you want to take part, you can rent a costume for the event. The carnival is held in February and starts a couple of weeks before Shrove Tuesday.
Another big event is held on the 25th of April when the locals celebrate the feast day of Saint Mark. You will see plenty of events around St Mark’s Square like a gondola regatta.
If you want to discover the lifestyle of the locals, you need to go to one of the local markets. For example, the fish market (Mercato del Pesce al Minuto) is a good place. You will see the locals at work and discover different varieties of fish as well.
18 Jewish Ghetto
The Jewish Ghetto in Venice is the oldest ghetto in the world dating back to 1516. The new Ghetto is the oldest part and is an island on its own, connected by bridges on all sides. These bridges used to be raised at midnight to keep the area safe. In this area, you will find many authentic restaurants. Just walk around this area to find hidden gems.
19 Fenice Opera House – Teatro la Fenice
This theatre has burnt down twice since 1792 and each time was rebuilt. Its name means ‘phoenix’ and reflects the theatre’s rise from the ashes. The theatre itself is a spectacle for your eyes. Many operatic premieres were performed at the Fenice Opera House which made it famous. You can visit the Opera House with a guided tour. For a unique experience, why not visit by watching an Opera?
20 Hidden Venice
Venice isn’t just water and canals; you can also find very nice parks as well. If you are looking to wander around in peace and discover more about the life of the locals, head to the Castello district.
This area was named after an old fort which was on the island of Saint Pierre. The area is more laid-back and is where the locals like to meet in casual bars. This area is located between the Rialto Bridge in the west and the Arsenal in the east. Not far from the busy centre, the Castello district offers almost deserted squares and parks where you can find a little peace in this vibrant city. Strangely, it is also where you can find the widest street in Venice, the Via Garibaldi lined with shops, bars and restaurants. This street has a very nice atmosphere because it’s full of locals.
If you are looking for green space, you can visit the Castello’s Giardini (gardens). This is another beautiful and quiet environment. Finally, if you want some culture, why not to go to the Museo Storico Naval and learn about Venice naval history?
21 Punta della Dogana
This museum is found on the triangular-shaped island in front of St Mark’s Square. The island separates the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal. The building was used by customs to control goods before they enter Venice. Now it is a museum of modern and contemporary art belonging to the Francois Pinault Foundation. Inside, there are nine different areas where you can enjoy one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world. From this island, you can have a nice view of the other side of the canal with St Mark’s Campanile in the background.
Is Venice Worth Visiting?
In my point of view, yes Venice is worth visiting. Venice can overwhelm you because there are too many people and the queues can be horrific (see below for advance tickets) but there is space where you can find some peace and relax. It is an excellent place to go for a romantic weekend, or as a family. There are many things to do and see for all the family. The food is great and there are plenty of hotels. Prices can be expensive but if you stay out of the centre, you can find more reasonably priced accommodation. Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think of Venice.