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Things to do in Venice — 25 iconic sights

View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge at dusk
© S.Borisov / Shutterstock

The romantic capital of the world has always attracted avid travelers, adventurers, and admirers of art and architecture. It's hard to argue with the fact that Venice is one of the unique cities in the world with its recognizable image. When visiting Venice, it is impossible to walk past the canals with gondolas, majestic cathedrals, ancient palazzos, and unusual bridges. The historical coffee house, the unique bookstore, and other important sights are also among the iconic places, without which you can't form a complete impression of this ancient city.

Basilica di San Marco

It is one of the main symbols and the most visited temple in Venice. It is located in the heart of the city, in Piazza San Marco. The Saint Mark's Basilica was built in the IX century in the style of Byzantine architecture to house the relics of the Apostle Mark, the patron saint and protector of Venice, brought from Alexandria. Behind the saint's tomb is an altar made of gold and decorated with two thousand precious and semi-precious stones. Another striking tourist attraction is the Campanile di San Marco (St Mark's Campanile). It is a 98.6-meter-high bell tower with a breathtaking panorama of the city. On its top, there is a weather vane with a figure of a golden angel.

Cathedral of Saint Mark from Piazza San Marco at sunrise
Basilica di San Marco © kavalenkava / Shutterstock

Grand Canal

This is the most important navigable artery that runs through the city. The most beautiful and majestic buildings and palaces of Venice, in different styles — Renaissance, Gothic, and Romanesque — are located along the Grand Canal. They are all built on stilts and have two exits — directly to the water and the street. Hundreds of gondolas, vaporettos, and water cabs cruise the lively canal every day. Since traffic on the Grand Canal is heavy, there are only four bridges.

things to see in venice - Grand Canal
Grand Canal © S.Borisov / Shutterstock

Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)

Doge's Palace is one of the best things to see in Venice and its hallmark, an outstanding monument of Italian Gothic architecture that was home to the Doges of the Republic. The palace was also the seat of the government, the police, and the court. On the first floor were the law offices, the chancellery, and the naval office. From the balcony, the Doges welcomed the population during celebrations. Inside the Palazzo Ducale, one can see the chic interiors decorated with Italian artists' works, stunning decorations, and the impressive Golden Staircase.

View from the sea to Piazza San Marco, Campanila and Ducale
Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) © StevanZZ / Shutterstock

Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)

It is the most famous of the four bridges of the Grand Canal. Architect Antonio da Ponte designed the openwork Ponte di Rialto in the XVI century, and it is the oldest bridge on the canal. The arched galleries of the bridge contain 24 stores selling souvenirs, leather goods, and jewelry. The Rialto Bridge offers a beautiful panorama of the city and the Grand Canal, which tourists use actively.

what to see in venice - Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) © Aniczkania / Shutterstock
Rialto bridge at night
Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) © Standret / Shutterstock

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute)

The most important cathedral of the city has a sacred meaning for Venetians. The Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute was constructed in the XVII century as a tribute to the Virgin Mary, who saved Venice from the plague epidemic. Every year, on November 21, the Festa della Salute is held to commemorate this event. On this day alone, a pontoon bridge is built from the Doge's Palace to the cathedral. The Baroque Santa Maria della Salute is located at the entrance to the Grand Canal and stands out from the row of buildings with its snow-white dome and facade adorned with sculptures. And the main staircase of the temple is a favorite resting place for tourists and residents of Venice.

must see in venice italy - Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute © kavalenkava / Shutterstock

Ca' Rezzonico

It is one of the architectural gems of the city, located on the Grand Canal. It is a majestic XVIII-century baroque palace. The movie Casanova starring Heath Ledger was filmed in its Grand Ballroom. There is an eighteenth-century museum (Museo del Settecento), where paintings of that era, sculptures, furniture, clothes, accessories, and home decor are on display.

Interior decor, ceilings and frescoes of the palace
Frescoes of the Ca' Rezzonico Palace © Isogood_patrick / Shutterstock

Piazza San Marco

Venice's pulsating heart is the first place people think of when they talk about the most romantic city in the world. It is one of the first things tourists do in Venice. St. Mark's Square is home to the main cathedral, the Doge's Palace, and cozy cafes, where you should definitely have a cup of aromatic drink while enjoying the surrounding views. Its important architectural elements are the Columns of St. Mark and Theodore. On top of the first one, there is a bronze statue of a winged lion, Venice's symbol. The top of the second is adorned with a sculpture of St. Theodore of Tyrone, with a crocodile lying at his feet.

Piazza San Marco after sunset
Piazza San Marco © Iakov Kalinin / Shutterstock

Burano

This island is one of the best places to see in Venice, Italy. It is here that the famous snow-white Burano lace is made. It is distinguished by its delicacy, highly valued for its craftsmanship since the Middle Ages, and is still made by hand. You can see the process of lace creation with your own eyes in the thematic museum, where hundreds of samples of this textile work of art are presented. It is worth buying lace clothes, tablecloths, napkins, an umbrella, or some nice souvenir in the stores of Burano. Another feature of the island is its colorful houses, which seem doll-like.

places to see in venice italy - Burano island
Colorful houses on Burano island © Olga Gavrilova / Shutterstock
Boats and colorful houses on the canal
Burano © cge2010 / Shutterstock
Multicolored bright houses of traditional fishing village
Fishing village Burano near Venice © leoks / Shutterstock
Colorful houses and boats
Canal of Burano Island © StevanZZ / Shutterstock

Ca' d'Oro

The official name of this snow-white Gothic building is Palazzo Santa Sofia. Ca' d'Oro literally translates as the house of gold because its facade was initially decorated with gold leaf. The palace was constructed in the XV century by the Grand Canal and is still considered the most refined example of the Venetian style. At the end of the XIX century, Baron Franchetti bought Ca' d'Oro, who reconstructed it and returned it to its historical appearance, which had been lost due to numerous reconstructions. After the owner's death, a gallery named after him was opened, where a collection of paintings, antiques, sculptures, and ceramics collected by the baron is on display.

things to do in venice - visit Ca' d'Oro
Ca-d'Oro Palace (Golden House) © Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore)

The XVII-century cathedral is located on the island of the same name, San Giorgio Maggiore, not far from the Grand Canal. It is one of the most famous works of the great Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Its facade is in the classical style with columns of white stone. The interior of the temple is very light and spacious. An unusual sculpture of Jesus Christ, standing on a ball supported by four evangelists, is located on the main altar. Nearby is a stone bell tower with an observation deck from where you can see the Venetian sights.

Sunset and gondolas in Piazza San Marco
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore © Fesus Robert / Shutterstock

The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)

The bridge, covered with a dark history, crosses the Palazzo Canal (Rio di Palazzo). Despite its romantic name, its origins are not so bright. It was the last opportunity to see daylight for prisoners on their way to a prison from which they could no longer escape. As they looked at the beauties of Venice, the miserable ones sighed doomfully. Later, the Venetians invented a more joyous tradition for this bridge. As they sailed under it, lovers should kiss to make their union eternal. The Ponte dei Sospiri also stands out because, unlike standard crossings, it has walls with four small lattice windows and a roof.

things to do in venice italy - visit Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) © TMP - An Instant of Time / Shutterstock
Gondolas with tourists
The Bridge of Sighs © Takashi Images / Shutterstock

Teatro La Fenice

It is one of Italy's most popular opera houses and a great idea of what to do in Venice. Its name translates as a phoenix, reflecting Teatro La Fenice's history, which rose from the ashes three times after fires. Although the building was reconstructed in 2001-2004, it has almost entirely retained its historical image. The interior is richly decorated with gold and stucco, and the chairs are covered with red velvet. Teatro La Fenice hosted the premieres of classical operas Rigoletto and La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi.

what to do in venice - Teatro La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice © EQRoy / Shutterstock

Mark's Clocktower (Torre dell'orologio)

This is another landmark that can be found in the main Venetian square. It is an important early Renaissance monument, constructed in 1497. A distinctive feature of the tower is the astrological clock on the facade. There are two bronze figures on its top, striking a bell. Below is a sculpture of the symbol of Venice, a winged lion holding a book. You can see a semicircular gallery with the Virgin Mary's copper statue with the Child Jesus underneath it. Twice a year, Three Wise Men and an angel appear here and pass around the balcony worshipping the Virgin Mary.

Piazza dei Signori and Torre del Orologio (Clocktower)
Mark's Clocktower © Catarina Belova / Shutterstock

Mercati di Rialto

This is the most important shopping area in Venice, along the Grand Canal, near the Rialto Bridge. It is not only a tourist attraction but also one of the favorite markets of the Venetians themselves. Here you can find great fruits and vegetables, spices, sweets, cheeses, and meat delicacies. But first and foremost, people come here for the freshest fish and seafood, which, if they wish, can be peeled and cut up on the spot. At the end of the day, all the fish waste is dumped on the floor, after which a real seagull feast begins.

Fish department in the market
Mercati di Rialto © FooTToo / Shutterstock

Gallerie dell'Accademia

The art gallery with the largest collection of Venetian paintings of the XIV-XVIII centuries is located on the Grand Canal banks. Its name refers to the time when it housed the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts. The building where the museum is situated formerly belonged to the monastery. In the Gallerie dell'Accademia, you can see original paintings by Bellini, Carpaccio, Guardi, Titian, Giorgione, Tintoretto, and other masters.

Light marble facade of the Academy building
Gallerie dell'Accademia © ilbolive.unipd.it

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

The mid-XVI-century building originally housed the Fellowship of San Rocco, created in 1481 to help the sick during a plague epidemic. Thirty-six years later, the organization had grown to such an extent that it was decided to build a new building. In 1564, the painter Tintoretto won a competition to decorate the walls and ceiling. Over 23 years, he created 69 paintings for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, arranged in chronological order in the halls of Albergo, on the second and first floors. The most outstanding paintings are considered to be St. Roch in Glory and Crucifixion.

Scuola San Rocco at dusk
Scuola Grande di San Rocco © Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock

Museo Civico Correr

It is one of the best museums and the most interesting things to do in Venice. The Museo Civico Correr is located in Piazza San Marco and is dedicated to the city's history. The first collection contains documents, books, ceremonial clothes, coins, seals, and antique weapons. The second collection is an art gallery with works by Venetian masters. The third exhibition consists of paintings, costumes, documents, and engravings representing the period from the fall of the Republic to Italy's unification.

National Library of San Marco or Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Museo Civico Correr © SvetlanaSF / Shutterstock

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

This iconic Gothic cathedral of the XV century stands out for its size and role as a pantheon. The Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo is the final resting place of 18 Venetian doges and other prominent figures (sailors, military, artists, poets, writers, politicians, and clergymen). Another important feature of the basilica is the number of masterpieces of art located there. They include the Polyptych of St. Vincenzo Ferreri and the San Zaccaria Altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini; the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Assumption, and the Annunciation by Paolo Veronese; and the fresco The Glory of St Dominic by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta.

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo © Gameoflight / Shutterstock

Ponte dell'Accademia

It is the southernmost of the Grand Canal bridges and offers a great view, especially at sunset. It gets its name from the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, located nearby until 2004. Originally, since the middle of the XIX century, a steel structure was placed here, but after numerous criticisms of the too modern appearance of the bridge, it was dismantled on the orders of Mussolini. A new wooden structure with metal supports replaced the old one in 1933. In the past, couples in love used to hang locks here to symbolize the strength of their feelings, but the authorities stopped this tradition, which threatened to destroy the Ponte dell'Accademia.

Boat under Ponte dell'Accademia
Ponte dell'Accademia © Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock

Arsenale di Venezia

A large shipbuilding and repair complex was constructed at the beginning of the XII century to build, equip, and maintain ships going on crusades. The Arsenale di Venezia had warehouses for building materials and weapons, as well as covered shipyards. Over the centuries, the arsenal had expanded, making it the largest industrial enterprise of medieval Europe. It now houses a museum dedicated to Venice's military and commercial and maritime development.

Red brick towers
Arsenale di Venezia © RossHelen / Shutterstock

Libreria Acqua Alta

One of the most unusual and beautiful bookstores in the world is one of the best things to see in Venice. Since the problem of flooding is very urgent for the city, the owners of Libreria Acqua Alta have found a way out of this situation and figured out how to protect books and at the same time create a unique atmosphere. The volumes here not only stand on a shelf but also lie in a real gondola, boats, and barrel. But most tourists come here for something else — to take an interesting photo for social media on the stairs. What would seem to be so unusual here? It's all about the fact that it consists entirely of old books stacked in the steps near the old brick wall.

Walls of books and a green table with chairs
The famous bookstore in Venice "Libreria Acqua Alta" © Ihor Serdyukov / Shutterstock

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

The elegant and airy palace is located in the district of San Marco. The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo was built in 1499 for Pietro Contarini, a member of a noble Venetian family. The building's main architectural feature is the external spiral staircase leading to the arcade, which offers a city's panorama. In 1952, Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo became the setting for the filming of Orson Welles' adaptation of the tragedy Othello.

Outdoor spiral staircase in the palace
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo © Igor Tichonow / Shutterstock
View from the top roof of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo
On the rooftop of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo © Igor Tichonow / Shutterstock

Cafe Florian

It is one of the oldest cafes in Italy and a very iconic place in Venice. It was in this city in 1640 that the first establishment in Europe to serve coffee opened. Soon, the fashion caught on, and by the middle of the XVIII century, there had already been more than two hundred coffee houses here. Opened in 1720, Florian Cafe was the first such institution, which both women and men could visit. The popularity of Cafe Florian contributed to the fact that they sold the very first Venetian newspaper there. The visitors of the institution included Casanova, Byron, Goethe, Rousseau, Dickens, Proust, Modigliani, Hemingway, Stravinsky, and Brodsky. The coffee house consists of several rooms — the Hall of Great Men with portraits of famous Venetians painted by Carlini, the Senate Hall with paintings by Cass, the Chinese Hall, as well as the halls of the East, the Seasons, and Liberty.

Tables in front of the entrance to the cafe
Cafe Florian © komar.de

Murano

This small island is famous, just like Burano, for its craft — the production of glassware. You can see the process of creating amazing fragile things in the workshops, where guided tours are offered. And in the Museum of Glass, there is an exposition that allows you to trace the development of this sphere and amazes the level of talent of glassblowers. The main church of Murano is the cathedral of Santa Maria e Donato. It stands out for its fantastic XII-century mosaic floor depicting mythical creatures. Bones of a large animal believed to belong to a dragon hang behind the altar.

Multi-colored Murano glass figurines in the store
Murano glass figurines © funkyfrogstock / Shutterstock
A sculpture of a horse made of cooling Murano glass
Murano glass horse figurine in a factory in Murano © trabantos / Shutterstock

Fondaco dei Tedeschi

At first glance, it might seem that there is a museum or gallery inside the XIII-century palace in the Rialto district. But in fact, there is a shopping center. There you can buy brand-name clothing and accessories of Gucci, Burberry, Saint Laurent, cosmetics of Estee Lauder, Guerlain, Kiehl's, Lancome, as well as watches, jewelry, and souvenirs. But the main purpose of tourists' visit to Fondaco dei Tedeschi is not shopping, but a tour of the observation deck on the roof, where you can see the Grand Canal and the whole center of Venice. For convenience, the terrace has metal panels engraved with the surrounding scenery and signed by all the iconic landmarks that can be viewed from this location.

View of the bridge and the Grand Canal from the rooftop terrace
Rialto Bridge from the rooftop terrace of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi © Francesco Bonino / Shutterstock