A brief history & Fun facts
Both architecturally and historically, Venice is unique. At first, it was a city for refugees to flee the barbaric Roman empire. Today, it is one of the most iconic cities in Italy. Venice, or Venezia in Italian, is known for its canals and bridges that connect over 100 little islands. One of the most astonishing facts about the city Is that there are no cars there. Instead, people get around by boats, gondolas, or the famous water taxis (vaporetti). Venice is also known for it’s glass making which occurs on the island of Murano, its romantic essence, and it’s excellent food. It is a huge tourist destination, and easily one of the most recognizable cities in the world.
Things to See and Do in Venice
My husband and I had the chance to visit Venice multiple times while living in Italy. Below, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite places to see there. These are some suggestions on where to get started for first time visitors. Venice is a small city and can be seen in just a few days depending on your level of interest, and what time of year you visit.
During the summer months, the city is unfortunately packed with tourists. If you don’t fear the chance of rain or fog, I would highly suggest visiting Venice in the fall or winter when there are far less crowds throughout the city. I have literally experienced no wait time at places like the bell tower and St Marks Basilica in the fall when I would have had to wait at least an hour during summer months just to get close to the buildings. There were also some crowds when we visited around Christmas time, but, again, not nearly as much as in the summer.
Go to Saint Mark’s Basilica
You cannot miss seeing the large, beautiful church in the center of St. Mark’s square in Venice. The interior of the church is just as stunning as the exterior, so do not hesitate to go inside. It is free to enter the church, however there are a few small sights inside that you need to pay a fee to enter. You also need to pay to visit the museum and balcony upstairs. In my opinion, the free entrance is perfect for those who are only interested in the aesthetics of the church. Pictures are not allowed inside the church, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say the interior is stunning. 😉
You cannot bring large backpacks into the church so the guards outside will instruct you to bring the bags to the luggage office on the side of the building. As with most churches in Italy, you will have to be dressed appropriately to enter. During the summer months, you may want to invest a few euro in a reservationto enter the church so you can skip to the front of the line. Outside of the peak tourist season, it is probably not necessary to do so. If you are interested in attending mass at the church, follow this linkfor more information.
Take pictures of the Bridge of Sighs and Rialto Bridge
If you are in the City of Bridges, you must visit at least two of the city’s most famous ones. The Bridge of Sighs is located between Saint Mark’s square and Doge’s Palace. Today, it is famous for its gorgeously romantic views of the city. However, it became significant years ago as it was used to transport prisoners to the prison located in Doge’s Palace. Even during the offseason, it is likely this bridge will be crowded with tourists taking pictures of the canals below it and staring in awe at the beauty in front of them.
Another famous bridge in Venice is the Rialto bridge. This bridge is unique because it is the central shopping point of the city. It is also one of the largest bridge located in the city itself. You can walk on either the left or right side of the bridge, or in the center aisle. Each side of the bridge gives unique and interesting views of the city whereas the center aisle is primarily used for those that want to shop in some of the many stores located on the bridge itself.
Play with Experiments at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum
Leonardo da Vinci is arguably one of the most famous men that derived from Italy during the Renaissance period. Not only did Da Vinci create many beautiful works of art that are now on display throughout the world, he was also well-known for his scientific experiments and discoveries. It’s no wonder Venice has several museums surrounding the life and accomplishments of such a man.
As stated, there are several Leonardo da Vinci Museums located throughout Venice. However, if you are not typically interested in museums, I would suggest visiting the Museo Leonardo da Vinci. Here, you are able to play with the replicas of the experiments on display. It is fun for people of all ages to walk around and interact with the items on display rather than just looking at the displays. You will likely spend 1-2 hours at this museum if you choose to visit.
Explore the Rialto Food Market
If you love fresh fish, fruits and veggies, then the Rialto Market is an excellent place to stop to pickup some groceries and experience the local Italian culture. If you do not need food, it may be a great place to check out just for fun, especially if it is your first experience at an Italian food market. Here you will find various vendors from the local area looking to sell their products to those that need them including local chefs.
Technically, the market is split into two groups: the fish and produce markets. However, they are located very close to each other, so you could easily visit both in one trip. The best time to visit the market is early in the morning between 7 and 8 am as this is when the best products are available. Please note, the fish market is only open Tuesday-Saturday whereas the fruit market is open Monday-Saturday. The hours for both markets are typically 7-12:30pm, and possibly later if it’s a good day.
Plan a few hours for Shopping and Exploring
It is definitely worth your time to stop in at least a few stores along your route to Piazza San Marco, or whichever destination you are looking for. Whether you are searching for high end fashion, or just something to bring back home for your friends and family, there are many stores that you will enjoy. If you follow the routes marked throughout the city leading to Piazza San Marco, the Rialto bridge, and the train station you will pass many shops along the way to visit and explore. Luckily, the majority of name brand department stores in Venice do not usually close for midday rest. However, keep in mind that many of the smaller shops will close between 12 and 3 and some may not be open at all on Sundays.
Visit Doge’s Palace
Long ago, Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is where the Doges and leaders of the Venetian government lived and ruled the surrounding area from. Today, it is one of the most iconic buildings in Venice as well as an interesting museum. I really enjoyed touring Palazzo Ducale. It is a unique museum because the architecture of the building is truly stunning. Aside from viewing the architecture, there are numerous pieces of artwork on display throughout the palace. Additionally, there are displays set up showing where the Doge would live, conduct official business, etc.
One of the most interesting pieces of the palace museum is the the Scala d’oro – the Stair of Gold. As you can imagine, the staircase is decorated heavily with gold pieces. It truly is a beautiful sight to see if you can manage to push through the crowds enough to enjoy it. One could probably spend a good 4-5 hours in the museum if they were to thoroughly view every room and exhibit. It costs 20 euro for admission, however there are discounts for students and families.
See the Whole City at the top of the Bell Tower
As long as you are not afraid of heights, the bell tower in St. Mark’s square is the best way to see gorgeous views of the city of Venice. Yes, there is an elevator in this tower that will take you to the top of the bell tower. At the top, you are able to walk around and see different parts of the city from a bird’s eye view. If you are lucky, it will be a clear day and you will be able to see mountains in the distance. It costs 9 euro for adults to enter the tower.
During the summer months, the line to enter the bell tower can become quite long. Fortunately, there is a servicethat allows you to pre-book an appointment to enter the bell tower and skip to the front of the line. The service is only available during the peak tourist season. As far as the views of Venice go, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Visit the coolest bookstore in Italy
Remember when I said that Venice is full of interesting shops? If you are a book lover, you cannot miss this incredible bookstore in the heart of the city. At Acqua Alta Libra, there are piles and piles of book. There is a gondola full of books and even a staircase made of them. While it seems that most people visit just for the sake of visiting, there are also loads of options to choose from in a variety of different languages. Fun fact: it’s one of the few bookstores in Italy where I actually found books in English.
One of my favorite parts of the bookstore was the piles of postcards that were available to browse through and for sale for really cheap. Old postcards are such fun things to buy for friends and family back home! If you are visiting, just make sure you are not allergic to cats. There are several kitties wandering in and out of the store here – another part I loved, however others may not be so fond of it.
Ride the Water Taxi
Some cities you can travel by car or subways to get around. In Venice, you can hop on a water taxi to get from place to place. How cool is that? Not only is it an awesome way of transportation, but you’ll also take in some unique views of the city when doing so. The taxis are conveniently located throughout the city. You can even use them to get to islands not connected to the mainland. Lido, Murano, and Burano are some of the most popular islands for tourists to visit, if you want to check them out.
Some people make it their goal to ride a gondola in Venice. However, I think the water taxi is a great alternative if you are looking to save money on your trip. Though romantic, the price of a gondola ride (often 80-100 euro) may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The water taxi is a much cheaper alternative. Plus, it’s quite practical for traveling around Venice when you may not necessarily feel like walking all day.
Travel to a Nearby City
If you are staying in Venice for a few days, you may want to venture out and explore the surrounding area. Luckily, there are plenty of interesting and beautiful places nearby that could be visited in a day. Paduais a great city located just outside Venice and can easily be reached by train in as little as 30 minutes. Additionally, Verona can be reached by train in 1-1.5 hours whereas Florenceis just 2-2.5 hours away.
There are plenty of day trip options within easy reach. Riding the train is an adventure in itself as you’re likely to see some of the countryside on your journey. No matter which places you choose to visit, you are sure to enjoy the scenic and unique Italian atmosphere.
For such a tiny island, there is a lot to do in Venice for a few days worth of fun.