From the moment you arrive in Venice you can’t help but admire the incredible beauty of the place. You can easily spend a day or two simply soaking up the atmosphere, admiring the stunning architecture and taking the river bus up and down the Grand Canal. It’s a much larger city than I’d anticipated. There are so many truly stunning and breathtaking things to do in Venice.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting to find when I first visited this intriguing city. I think because Venice has always been described as such a beautiful and romantic place, I could easily have been disappointed. I’d also heard that it was smelly and run-down. One thing’s for sure, I sincerely doubted that it could live up to its romantic hype. However, I was completely wrong! Venice is absolutely stunning. Truly breathtaking. It’s certainly more than deserving of its reputation as the most beautiful and romantic city in the world!
Venice is undoubtedly a wonderful place to visit for a romantic weekend or if you’re on Honeymoon. It does very much deserve its reputation as a city of love. However, it can also be enjoyed as a weekend destination with friends or family. Alternatively you could visit as part of a wider tour of Italy, which is how I came to visit, during a trip inter-railing. For visitors seeking luxury, there are lots of options for beautiful and romantic accommodation. For backpackers and budget travellers there are some fantastic places to stay too at really reasonable prices. Check out my review of Hotel San Geremia for a fantastic budget option. We stayed in this hotel and found it charming, so I’d thoroughly recommend it.
Things To Do in Venice, Italy
Before we begin, when it comes to things to do in Venice, probably the most famous activity is to take a ride in a gondola. There are certainly many opportunities to do so. Personally, I found this activity to be extortionately expensive. Prices I saw advertised ranged between €80-€120 for just a 20 minute or half-hour trip around the block. For some, the photo opportunity, and just to be able to say you’ve done it, it’s worth it. However, when I went to Venice, I didn’t bother. I enjoyed riding the hop-on hop-off river bus up and down the full length of the Grand Canal on my day ticket instead, which cost just a few Euro. Hence, I decided to save my money, not take a gondola ride, and spend it on other attractions.
One thing is for sure, there are plenty of stunning places to see and breathtaking things to do in Venice. From my experience of this beautiful city, here are SEVEN of the best:
1. People Watching in St Mark’s Square
First of all, Piazza San Marco, or in English, St Mark’s Square, is a famous Venetian landmark and the main public square in Venice. Often simply referred to as la Piazza, St. Mark’s Square was constructed during the 9th century at the time of the first settlement. The buildings forming the square are a fusion of different eras, from Neoclassic to Gothic-Byzantine, complementing each other in harmony within a truly captivating space.
A visit to this historic place is guaranteed to amaze with its grandeur and sheer dimensions. The down-side of a visit to Piazza San Marco is that it’s very busy and, because it’s such a popular destination, all of the eateries and cafes are really pricey. In fact, there is a significant table charge just to be seated in the outside areas, even before you order anything. This really is a stunning place to visit though, so you may think it’s worth it. Travellers on a budget can always get a gelato and sit on some of the public steps to soak up the atmosphere.
When it comes to things to do in Venice, you can’t visit Piazza San Marco without seeing the Campanile di San Marco. This is the famous bell tower, visible from the lagoon, arguably one of Venice’s most recognisable symbols. If you want to climb the tower then do make sure you plan ahead in order to avoid the phenomenal queues. I very much recommend booking a ‘skip-the-line’ ticket, or a multi-attraction tour through Viatours.
2. Visit Basilica di San Marco
While you’re in Piazza San Marco, in addition to the bell tower, you can’t fail to admire the fairy-tale façade of Basilica di San Marco, or, in English, Saint Mark’s Basilica. This cathedral is another well known landmark in Venice. It really is breathtaking both inside and out with its domed interiors decorated by intricate mosaics. It’s the best known of the many churches in Venice and the leading tourist attraction aside from the Piazza itself. It’s easy to tell why when you see it for yourself.
Adjacent and attached to Doge’s Palace, it was originally the palace chapel. With it’s incredible opulence and gold ground mosaics it has long been seen as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power. In fact, since the 11th century, the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d’Oro (Church of gold). It’s a stunning place to visit. Furthermore, the Basilica di San Marco is free of charge for visitors (though a donation is welcomed) so it’s perfect for those visiting Venice on a budget. Like many popular European cities, Venice can be quite an expensive destination to visit if you want to do everything that’s on offer. So it’s well worth planning some free or less-expensive options into your itinerary.
There’s a great article about the Basilica, with all the opening times and other visitor information here.
3. Visit the Doge’s Palace
Before you leave Piazza San Marco you should definitely stop to visit Doge’s Palace, one of the most popular things to do in Venice. This is arguably the third most well known landmark in Venice and again, can be found in this stunning part of the city. It’s often referred to as one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings. Doge’s Palace was not only the Doge’s residence (the supreme authority of the republic of Venice), it was used by the government during the Venetian Republic before being opened as a museum in 1923.
During the time when it was the Doge’s residence, the palace was merely a gloomy timber fortress with huge towers. However, after burning down several times, the palace was transformed into a gothic Byzantine-style building. Its history, amazing art works, and iconic beauty make it a major attraction. For visitors looking for things to do in Venice, this is a must-see. To avoid long queues though, arrive at noon when the many tour groups are out for lunch. Also, make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking and standing in this huge palace.
4. Don’t Miss a Visit to the Bridge of Sighs
After your visit to the Doge’s Palace, take a short stroll along to the end of the Grand Canal and look out for one the most famous bridges in Venice; the Bridge of Sighs. This bridge connects the Doge’s Palace with the old prison’s first floor, where prisoners were taken to the courthouse for sentencing. Built in 1600, the enclosed bridge is made of white limestone, and has windows with stone bars. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo and was designed by Antonio Contino whose uncle Antonio da Ponte famously designed the Rialto Bridge.
Take your camera to capture some of the beautiful and delicate stone works. The graceful curve of the bridge make picture-perfect photos. If you go early in the morning you can beat the tourists and get a perfect shot with the bridge behind while its still quiet.
5. Admire the Scale and Beauty of Venice From San Giorgio Maggiore Island
When I visited Venice, one of the unexpected highlights of my trip was when we went out to San Giorgio Maggiore Island. It was very easily accessible by taking the water bus and from the island you can look back out over the lagoon to see the full scale of Venice. I can tell you it is truly breathtaking.
San Giorgio Maggiore Island dates back to 790 AD, when the first monastery was built. The island takes its name from San Giorgio Maggiore. This is the 16th-century Benedictine church designed by Andrea Palladio and built between 1566 and 1610. The church is a basilica in the classical renaissance style. Its brilliant white marble shines out over the blue waters of the lagoon opposite the Piazzetta. The church forms the focal point of the view from every part of the Riva degli Schiavoni. Furthermore, there’s a tower which you can climb, or take a lift up to the top, for absolutely stunning panoramic views! If you’re looking for ideas for things to do in Venice, this is one of my absolute favourites.
If you are only going to go up one tower in Venice I would recommend going up this one rather than the Campanile di San Marco. The views from here are truly incredible. You can see the Doge’s Palace the full lagoon, Grand Canal and everything laid out before you from up here.
For advice on how to reach the island and explore its beautiful sights, see the step-by-step guide on this helpful website.
6. Palazzo Grassi for Art Lovers
This 18th century Palazzo is home to modern art exhibitions that take place here every year. Palazzo Grassi is on the Grand Canal and features the works of artists from around the world. Visiting Palazzo Grassi is one of the more cultural and artistic things to do in Venice. The interior of this Palazzo has been designed by the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando. Since 2013 single-artist exhibitions have been popular here. The exhibitions run from early April through to December and entrance tickets for Palazzo Grassi can be purchased in combination with the art museum, Punta della Dogana. If you’re an art lover, you can spend many happy hours in here for sure.
Once you’ve had your fill of beautiful art, take a stroll along the canal and stop in one of the many waterside eateries for a light bite. There are so many beautiful little cafes and restaurants with stunning views of the canal.
7. Take a Grand Canal tour
Finally, one of the simplest, yet also most wonderful things to do in Venice is to take a Grand Canal tour. They take you through the lagoon city’s central canal. You could always buy a hop-on hop-off ticket for the river bus if you just want a self guided tour. However, taking one of the many organised tours is a great option if you like to hear a tour guide’s commentary.
Tips for Taking a Grand Canal Tour
You’ll want to get a good view so try to get an outside seat. Hop on at the Piazzale Roma stop as this is where the tour starts, hence you’ll beat the crowds and get the best views. Another tip to get an outside seat is to begin your trip after 9pm. This is when many tourists have returned to the mainland. You’ll have more chance to enjoy a romantic canal tour with your loved one after dark. Venice is truly beautiful by night too.
The Rialto Bridge
Travelling along the Grand Canal is awe-inspiring. You’ll pass through some of the most emblematic buildings and palaces in the city. Half-way along the Grand Canal, look out for the famous 16th century landmark, The Rialto Bridge. The Rialto Bridge (In Italian: Ponte di Rialto) is one of the four bridges over the Grand Canal. Rialto is the oldest of them. It was the dividing line for the districts of San Marco and San Polo. You’ll see many tourists clambering to get a picture on the bridge and by it. Unfortunately, when we visited, it was undergoing some preservation work so it was covered in scaffolding. It’s always disappointing when you go to a city and want to see one of the main sites only to find it covered for refurbishing! Luckily, there is so much to see and do in Venice we still had plenty to photograph.
To book a Grand Canal tour online visit this website for detailed itinerary and reservation info.
By now you’ve probably guessed that I am rather in love with this city! There are just so many beautiful sights and incredible things to do in Venice. I’ve only touched the surface with my seven favourites. If you plan to visit, but you’re on a tight budget, check out my review of Hotel San Geremia. This is where we stayed when we went inter-railing through Italy. Italy is one of my favourite countries in the world so I’ve been several times. Do get in touch if I can help in any way or answer any of your questions.
Have you visited Venice? Are you planning a visit? I’d love to hear where you’ve been or where you’re planning to go. Let me know in the comments below.
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A Media Psychologist & Life Coach by profession, Honey loves to help people create a life & career that they love. She has always been passionate about travel and the incredible life enrichment it brings.
Honey is a highly experienced Brand Ambassador and Spokesperson. In her thirteen year career she has worked with some of the world's best known brands such as Virgin, Google, Disney, American Express, Jet2 Holidays, Eurostar, British Airways and many more.
Honey is founder and editor-in-chief of The Wanderlust Post. She started the mag in order to provide bloggers with an opportunity to share their travel tales, recommendations, reviews and adventures with each other and the world at large.
A self confessed 'Stamp Tramp' Honey is always happiest with her passport in one hand, and a Baileys on ice in the other.