The Top 10 Free Things to Do in Venice, Italy

Renaissance architecture, free museums, and stunning churches abound

Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy

 Lara D'Agostino / TripSavvy

One of the most unique cities in Italy, Venice is made up of 100 small islands and home to shining examples of Renaissance and Gothic architecture, world-class museums, and nearly 200 churches. Best of all, there's no need to spend a lot of money in Venice as many of the city's best activities—like walking along the canals and admiring the beautiful squares and colorful buildings—are free. Composed of six sestere (districts), the City of Canals is easily navigable on foot. Simply pick your favorite neighborhood and take a stroll. 

Wandering the canal-side streets is a pleasurable (and free) past-time, with more than 150 canals to choose from, lined with old houses and varying in size from the great main thoroughfare of the Grand Canal to tiny canals that are barely accessible to small boats. You're likely to get a little lost but it's all part of the charm of Venice. For a real treat, park yourself by one of the more than 400 bridges that criss cross the canals or head to the Grand Canal to watch the gondolas, larger boats, and water buses make their way around town.

01 of 10

Get the Best Views in Venice

View of canals in Venice

Christopher Larson / TripSavvy

Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, 30133 Venezia VE, Italy

From the moment you arrive in Venice—whether by train, bus, or boat—you're bound to be in absolute awe of all the colorful buildings and canal scenes around you. For the best photo-ops in the city, head to Accademia Bridge, Piazza San Marco, or the Bridge of Sighs, named for the last time prisoners were able to view the city and enjoy fresh air as they made their way across from the courts to the prison. For iconic views of the city, venture out to San Giorgio Maggiore Church, a beautiful 16th-century Byzantine-style basilica that's also home to Tintoretto's "Last Supper" painting. For more information and to see other scenic points around the city with a guide by your side, consider going on a free walking tour.

02 of 10

Take a Break in the Royal Gardens of Venice

Royal Gardens in Venice, Italy

Elliott Brown / Flickr

Address San Marco, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Phone +39 041 312 1700

If the crowds or heat get to be too much, seek some respite among the trees in Giardini Reali di Venezia (the Royal Gardens of Venice), located just around the corner from Piazza San Marco along the Grand Canal. The ultimate place to take a break in Venice since it was constructed in the early 1800s, you'll notice it's oddly quiet here despite its proximity to such popular sites and attractions. Note that eating and drinking are not allowed (according to the website, picnics are forbidden) so bring a book along or just go for a peaceful stroll and enjoy the outdoors.

03 of 10

People-watch at Piazza San Marco and Campo Santa Maria Formosa

St Mark's Square, Piazza San Marco, with Basilica San Marco and Doges Palace, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, Italy, Europe
H & D Zielske / LOOK-foto / Getty Images
Piazza San Marco, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy

Flanked by elegant historic buildings and expensive cafes, many of which offer live music in the evening, Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square) is one of the main tourist destinations in Venice. While you'll be able to hear the music for free as you walk around, actually sitting at a table and ordering is usually very expensive. Take a peek at the famous Caffè Florian, popular since 1720, and stop by Basilica San Marco (Saint Mark's Cathedral), an impressive church built in the Byzantine style.

Nearby, Campo Santa Maria Formosa in the Castello neighborhood is one of the largest campos (squares) in the city, surrounded by an interesting collection of palazzi proudly showing off the city's unique architectural styles. Each district has at least one major campo. It's where you'll find most churches; these areas often serve as the neighborhood gathering place and often make great spots for people-watching.

04 of 10

Stroll Across the Rialto Bridge

People crossing the Rialto Bridge

Christopher Larson / TripSavvy

Sestiere San Polo, 30125 Venezia VE, Italy

The picturesque and crowded Rialto Bridge has been the main bridge crossing Venice's Grand Canal since 1591. Its covered arches connect the rest of the city with shops and the famous Rialto Market, a good place to visit in the morning. This lively food market, with its many little stalls, has been in operation for centuries. Go early to see fresh fish being unloaded from the boats. In the Rialto Market area, stop by Chiesa di San Giacometto di Rialto, the oldest church in Venice, founded in 471 and rebuilt in 1071, around the same time the Rialto Market began.

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05 of 10

Visit Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Basilica Santa Maria della Salute

Christopher Larson / TripSavvy

Dorsoduro, 1, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
Phone +39 041 274 3928

The octagonal Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is one of the most photographed churches in Venice—and for good reason. Built in the 17th century as a way to show thanks to God for the end of the plague, the Baroque-style church sits on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro neighborhood and is visible from the entrance to Piazza San Marco. Dramatic steps leading to the entrance are made of white Istrian stone, while more than 100 figures adorn the church's buttresses. The massive interior is awe-inspiring and contains several Titians. Each year on Nov. 21 during the feast day for Madonna della Salute, you can watch as Venetians walk across a temporary bridge laid across the Grand Canal to the church.

06 of 10

Visit San Giorgio dei Greci

San Giorgio Dei Greci in Venice, Italy

 Lara D'Agostino / TripSavvy

Calle dei Greci, 3422, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy
Phone +39 041 523 9569

The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, San Giorgio dei Greci, is the oldest and most important and historic church of the Orthodox Diaspora. The church, considered to be one of the best Orthodox temples in the world, was constructed by the Greek community in the 16th century. It's located in Venice's Castello district, once the home to a large Greek community. The iconography inside is accented with gold, post-Byzantine mosaics, wood stalls, and a frescoed cupola painted under Tintoretto's supervision. The church also has a leaning bell tower.

07 of 10

Explore Ghetto Ebraico (the Jewish Ghetto)

A bakery in the Jewish ghetto in Venice, Italy

Lara D'agostino / TripSavvy

Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy

The word "ghetto" originated in Venice with the creation of the Jewish Ghetto, or Ghetto Ebraico, in 1516, when thousands of Jews were forced to live in a segregated area of the city. There are two sections: the Ghetto Vecchio (old) and Ghetto Nuovo (new). Multi-story apartment buildings were built with low ceilings to accommodate the dense population and can still be seen as you traverse the area. Two of the five historic synagogues are still in use today, the Byzantine-style Schola Spagnola, used in summer, and the Baroque-style Schola Levantina, used in winter.

08 of 10

Learn About the City's Musical History

Museo della Musica in Venice, Italy

Lara D'Agostino / TripSavvy 

S. Marco, 2603, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Phone +39 041 241 1840

Near the Renaissance-heavy Scuola Grande di San Rocco art museum in the San Polo sestiere, you'll find Museo della Musica, a free museum dedicated to all things musical in Venice. Besides featuring a solid collection of instruments and a violin-making exhibit, the museum also offers an interesting look at the life of popular Venetian composer and musician, Antonio Vivaldi.

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09 of 10

Go Window Shopping

Masks in a souvenir shop in Venice, Italy

Lara D'agostino / TripSavvy

Strada Nova, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy

Venice is a window shopper's delight, with many small shops sporting inviting window displays featuring artful blown glass from Murano Island, jewelry, and beautifully decorated Carnevale masks. While you'll find upscale designer shops throughout the San Marco neighborhood, Strada Nova, the wide main street of the Cannaregio district, offers a mix of souvenir shops and local retailers, and you can find art galleries and antique shops in the Dorsoduro district. Avoid buying items from vendors on the streets who may be selling counterfeit goods, as you can be fined for purchasing them.

10 of 10

Attend One of Venice's Many Festivals

Venice Carnivale ~ Carnevale di Venezia, Italiana 2010

US Army Africa / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Piazza San Marco, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy

Venice plays host to many colorful festivals throughout the year, but perhaps the best known is Carnevale, which lasts about two weeks in February or March (it typically ends 40 days before Easter). Although many of the actual events are expensive, there's still plenty of free entertainment—gondola and boat parades along the Grand Canal, mask parades, elaborate costumes, and a huge fireworks finale—you can see along the streets and canals. Otherwise, see if you can catch the Regatta Storica (the historic regatta), an exciting boat race with a parade of boats that takes place each September. The Festival of San Marco, held each year on April 25, honors Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, and kicks off with a huge procession to San Marco Basilica.

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The Top 10 Free Things to Do in Venice, Italy