There's no place on earth like Venice, Italy. This city built on the waters of the Adriatic Sea is dreamlike with its elaborate architecture, art-filled palaces, a palpable history that dates back over 1,000 years and, of course, its network of picturesque, flood-prone canals.
Venice consists of a tight cluster of islands around the Grand Canal, an iconic waterway plied by gondolas, water taxis, and canal boats. And since there are no cars in the city (or roads for that matter), you must walk or take a boat to see its many sites. But exploring is slow-paced and pleasant—there is never any shortage of attractions and curiosities, from museum hopping to island jaunts, no matter what time of year you come.
At the heart of Venice is the ever-bustling St. Mark's Square. Always packed with food-seeking pigeons, sightseers, and cafe-goers alike, the iconic plaza is optimal for kicking back with a caffè and admiring the way Italians (and wide-eyed foreigners) go about their days. Also called Piazza San Marco, this central meeting place is a grand example of Venetian society. Look for an eatery with live music, but beware of cover charges that may be automatically charged to your bill.
Climb to the Top of St. Mark’s Campanile
In St. Mark's Square, St. Mark’s Campanile towers more than 300 feet above the crowd. Many will stop to take a picture of the lofty bell tower, perched majestically beside the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, never bothering to take the elevator to the top for an unmatched view of Venice from above. The Campanile di San Marco is, indeed, the tallest, most commanding landmark in the city.
Shop for Books at Libreria Acqua Alta
Libreria Acqua Alta is not your average bookstore. Rather, it's one that looks to be fully equipped for Venice's frequent, relentless flooding. The name itself translates to "Book Store of High Water." Books by the thousands are piled into bathtubs and even a full-sized gondola, creating a quirky, almost comical sight. The book seller offers a slew of vintage titles, plus a couple of resident cats to play with.
Gelato is as much a culinary staple of Italy as pizza and pasta, and Venice keeps the frozen dessert flowing in large quantities. Some of the top institutions for it are La Mela Verde ("Green Apple"), offering flavors like ricotta in a cone or ice cream sandwich; Gelateria Nico, located along the Giudecca Canal for a scenic sweet-eating setting; and Venchi, a 19th-century chocolate company.
Escape the Crowds in Castello
Castello is the largest of Venice's six sestieri, and one not often visited by the tourist set. While one side of it borders the buzzy St. Mark’s Square, the other side is delightfully laidback and—believe it or not—quiet. This is where the locals live. An afternoon spent in Castello calls for browsing independent businesses, stumbling into a food market, and mingling with Venetians on locals-only turf.
During the 1,000-year reign of the Republic of Venice, its headquarters—and the residence of its leader, "Duke" of Venice (or "the Doge")—was at the Palazzo Ducale. Now it's a museum, and you can get a glimpse inside the rooms once occupied by Venice's executive, legislative, and judicial branches. You can even book a Secret Itineraries Tour, which includes access to torture chambers, prisons, and the Bridge of Sighs. The museum is huge, so allocate several hours to your visit and map out your sights before you head inside.
Attend a Mass at Basilica San Marco
This superb example of Byzantine architecture next to the Palazzo Ducale is dedicated to Venice's patron, the apostle Saint Mark. Attending a traditional Catholic mass at this multi-domed church is a bucket-list experience for those of the faith. But if you're not quite the churchgoing type, book a tour instead and marvel over the treasures inside—glistening Byzantine mosaics, paintings by leading Venetian artists, and more.
This ornamental stone bridge on the Grand Canal is one of the most famous bridges in Venice. The city's first-built bridge, it leads the way to the famous Rialto Market, where vendors sell fresh-picked produce, freshly caught fish, spices, and more. A stroll over the bridge will put you in heart of Venice's crowds—of both the tourist and local variety—but the lively atmosphere of the city's commercial and financial hub is one not to be missed.
Visit the Galleria dell'Accademia di Venezia
Founded in 1750, the Galleria dell'Accademia di Venezia was the nesting place for an academy of painters and sculptors. Today, it is the best museum for viewing preserved Venetian art from the 14th and 18th centuries. See works from Renaissance artists like Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto, Titian, and Giambattista. The museum's collection of art encompasses upward of 800 paintings. Buy tickets online and book a private guide for the best experience.
See the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Modern art lovers will enjoy the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the first contemporary art museums in Italy. The museum houses the treasured works of 20th-century leaders in painting such as Pollock, Klee, Mondrian, and de Chirico. Housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni—an unfinished 18th-century palace—this museum was once Peggy Guggenheim's lavish residence. Check the website for seasonal events and to buy tickets online.
For many Venice visitors, taking a gondola ride is an expensive splurge. But it can be quite romantic and memorable to experience quintessential Venice in this way. Pick a gondola service that brings you away from the hustle-bustle of the Grand Canal and, instead, explores the city's network of narrow waterways. Pass under Venice's famous bridges and take in buildings from a different perspective. For a more economical option, book a group ride of up to six people and split the fee. You can also arrange a ride through your hotel, but they may charge a nominal fee on top of the gondola service fare.
Watch Now: 8 Things to Know Before Taking a Gondola Ride
The Biennale Art Exposition happens in Venice every odd-numbered year and lasts from June through November. This tradition, which dates back to 1895, is an essential part of the Venice art scene. Peruse the Giardini Pubblici (the Public Gardens) to see the installments of artists from more than 30 different countries. There is also a biennale exposition of architecture and theatre, which occurs every other even-numbered year. Either way, Biennale always promises a jolt of contemporary in this old-world city.
In a 13th-century effort to reduce the risk of fires in the city, Venice's glassmakers were ordered to move to the island of Murano. Today, this Venetian outpost is a world-famous destination for colorful, hand-blown glass, from simple trinkets to enormous chandeliers. Take the 4.2 Vaporetto water bus from St. Mark's Square to Murano to attend a glass-blowing demo and watch the art form in action. And don't pass up the Museum of Glass where you'll learn about the history of glassmaking.
The number 12 Vaporetto from stop Nove A in Cannaregio will connect you to Burano, a Venetian lagoon island known for its handmade lace and brightly colored houses. Historians say the houses are painted technicolor so that fisherman returning home in the fog-filled lagoon can see them through the mist. Also located on the island is the historic Lace Museum (Museo del Merletto di Burano) housed in the Burano Lace School, which was operable from 1872 to 1970. Here you can view rare and precious works of lace, from its origins to the present day.
Now largely abandoned, the island of Torcello once rivaled Venice in population and importance. Today, it's one of the most visited islands of Venice, popular for the Byzantine mosaics in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell'Assunta. You can also stroll walking paths on the island, most of which are included in a nature preserve. Spend the night at the upscale Locanda Cipriani or at the Bed and Breakfast Ca' Torcello. If a stay doesn't suit your itinerary, try combining Torcello with a day trip to Burano.
Visit Venice's Jewish Ghetto
In ancient times, Venice's Jewish population was forced to live in a segregated area of the city (in fact, the word "ghetto" allegedly originated in Venice). The two parts of the ghetto, Ghetto Vecchio (the old section) and Ghetto Nuovo (the new section) are both in Cannaregio, about a 25-minute walk from San Marco. Jewish community members still inhabit this quiet area, home to two synagogues and several Kosher restaurants.
Take a break from the densely packed crowds of Venice and catch Vaporetto 1 to Lido di Venezia, a lagoon barrier island lined with sandy beaches. There, you'll find shops, restaurants, bars, and hotels that are often less expensive than those in Venice proper. And going to the beach is free, as most of the sand that runs from Granviale Santa Maria Santa Elisabetta to the Hotel Excelsior is public. However, if you'd like to beat the crowds, rent a hut from one of Lido's private beach clubs.
The Basilica Santa Maria della Salute was built in the 17th century and dedicated to Saint Mary for delivering residents from the plague. (The church's nickname is simply Salute, or "health.") It sits on the point in Dorsoduro and can be seen from Piazza San Marco. The place of worship is deemed a remarkable example of Baroque-style architecture and the interior features several Titian works.
Wade Through the Acqua Alta
The Acqua Alta, "high water," is a phenomenon that occurs frequently in Venice during extremely high tides. These tides flood the city's streets and squares, usually during fall, and can be best experienced in Piazza San Marco. The event is typically triggered by lunar cycles, low-pressure systems, or high winds. Venetians take it in stride, and so should you. Just grab some rubber boots sold at souvenir stands and wade around the city.
Explore the Rialto Fish Market
Located in the San Polo sestiere shortly past the Rialto Bridge, this authentic fish market features more varieties of fish and shellfish than you can even imagine. Most fresh catches are delivered each day by fishing boats that ply the lagoon and the adjacent Adriatic Sea. This ancient market also has stalls that sell a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables. The market is open every morning except Sunday.
Based on the original article by Melanie Renzulli