Top things to do in Venice: 20 beautiful sights to see [+ map]
We take you to the most beautiful sights in Venice. When it's winter or a rainy summer in Germany, it's mild and sunny in Italy. What could be more natural than to escape the miserable German weather and take a dream weekend trip to the city of love - Venice.
A trip to Venice is not only a balm for the soul but also a glimpse into the past. Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Until the 16th century, Venice was one of the largest trading cities - and you notice that immediately upon arrival. Venice still bears witness to the fact that the city was once a trans-shipment center for luxury goods, spices, salt, and corn. You can imagine how the merchants haggled, ships docked in the harbor and the gondoliers drove through the narrow canals.
What beautiful places and sights to see await you in Venice, we tell you now. If you've been to the lagoon city many times before, here are the best insider tips and secret places in Venice.
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Top 20 sights in Venice
These are my personal top highlights in Venice. The best places you absolutely must see:
- St. Mark’s Square
- Doge’s Palace
- St. Mark’s Basilica
- St. Mark’s Tower
- Rialto Bridge
- A ride on the gondola
- The Grand Canal
- Carnival in Venice
- The Bridge of Sighs
- Ponte dell’Accademia
- Scuola Grande di San Rocco
- Scalzi Bridge
- Mercato di Rialto
- The quay Riva degli Schiavoni
- The Arsenal
- Punta della Dogana
- Church Santa Maria della Salute
- Gallerie dell’ Accademia
- Church Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
- Murano, Burano, and Torcello
Map: All sights in Venice
On our interactive map you can find all sights at a glance:
1. St. Mark’s Square
No place in the world makes as many headlines as St. Mark’s Square, or ”Piazza San Marco” in Italian. When Venice is flooded by high water, the city’s most famous landmark is underwater. For photographers, this is even a stroke of luck, because it creates breathtaking images.
The high tide usually comes in the fall and winter, especially in November and December. But also, in the summer months, the square is often underwater. But don’t worry: the water is not deep and those who don’t want to take off their shoes and wade through the water can walk over footbridges across the well-known square.
But if you walk over the footbridges, you will really be in a traffic jam. You shouldn’t miss out on the fun and stroll through the water (but because of broken glass, it’s better to leave your shoes on and have a spare pair with you).
At St. Mark’s Square, you will also find the most famous coffee house in the lagoon city: the magnificent Caffè Florian with its mirrors set in gold and its imposing Art Nouveau room. But watch out: Don’t fret about the extremely high prices. Even the musicians’ cost and are on the bill.
On the other hand, the coffeehouse offers history at your fingertips: On December 29, 1720, Floriano Francesconi opened Italy’s first coffeehouse, Alla Venezia trionfante, which translates as “To the Victorious Venice.” But Venetians simply went to the “Floriàn” and saved the bulky name. Soon the Caffè Florian became a meeting place for Venetian intellectuals. Among others, writer, adventurer and womanizer Giacomo Casanova regularly frequented the Caffè Florian .
2. The Doge’s Palace
One of the most impressive buildings in the city is the magnificent Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), located directly on St. Mark’s Square. With its Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance architecture and imposing facade, the Doge’s Palace is a popular photo motif and one of the most important sights.
Since the 9th century, the Doge’s Palace was the seat of the Doge and the governing and judicial organs of the Republic of Venice, and thus also a symbol of power. In addition to famous architects, artists such as Tintoretto, Titian and Bellini also worked on the palace. Today you can admire the impressive paintings and sculptures of the artists in the Doge’s Palace.
A visit to the Doge’s Palace is an absolute must-do if you’re vacationing in Venice. If the long line at the ticket office scares you off, you should get a ticket to the Doge’s Palace in advance. During the summer months, the wait for the Doge’s Palace can be three hours or more.
By the way, there are also guided tours through the secret passages of the imposing building.
3. St. Mark’s Basilica
Right next to the Doge’s Palace is another famous activity: the impressive St. Mark’s Basilica, in Italian Basilica di San Marco. The Byzantine structure – completed in 1073 – was built as the resting place of St. Mark, Venice’s patron saint. The huge church also demonstrated the power of the Republic of Venice at that time.
Coronations took place in the church, but also many processions. The first construction of a church in St. Mark’s Square probably began as early as 829. With its domes, columns, figures, and turrets, the Basilica di San Marco is a real eye-catcher in St. Mark’s Square.
What’s in the Basilica to do? Be sure to go inside the church and see the huge dome with ornaments and mosaics from the 13th century. The tiny mosaics are especially impressive, creating a total work of art.
4. The St. Mark’s Tower
Unmissable in St. Mark’s Square, the imposing St. Mark’s Tower (Campanile di San Marco) rises into the sky. The St. Mark’s Tower is almost 99 meters high and once served as a lighthouse, but also as a watchtower and torture tower. It’s an unusual thing to do in Venice!
Today you can take the elevator to the observation deck atop the St. Mark’s Tower and look out over Venice. For us, visiting the St. Mark’s Tower, which is also the tallest building in Venice, is one of the coolest places to go in the city.
⭐ The perfect travel guide for your Venice trip
For your trip to Venice, we highly recommend the Lonely Planet Pocket Venice 5 (Pocket Guide) for Venice (check prizes here*).
5. Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge or Ponte di Rialto is one of the most famous places to visit in Venice. Every day, thousands of tourists walk across the famous Grand Canal over the eight-meter high and 28-meter long Rialto Bridge.
The bridge was built in 1588 under the direction of the master builder Antonio da Ponte, who is also the architect of the Bridge of Sighs. From the Rialto Bridge you have a fantastic view of the Venetian houses and the Grand Canal.
Thousands of people crowd the famous bridge during the day to take a selfie. Halfway empty, the bridge can only be photographed in the early morning hours, primarily in the winter months. In any case, it’s worth exploring Venice in the early morning, when many tourists are still asleep in their hotel beds and the big cruise ships haven’t docked yet.
6. A ride on the gondola
A ride on a gondola through the narrow canals is a really cool thing to do in Venice. Yes, for some it may be too expensive, for others too romantic. But the fact is: a gondola ride opens new perspectives on the beautiful city. This is a highlight, especially for photographers.
The view of a facade from the water, a hidden backyard, here an old boat, there a balcony. Venice has many hidden treasures that you will see only with the ride on a gondola.
It is absolutely impressive with what skill the gondolier steers through the canals and low bridges. With small, shouted commands he announces when he turns the corner.
And then the moment when you turn out of the quiet, sleepy canals onto the Grand Canal. Believe me, it’s an experience. We highly recommend taking a gondola ride on Venice’s waterways. It’s dreamlike.
One-hour gondola ride in Venice costs about 120 euros (there is always some room for negotiation). A maximum of four people can ride the gondola, so the price per person is around 30 euros per hour – and it’s definitely worth it.
7. The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal (Canal Grande) is the main transportation artery of the city and therefore, of course, one of the most important sights to see. The canal is over four kilometers long, 30 to 70 meters wide, and on average 4.5 meters deep.
The Grand Canal is used by the famous gondolas, but also by vaporettos (the only real public transport in Venice), water cabs, speed boats, the police, and merchandise ships. To get to the districts of Santa Croce, San Polo, and San Marco, you have to cross various bridges.
8. Carnival in Venice
The historic Carnival in Venice is a very special Venetian highlight with its masks, animal fights, Hercules games, and fireworks. It’s definitely a really fun thing to do in Venice! A carnival festival was first mentioned in 1094. When the Republic of St. Mark was annexed to Austria in 1797 under Napoléon Bonaparte, the carnival lost its importance for a long time.
A renaissance of the now worldwide known carnival occurred only in 1976 with Federico Fellini’s film Casanova. Today, Carnival in Venice officially begins ten days before Ash Wednesday on a Sunday.
9. The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs (”Ponte dei Sospiri” in Italian) was built by Venetian master builder Antonio da Ponte and is now one of the most photographed sights in the city.
Only about eight meters long, the connecting bridge leads from the Doge’s Palace to the new prison (Prigioni nuove). The best view of this famous attraction is from the pedestrian bridge on the quay Riva degli Schiavoni, which crosses the canal Rio di Palazzo.
Do you know where the Bridge of Sighs got its name? Well, this is the bridge over which prisoners were taken to prison. Here they saw the water for the last time. Some must have let out a deep sigh, knowing that the dark cell was now waiting for them.
Tip: You can even walk through the Bridge of Sighs and look outside. To do that, though, you’ll have to get a ticket for the Doge’s Palace. You should anyway if you’re vacationing in Venice.
10. The Ponte dell’Accademia
It’s one of the most beautiful views in Venice and is a wonderful postcard motif: the view from the Ponte dell’Accademia. The famous bridge leads over the Grand Canal and connects the district of San Marco with Dorsoduro. A small part of the big city.
Here it is also a little quieter and you can walk relaxed through the alleys and shoot the obligatory “laundry waving in the wind photo”.
11. The Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Beginning in the 13th century, charitable brotherhoods sprang up in the lagoon city. The largest of these brotherhoods, the Scuole grandi, built palatial guild buildings that served as representational and social institutions.
The best preserved of the six great scuole today is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. A visit to this imposing “school” is an absolute must-do in Venice. You can expect imposing rooms with even more imposing paintings and ceiling paintings. If you are searching for a place to do outstanding photography – just go there. It’s incredible.
12. The Scalzi Bridge
Another famous structure in Venice is the Scalzi Bridge (Ponte degli Scalzi), which crosses the Grand Canal. The Ponte degli Scalzi is besieged by tourists during the day and is a popular photo motif.
The bridge is 40 meters long and seven meters high. From the Ponte degli Scalzi you can see the domed roof of the San Simeone Piccolo and the impressive rows of houses in Venice.
13. The Mercato di Rialto
The Mercato di Rialto, the famous vegetable and fish market, is a highlight you must see on a Venice trip. The market is located very close to the Rialto Bridge and right on the Grand Canal. To go to the market is definitely one of the cool things to do in Venice.
For many, the Mercato di Rialto is still one of the best markets in the world. The market is divided into Erberia (vegetables) and Pescheria (fish) sections. Take the time to stroll through the famous market and marvel at the colorful displays of vendors and the variety of products.
We bought some excellent grapes at the market, which you can’t get in Germany. If you are in Venice for the carnival, you will see the merchants in historical costumes – more highlight is not possible.
14. The quay Riva degli Schiavoni
The quay Riva degli Schiavoni begins at the famous St. Mark’s Square and goes always along the water to the public park Giardini Pubblici, once built by order of Napoleon. The park, planted with palms and acacias, hosts the exhibition pavilions of the various nations for the biennial art exhibition Biennale.
On the way, you go over five bridges. The Riva degli Schiavoni is always busy. In addition, the quay is one of the main stops for the water cabs. So, when you visit Venice, you’ll have a hard time avoiding the Riva degli Schiavoni. If you also want an outstanding shot of this scene, you should go there in the morning. Sunrise shooting is one of the amazing things to do in Venice.
15. The Arsenal
Stroll along the Canale di San Marco and admire the boats, some of them very old, moored on the shore. You’ll pass hotels steeped in history and beautiful rows of houses, and cross countless canals over old bridges until you finally reach the Arsenal (just follow the signs).
The Arsenal is home to the shipyard, the armory, and the naval base of the former Republic of Venice. Particularly impressive is the water gate Ingresso all’ Acqua, flanked by two large towers. In front of it, a wooden bridge crosses the canal. Right next to the towers is the portal Ingresso di terra, guarded by stone figures in the shape of lions.
Today, the Arsenal houses the Italian Navy’s Command and Staff College. There is also a naval museum (Museo storico navale). Here, on five floors, ship models, reconstructions, weapons, uniforms, flags, nautical charts, and other pieces are displayed.
16. Punta della Dogana
The Punta della Dogana Museum, also known as Dogana da Mar, is located in a 17th-century customs house at the tip of Dorsoduro Island. The museum displays constantly changing modern art objects in over thirty rooms.
Even if you’re not a confirmed fan of modern art, you should walk around the museum at least once. From the southernmost tip of Dorsoduro Island, you have a great view of the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Tower, and Riva degli Schiavoni. This place is definitely one of the most beautiful in Venice.
17. Church Santa Maria della Salute
Right next to the Punta della Dogana museum is another great sight, the church of Santa Maria della Salute, which can be seen from far away.
You should definitely take a look here. A really beautiful building. Moreover, from the steps of the church, you have a wonderful view of Venice.
18. Gallerie dell’ Accademia
Directly on the bridge Ponte dell’ Accademia is the Gallerie dell’ Accademia, which houses a huge art collection. More precisely, the world’s largest collection of Venetian painting. You will find works from the Gothic to Rococo periods.
For art fans, the museum is a must-see. The Gallerie dell’ Accademia exhibits paintings by Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian, among others.
The gallery has been an independent museum since 1882. What makes the art treasure so exciting is the history of some paintings. For example, some of the paintings were taken from Italy by Napoleon. He then had them brought to Paris. Only later did France return these paintings. It’s a really cool thing to do in Venice!
19. Church Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
You shouldn’t miss one of the most important Gothic sacred buildings in the city either: the Church Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in the Santa Croce district.
It took a whole century to complete the church. The church houses numerous works of art. In addition, the outbuildings house the city’s state archives.
Besides the work of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Titian, you can admire impressive statues, a mausoleum, a tomb, and a bell tower.
20. Day trip to Murano, Burano, and Torcello
A visit to the surrounding islands is a must if you spend a few days in Venice. Take the vaporetto to Murano, Torcello, and the famous colorful village of Burano.
Torcello is a really green island. When we arrive, silence greets us. Birds are singing at the water. We walk past an idyllic beer garden. Along the canal to the Ponte del Diavolo. Then we already see the famous Basilica of St. Maria Assunta. The church dates to the 7th century. It’s particularly richly decorated with mosaics and a really cool thing to do there!
Next, the boat takes us to the beautiful island of Burano. And this place is truly enchanting. We advise you to take one of the first boats. Unfortunately, thanks to Instagram and Co also Burano has filled in recent years more and more with people and is partly overrun. Everyone wants to take a photo in front of the colorful house walls.
Finally, be sure to stop by the island of Murano. Murano is known throughout Italy for its glass art. And you can see it live on site. For example, in the Glass Cathedral. The church of Santa Maria e San Donato has a storied history. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bones of a dragon once slain are said to hang behind the altar.
Tip: The cemetery island of San Michele is also well worth a visit. San Michele is on the way to Murano and is served by vaporetto lines 4.1 and 4.2, which circumnavigate Venice.
Extra-Tipp: Dorsoduro – Venice far from mass tourism
Now that you know the top sights in Venice, we want to show you a quieter side of the city. In the district of Dorsoduro, where among other things the imposing Santa Maria della Salute is located, you will experience the authentic Venice and beautiful places that are not in every travel guide.
Stroll through the quiet alleys, past local, elderly Italians chatting, and you’ll finally see quaint Venice. Clotheslines are strung between the narrow streets. In the process, you sometimes catch a glimpse of the residents’ underwear flapping in the breeze.
A highlight in Dorsoduro is the Campo Santa Margherita with the Chiesa di Santa Margherita. The Campo Santa Margherita is one of the most beautiful squares in the district. The name is dedicated to the patron saint of expectant mothers. Margaret of Antioch is placed with a dragon as a statue.
The square was designed as early as the 14th century and the buildings have hardly been changed. At one time, the house of Cristoforo Moro is said to have been located here. He ruled Cyprus from 1508 and is said to have been the model for the main character in Shakespeare’s play Othello.
Quite popular and very worth seeing is also the waterfront promenade (Zattere), which you should not miss. Here you can stroll along the glittering water past majestic buildings. The name Zattere comes from the rafts made of a particular wood that was floated from the Dolomites in the sea to Venice.
Where to stay in Venice?
We can recommend Hotel Bisanzio (check rates here*). It’s located in the San Marco district, near St. Mark’s Square. The four-star hotel convinces with beautiful rooms, a dream location, an incredibly nice staff and there is even a normal, European breakfast.
The Palazzo Veneziano (check rates here*) is located in the beautiful Dorsodura district. The hotel is right by the ferry dock and is very nice. But the Doná Palace (check rates here*) is also very desirable. This 4-star boutique hotel is just two minutes from St. Mark’s Square.
The absolute stunner is the Hotel Palazzo Cristo (check prices here*). Not only is the location perfect, but so is the ambiance. The Hotel Metropole Spa & Wellness (check prices here*) is a typical Venetian hotel. It is perfect for photos.
Good restaurants in Venice
- At Ristorante Terrazza Sommariva (Google Maps), you’ll sit right on the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. Enjoy a pizza with a view. But beware: all restaurants with space on the canals are logically a little more expensive.
- Pizza on the hand you should get at Pizza al Volo (Google Maps) in Dorsodura directly at Campo Santa Margherita. Important: in Venice, you are only allowed to sit down with food on designated places or benches.
- At Ai do Archi (Google Maps) in the district of San Marco you will not only get delicious fish but also terrific pizza. Very accommodating staff and the wine was delicious. You can sit outside. The tiramisu was the best I have ever eaten
- Osteria Alla Staffa (Google Maps) has everything an osteria can give. Authentic, very tasty Venetian food. They spontaneously whipped up a pasta creation for us vegetarians that was heavenly. The tiramisu was delicious
- The pizzeria Cicchetteria Alla Strega (Google Maps) names its pizzas after horror movies. In the courtyard, you sit under vines and can enjoy the evening with good wine
- Perfect for pizza on the hand is C’è Pizza E Pizza (Google Maps) because you can sit around the corner in the square on the bench. It tastes heavenly
- We would have loved to stop at Trattoria Cea (Google Maps), on our way back from the ferry port to the islands of Venice. Here you sit idyllically in a small restaurant. Check it out.
- Our favorite bar in Dorsoduro is Osteria Al Squero (Google Maps). It’s tucked away across from Venice’s last gondola wharf, Quero di San Trovaso (Google Maps). Here you can get delicious crostini with wine for 2 euros.
- Super delicious ice cream you get at Bacaro del Gelato (Google Maps). Located directly on the canal and super great variety of flavors.
- Also awesome was the ice cream from Gelatoteca Suso (Google Maps) right by the Rialto Bridge. Wow.
Things to know about Venice
- Venice’s old town consists of 118 islands
- There are about 175 canals in Venice – the largest is the Grand Canal
- There is a total of 398 bridges in Venice – but we didn’t count them
- In the historic center live about 53,000 people – a tendency to decreasing
Getting to Venice
If you’re traveling to Venice by car, you can either stay right in the city or grab a hotel outside of Venice.
In July 2020, when Venice was Corona-conditionally deserted, we traveled by car, parked in the Tronchetto parking garage, and took the vaporetto directly into the city to San Marco Square. The Tronchetto parking garage is video monitored.
Four days in the Tronchetto parking garage costs 84 euros (1-day costs 21 euros). A 3-day ticket to Venice by public boat costs 40 euros. A one-way ticket to Venice costs 7.50 euros on the public boats and is valid for 75 minutes.
If you book your hotel outside Venice, you can park the car in a parking garage in Mestre. Make sure that the parking garage is video monitored! Then take the train to the Santa Lucia train station in Venice. The train ride takes only ten minutes and costs just 1.34 euros (as of February 2020). Our tip: since there are often a lot of people queuing in front of the ticket machines in the station, it is worth buying train tickets for two days right away.
If the queues in front of the ticket machines in the station concourse are too long, it’s worth taking a look at the platform. There are also ticket machines here. It is very important to stamp the tickets in the machines before taking the train.
When you arrive in Venice by train, your first sight as you leave the station is the church of San Simeone Piccolo with its turquoise dome roof.
Of course, we also have a great camping tip. The campground is called Camping Fusina (Website). The night costs 25 euros depending on the season. The campsite has a pool, a small supermarket, and restaurants.
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