Venice is the famous ‘floating’ city of Italy, and it’s known for its romance, culture, and breath-taking beauty. Built on platforms stabilised with petrified trees, Venice is a unique destination with winding canals, gondolas, and beautifully arched stone bridges. Multi-floored buildings adorned with elaborate facades line its waterways, and water taxis buzz around its blue waters like bees on a brightly coloured flower.
This unique location in Northern Italy is a culture hub and an architectural feat, attracting millions of visitors every single year. But don’t fall into the trap of visiting only the most well-known places when you travel to Venice. We’ve put together a list of the top 10 things to see and do in Venice, so you don’t miss out on some of the hidden gems. From St Mark’s Square to the Castello District, there’s something in Venice to everyone’s tastes.
1. Venetian Gondolas
The gondolas of Venice are a traditional form of slow travel around the waterways and canals of the city. At over ten metres long, each gondola is owned and maintained by its own gondolier who wears a striped top, black trousers, and straw hat.
Once the main form of transportation in Venice for wealthy citizens, as many as 10,000 gondolas once frequented the canals! These days, a fleet of only around 400 gondolas is active within Venice. Each gondola navigates the waterways, giving rides for about 40 minutes at a time. Be sure to confirm the rates of a gondola ride before you visit if this is something that’s on your bucket list.
2. Grand Canal
As the widest waterway in Venice, the Grand Canal is often filled with gondolas, water taxis and the hotel barge La Bella Vita! Having changed very little since the eighteenth century, this picture-perfect canal was painted numerous times by the Italian artist, Canaletto. With its famous views of beautifully built, classically inspired buildings, its central location within Venice makes it the perfect place to see many of the city’s most popular landmarks.
Built largely between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, the banks of the Grand Canal are lined with magnificent palazzos built by Venetian noble families to show off their prestige. In summer, the pontoons that open onto the turquoise blue waters are scattered with gelato-eating spectators enjoying the bright, sunny days. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to take in the spectacular sights by taking a trip along the Grand Canal.
3. St Mark's Basilica and St Mark’s Square
We’re combining both St Mark’s Basilica and St Mark’s Square to one suggestion because they’re in close proximity and it’s rare to see one without the other! Piazza San Marco, or St Mark’s Square, is the most famous square in Venice. Historically this area was the social, religious, and political centre of Venice. Dominated by the iconic Doge’s Palace on one side, and St Mark’s Basilica on the other, this famous square is bordered by some of the most beautiful architecture in all of Venice.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most popular religious building in Venice is St Mark’s Basilica. Founded in the ninth century, the original basilica housed stolen relics of the body of St Mark the Evangelist. The basilica is filled with jaw-droppingly spectacular mosaics and Byzantine works of art. Built using more than 500 columns, St Mark’s Basilica holds precious relics and treasures, including an altar screen of gold, studded with hundreds of gems and pearls.
4. Doge’s Palace
A trip to Venice, Italy, wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the opulent Doge’s Palace. Towering above St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace was once the home of the head of the Republic of Venice, the Doge. The façade seen from St Mark’s Square displays impressive gothic Venetian architecture influenced by Islamic art and is a product of Venice’s history as a merchant nation.
Opened to the public in 1923, the Doge’s Palace is an unmissable destination for sightseers and culture vultures to Venice. Inside the building, visitors can see St Mark’s Library, an art gallery, council chambers and the Doge’s private apartments. Frescoes upon the walls and ceilings of the Doge’s Palace were painted by the well-known Italian artists, Veronese, and Tintoretto.
5. Bridge of Sighs
You may be surprised to find that the beautiful Bridge of Sighs was the solution to a problem you may not have even considered. In every city there is crime, so even in Venice, there were prisoners. Spanning the canal between the Doge’s Palace and the prison, the Bridge of Sighs was used for moving prisoners through a secure zone to their cells.
Built to move prisoners from the torture chamber in the Doge’s Palace to a new prison building, the ornate bridge was designed to hide its grotesque purpose. Completed in the seventeenth century, the bridge was built in the Baroque style and is the only covered bridge in Venice. Local legend says that the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ is so-called because prisoners passing over the crossing could peer from its barred window for a final view of Venice, before being locked away in cells.
6. Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Situated right next to the Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum is a must-visit venue in Venice for art lovers. Located in her former home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the collection is made up of modern artworks she collected in the twentieth century.
Throughout her life, Peggy Guggenheim was active within the art world, supporting many artists of her time and becoming highly respected within Europe and America. Her personal art collection is displayed at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. Amongst them are works of art by Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Jackson Pollock and many other famous contemporary artists.
7. Castello District
The quiet, residential district of Castello is only a short walk from St Mark’s Square. An excellent place to see the exquisite Venetian architecture and waterways, the Castello district of Venice is a more relaxed area, without the throng of large crowds. Castello is the perfect place to head if you love culture as it’s as close as you can get to experiencing Venice at its most authentic.
With its varying architectural styles, the Castello District is the largest of the six districts of Venice. The area contains narrow streets with medieval churches and fraternity buildings, as well as more modern residences. You’ll find small businesses, bars, and markets here that are far less touristy than those in central Venice. It’s well worth a visit to capture some holiday photos without too many people in the way!
8. The Naval History Museum
A lesser-known attraction than some other museums, Venice’s Naval History Museum is more off the beaten track than the major tourism hotspots. Covering an area that includes the ancient shipyard of the Republic of Venice, the Naval History Museum is in the quieter Castello district.
As a city located on the water, it’s only natural that Venice should have a museum dedicated to its seafaring prowess. At the Naval History Museum, visitors can see historic vessels from Venice and learn about the maritime history of this mercantile, seafaring community. On display are Venetian gondolas, Italian military ships and fishing boats, alongside paintings and collections relating to navigation and maritime history.
9. Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
With its large domes and spectacular decoration, the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute is one of the most dominating buildings in the skyline of Venice. Situated between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, it can be seen for miles around Venice, towering above other buildings at a height of 230 feet tall. Founded in 1631, the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute was built to remember the victims of the plague, which killed almost a third of the population of Venice. Designed in the Baroque style, it is made from Istrian stone and is octagonal in shape, with adjoining chapels to the sides. Inside the church, visitors can appreciate spectacular works of art by Luca Giordano, Tintoretto and Titian.
10. Rialto Bridge
For truly spectacular views of Venice, Ponte di Rialto is a not-to-miss vantage point. Mount the bridge for views of Venice’s Grand Canal and stunning architecture from its height over the blue waters. As one of only four bridges crossing the Grand Canal, it’s almost essential to visit, to make it from one side to the other!
Built in 1551, Ponte di Rialto was the first stone bridge built to cross the Grand Canal. After many wooden bridges had collapsed or fallen, the Rialto was intended by the Venetian government to be a more durable resolution. Its unique design by Antonio Da Ponte beat proposals by Michelangelo and Sansovino. Featuring a single arch at the centre, the Rialto Bridge is now an intrinsic part of Venice’s landscape and is best admired from the water.
Discover Venice Aboard Hotel Barge La Bella Vita
The best way to see Venice is by slowly travelling the stunning waterways of this magnificent city to take in all its beauty. If this list of things to see and do in Venice looks like your kind of thing, then why not experience the romance and culture of this Italian city by booking a barge cruise on La Bella Vita now?
Experience off-the-beaten-track locations, like Venice’s Castello District and the Naval History Museum, with the expertise of on-hand guides. Enjoy a bespoke break aboard La Bella Vita with authentic Italian food prepared by our gourmet chefs and onboard entertainment in the evenings.
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