From admiring the beautiful buildings to taking a gondola ride on the narrow canals, discover the best things to do for a magical day in Venice, Italy
There’s something wonderful waiting around every corner in Venice, a city filled with authentic restaurants, stunning architecture and amazing experiences. As it’s a city built on a group of more than 100 small islands that are linked by bridges and separated by scenic canals, picturesque Venice is not only overwhelmingly beautiful but also one of the most unique cities in the world. Whether you’re interested in art, history or culture, Venice boasts many top sights for visitors and proudly offers something for every traveler to enjoy.
If you’re planning a short trip to Venice, here are some of our favorite activities and things to do in Italy’s most romantic city.
Find some traditional artisan workshops
Venice is renowned for its skilled craftspeople who carry forward ancient traditions in their workshops, and one of the best ways to learn more about the city’s culture is to visit some local artisans and see them at work. You’ll find many workshops dotted in and around the city, making everything from perfume, mosaics, Venetian masks and hand-embroidered lace to jewelry, ceramics, artistic marble and metal ornaments. Many of the workshops can be found in the alleyways and secret corners of Venice, which means you’ll get to stroll down quaint back-streets and uncover hidden gems far away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
Visit Piazza San Marco and Palazzo Ducale
Otherwise known as St. Mark’s Square, Piazza San Marco is one of the world’s most famous squares and one of the most impressive locations in Venice. It’s a place where locals and tourists gather to chat, drink coffee at the trendy cafes and shop at the fashionable boutiques. As the religious and political center of the city, the square is also home to Basilica San Marco (the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark), Basilica’s bell tower and many important museums and government buildings.
When you reach Piazza San Marco, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the former residence of the Doge, the seat of Venetian government and the palace of justice. Originally a building that looked more like a castle with its high defensive walls and sighting towers, Doge’s Palace was later converted into a Byzantine-style palace and has since been reconstructed several times after suffering extensive fire damage. The palace you can visit today is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with Byzantine influences and rooms that boast lavish decoration and glorious works of art. Established as a museum in 1923, Doge’s Palace is a major tourist attraction with incredible history, exquisite interiors and the world’s largest oil painting, ‘Paradise’ by Tintoretto.
Explore the surrounding islands
Whilst the majority of first-time visitors to Venice tend to head to the city’s historical center and famous landmarks, there are others who are keen to venture further out to see the nearby islands as well. It’s surprising how few people know that Venice is comprised of many different islands, each boasting their own identity, history and wonderful treasures. It’s well worth taking a day trip from Venice to explore the neighboring islands, which are easily accessible by boat.
All of the surrounding islands are unique, but we do have some favorites, including Murano which is composed of seven small lagoon islands. Murano is internationally renowned for its glass manufacturing that dates back to the 13th century, making it a fantastic place to visit if you want to trace the history of Murano glass and learn more about the glass-making process at a working factory. The colorful island of Burano is also one of the most popular Veneitian islands thanks to its brightly painted houses and lacemaking traditions, dating back to the 15th century. Legend has it that the local people of Burano painted their houses in bold colors to help fishermen find their way home after work on foggy days.
Glide along the small canals in a gondola
You can’t visit Venice without taking a classic gondola ride along the many hidden, atmospheric canals that run through this magnificent city. As canals replace streets in Venice, riding a gondola on the small canals is a fantastic way to take in the sights and admire the stunning buildings that look as though they’re floating gracefully on the glistening waters. Whether you take a ride with your family, friends or significant other, exploring Venice via gondola is an experience you will never forget.
Enjoy an aperitivo with the locals
For Italians, aperitivo is a relaxing couple of hours when they can enjoy a glass of wine and some snacks with friends to prepare their stomachs for their evening meal. Enjoying an aperitivo with the locals is a great way for you to not only experience one of the most enjoyable aspects of Venetian culture but also rest your feet after a long day of exploring Venice. The food served with the drink all depends on the bacari (small wine bar) you choose to have an aperitivo, but you can expect to be treated to things like cheeses, bruschetta, olives, meatballs, fish and cold meats.
It’s important to remember that the aperitivo is a social event that usually starts from as early as 6pm and includes a pre-dinner drink and snack to stimulate your palate, so it isn’t about drinking and eating as much as you can. There are some bacari in the main tourist areas but it’s best to try and find some in the quieter parts of the city if you want to wine and dine like a local. The aperitivo is the golden hour (or several hours) of the day in Venice and a memorable way to try authentic specialties in a sensational city.