There aren’t many ways to describe Venice without resorting to cliche.
Soaked in history and impossibly beautiful, the Floating City is an icon. From the grandeur of Piazza San Marco to its tangle of ethereal canals, it’s hard not to be swept away by the romanticism of it all. Churches, museums, and incomparable architecture punctuate every turn, while the only thing richer than its culture is the risotto.
And although the much-documented increase in cost, crowds, and cruise ships may cast an intimidating shadow across the lagoon, it’s still possible for the curious wanderer to find some solace among the Venetian backstreets.
Grab an Aperol and take it slow.
Benvenuti a Venezia.
5 things you can’t miss in Venice
Take a gondola ride
What else could be at the top of the list? It doesn’t matter if it’s the ‘touristy’ thing to do. Taking a gondola ride through the canals of Venice is one of the most iconic things to do in the city. The best views are from the water, and it’s impossible to feel the town in a better way.
Once used as the main form of transport by wealthy Venetians, all gondolas today are for tourist use only. There are only four hundred of them left in the city, so count it as a small privilege, even if it is one of the biggest tourist draws in the world.
They are expensive, but you can at least rest easy knowing that the prices are set at a standard price across the city. Gondoliers won’t negotiate with you as they’re not allowed to change the price. Currently, it costs 80 euros for a private 30-minute tour, with every extra twenty minutes priced at 40 euros. An evening ride is 120 euros for the same length.
If you’re not fussed or don’t think it’s worth it but still want some views from the water, pay for a water bus day ticket. Not only will you get to see the sights from the canals, but you’ll also have the fastest mode of transport at your disposal whenever you need it.
Visit Piazza San Marco (St Marks Square)
No trip to Venice is complete without a visit to one of the most famous squares in the world – Piazza San Marco or St Marks Square. It’s easily one of the most remarkable architectural sites in the world; from the majesty of the basilica to the stunning Torre dell Orologio Clock Tower, there’s a lot to see.
St Mark’s Basilica should be the main stop here. Set aside around two hours to explore the thousand-year-old church and try to get there early. It’s highly recommended to book in advance to skip some of the lines. Inside you’ll find an astonishingly beautiful collection of treasures from the Byzantine era and beyond. History buff or not, it’s still worth a look. The view from the terrace is worth the entrance alone.
Of course, one of the joys of St Mark’s Square is enjoying the scenery itself. That’s fine and well, but make sure you don’t sit anywhere you’re not supposed to, and definitely don’t eat on the steps of any buildings – you can expect a steep fine.
Explore the Doge’s Palace
While you’re in St Mark’s Square, be sure to head over to the nearby Doge’s Palace. It is the perfect place to learn about the Venetian Empire.
Today we know doge to be a silly way to pronounced “dog” and an odd name for a crypto currency, but in Venice, Doges were the people that held the highest political position in the republic.
The Doge’s Palace served as a home for these officials. The sprawling Gothic building was at the heart of Venice’s daily life for centuries until Napoleon’s troops took the city. It’s an excellent visit and a wonderful opportunity to learn about the immense impact Venice had on the world.
Explore some of the other islands
Venice is built on 120 little islands, and not all of them are close to the central tourist area surrounding St Marks. Some require a day trip but can offer a far more authentic experience of life in Venice, far from the chaotic crowds.
Burano is a popular choice. Forty minutes via the Vaporetto ferry, the fishing town is as picturesque as they come. Colorful buildings line the canals, and with only 2000 residents and a handful of tourists every day, you can enjoy a far quieter experience. Highlights include the leaning bell tower and the Museo del Merletto, where tourists can learn about the lace industry, which was pivotal on the island.
Murano could be even prettier than Burano but does come with more crowds. It’s not as far from the old city and has its own Grand Canal as well as the same colorful houses. It’s still a more intimate place than the traditional areas and is home to a stunning basilica and a glass-blowing industry – perfect for a unique souvenir.
Take a bridge over (troubled) water
Well, actually, let’s hope the water is not troubled when you visit the Floating City.
Still, as a city built on water, Venice has a bevy of bridges to enjoy. Perhaps the most iconic is the Rialto Bridge. This bridge is the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal and though it’s smack dab in the middle of the most touristy area of Venice, it’s cool to think that you’re walking the same bridge that people walked in 1588.
If you’re looking for a more unique bridge to explore, you’ll want to check out the Ponte dei Pugni, otherwise known as the Bridge of Fists. Before it was banned, this was a popular place to go fist fight for fun, of course. Though you won’t see anyone throwing hands, you can see the past events commemorated with a set of marble footsteps.