With its emblematic canals, glamorous gondolas, and clandestine passageways, it’s no surprise that Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world. While the Italian city is a top choice among honeymooners, there are so many fantastic things to do in Venice that it’s a great vacation destination for anyone.
From iconic centuries-old buildings and immense piazzas to colorful festivals and a tantalizing culinary scene, Venice offers something for every kind of traveler. You can easily spend days marveling at the historic structures in St. Mark’s Square, admiring iconic paintings at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, and socializing over cicchetti and prosecco, just like the locals do!
One of the coolest things about this beautiful city is that it’s made up of roughly 118 individual islands that are connected by around 400 bridges. As you explore, it’s easy to forget you’re hopping in between islands!
Because it’s a condensed archipelago, Venice’s streets are entirely pedestrianized. Instead of driving everywhere, locals and travelers opt for the waterways, with 60% of the city’s total traffic passing along the famous Grand Canal.
With so many incredible things to see and do in the city, you might not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Venice. Add these attractions and activities to your Venice bucket list, and get ready to have one of your best vacations ever exploring the Floating City!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Things to do in Venice, Italy
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Venice
1. Check out St. Mark’s Square
St. Mark’s Square is one of the very first places you should visit when you arrive in Venice. Located just off the Grand Canal, opposite the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, the square is home to several of the most important buildings in the city. St. Mark’s Basilica, St Mark’s Campanile, St. Mark’s Clocktower, and Doge’s Palace can all be found here.
This square is the most famous in all of Venice and is framed by gorgeous buildings with ornate details. Take some time to walk under the intricate arches and admire all the hard work that went into designing and creating the surrounding buildings.
One of the most impressive things about St. Mark’s Square is its sheer size. The place is huge! Because it’s one of the most popular tourist hotspots in the city, the square is almost always busy. If you want to snap some photos of the surrounding buildings without the crowds, we recommend you get there first thing in the morning.
2. Take a gondola ride along the quiet canals
One of the coolest things to do in Venice is to take a gondola ride along the canals. Many people opt for a route along the Grand Canal, but it’s often busy, loud, and choppy – not the experience you’re looking for! Instead, we suggest you ask your gondolier to take you through the quieter, more remote canals.
These narrow, tranquil canals are much more impressive than the Grand Canal. Along the way, you’ll get to admire some of the city’s most stunning buildings, which have been around for hundreds of years. It’s also a chance to watch the gondoliers use their finest skills, as they have to navigate around other gondolas and glide through tight spaces.
Gondoliers usually have set itineraries, but most will be happy to change them slightly if it’s what you want. Grab a takeaway glass of prosecco from a nearby bar and sip as you sail through the peaceful, romantic streets of Venice!
3. Fill up on cicchetti
After a long day of exploring, one of the top things to do in Venice is to relax with a drink and some cicchetti. Pronounced chi-KET-tee, cicchetti are small plates of food that you can eat with your hands. It’s almost the Italian equivalent of Spain’s tapas, except cicchetti is usually served alongside a glass of wine, prosecco, or spritz.
You can get all kinds of cichetti, from freshly baked bread topped with delicate smoked salmon to crispy pieces of fried polenta spread with rich creamed cod. It’s a great way to chill out when you’re finished sightseeing for the day or to give you an extra burst of energy if there are still a few things left to see on your list.
You’ll come across cicchetti bars all over Venice. Osteria All’Arco (behind the Rialto fish market) is one of our favorites. This bar specializes in open-faced sandwiches topped with all kinds of yummy things like cod mousse and stuffed pork roast.
4. Get dressed up for Carnevale
If you’re visiting Italy in February or March, one of the must-do things in Venice is to take part in Carnevale. The European equivalent of Mardi Gras, Venice’s Carnevale takes place in the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, so the exact dates change every year.
For 14 whole days, St. Mark’s Square is filled with hundreds of people dressed up in glamorous and menacing costumes. Many vibrant parades, elegant masked balls, and bustling street markets take place during this time, each full of people wearing the kind of ostentatious outfits and masks you usually only see in Disney movies!
To really fit in and get into the spirit of Carnevale, we recommend buying a handmade mask from one of the authentic workshops in the city. You’ll find a huge number to choose from in Ca’ Macana and Ca’ del Sol. After you’ve dressed up for the event, you can take your mask home with you and use it as a unique decoration and reminder of your vacation.
5. Embrace your artistic side at the Gallerie dell’Accademia
Venice is a gorgeous city, and you can find some of its most beautiful treasures inside the Gallerie dell’Accademia. Located on the Grand Canal, opposite the Ponte dell’Accademia, the gallery is home to a wonderful collection of pre-19th century artwork by famous masters such as Titian, Canaletto, and Bellini.
The building that houses the gallery is a work of art itself. Formerly a convent, it was transformed into an art museum in the 1700s. With detailed engravings and decorative sculptures, it looks exactly like you’d expect a prestigious, centuries-old art gallery to look like.
Some of the most noteworthy pieces include da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Tintoretto’s The Resurrection of Christ, Veronese’s Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto, and Titian’s The Virgin and the Child.
As well as the permanent exhibitions, Gallerie dell’Accademia also hosts all kinds of temporary exhibitions and events throughout the year. Family-friendly workshops, artist lectures, and displays from local artists are just some of the things you can expect when you visit.
6. Relax with a glass of ombra
Feel like a local by ordering an “ombra” from a bar in Venice. The word literally translates as “shade” and refers to the time when Venetian merchants would sell their wine in the shade provided by St. Mark’s Belltower. Today, the word is what locals use to describe a glass of wine!
When you ask for a glass of wine, make sure you specify which type. Use “bianca” for white and “rossa” for red. When you order this way, the bartender will bring you a glass of local house wine, and you’ll usually pay a good price, too. While rosé wine exists in Venice, it’s not that common. Your best bet is to stick with white or red.
You can find great bars all over Venice. For an extra special experience, check out Enoteca Schiavi. This tiny wine bar faces a canal and offers a huge selection of wine and cicchetti. The prices are also incredibly reasonable, and there’s always a friendly atmosphere.
7. Walk over the Ponte di Rialto
As you’re enjoying Venice sightseeing, make sure you take a stroll over the Ponte di Rialto. One of the many bridges that cross the Grand Canal, the Ponte di Rialto is arguably the most famous of them all.
The bridge connects San Polo with San Marco and was originally made of wood. After standing strong for hundreds of years, the bridge finally collapsed in 1524. It was soon replaced by the ornate stone bridge you can see today.
The detail on the bridge is remarkable, and it provides the perfect frame for the Grand Canal. To admire the bridge without the crowds that almost always cover it, visit first thing in the morning.
If you want to get a picture of the bridge, you’ll have to stand on one of the streets lining the canal below it. But don’t miss the chance to walk over the bridge, too. From here, you can see the quintessential Venetian view of the dazzling blue canal with sophisticated black gondolas floating by.
8. Take a vaporetto through the Grand Canal
Instead of taking a gondola through the Grand Canal, one of the top things to do in Venice is to ride a vaporetto through the city’s main canal. A vaporetto is the main type of transport in Venice. It’s a large boat that travels back and forth along the Grand Canal, pausing at stops every few hundred feet to pick up and drop off passengers.
Not only is it the fastest way to get around Venice, but it’s also one of the most affordable. While it’s handy for getting from point A to B, we recommend getting on the vaporetto at your nearest stop and making a full loop of the Grand Canal. It’s like a cheap, high-speed boat trip!
During your journey, you’ll see countless examples of stunning architecture, and you’ll get to witness locals going about their everyday lives. If the weather is warm and sunny, try and get one of the outside seats for the best views.
9. Watch the water procession during La Festa della Sensa
One of the most fun things to do in Venice in May is to watch the procession that takes place as part of La Festa della Sensa. This annual celebration commemorates the relationship between Venice and the sea.
Years ago, the procession was led by the doge, but today the mayor takes on the main role. The mayor rides on a boat followed by a series of other boats and throws a wreath (the doge would throw a ring) into the sea, symbolizing the marriage between the sea and Venice.
All kinds of boats take part in the procession, from ordinary speedboats and dinghies to colorful rowing boats and extravagant yachts with flags. The people on the boats go all out with costumes that match their vessel. It really is something to see!
La Festa della Sensa takes place on one day each May. The dates change every year, so keep an eye out for posters advertising the date during your vacation or ask at your hotel’s reception.
10. Sign up for a food and wine tour
This is Italy, so it’s no surprise that food and wine tours are some of the best and most popular Venice activities!
If you’re planning on preparing your own meals during your vacation, you can sign up for a tour that takes you through the city’s best food markets and pick up top-quality ingredients. Alternately, you can choose a more eating- and drinking-orientated tour and discover the best bars, restaurants, and cafes in Venice.
The Rialto Market tour, cooking class, and lunch combo is a great option if you want to get involved in the kitchen. You’ll go shopping with a local at the Rialto Market for the finest ingredients then learn how to prepare them under the guidance of a real Venetian. Afterward, you can dig into your creation while sipping local wine.
We recommend this food and wine tour with a cicchetti tasting if you want to nibble while you explore. You’ll get to sample Venice’s most iconic snacks and wine, as well as try all kinds of cicchetti from a bunch of old taverns and traditional bars. It’s a great way to avoid tourist traps and find out about the special places the locals go to.
11. Admire St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most popular things to see in Venice. Standing proud in St. Mark’s Square, the basilica is a magnificent piece of architecture that was founded almost 1,000 years ago in 1092. Plus, it’s one of the most important religious structures in Northern Italy.
The outside of the church is arguably more sublime than the inside. It’s one of the most famous surviving examples of Italian Byzantine architecture and features precious stones and rare marbles. Many of the reliefs, columns, and sculptures you can see were actually stripped from public monuments, palaces, and churches in Constantinople.
While St. Mark’s Basilica looks huge from the outside, there’s only a small section open to the public inside. Despite its small size, the basilica is packed full of beautiful treasures. From gold-ground mosaics and Renaissance drawings to medieval frescoes and decorative ceilings, it’s definitely worth having a look inside if you appreciate architecture or artwork!
12. Awaken your taste buds with sarde in saor
Venice is well-known for its superb seafood, and one of the most unique things to do in Venice is to get a taste for sarde in saor. This one-of-a-kind dish is a small appetizer or snack made of sardines, onions, and balsamic vinegar.
It has quite a powerful salty and zesty flavor. But the sweet addition of pine nuts, red wine, and raisins helps balance it out. The ingredient combination sounds a bit bizarre, but the flavors and textures work wonderfully together.
Sarde in saor is so popular you’ll find it available in almost every cafe and restaurant in Venice. Paradiso Perduto serves up some of the best sarde in saor we’ve ever had.
The presentation is superb, and the quality is top-notch. Paradiso Perduto has live music most nights, making it a great place to spend the evening if you want some great food with an energetic atmosphere.
13. Check out the views from St. Mark’s Campanile
For some of the best sights in Venice, ride to the top of St. Mark’s Campanile. At more than 323 feet high, this towering structure is the tallest building in all of Venice and rewards you with incredible views that stretch out all across the city.
The original tower was built in the 9th century and used as a watchtower. By 1902, it collapsed and was replaced with the tower you can see today. Over the years, the tower has suffered through earthquakes, lightning storms, and fire – but it’s still standing!
Thankfully, you don’t have to climb to the top of the tower – there’s an elevator that whisks you to the highest point in seconds. When you arrive at the peak, you’ll notice a large bell in the center, as well as a smaller golden statue of the Angel Gabriel.
There are displays pointing out the important buildings and landmarks you can see from the tower. They provide you with a handy way to get your bearings and find out how far you’ve walked during your vacation.
14. Be awestruck by the Doge’s Palace
The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is one of the most spectacular Venice attractions, and it deserves every bit of praise it gets. The sprawling palace is located in St. Mark’s Square and looks out onto the Grand Canal.
With its delicate archways, decorative columns, and mosaic-like façade, the outside of the palace is simply stunning. But step inside, and you’ll truly be blown away.
The palace’s interior features room after room of grandeur, opulence, extravagance, and beauty. Every inch of the walls and ceilings is decorated with elaborate frescoes, quality wood paneling, magnificent artwork, and gold details. Several rooms also contain genuine antique furniture created centuries ago.
Although the Doge’s Palace is one of the most popular attractions in Venice, it never feels crowded. There are simply so many rooms inside that it doesn’t matter how many people there are. You should always be able to snap photos without crowds blocking your view!
During your visit, make sure you walk over the Bridge of Sighs. This famous bridge connects the new prison with the interrogation rooms within the palace. It got its name because soon-to-be prisoners would audibly sigh as they crossed it, resigning themselves to their unavoidable fate.
15. Pick up beautiful souvenirs at the Murano Glass Museum
For a museum that’s a little off-the-beaten-track from what most of Venice offers, check out the Murano Glass Museum. One of the many things Venice is known for is glassmaking, and this gorgeous museum is the best place in the city to learn about the craft.
The museum was founded in 1861 and was originally designed to map out the history of local glass artwork. The huge number of dazzling pieces are displayed chronologically, with each room representing a different era. Some of the oldest pieces date all the way back to the 1st century!
There are videos showing you exactly how some of the pieces were created, as well as texts that help explain the process. In addition to the excellent permanent collection, the museum also allows local glassmakers to display their work as part of temporary exhibits.
Head to the gift shop for a delicate reminder of your vacation or gifts for friends and family back home!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Venice. What’s your favorite thing to do in Venice?
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