More like a stage than a city, Venice’s winding canals, piazzas and lagoons have been attracting visitors for centuries. Venice is unlike any other city in the world, consisting of 117 bodies of land connected by more than 400 bridges crisscrossing over its 150 canals. The Grand Canal is like its main street, cutting through the centre of the city and playing host to gondola rides and water taxis. As you delve into this Venetian labyrinth you’ll discover its impressive collection of churches and gothic palaces, lively squares and contemporary museums. And the best thing is Venice is completely pedestrianized so you can enjoy wandering around its skinny alleys and walkways free of traffic noises and car fumes. The only noise you’ll hear is from the Grand Canal as merchants pass through with their boats full of the freshest produce or fish or the occasional swift of water against marbles steps from the paddles of gondolas transporting tourists from one island to another.
Top Attractions in Venice
The Grand Canal
Bridge of Sighs
Venice's beautiful and legendary Bridge of Sighs is a must-see for anyone visiting Italy's most romantic city. Take a gondola ride underneath to get a real up close look or take the tour of the Doge’s Palace for a chance to walk over the deathly bridge. The bridge’s name comes from a legend that says that from this bridge one could hear the sighs of the condemned who had lost their freedom as they were being led to prison. The bridge would have been their final view of Venice through the barred windows.
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco or Saint Mark’s Square is one of the most famous squares in Italy. Known as the drawing room of Europe, Venice's principal square is surrounded by several of the city’s major sites so the square is often packed full of tourists. With the grand St Mark's Basilica at one end, the Campanile bell tower rising at the centre and the elegant colonnaded arcade of famous cafes on three sides, it is a wonderful place to be.
TIP: To get atmospheric pictures visit the square early morning or late at night. Venice is not a nightlife city so most people are tucked up in bed by 11pm, so venture into the square for a non-crowded one on one with Venice’s premiere attraction.
The Rialto Bridge is probably the most visited and most photographed bridge in Venice. Straddling the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge was the first bridge built over the Grand Canal in 1180 and the modern marble one we see today in 1599-92. The area around the bridge was and still is, full of important city functions. The city’s 700 year old market is a great way to interact with local Venetians who come to the market to purchase their own food supplies, particularly known for its fish market. TIP: The Rialto Bridge does get extremely busy as hordes of tourists visit every day. Try to visit early morning or in the evening for a better/less crowded experience.
Sat right next door to Basilica di San Marco is one of Venice’s most important buildings, the magnificent Doge’s Palace. This gorgeous Gothic gem was the residence of the Doge and the centre of power, from where the Venetian Empire was ruled. Take a tour around this magnificent palace and view its wonderful art collection, grand apartments, the prison cells and even walk cross the Bridge of Sighs. Notice the buildings unique architecture, each column is different and the building is very open, a testament to the power of the city which didn’t feel the need to be fortified against enemies. The most famous part of the buildings structure is its ninth and tenth columns which historically were painted red and would be where death sentences were declared. Legend says your life would be spared if you could walk around the edge of the third column on the seaward side of the palace: try it - no one ever succeeded!
San Marco Bell Tower
The bell tower of San Marco’s Basilica is one of Venice’s iconic and most recognizable landmarks. Originally built as a lighthouse to assist navigation in the lagoon, San Marco’s Campanile is an early 20th century reconstruction of the original tower which collapsed in 1902. Visit the top of the tower for great views over Venice and the lagoon. On clear days you can see as far as the Alps. But don’t worry you don’t have to walk to the top, a modern lift will bring you straight to the top!
Enjoy a different view of Venice and hop on a boat to the island of Murano. Famous for its glass the island is a great half day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of Venice’s streets. In ancient times glassmakers were ordered to move to Murano because the glassworks represented a fire hazard to Venice’s wooden houses. Visit one of the many glass blowing demonstrations on the island for an overview of how these glassmakers make and produce some of the finest glass sculptures and pieces in the world. Although some can be big tourist traps if you have never seen anyone do glass blowing or glass sculptures it can be very entertaining and educational and you can even purchase some genuine Murano glass on the island too.
If you have a little extra time in Venice take a vaporetti further into the lagoon for a trip to Burano Island. Less crowded than Murano this island is best known for its charming colourful canal-lined fisherman’s homes, each painted as brightly as the Venetian sky. Visit the islands own leaning bell tower of San Martino Church and wander the picturesque streets and canals. The island is also famous for its lace makers, so if you have time, make a stop by the Lace Museum for an interesting educational tour of how lace is made.
Best time to visit
Tourists visit Venice from May to October
Venice is a city that can be visited all year round however weather, festivals and of course the high water that Venice is so famous for, should all be considered when deciding when to go to Venice. Winter in Venice can be extremely cold and windy but magical. There are far fewer tourists and hotel prices are much lower. It is also a great opportunity to take better photographs; winter can be very atmospheric in the city since the streets are much quieter and locals tend to hang around cosy cafes. Venice’s famous masquerade carnival is a great time to visit if you want to see the parades of masks and costumes but prices tend to sore during the festival period so it can make visiting the city quite expensive. Easter period is also a very busy time in the city. The summer months like many other European cities is peak season which means higher airfares, hotel prices and longer waiting times for attractions but fine weather brings tourists in their thousands. April - June and September – October are perfect times to visit Venice, with mild temperatures and far less crowds than during the summer. TIP: Acqua alta (high water) is very common in Venice. The lagoon water level occasionally rises above the level of the squares and streets, flooding them happening several times a year, usually in the colder months. You can get an acqua alta map from tourist offices that will show you places to avoid due to high water levels if you visit during the winter months.
International visitors that fly into Venice will most probably fly into Marco Polo Airport, located on the main land. There are various buses that will transport you to the main part of Venice, Piazzale Roma and from there you can take a water taxi to your hotel. Alternatively you can take a private water taxi from the airport to your hotel but these can be quite an expensive option (up to €160 for four people). You can also arrive by train which is one of the most popular options for tourists arriving from other Italian cities. Trains from the mainland run to the Venezia Santa Lucia train station on the west side of Venice. From the station water buses (vaporetti) or water taxis can take you to hotels or other locations on the islands, but walking is usually the best option.