Our ultimate Venice attractions guide outlining the best things to do in Venice
Finding things to do in Venice is easy, but to make the most of your stay in Italy’s iconic city, take a look at our guide of the best Venice attractions. As a luxury train operator with journeys heading all across the world, we’re experts when it comes to recommending things to do in Venice; London to Venice and Paris to Venice are some of our most popular journeys after all. From the must-see-sights to the hidden gems, we are pleased to share our updated 2021 ‘things to do in Venice’ guide.
Journeys to Venice onboard the famous Venice Simplon Orient Express luxury train are some of our most sought-after and it’s easy to see why. After a glorious night spend onboard an authentic 1920s train, the adventure continues in one of the most iconic cities in the world: Venice, Italy. The perfect destination after a luxurious train ride, Venice is full of character, architecture and guarantees to leave you with lasting memories.
Our ultimate things to do in Venice guide will give you 10 of the very best attractions to see when you reach the City of Water. After years of experience (and visiting Venice ourselves!) our Venice guide is fully comprehensive including the must-see sights you’ve heard of and perhaps some you may be unfamiliar with.
Top 10 Things To Do In Venice:
- St Mark’s Square
- Canale Grande (Grand Canal)
- Gallerie dell’Accademia
- Ponte di Rialto
- Doges Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
- Bridge of Sighs
- Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
- Burano Island
- Lido Island
- Caffe Florian
About Venice, Italy
First a little background to the city. The capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, Venice is of course famous for it’s streets of water as well as it’s iconic architecture. Made up of just 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, it has no roads and relies on canals, usually full of the iconic Gondola boat. Full of Renaissance and Gothic style palaces, Venice is home to some of the world’s most famous landmarks, including St Mark’s Basilica and Piazza San Marco, the centra square.
1. St Mark’s Square
The most famous piazza in Venice, St Mark’s Square is located on the grand canal opposite the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, another must-see sight. A large area whether tourists and locals alike gather, the square is surrounded by incredible architecture and arched walkways that create a truly divine sense of occasion.
The square itself is also home to several buildings that may also be of interest including St Mark’s Campanile, St Marks Basilica and Doge’s Palace. Perhaps the best place to start when visiting Venice due to its centralised location and ease of access to other sights, St Mark’s Square is unlike anywhere else in the world. It is also a useful reference point when exploring the city due to being relatively easy to find and offering plenty of space and guidance towards other points of interest.
2. Canale Grande (Grand Canal)
One of the main reasons that make Venice so unique is where you’d expect to see roads, you’ll instead find canals. Being given the name ‘The City of Water’, Venice literally is as you have probably imagined; bridges and gondolas as far as the eye can see.
The largest canal however is the Canale Grande or ‘Grand Canal’. Much larger than the hundreds of other canals you’ll find within the city, the Canale Grande is more of a river as it passes across Venice from one side to the other in a large ‘S’ bend shape. On the banks of the canal you’ll find over 170 buildings that date back as far as the 13th century, making the Grand Canal one of the most important canals in the whole of Venice.
Tourists tend to opt to travel along the canal by Gondola since there are only four bridges that span it. If you prefer to stay on dry land, you can of course walk along the sections of the canal as you take in the incredible architecture that surrounds you. And if you do decide you want to cross, then a river-boat taxi is always at hand.
3. Gallerie dell Accademia
Located on the Grand Canal is the Gallerie dell Accademia, a museum that holds a fine collection of pre-19th century art. A truly iconic and unmissable building, the Gallerie dell Accademia was originally a convent before being converted into a museum in the 1700s. A must see attraction, especially if the weather is not on your side, the Gallerie dell Accademia impresses not just from the outside but also within.
Here you’ll find notable works of art such as the famous ‘Vitruvian Man’ by Da Vinci which shows the ideal proportions of man as well as the ‘Resurrection’ by Tintoretto among many other famous pieces.
4. Ponte di Rialto
You may have already seen this iconic bridge without realising its name. The Ponte di Rialto is by far the most famous bridge in Venice and possibly one of the most famous bridges in the world. One of the only four bridges that span the Grand Canal, the Ponte di Rialto connects the San Marco and San Polo districts making it an incredibly important bridge.
Originally made from wood, the bridge stood for hundreds of years before it collapsed in 1524, after which it was reconstructed from stone and it still stands to this day. Incredibly ornate, the bridge serves more than just access across the Grand Canal, it is now a hugely popular attraction as visitors flock to admire its incredible design.
5. Doges Palace
A truly remarkable building and one of the most iconic in Venice, Doges Palace is a must-see during your visit. Sitting in St Mark’s Square but also over-looking the Grand Canal, Doges Palace is easy to find and a very good point of reference, plus it’s very difficult to miss.
With a beautiful facade featuring incredible arches made from white stone and a series of diamond patterns along the walls, Doges Palace is full of tiny details that you notice the longer you admire it. Inside is just as extraordinary as you find incredibly decorated rooms with original furniture and artwork. Tours are of course available and recommended, but be sure to take in the incredible details yourself in your own time as well.
6. Bridge of Sighs
Perhaps another sight you may have seen in books for television but may be unaware of its name, the Bridge of Sighs is a small bridge but one of the most viewed and one of the most important. It spans the Rio di Palazzo connecting the aforementioned Doge’s Palace to Prigioni Nuove.
The reason for being one of the most famous bridges in Venice is that it is told criminals were taken from the Palace to the bridge and would let out one last ‘sigh’ as they took a glimpse at Venice as the wondered what their future punishment may hold. Offering exceptional view of Venice, the Bridge of Sighs is easily accessible from St Mark’s Square.
7. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Yet another impressive masterpiece of architecture, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is a beautiful church that sits across from St Marks on the other side of the Grand Canal. Very easy to spot due to its grandeur and inspiring architecture, this church was complete in 1689 and is designated as a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church.
Easy to spot from the Grand Canal, the exterior features four statues and an unmissable dome that towers above the skyline. Inside is equally as impressive featuring great space and beautiful symmetry that is flooded by light. The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is a truly iconic building and whether you view it from a gondola or up-close, it’s highly recommended.
8. Burano Island
40 minutes away from the main island, Burano Island is ideal for taking in parts of Venice most tourists wouldn’t see. Well worth the trip, Burano Island is home to many colourful buildings making it a truly unique place to visit and an almost contrasting look to the more ‘typical’ view of Venice.
With much to see including the 13th-century church of Santa Caterina, traditional local restaurants like the Trattoria Al Gatto Nero serving fresh seafood and pasta. Burano Island is perfect for getting away from the busy streets of Venice for a little while and to slow things down. Take a stroll through the streets or a Gondola ride as you take in the brightly coloured buildings.
9. Lido Island
Another destination further out from the city, Lido Island is a 30 minute ride from San Marco and offers a serene beach, bars and a more relaxed vibe. Visit the famous Hotel Riviera where many famous writers stayed and the venue of choice for the Venice Film Festival each September.
A beautiful beach resort, one of the oldest in the world, once a destination for Europe’s elite writers. Still as glamorous as ever, this island is full of beautiful beaches and tempting eateries, taking you away from the busy streets of Venice for a while.
10. Caffe Florian
After all that exploring, it’s time to find somewhere truly unique for a spot of lunch. The Caffe Florian sits in the San Marco Square and has welcomed guests such as Charlie Champlin and Andy Warhol. Opening in 1720, the décor hasn’t changed much and the food is just as impressive as ever before.
Relax and unwind with a glass of Italian wine or an authentic Italian coffee. Try the traditional risotto or treat yourself to gourmet chocolates or even some gelato. With a large, open patio, the Caffe Florian is the ideal place to take a break when the sun is out.