A city built on 118 islands off the coast of northeastern Italy, Venice is unlike any other city in Europe or, for that matter, the world. Virtually unchanged in appearance for more than 600 years, the City of Canals looks more like something out of a picture book than a modern metropolis. It’s a place where the entire city is viewed as an attraction in itself.
A city packed with great art and architecture, millions of visitors come each year to enjoy the experience that is Venice. Even at the height of tourist season, however, Venice is a travel destination that manages to exceed all expectations. Here are the top tourist attractions in Venice that make a visit to this Italian city so special.
Venice’s long, rich history is inextricably linked with the waters upon which the city is built; commerce and conquest relied on the city’s ability to build ships and project power abroad. Long before the industrial revolution, the Venetian Arsenal was churning out ships at an astounding rate, and much of the city’s stupendous wealth and beauty is due to this enthralling complex. Wandering around the historic site is a delightful experience; there are some informative displays on show as well as some wonderful little neighborhood bars.
The largest church in the city, Santi Giovanni e Paolo towers over the buildings around it, and 25 of Venice’s doges are buried within, which testifies to its importance.
Built in the Italian Gothic style, the red brick church is lovely to gaze upon, although the interior, with all of its fantastic paintings and statues, is what the majority of people come to see. Don’t miss Cima da Conegliano’s Coronation of the Virgin and David by Alessandro Vittoria. There are loads of exquisite tombs and monuments to the former doges on show – this is in part what makes Santi Giovanni e Paolo so interesting to visit.
Once a customs house, this wonderful old building is now an art museum that focuses primarily on contemporary art. There are some marvelous statues and sculptures dotted about here and there and Giuseppe Benoni’s fantastic Fortune sculpture atop of the building is particularly delightful to gaze upon.
The Punta della Dogana lies at the point where the Grand Canal joins the Giudecca Canal, and the fantastic architecture alone makes it well worth visiting. The Pinault collection inside is lovely to peruse. The museum also hosts a wide variety of temporary exhibitions which attract locals and tourists alike.
Located in Piazza San Marco, the Museo Correr’s wonderful collection looks at the art and history of Venice. The beautiful building which it is housed in demonstrates many Napoleonic and Hapsburg features, as the city was once ruled by both dynasties. Wandering around the fine galleries is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. With maps, coins and paintings lying next to armor, wooden models, and navigational instruments, the Museo Correr is a treasure trove of a museum with a plethora of fascinating objects on display. Highlights include the stunning Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana which is adorned with so many amazing frescoes and Antonio Canova’s beautiful Orpheus and Eurydice statue.
Fascinating to wander around, the Venetian Ghetto was established in 1516, when the Venetian Republic restricted Jews to live in this part of the city. It was the first ghetto in existence; the word in English actually derives from Italian, although it is still disputed whether ghetto meant ‘street’ or ‘little town’.
Nowadays, there is still a strong Jewish presence and lots of great Jewish restaurants and bakeries for visitors to check out – as well as several historic sites.
Completed in 1560, the delightful Scuola Grande di San Rocco has hardly undergone any modifications and alterations since then. As such, visitors can gaze in awe at its historic rooms, home to so many wonderful Tintoretto paintings. The Salone Maggiore is breathtakingly beautiful, and masterpieces by Titian and Palma il Giovane only add to the splendor on show.
The building was founded to host a confraternity and is named after San Rocco; a Catholic saint who was said to protect people from the plague. Indeed his massive popularity led to the Scuola becoming the richest in the whole of Venice and this is amply displayed in the lavish architecture and beautiful paintings that it is home to.
Located on the south bank of the Grand Canal, the Gallerie dell’Accademia is mesmerizing to wander around. Its galleries are home to astounding artworks by famous pre-19th century Venetian artists. Its 24 rooms cover various themes; some focus on panel-paintings while others look at portraits and work by specific artists. With masterpieces by renowned artists such as Canaletto, da Vinci, and Titian on display, the Gallerie dell’Accademia certainly won’t disappoint with all that it has to offer.
Perfect for visitors who want to soak up the sun and enjoy the beach, the Lido di Venezia has a long stretch of sandy beach and is a great place to head to if you want a break from all the sightseeing in Venice. The sandbar island lies to the south and southeast of Venice, enclosing the lagoon within it and facing out on to the Adriatic.
Inhabited for over a thousand years, crusaders on their way to the Holy Land once set up camp on the very same beaches we see today and in the nineteenth century the sandbar became a popular resort for the rich and famous as writers, filmstars and royals descended upon the Lido.
With its own distinctive feel and laidback vibe, the Lido is well worth visiting and hosts the Venice Film Festival in September each year.
With its endless stalls and food stands, the lively Rialto Market is an intoxicating place to visit. Its picturesque setting alongside the Grand Canal, with the Rialto Bridge nearby, only adds to the occasion.
Popular amongst locals and tourists alike, the market is where many Venetians do their food shopping. The vast majority of stands sell fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, and artisanal Mediterranean products. Perusing the food sellers’ stands is loads of fun and offers an authentic look at life in Venice.
The delightful Ponte dell’Accademia was opened in 1854 and is one of only four bridges that offer pedestrians a way across the Grand Canal. The wooden and metal bridge lies towards the southern end of the canal and looks very distinctive amongst all of the stone and marble that the majority of Venice is built out of. More peaceful than the other bridges on the Grand Canal, the Ponte dell’Accademia attracts lovers, who attach padlocks to the bridge’s railings. There are some lovely views from its midway point.
This wonderful collection is an absolute joy to wander around as it houses many masterpieces by some of Europe and America’s most renowned artists. The modern art museum is located in a beautiful 18th-century palace on the Grand Canal. Its permanent collection includes some delightful Cubist, Expressionist and Surrealist works of art.
Among the many big names on show are The Poet by Picasso, Birth of Liquid Desires by Dali and Alchemy by Pollock. With so many amazing pieces on display, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is well worth checking out for all its fantastic modern art.
Located on one side of Piazza San Marco, the Torre dell’Orologio is a lovely Renaissance building. It is an important historical and architectural site in the city, as its facade is home to a delightful astrological clock.
St. Mark’s Clocktower (as it is also known in English) sports two bronze figures on its roof that strike out the hour on a bell; lots of other lovely little designs and figures litter its facade. A statue of the Lion of St. Mark is present, as are the Virgin and Child and the beautifully decorated clock face itself. When in Piazza San Marco, make sure to visit the Torre dell’Orologio on the hour or even go inside the building to get a glimpse of how the machinery works.
One of the most important and famous opera houses in the world, the Teatro La Fenice has been burned down three times over the course of its history. The current building was rebuilt in 2004.
The name of the theater pays homage to its ability to rise from the ashes, and the current interior is absolutely stunning with its detailed ornamentation and intricate motifs.
With a packed calendar of operas, concerts and ballets for visitors to enjoy, watching a performance at La Fenice is a great experience and is definitely worth checking out when in Venice.
Beautiful to behold, the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari more commonly goes by the name of Frari and is one of the most important religious buildings in Venice. Built out of red brick, the church is constructed in the Gothic architectural style. Although the outside is quite plain, the interior is sumptuous to gaze upon and is home to some wonderful pieces of art which includes Titian’s Pesaro Madonna.
Completed in 1338, Frari is located in the San Polo district. Its ornate tombs, fantastic paintings, and elegant statues make it well worth a visit. Don’t miss Vittoria’s wonderful statue of St. Jerome and the stunning monument to Antonio Canova.
One of the most recognizable landmarks in the whole of Venice, il Campanile is located on the famous Piazza San Marco and is the tallest building in the city. Towering to a height of 99 meters, the bell tower was completed in 912, although the building we see before us today was built in 1912 after it suddenly collapsed. While the main body of the bell tower is quite plain, the upper realms of il Campanile have some lovely architecture on show in the form of the beautiful arches and stonework. An elevator brings visitors straight to the top of the campanile, where they have a great view over Venice and the lagoon.
Built in 1600, the Bridge of Sights connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison across the Rio di Palazzo. It was designed by Antonio Contino whose uncle Antonio da Ponte had designed the Rialto Bridge. According to one theory the name of the bridge comes from the suggestion that prisoners would “sigh” at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window on their way to the executioner. In reality, the days of summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals.
Best known as the home of the 16th-century church of the same name, San Giorgio Maggiore is a small island located across the lagoon from St. Mark’s Square. Designed by the great Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, the church features a façade clad in gleaming white marble and an open and airy interior that’s refreshingly bare of over-ornamentation. The main alter is graced by two of Tintoretto’s best paintings, the “Last Supper” and “The Fall of Manna.” Visitors can ride an elevator to the top of the church’s Neoclassic bell tower to enjoy a spectacular view of Venice.
Originally known as the Palazzo Santa Sofia but now commonly known as the Ca’ d’Oro,the 15th century palazzo was designed by architect Giovanni Bon and his son Bartolomeo. Although the façade of this splendid structure no longer features the ornamentation that earned the place its “house of gold” nickname, the now pink-and-white building is a treasure trove of art. Located on the Grand Canal, the Ca’ d’Oro is home to the Museo Franchetti, named after the man who donated the palazzo and its entire contents of Renaissance paintings, antiques, sculpture and ceramics to the city.
Commonly called La Salute, this 17th-century church stands at the point where the Grand Canal meets the Venetian Lagoon. The white stone edifice with its massive dome was constructed as a shrine to the Virgin Mary for saving the city from a plague that killed one third of its population. In addition to the altar sculpture that depicts the “Madonna of Health” driving the demon Plague from Venice, there’s an extensive collection of works by Titian on display, including ceiling paintings of scenes from the Old Testament.
Of all the stately palazzos that line the Grand Canal, no building better illustrates what life was like in 18th-century Venice than the Ca’ Rezzonico. Used as a setting for the 2005 film “Casanova” starring Heath Ledger, the palace’s Grand Ballroom has played host to over-the-top parties for more than 200 years. English poet Robert Browning was one of the last to make the palazzo his home. Today, the entire building is open to the public as the Museo del Settecento. While many of the paintings on display are reproductions, the fabulous ceiling frescoes by the Tiepolo family are authentic and have been restored to their original glory.
As the only public square in Venice, the Piazza San Marco has been the city’s main gathering place for centuries. Surrounded by open-air cafés and landmark attractions, including San Marco Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale, it’s the natural epicenter for any visit to the City of Canals. The square is actually laid out in a trapezoid shape that widens as it approaches the basilica. Despite the crowds that throng it in summer and the rains that flood it in winter, St. Mark’s Square offers a memorable Venetian experience in every season.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. For nearly three hundred years, it was the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot. The stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte, was completed in 1591 and was used to replace a wooden bridge that collapsed in 1524. The engineering of the bridge was considered so audacious that some architects predicted a future collapse. The bridge has defied its critics to become one of the architectural icons of Venice.
During the prosperous centuries of the Venetian Republic, the city’s magistrates, or doges, ruled the city like royalty. The Palazzo Ducale was not only the residence of the doge but the city’s center of power and its administrative hub as well. The building was constructed in two phases. The eastern wing, which faces the Rio di Palazzo, was built between 1301 and 1340. The western wing, facing the Piazetta San Marco, took an additional 110 years to build and was completed in 1450. Visitors who take the Secret Itineraries tour can also walk through hidden passageways to view the private council rooms, torture chambers and the prison cell from which Giacomo Casanova made his escape in 1756.
There’s no better way to begin an exploration of Venice than with a gondola ride down the Grand Canal. In a city where cars are banned, gondolas, water taxis and public vaporetti (water buses) are the primary sources of transportation. The city’s aquatic thoroughfare snakes through the center of the city from Saint Mark’s Basilica to the Church of Santa Chiara. Lined on either side by Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance structures, the Grand Canal is crossed by four bridges, the most famous of which is the 16th-century Rialto Bridge. The best time of the day for a gondola ride is in the early morning when the canal shimmers with golden light.
Situated in St. Mark’s Square, the soaring 30-story Campanile and the massive basilica behind it are two of the most popular tourist attractions in Venice. Both date to the 9th century but have been rebuilt and embellished extensively over the centuries. San Marco Basilica serves as a showcase for the wealth that Venice accumulated as a military power. Its design mixes Byzantine and Gothic architecture styles in a unique way. Elaborate medieval mosaics cover much of the cathedral’s walls and vaulting. Behind the tomb believed to hold the remains of Saint Mark stands the altarpiece Pala d’Oro, a jewel-adorned screen of gold that is considered one of the finest works of Byzantine craftsmanship in the world.