Imagine a soft breeze caressing your face while you enjoy the view of Piazza San Marco and the rooftops of Venice. And what about attending a printing session at a local workshop where a Venetian girl still uses the 1400 techniques? Or strolling in the less crowded areas, getting lost and savouring the true atmosphere of the daily life in this unique city? Venice is probably the most beautiful city in the whole world. When you get there you want to be sure to see all the best things there are, and taste all the good stuff you can, don’t you? This post is aimed precisely to this purpose: discovering the best things to do in Venice!
The Best Things to Do in Venice
1. The unmissable
First of all you obviously can’t miss the one and only piazza, Piazza San Marco. It is the beating heart of Venice. There you can see and be seen, you can climb (by elevator) the Campanile, also called “el paron de casa” (the landlord), the wonderful Basilica di San Marco with its golden mosaics and of course the Doge Palace: the more you proceed with the visit the richer would be its halls. Reach for the two columns (San Marco and San Todaro) to see the San Marco Basin and take a picture of the gondolas in row with the Island of San Giorgio on the background. Another highlight is nearby. Proceed on the left and you will spot the Bridges of Sighs. You can’t miss it, simply because you’ll see a ton of people taking pictures.
!A little hack: Go back to Piazza San Marco, walk along the Basilica and then turn right. Proceed along the small piazza and the next calle, then turn right. You will enjoy a view of the Bridges of Sights with less crowd and from an original point of view!
2. A breathtaking view
There are 4 places “competing” for the best panorama of the city:
- Bovolo staircase (an amazing spiral staircase, at a stone’s throw from Piazza San Marco. You can admire rooftops, the San Marco Basilica and the bell tower, the Salute Church and the mountains).
- San Marco Campanile (the most crowded of all, and also with a long queue to get in. By elevator you reach the top and, elbowing yor way through, you can admire the whole city at your feet).
- San Giorgio Maggiore Campanile. You have to reach the island by vaporetto, the water bus of Venice. Take the number 2 from San Zaccaria stop, right past the Bridge of Sighs, direction “Tronchetto”. It is the first stop. Remember to bring cash because they don’t accept credit cards. There’s usually no queue and also a convenient elevator. From the top of the campanile you’lle see the entire Venice with the mountains on the backgound. In my opinion this was the best panorama because I could see San Marco, the Doge Palace, the mountains. And probably also because it was not at all crowded so I could enjoy it with ease.
- The new T Fondaco Terrace. T Fondaco is a new luxury store located next to Rialto bridge and housed in the former headquarters of the German merchants. You can take the lift, reach the terrace and enjoy for free a superb panorama of the Canal Grande, as my dear friend Giulio did (those below are his pics).
3. The Grand Canal
Or, as we call it, Canal Grande can be admired by vaporetto. Get on board of number 1 at the dock just in front of Santa Lucia rail-station and you’ll be able to admire all its noble palaces (about 1 hour of slow crossing). If you want to see one of this palaces, I’d suggest Ca’ Rezzonico with its Museum of 18th century (frescoed rooms, precious chandeliers, furniture, paintings, incredible ceilings) or Palazzo Mocenigo (furniture, paintings, ancient suites and some rooms dedicated to the history of perfume).
4. A sunny promenade
If you want to enjoy a beautiful promenade far from the madding crowd you can go to the Zattere. There, rather than gelato, people (who’s very hungry) would eat a gianduiotto, a bar of chocolate-hazelnut gelato served with whipped cream in a paper cup. Anyway, you can find the gianduiotto in many gelaterie around town.
5. Art Lovers
Surely you’ll love Peggy Guggenheim Collection (with its pleasant garden and a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal). But you should also visit Ca’ Pesaro (the highlight is Klimt’s Judith II) and The Accademia Galleries (often underrated, but I think it is great if you like pre-19th century art). Last but not least the Biennale, held biennially, in odd-numbered years (in even-numbered years you can visit the Architecture exhibition).
6. Daily life
- Rather than the Rialto bridge, you will appreciate the Rialto market (fruits, vegetables and fish, not the “souvenirs” shops) with all its colours… and smells, I dare say. If you stay in an apartment you can also shop there to prepare your own meal.
- I personally love the San Polo area around the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Plus, there you can eat a pastry at Tonolo‘s, one of the best pasticcerie in town (try the fritelle if you are in Venice during Carival).
- Another district, or better “sestiere“, less touristy but still very pretty is Cannaregio. Get lost among its calli and its picturesque fondamenta along the canals, with overlooking trattorias, cafés and bacari frequented by locals. Bacari are some sort of quick stop bar where you can have a drink and taste some finger-foods. If you want something different you can try a crepe at La Cocaeta.
- If you’re young and you want to melt with the locals at aperitivo time go to Campo Santa Margherita in Dorsoduro: a quite big piazza with plenty of bars, coloured houses and a curious cut off campanile. You’ll see.
7. Cheap gondola ride and Gondolas4all
If you travel on a budget you can enjoy a gondola ride all the same. How? Along the Grand Canal there are a few gondola points, called Traghetti (you will spot a green sign). There you can jump on (helped by a gondolier, of course) and simply go to the other side of the Grand Canal. It will last just a couple of minutes, but you can take a picture and save money (the service costs 2€ each). Read my post about gondola ferries.
Thanks to the Association Gondolas4all now also disabled people can get on a gondola in total safety by using a special platform. The dock is at Piazzale Roma and the price starts from 80€ for 30 minutes.
8. Special shops
In Venice there are many peculiar shops. I suppose everyone already knows the Libreria Acqua Alta, a unique book shop: the owner stores the books in gondolas, bathtubs or tanks in order to protect them in case of high water.
If you like fairy tales you should go to the Isola di Pinocchio, a workshop where a modern Geppetto makes amazing wooden puppets, while his sister sews their tiny dresses, creating pure magic. Johnny Depp’s crew commissioned to these two artisans a Jack Sparrow marionette for the actor’s birthday.
In Cannaregio you can attend a printing session at the workshop of young and talented Arianna. On April, 2016 she opened her own shop. . There you can buy a souvenir made by a true Venetian artisan with techniques used since 1400 (and now disappearing). Another talented artisan is Stefania of PaperOwl. She creates wonderful and precious bijoux out of paper.
9. A place out of the ordinary
The Squero di San Trovaso, near the Accademia Galleries and the Zattere promenade, is a rather unique place. A suqero is in fact the place where gondolas are built. Visitable only by appointment, it can be interesting to just admire it from the outside anyway. Dating back to 1600, it is one of the 5 survived squeri in the whole city of Venice. Its external appearance recalls a mountain chalet and it is really picturesque.
10. Fabulous Food
The forte of Venice are the chicchetti, small snacks, such as:
- sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines)
- baccalà mantecato (creamed dried cod, which I love!)
- polpette (meat balls)
- mozzarella in carrozza (meaning mozzarella in carriage, it is some sort of fried sandwich filled with melting mozzarella).
As for the proper sized dishes, Venice is renowned for the risotto: risi e bisi (with peas), risotto al nero (squid black ink risotto) or risotto col radicchio. Other famous and delicious dishes are: bigoli (long and thick pasta, normally served with sardines sauce or duck sauce), pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans, actually a soup), fegato alla veneziana (liver cooked with onions), sea food dishes, often served with polenta (boiled cornmeal).
Among the sweets, the most remarkable are the Carnival frittelle and galani and of course the most famous of all, the creamy Tiramisù.
What about a day trip?
Finally, if you have already visited Venice many times and therefore you desire to visit some near landmarks, here are a few suggestions. Unless you can’t wait to attend a demonstration of glass making in Murano, I highly recommend to visit Burano instead: a tiny island full of colours, where time seems to have stopped. You won’t regret it.
About the mainland, there are plenty of places worth a visit: The Brenta Riviera villas fro example. If you love wine you could visit the area north of Treviso. There you can find a lot of wineries open for tasting prosecco. Or you can come and visit my city, Padova, with the most ancient Botanical Garden of the world, the third biggest square or Europe, the Scrovegni Chapel with one of the most beautiful frescoes cycle by Giotto and drink a spritz (local aperitivo) in the piazza at the shadow of the wonderful Palazzo della Ragione.
In conclusion I dare say there are many places wortha visit in the Veneto region, I invite you to browse on my blog to find out what suits you best.
And then let me know if these best things to do in Venice were useful during your trip!