A city steeped in history and culture, romantic Venice has a multitude of things for visitors to enjoy. From stunning architecture, to wonderful museums and gondola rides down the Grand Canal, Venice is the perfect choice for a vacation. Having chosen where to book your apartment following our ‘Where to stay in Venice’ guide, read the list of things to do below and set about filling your days in the “Queen of the Adriatic”.
Spend some time exploring Piazza San Marco
The first stop for most visitors to Venice is Piazza San Marco, the city’s principal public square. Often described as one of the most beautiful squares in the world, it has been Venice’s main symbol for many centuries, and the location of all the most important religious and civil ceremonies. Besides the beautiful architecture which has been central in ensuring the square’s reputation, it also prides itself as home to various significant historic buildings, as well as a the focal point of Venice’s water transport system. Perhaps the most famous buildings situated at Piazza San Marco, and two which certainly should not be missed, are Saint Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace.
Saint Mark’s Basilica is the most acclaimed church in Venice, and on a worldwide scale, it is has been declared as one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. From the top of the basilica, visitors can enjoy a prime view of Piazza San Marco. However, it is inside the basilica where the eyes can truly feast themselves on manmade beauty. Its interior is decorated with Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic art, is supported by columns carved in the 12th and 13th centuries, and two free-standing columns thought to have derived from 5th- or 6th-century Syria. The prime attraction of the Basilica, however, is ‘The Translation of the Body of St. Mark’, which is the oldest exterior mosaic. Doge’s Palace is another important symbol of Venice. The Venetian Gothic building boasts architecture unlike many other medieval era palaces due to the placement of the loggias which sit below and the solid walls above. Visitors can take a stroll around the interior to view the Scala dei Giganti, ceilings featuring ornate works of art and a basement which once housed several prison cells.
Enjoy a gondola ride along the Grand Canal
Travel down the main street of Venice, the Grand Canal, and enjoy a different perspective of the city by gondola, which was once the only means of transport around the city. Visitors calmly bob along the water, admiring impressive palaces, churches and other monumental buildings as they go by. A picturesque view of the canal can also be enjoyed stood atop one of the four bridges which run across its waters: the Rialto Bridge, Ponte degli Scalzi, Ponte dell’Accademia and Ponte della Costituzione. From here, the operations of a city without cars can truly be understood as gondolas pass filled with fresh produce, construction materials and more.
Visit Venice’s many museums
There are so many museums in Venice that it would be impossible to see them all during one trip to the city. However, there are a handful which are considered ‘must sees’. Gallerie dell’Accademia is most famous for its sculptures by the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo, with many people able to recognise the statue of David without having actually seen it in reality. However, it also offers visitors works by great Italian artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pontormo, Andrea del Sarto, Allessando Allori and Orcagna. Ca’ Rezzonico boasts a prime position on the Grand Canal, and is home to the Museum of the 18th century Venice. The extraordinary architecture makes this an exceptional setting to browse through. A top tip is the reconstructed Throne Room. Visitors can learn about a broader time frame of Venetian history at Museo Correr, as well as enjoy some stunning artwork. Offering information on a different type of Venetian history, Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia is a museum of natural history, also located on the Grand Canal, and focuses mainly on the nature of the Venetian lagoon that surrounds the city. For something a little different, visitors can head to Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo, a museum of fabrics and costumes.
Spend an evening at the theater
Venice has a strong opera tradition since the opening of the first commercial opera house in 1637. Although attending the opera has declined over the last centuries due to the popularity of television, there has been a slight revival in the opera as a form of entertainment, and Venice still houses some of Europe’s most beautiful opera houses. The most popular option with locals and visitors is La Fenice. However, visitors also have the option of choosing Teatro Goldoni, Teatro Malibran or Theatre Fondamenta Nuove. On the mainland, Teatro del Parco, an indoor theater in the city’s largest park, is a good option.
Wander around Venice’s magnificent churches
Venice boasts more than 200 churches so, akin to visiting the city’s museums, it is impossible to properly view them all during one trip. At the same time, it would be foolish to not enter at least a couple of these grandly designed buildings which are often indistinguishable from the city’s palaces. Santa Maria della Salute, or La Salute, is a minor basilica standing at the junction between the Grand Canal and the Bacino di San Marco on the lagoon. Delivered as a mean of thanks for the end of a plague in the 17th century, the octagonal building is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is filled with Marian symbolism. Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is considered one of the greatest churches in the city and it is easy to see why with its many masterpieces of Venetian Renaissance art and monuments. One of the largest churches in Venice, Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo also has the status of a minor basilica. San Zaccaria Church is dedicated to Saint Zechariah, and conserves the body of the father of John the Baptist under the second altar on the right. Finally, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, or the ‘marble church’, is worth a look for its colored marble, a false colonnade on the exterior walls and a semicircular pediment.
Chill out on the Lido
The 11-kilometer long, sandy Venice Lido is the perfect place to relax in the sun, or to enjoy a leisurely stroll. Visitors can experience a different atmosphere here due to the presence of leafy residential avenues, roads, cars, cyclists and pavements. The best place to sit for the day is Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta where there is a complex with a bar and a shop.
Explore Venice’s beautiful architecture
Venice’s beautiful architecture is not limited to its churches and public squares. Another spectacular building on the Grand Canal, Ca’ d’Oro is a 15th century palazzo constructed in the Venetian floral Gothic style. It is open to the public as a gallery. When visiting Ca’ d’Oro, it is recommended visitors stop by Ca’ Pesaro, a Baroque marble palace housing a collection of 19th and 20th century paintings and sculptures. Scuola Grande di San Marco is one of the most ancient buildings in Venice, and boasts a prime position facing Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, one of the largest squares in the city. Having been recently restored, it is now possible to visit its interior.
Sample some of the city’s delicious cuisine
A trip to Venice would not be complete without sampling the wonderful cuisine the city has to offer. Naturally, Venice is acclaimed for its seafood and visitors looking to sample some top-quality seafood dishes should most certainly have dinner at Alle Testiere. With seating space for only 22 people and dinner sittings only at 7pm and 9.30pm, booking a table is a must. Each dish is made to order by the chef who prepares meals based on what is fresh from the fish market that day. A slightly cheaper option which also serves fresh fish is Acquastanca. Acquastanca retained the decor of the bakery which formerly stood in its place and it has a warm atmosphere. A good selection of wine is on offer and the establishment operates as a bar outside mealtimes. Those looking to take a step away from seafood, should dine at Al Gondolieri. Also serving traditional Venetian dishes, the main focus is on red meat and game. Although situated in a touristy area, Al Gondolieri is a favourite with locals. Visitors looking for a hearty plate of pasta should look no further than Dal Pampo, a suburban restaurant offering simple, cheap yet tasty food. Snack bars are pretty popular in Venice. Vineria All’Amarone is good place for a quick snack, no matter the time of the day. Besides a variation of bar snacks and cold cuts, it also serves a few daily pastas, soups and main courses, as well as wine by the glass for a modest price of €3. Osteria Al Ponte is another good snack place where the huge roast potato chips are what draw the crowd. Be aware that Osteria Al Ponte closes by 9pm aim to eat here early.
Have you ever been to Venice? What do you recommend as a ‘must do’ in the city?
(Header: Grand Canal, Venice. Photo by Trish Hartmann via FlickrCC.)