Last updated on August 20th, 2018 at 11:02 am
This ultimate guide to the Venice attractions covers probably most of the things to do in Venice. I have organised them also by cost (free or not) and based on your length of stay (1, 2 days or more), including what could be done at night too.
At the end of the post, you can also find a map to make easy the navigation in this city which sometimes is more complicated than a real maze 🙂
If you are still thinking about where to stay I have just posted a neighbourhoods guide with the best places to stay in Venice. It may be handy to check it out, also to familiarize with the different areas.
I am thinking to organise this guide in a FREE to download PDF. Let me know what you think in the comment sections 😉
Surprisingly there are quite a number of free things to do in Venice. Most of them are famous places, San Marco square on top.
Here is the full list (you can read a much deeper description of the places in the attractions section below):
A (half)day trip to the islands of Burano and Murano is also another free option, although you need to budget in the cost of the ferry ticket
Let me be honest, a Venice itinerary in 1 day is going to be very intensive. And you will leave a bit disappointed because you will understand you should have spared at least another day.
In saying that, time can be unfortunately a big constraint and 24 hours may be all we have.
Here below a sequence of sights that I would suggest. I have also added an indicative timeline however you can work around it of course. My tip is to leave San Marco Square either early in the morning or after dinner. It is usually very crowded in the other time of the day
If you plan to visit the Rialto Bridge (and the area around) then at 2 pm take the ferry to the Rialto Mercato Terminal instead and leave behind the Guggenheim Collection and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
With 2 days in Venice you can add more places to see.
With 3 days in Venice, you can add activities, possibly explore an island outside Venice centre and surely get lost in the maze of Dorsoduro, my favourite neighbourhood.
Follow the same plan as on the 2 days in Venice
Also Day 2 is very similar except you may plan a night out at one of these two venues:
I have organised the Venice attractions by area. It may be handy in case you are thinking to visit only one or 2 neighbourhoods. I have also marked which attraction is free and the cost of the ticket where applicable
As you will notice, most of the places to see are located in San Marco, in the central area. I however suggest extending your excursion to the other neighbourhoods, just to have more of a local feeling, especially in Dorsoduro where you will find some of the best restaurants.
Here below a quick list of words and artist names that may help you during your Venice trip
Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice and inevitable the final destination of every tourist.
In the Middle Ages, it consisted of a small space, expanded later on a project of Sansovino, the area was enriched with most of the buildings that you can still admire today as the Clock Tower.
In the eighteenth century the paving of the square was modified and in the nineteenth century, the Napoleonic Wing was built.
The square has a trapezoidal shape, it is about 175 m long and 80 meters wide. On the perimeter of this large space, there are buildings of great architectural value: the Basilica of San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the Loggia and the Clock Tower.
Under the arcades, you will find some of the most historical cafés of Venice and probably the world (today also famous for the high prices of the coffees, up to 10 euros)
What makes this Piazza truly unique is the opening towards the lagoon in the south-east corner, bordered on one side by the bell tower and on the other by the splendid portico of the Palazzo Ducale.
Piazza San Marco is also famous for its centre stage in the Venetian Carnival, one of the most important in the world.
The majestic bell tower of San Marco dominates the underlying piazza of the same name.
The bell tower was built around the ninth century, initially as a lookout tower and lighthouse. In 1100 it was rebuilt and finally, in the 16th century it was completed under the direction of architect Bon, that improved it using a Renaissance style while respecting the original structure.
It was again rebuilt between 1511 and 1514 based on the new design by Giorgio Spavento.
For centuries the bell tower has played a fundamental role in the political and social life of the city.
The bells were ringed to inform the Venetians of all the major events that affected the city.
The structure remained intact until 1902, when it started eroding, fortunately without serious damage. Venice decided to rebuild it and after only ten years the new bell tower, an exact copy of the original, was inaugurated.
It has a square plan, a 12 m wide brick body. and is almost 100 metres tall. At the top you will see a golden angel, about two meters high, still shining in the sunny days.
A curiosity: in the past, at the foot of the bell tower, there were very popular wine shops, which moved according to the time to follow the shadow of the bell tower itself.
From this ancient and deeply rooted custom, the Venetians use still today the word “shadow” to indicate a glass of wine.
The ticket to enter the Campanile is 8 Euro. If you want to avoid the crowd book online and skip the queue (13 Euro).
It is considered a masterpiece of Romanesque-Byzantine architecture and it has always played an important role in the religious and public life of Venice.
At the time of the Venetian Republic, the doges were consecrated there.
Initially, the basilica was only a small temple dedicated to San Teodoro, then in the year 820 the Venetians fished the remains of San Marco from Alexandria in Egypt and the rebuilding of the temple began.
Built in the XI-XV centuries and repeatedly renovated, the current basilica dominates Piazza San Marco with its five imposing domes and its golden mosaics, which recall an oriental style.
On the side, overlooking Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), you can see the “Stone of the ban”, so called because that was the place where the Venetian could read the Republic Orders.
The interior immediately strikes for the grandeur and harmony of the volumes.
The church is decorated with beautiful mosaics with a golden background dating back to different periods (from the 12th to the 14th centuries), representing various characters and situations: “Preaching of the Apostles”, “The Passion”, “Christ Blessing”, “Christ and Prophets”, “Saint John”.
The remains of San Marco are still kept inside the main altar.
The Palazzo Ducale dates back to the ninth century, but the current form is of the Renaissance.
The building is one of the best examples of Venetian Gothic architecture.
It is considered a symbol of the city and represents the power and splendour of the Serenissima. It was the residence of the Doges and the government house.
The most remarkable artists decorated rooms and interiors of this unique palace. From Bellini to Carpaccio, from Veronese to Jacopo Tintoretto and Titian.
This is a must seen attraction of Venice, certainly not cheap at 20 euro but well worth the price.
This small bridge over the Rio di Palazzo is one of the most famous monuments in the city and a must stop for anyone visiting Venice.
It was the bridge that connected the courthouse inside the Palazzo Ducale to the prisons, considered to be an extension of the Palace, however, separated from the main building by a small canal (Rio di Palazzo).
Its fame is due to the Eighteenth-century writers who often cited it in their works the bridge as the last sight of the Venetian landscape (from the window in the middle of the bridge) caught by the “felons” on the way to the prisons.
Highlights of this museum are the mosaics, the tapestries and the Quadriga Marciana (the 4 horses).
The textile section includes some of the oldest and most precious tapestries in Europe, from the Byzantine style, examples of the twelfth century, to the Flemish one, of the late sixteenth, inherited from Cardinal Giovanbattista Zen.
It is the main theatre in Venice. It was built between 1790 and 1792, and the inauguration took place on May 16, 1792.
In the nineteenth century, La Fenice housed works from some of the most famous authors as Gioachino Rossini (“Tancredi”, 1813), Vincenzo Bellini (“Beatrice di Tenda”, 1832) and Giuseppe Verdi (“Rigoletto”, 1851)
La Fenice has been always famous to have a demanding public. Just think that Verdi’s “La Traviata”, a highly successful opera, at the Fenice premiere was loudly whistled.
It was destroyed by the fire on 29 January 1996 and after 8 years of work, it was re-opened with a concert conducted by Riccardo Muti, who started the inaugural week celebrations.
If you happen to be in Venice for the New Year, book well in advance the world-famous New Year Concert (Concerto di Capodanno). You may check directly on La Fenice website for tickets. Here below a short video.
The Museum collects important ancient sculptures, among which some considerable Greek originals; there are also bronzes, ceramics, gems and coins.
Part of the Museum acquisition is based on the artworks collected from the 16th century by famous Venetian families.
In fact, it originated from the legacy of Cardinal Domenico Grimani who, at his death in 1523, left most of his collection of antique objects to the “Signoria” (Government).
In 1586 Giovanni Grimani left his considerable collection of ancient marbles to the Serenissima Republic, on condition that they found a worthy and definitive arrangement in a suitable environment.
The Library is located in Piazza San Marco. Its construction, begun in 1537-1538, by Sansovino, and it was completed fifty years later by Scamozzi.
In the early days, the building was used to mint coins for the Venetian Republic (“Zecca”).
It is based on two floors with arches resting on Doric and Ionic semicolumns. The main entrance gives access to the upper rooms, which were the ancient seat of the library. Today the reading room is in the inner courtyard covered by a skylight.
Going up the staircase, adorned with refined stuccoes by Vittoria, you enter the waiting room whose ceiling houses one of Titian’s late works “La Sapienza (1564)”.
On the first floor you can find a reproduction of the “Venice drawing from the flying bird”, an artwork of de ‘Barbari which may resemble today’s photo from a drone, incredible in that days.
The ceiling has framed some allegorical paintings, executed between 1556 and 1557, by painters chosen by Titian and Sansovino. The Library is largely constituted with the donation of Cardinal Bessarione and donations from suppressed religious orders.
This is the most important museum in Venice and owes its name to Teodoro Correr who, in 1830, donated his rich collection to the city.
Inside you will find the very interesting Museum of Venetian Art and History which presents various interesting aspects of the history and civilization of Venice like the daily life, the development and activities of institutions, the maritime enterprises, the urban challenges and city celebrations.
The sixteenth-century palace is a cultural foundation, commissioned in 1869 by Count Giovanni, the last descendant of the Venetian aristocratic family of the Querini Stampalia family.
This is the only example in Venice where the old family heritage, including the library, the furnishing and the art collections have been preserved.
Today it houses the civic library of the historic centre and an interesting, however small, museum.
The ground floor and the garden have been restored by the famous architect Carlo Scarpa in the early 60s.
Wifi, as well as a cafe, is available. It is actually a great spot to do some blogging 🙂
You can check the Foundation website for more information and opening time.
This church hosts the only Flemish work in Venice, the “Sacra Famiglia” by Rubens
It was originally built by the Jubanico family in the 9th century and named after the Maria del Giglio. It was later rebuilt in the 17th century as a monument to the Barbaro family, for the first time not exclusively dedicated to God.
It is one of the first eight churches in the Venetian lagoon.
According to tradition, the church was first founded in the seventh century by St. Magno, bishop of Oderzo, after the Virgin appeared to him in the form of a beautiful matron.
The current church, rebuilt in 1492, designed by Mauro Codussi, is one of the first Venetian churches conceived and built according to the Renaissance style.
The prestigious Guggenheim Collection is the most important museum in Italy for the European and American art of the first half of the 20th century.
It is located in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, in Dorsoduro, overlooking the Grand Canal in the stretch between the church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Academy, in the Dorsoduro neighbourhood.
The museum was opened in 1951 by the granddaughter of Solomon R. Guggenheim, a rich American industrialist, patron and art collector.
It houses the personal collection by Peggy Guggenheim, as well as works from other collections and temporary exhibitions.
The collection is not the biggest in the world however it is exceptional for the quality of the artwork, including the main historical avantgardes (cubism, futurism, Dadaism, abstractionism, surrealism, Russian constructivism) and numerous aspects of contemporary art.
It includes works by Picasso, De Chirico, Braque, Magritte.
The on-line collection can be seen on the museum website.
The church of Santa Maria della Salute is located in front of San Marco, on the other side of the Grand Canal, in the Dorsoduro neighborood.
The construction was ordered by the Doge Contarini, to propitiate the end of the terrible plague that decimated the city in 1630.
Construction began in 1631, based on a design by Longhena, and the basilica was inaugurated in 1687.
The majestic and beautiful church represents a classic landmark of the Venetian landscape, with its candid white colour and its Renaissance style. It definitely stands out when seen from the San Marco Square
The design is based on an octagonal base where a Venetian-style dome stands out, followed by a smaller dome, over the presbytery, with twin bell towers on its sides.
The main façade is of grandiose proportions typical of the Palladium architecture.
In the fifteenth century, a customs house was built next to the church. It was then used to check the goods coming by sea. It is now hosting the interesting “Punta della Dogana” museum.
This is one of the best point of view in Venice. On sunrise, it is the top spot for a photo towards San Marco and Castello (“Riva degli Schiavoni”)
Access is free, except for a few areas where a small charge is requested. See the Basilica website for timetable and prices
This Museum allows you to explore and learn more on the fabulous eighteenth century in Venetia with the beautiful reconstructed rooms including period interior and furniture.
Ca’ Rezzonico overlooks the Grand Canal and is certainly one of the best-known buildings in Venice
Commissioned by the Bon family, the palace was built by Baldassare Longhena at the end of the seventeenth century. It was then completed in 1756 by Giorgio Massari, who added the third floor to it, with an impressive ballroom.
Since 1936, Ca’ Rezzonico has housed the Museum.
Ca’ Foscari is another building overlooking the Grand Canal. It dates back to the twelfth.
It is believed that the Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari, was born within these walls.
In the course of the sixteenth century, the palace was the centre of the Venetian elite and their frivolous and opulent parties.
Since the last hear of the Foscari family died in 1810, the building has gone through a multitude of uses. Today Cà Foscari is the official headquarters of the “Ca’ Foscari” University of Venice.
It is a true jewel of the Venetian Renaissance, but not as popular with most of the tourists visiting Venice.
The Church of San Sebastiano was built in ancient times, and it was restored in the 16th century by the architect Abbondi, known as the Scarpagnino.
The church is known for its paintings and frescoes. Most of the artwork was performed by Paolo Veronese, who spent a considerable part of his life painting the church and eventually it was buried there.
The church is also a great showcase of the artistic evolution of Paolo Veronese, started with the bright and vivid colours of his paintings to move to the most dramatic style of his later painting.
Veronese was also an active artist in the Palazzo Ducale and in the Veneto hinterland.
You can read more about Paolo Veronese on the Artsy website.
The church of Santa Maria di Nazareth is best known in Venice as the Scalzi church because the Discalced Carmelite monks have always officiated there.
Work on the restoration of the original church began around 1656, under the direction of Longhena, which succeeded in merging Palladian and Baroque style.
The works ended in the second half of the eighteenth century.
The façade, designed by Giuseppe Sardi, is in Carrara marble and dates back to the years 1672-1680. It is 25 meters long, 26 meters high and it ends with a large pediment framed by five statues.
The interior of the church was commissioned by different artists.
Between 1743 and 1745, Tiepolo created the fresco on the ceiling, unfortunately, destroyed by an Austrian bomb in 1915. Not all of Tiepolo’s works have been lost though, you can still admire the fresco dated 1724 in the chapel.
You can read more about the Tiepolo Family on the Khan Academy.
Starting from 1492 the Jews that refused conversion to Catholicism in the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal fled to Venice, creating a growing community.
As it happens in these days in many countries, also Venice, back then, started struggling with the large influx of immigrants and the residence permits.
The Venice Government decided to dedicate an area of the City, in the Cannaregio neighborood, to host uniquely the Jews. The first ghetto was born in Europe.
All Jews had to live there and none of them could go out at night. The area of the ghetto was fenced and the entrance gate guarded (the signs left by the hinges of that door are still visible).
Still, the Government was very tolerant and open to the Jews. They could exercise humble trades as well as professional works, such as doctor or moneylenders
Religious freedom was also guaranteed. Five synagogues were built in the ghetto, two of them are still open for worship (you may check the “Scola Grande Tedesca“, the “Scola Levantina“ and the “Scola Spagnola”).
Today, the all area is an interesting maze to literally get lost for a few hours. So fascinating.
Located on the Grand Canal, the palace is a typical example of Renaissance Venetian architecture.
After several changes of ownership, the building reached the Calergi and, by marriage, the Vendramin, from which the double name.
In 1882 the mezzanine floor of the White Wing hosted the musician Richard Wagner who here wrote the “Parsifal”, until his death (1883).
Since 1959 Ca’ Vendramin Calergi is the seat of the Municipal Casino of Venice: it has been said that it is one of the most beautiful casinos in the world.
The museum is located in the ancient Gothic palace that belonged to the family Pesaro degli Orfei (Ca’ Pesaro).
The building was bought by the Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, who has gradually modified rooms and structures to personalize the building for his own atelier of photography, literature, painting, fashion design and lighting techniques.
In 1956, the palace, and its content, was donated to the City of Venice by Henriette, widow of Mariano, and since then the museum has continued to exhibit mainly visual artworks.
Ca’ da Mosto is the oldest palace on the Grand Canal, built in the 13th century in a Venetian/Byzantine style and located in Cannaregio.
Unfortunately, this building sits almost empty and cannot, therefore, be visited inside. It can be seen from the other side of the canal, mainly from the Rialto Mercato ferry terminal.
It’s so close to the Rialto Bridge that makes it worth a short walk to admire it.
There is another curiosity about this building. It’s next to the Bolani Erizzo Palace, the building that collapsed in the final fight of the Casino Royale 007 film (obviously it was all computerised).
The church is located in the Cannaregio district and is one of the best architectural examples of the Venetian Renaissance.
The building was started at the end of the fifteenth century, based on a design by Pietro Lombardo. It was erected to house the “Virgin among the Saints”, a miraculous and venerated icon, now placed above the high altar.
The funds needed for the construction were collected through what we would call today crowdfunding
Santa Maria dei Miracoli is also known as the Chiesa dei Marmi: the façade is in fact covered with precious marbles, probably coming from the San Marco factory.
The basilica is framed by the wide and suggestive San Giovanni e Paolo square.
Dedicated to the Roman brothers Giovanni and Paolo, martyrs of the III century, the church was finished in 1430, about forty years since the beginning of the works. It is a splendid building in Gothian-Venetian style. The façade is made of simple bricks, divided into three parts by pilasters ending with marble niches.
The façade itself is rather austere: the lower part, certainly the oldest, is embellished with Byzantine reliefs and a sumptuous fifteenth-century statue.
The layout is of the typical Egyptian cross type and it still houses the remains of numerous Doges.
In 1867 a violent fire destroyed, unfortunately, the Chapel of the Rosary; famous works such as the “San Pietro Martire”, by Titian, and a paint by Giovanni Bellini were lost.
Outside, on the right of the façade stands the famous monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni, made in bronze by Verrocchio
You can see here more information on the closing time.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is the most important church in Venice, built in the Gothic-Cistercian style, and owes its name to the Franciscan monks who began its construction in the XIII century to conclude it in 1430.
The high and simple terracotta walls confer a majestic character to the building.
The interior has three naves, with various chapels.
The works of art in the Basilica make this church one of the most admired and visited in Venice. The high altar is surmounted by one of Titian’s masterpieces, l’Assunzione”. The “Pala Pesaro”, also by Titian, is housed on another altar.
The remains of many personalities are also kept in the church, including that of Canova and Titian: both the burial monuments are the work of Canova.
If you are interested to expand your knowledge on the Titian’s artworks you may check this website, a great source of information.
Based on old traditions, this is the oldest church in Venice, built in 421. However, there is no documentation confirming both the church and its construction date.
It is instead believed to be built in the 11th century and its history is linked to the local Rialto market and the banks around it. Interesting, an inscription on the external walls encourages honesty in the trading work. A message probably still valid, especially in the financial world.
The palace was donated by the family of San Stae, a branch of the Mocenigo family, one of the most prestigious in Venice (seven Doges were Mocenigo)
Since 1985, it houses the textile museum with a rich collection of fabrics and ancient costumes, mainly from the Correr, Guggenheim and Cini collections, besides the Palazzo Grassi.
Palazzo Mocenigo is also home to a rich library (about six thousand volumes) specialised in the history of fabric, costumes and fashion.
A must for anyone interested in Italian and Venetian fashion and its history.
Ca’ Centanni was built in the fifteenth century in the classical Gothic-Venetian style.
After being owned by the Rizzo and the Centanni, the house was rented to the Goldoni family for over 30 years till 1719.
In 1931 the house was donated to the Municipality of Venice, which restored the building.
In 1953 Ca’ Centanni was open to the public as a museum dedicated to the famous Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni.
Ca’ Centanni is now a magical place inspired by the Goldoni’s plays. The rooms are equipped with large retractable screens in which the Goldoni’s works are projected.
The museum includes also stage costumes, posters, programs, tickets, scripts and various editions of theatrical productions.
In a later stage, the famous puppet theatre of the Ca’ Grimani ai Servi was added to the already extensive collection.
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and certainly the most famous bridge in Venice, which crosses the Grand Canal in the Rialto area.
Initially, it was called “Ponte della Moneta” (bridge of the money), because it was built near the Old Mint of Venezia. The financial activities of the Venetian bankers were concentrated in its premises.
The Rialto Bridge that you see today was built in 1588-1591.
The first bridge was instead made on boats in 1175, replaced by a fixed one in 1265 which was destroyed in 1310 and rebuilt.
Interesting that the Rialto Bridge was the only one to cross the Grand Canal until 1854.
Rialto is undoubtedly one of the most appreciated monuments in Venice visited by Italian and foreign tourists. Another must visit site.
The convent and the church of San Francesco della Vigna are located in the Castello district.
The complex derives from a hospice (nursing home) that the Franciscans had in use, near a vineyard of the noble Marco Ziani.
In 1253, Ziani donated, in his testament, the land of the vineyard to the monks, that in 1300 built a first convent and a church in the Gothic style.
The convent was refurbished in the following two centuries and it became one of the largest in the city.
In 1543 the church was expanded based on a Sansovino’s design, while the classical façade was built in 1562 on a design by Palladio.
The interior of the church has a single nave, crossed on both sides by numerous chapels, embellished with fine paintings of the sixteenth century. Among these, stand out the beautiful “Madonna with Child and Saints” by Giovanni Bellini and the “Sacred Conversation” painted by the Veronese.
Venice economy was always well connected to the sea, the exploration and the navigation. Some of the most famous explorers were either born in the city or sponsored by the city to discover new parts of the then unknown word.
In the Naval Historical Museum, you will find historical vessels, cannons, torpedoes and the famous Venetian warships, the galleys.
The extraordinary collections also include reproductions of warships from the 19th and 20th century, modern transatlantic and traditional boats of the Venice lagoon.
The Museum is completed by maps, navigational instruments, lights, weapons, memorabilia of ships and famous battles, interesting technical drawings and photographs.
In the summer of 1575 a terrible epidemic of plague broke out in Venice. In September 1576, when the evil seemed invincible, the Senate asked for the divine help by vowing to build a new church in the Giudecca, intended for the Redeemer.
The Palladio designed was chosen and the work began in May 1577.
On 20 July the end of the plague was celebrated with a procession that reached the church through a bridge of boats, starting a tradition that still lasts today.
The classical Palladio pediment dominates the façade. A staircase as wide as the diameter of the dome symbolizes, with its 15 steps, the ascent to the temple of Jerusalem.
The stories of the life of Jesus are dedicated to the altarpieces of the chapels. You will find artworks by Francesco da Ponte, Palma il Giovane and Domenico Tintoretto.
Perhaps the most significant work is the “Madonna with Child and two musician angels” by Alvise Vivarini, preserved like a jewel in a precious wooden frame.
For the full interactive Google Map click here.
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.