10 Things to do in Venice
3 Nights in Venice - Plan your own itinerary
Venice was a last minute addition to our Italian itinerary. Many people I asked said not to bother, it's too crowded, too expensive, too smelly. I guess it can be those things if you visit in the middle of high season but our trip took place in late March. It was a little cold, a little rainy one day but it was not crowded and it did not smell!
I am so glad I did my own research and made up my own mind, because of all of the amazing places we saw on our 3 weeks in Italy, Venice is the one that captured my heart and that I hope to return to soon.
Below are the 10 things I enjoyed most in my short time in Venice. I would love to hear if you have any suggestions for my next trip.
I took all of the images on this page on my trip in March 2010. Please contact me if you would like permission to use any of them.
1. Ride the Grand Canal - At every time of day
We had 4 full days in Venice so we purchased a 3 day vaperotto pass on our arrival at the train station. It was really worthwhile for us as our hotel was just a few minutes from a stop on the Grand Canal and we planned to explore as many of the routes as possible. Start with the #1 slow vaporetto water bus on the Grand Canal. If you have a pass get off anywhere that takes your fancy. Try to ride this route in the very early morning when the sun is still rising and again after dark so you can see inside all the brightly lit windows of the grand homes at night.
"If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you've imagined. Venice is - Venice is better." Fran Lebowitz
2. Explore the Rialto Market - There were so many seafood varieties I had never seen before
We got up early the second morning of our visit to head to the Rialto Market. This was one time I wish I had rented an apartment; there was so much amazing food that I wanted to take home and try to cook. After an hour or so exploring here we bought some take away lunch and sat on the wharf in the sun relaxing, looking out over the water and watching life on the canal... It was one of my favourite mornings.
3. Visit Murano and Burano - See the glass and the pretty coloured houses
Our visit to these pretty islands coincided with out first cold and foggy day in Italy. Riding across the water to the islands through the fog was quite special, almost eerie, particularly when we passed some of the small deserted islands along the way; it felt like we were travelling back in time.
Arriving in Burano to all those lovely colored houses after such a dismal journey was a delight. We strolled around for a while, had lunch at a typical tourist restaurant just to escape the cold and headed back to the main island. I would love to do this again on a fine sunny day but we enjoyed seeing a different side to Venetian life regardless.
Addresses in Venice are almost meaningless to visitors. Ask for a landmark for your hotel or you may never find it!
4. Enjoy the afternoon bar food - The best place to do this is far, far from St Marks Square
I loved the cicchetti (chi-keh-tee) in Venice, so many little interesting morsels to try to wine by the glass. For this reason alone I would like to move to Venice permanently!
Each day on our walks we could keep our eyes peeled for interesting looking bars and cafes to head back to at night. I had taken a list of recommended places but I think this is probably a better way, discovering your own amazing place is so satisfying and finding a recommended one that has changed hands or upped prices and dropped standards since hitting the guidebooks is very disappointing.
Immerse yourself in the life of Venice
By the author of the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this book which centres of the fire at the La Fenice Opera House, brings the atmosphere and some of the eccentric characters of the city to life.
Look out for small
"osteria" or "trattoria"
rather than restaurants
5. Eat Squid Ink Pasta or Risotto - And let the black ink stain your teeth
I was determined to eat Squid ink pasta in Venice after reading it was a local specialty. It is my favourite dish at our local Italian restaurant in Sydney so I wanted to see how the real thing compared.
We walked from our hotel in the opposite direction to the crowds and discovered Trattoria dai Peochi after about 10 minutes. It was crowded with couples speaking Italian which I thought was a good sign and it turned out to be right. The meal was quite nice and not expensive - about 50 Euro for 2 courses, a glass of wine and a child's meal. The staff were friendly and I would be happy to eat there again
Take a walk along Fondamenta della Misericordia and you are bound to find something you like.
6. Visit some churches - Santa Maria della Salute
Santa Maria della Salute is the beautiful Baroque church on the junction of the Grand Canal that features prominently in many photos of Venice. In the photo above it is the dome in the middle of the image. It was built to thank God for ending the terrible plague of the 1600s and in English it's name means St Mary of Health.
The church has a great collection of masterpieces and is free to enter. There are lots of pictures of the interior of Santa Maria della Salute on the sacred destinations website.
It is a great spot to view St Marks from afar and also a good place to begin your walk exploring the Dorsoduro sestieri.
If you prefer to watch than read
This 4 part documentary is based on Peter Ackroyd's book Venice: Pure City. It is an interesting view into the history of this city via the arts. The 4 episodes are each centres on a theme, Architecture, Art, Music and Theater. It is perfect viewing for anyone planning a visit to Venice and despite sounded perhaps like an art history title is actually very entertaining.
7. Tour the Doges Palace - Known as Palazzo Ducale in Italian
We really did not have an itinerary for our visit to Venice and despite every guide book I had seen saying the Doges Palace was a must see I had not intended to visit as none of us was really that interested in Venetian art and history but after two days walking past this amazing building everyday I was captivated by the facade and felt I needed to go inside.
We visited in the late afternoon and purchased the English audio tour. My 12 yr old daughter and I loved it and I was really glad we went. The ticket included free entry into another museum opposite but we did not have time to visit that.
Unfortunately the Bridge of Sighs is under restoration and not visible from the outside though you can see it from the inside.
8. Stroll through the Jewish Quarter - See some of the real Venice
By the last day in the city we had walked all the main spots listed in the travel guides and taken many Vaporetti rides. Our pass had expired so we decided to stay in our sestieri (area) and walk to all the corners of it. Tucked away in the far corner near the train station is the Jewish Ghetto area. This place is where the word Ghetto originated.
In the 16th Century the leaders of Venice decided that rather than expelling all Jews from the city they would allow them to remain but confine them to one small area. As a result the houses here are much taller and narrower than other parts of Venice. The residents had no option but to build up and as they had limited finances many of the structures were made of wood.
You can read more about the Jewish history of Venice on this page of the Jewish Virtual History library We happily strolled around by ourselves but there are several walking tours that are said to be very interesting.
3 ways to get around the canals
1. Vaperetto (vah|poh|REHT|toh) - think of this as the public bus system - I loved it
2. Traghetto (trah|GET|toh) - A quick cheap way to directly cross the canal
3. Gondola - I decided this was too $$$ and too much like Disneyland for me.
9. Visit the lesser known squares - Campo Santa Margherita was my favourite
While it is nowhere near as attractive as St Marks Square Campo Santa Margherita was one of my favourite places to eat gelato and watch the world go by. It is less Disneyland and more real life Venice with washing hanging from windows, old ladies gossiping in trios and kids running around having fun.
Read more about Campo Santa Margherita
Another square worth a visit is the Campo Santa Maria Nova, not far from the beautiful Santa Maria dei Miracoli and home of a cute second hand market pictured above that we stumbled upon one afternoon.
The book that made me want to visit Venice
This book is a history and architectural guide to the city of Venice.
10. Get really lost - You never know what you might find
We found the book shop above in the Castello sestieri. Inside the books are arranged inside old gondola and there is plenty of humor in the design of the place. It's pretty messy and caused slight anxiety in this ex-librarian but I think it is worth a visit if you are walking in the area. It is called Libreria "Acqua Alta" and I have since discovered it has its own facebook page that has lots of great images of the inside of the shop. Mine are a little dark to share here. You can find it at Castello 5176b, Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa. We enjoyed exploring this area behind St Marks Square immensely
Have you visited Venice?
Need more help planning your Italian holiday? - here are some of my other pages on Italy
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Links to help plan your holiday in Venice - Or just to indulge your Venice obsession
- Find any location in Venice
This mapping site is a lifesaver.
- Music in Venice
This website lists all the concerts and musical performances in Venice. All price ranges are catered to so take a look and see what is on while you are in town.
- Where to stay in Venice - Understanding the neighbourhoods
This article from Slow Travel Italy likens Venice to a fish and explains the characteristics of the various areas.
- Chowhounds Italy Boards
If you want to discuss where to go and what to eat in Italy this Italy forum at chowhounds will fit the bill.
- Palazzo Rosa - Our hotel in Venice
We loved the location of our hotel, in fact everything about it was great. I would prefer to stay in an apartment for my next visit but this hotel had great rooms, super friendly service and a perfect location if you don't want to be in the hustle an
- 200 Things to do in Venice
Another gem by Slow Travel Italy - This article lists 200 things to do arranged by sestieri (area)
- A week in Venice - 6 Walks in 900 Pictures and 22 Maps
Amazing photos and ideas for walking the "back streets" of Venice