Located in the Venetian Lagoon, the city of Venice was built over 118 small islands connected by more than 400 bridges. Growing due to medieval commerce, Venice attracted many guilds, artists and merchants, who built a culture and traditions that have lasted for over a thousand years.
Venice holds a special place in my heart, as I have lived and studied in this lovely city for quite some time. In this post, you will find my top picks for the best things to do in Venice.
Table of Contents
- Admire the St. Mark’s Square
- Check the time at the Clock Tower
- Experience royal life at the Doge’s Palace
- Stroll across the Rialto Bridge
- Get a View from the Rooftops
- Buy a book at the Libreria Acqua Alta
- Investigate the Arsenale di Venezia
- Take a Gondola ride through the canals
- Buy Fresh Fish At The Rialto Market
- Visit San Giacomo di Rialto
Admire the St. Mark’s Square
St Mark’s Square is one of the most popular places in Venice, and for good reason. Apart from being an incredible architectural sight, it is surrounded by buildings that are very important to the city, such as the St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Bell Tower, etc.
The square is located at the southern entrance of the Grand Canal and is easily accessible both by foot and Vaporetto (water bus). Nearby you can have a nice cup of coffee, but be aware that anything you purchase around the square is going to be expensive and with a high probability of also being overpriced! If you are traveling on a budget, leave the meals and souvenier-buying for other neighborhoods of the city.
The square has a serious problem with pigeons, as they have so far irreversibly destroyed parts of the mosaics from the St. Mark’s Basilica. Recently a law has been passed, prohibiting the feeding of pigeons, so please be aware of the situation and keep food away from them.
Check the time at the Clock Tower
Right on the St. Mark’s Square, there is another interesting sight. An early Renaissance building at the entrance to the Merceria, the Clock Tower shows the time of day, the dominant sign of Zodiac and the current phase of the moon.
In the early 1490s, the city decided that the greatest sea power in the world could not rely on the old clock of Sant’Alipio, which was located on one of the corners of the St. Mark’s basilica. For that reason, the building of a clock that was both accurate and symbolic of the power stemming from Venice was scheduled.
Legend says that the city’s Senate blinded the master mechanics of the tower, so they don’t repeat such work anywhere else. That, of course, is a myth. The original creators lived with their families inside the clock tower, and the following master mechanics kept this tradition alive.
Experience royal life at the Doge’s Palace
Built in Venetian Gothic Style at the St. Mark’s Square, the Palazzo Ducale is without a doubt the main landmark of Venice and one of the most important of the north of Italy.
The Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), as the name suggests, was the house of the Doge, the elected lord and chief of state of the former Venetian Republic. It’s architecture and treasures remain as evidence of the power stemming from this small city which ruled the Adriatic sea.
The interior contains an amazing gilded ceiling, which has panels depicting the glories of the Venetian Republic, as well as walls that are painted with portraits of the Doges and frescoes done by artists such as Tintoretto, Veronese, and Bella.
Stroll across the Rialto Bridge
Connecting the districts of San Marco and San Polo, the Rialto bridge is one of the most imponent sights in Venice. It is the oldest of the four bridges which cross the Grand Canal.
It was initially built in 1181 as a floating bridge, but given the increase in commercial traffic coming for the Rialto market on the eastern bank of the canal, it was replaced in 1255 by a wooden bridge. But wood was not sufficient, as the bridge collapsed in 1444 due to the weight of a large crowd that was watching a boat parade, and then again in 1524. Talks of rebuilding the bridge in stone followed, with Michelangelo himself being considered as a potential designer for the new bridge. But eventually, Antonio da Ponte designed the current bridge, which was finished in 1591.
Get a View from the Rooftops
Venice is not really known as “the city of skyscrapers”, as most of the buildings don’t exceed three floors. But there are certain spots in town, which will give you a priceless view of the city. Many buildings around St. Mark’s Square, such as the St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile Tower allow for great views of the Venetian islands, the ocean, and the square itself.
Buy a book at the Libreria Acqua Alta
One of the most interesting bookstores in the whole of Italy, the Libreria Acqua Alta is a must-see spot in Venice for booklovers.
Located in the tiny district of Castello, the Acqua Alta offers a variety of books both in Italian and English stored in very interesting ways, be it on a gondola that is stuck inside the building or inside a bathtub. Apart from that, you will often find the keeper’s cats taking a nap or walking around the place.
On the back, you can climb a staircase made out of old books that have been ruined by the high water, or ‘Acqua Alta’. It can give you a nice view of the canal on the other side of the building.
Investigate the Arsenale di Venezia
The Venetian Arsenal was a complex of medieval shipyards and armories, known as one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in history.
Built in the 12th century, the Arsenale would only find a match in production capacity in the modern Industrial Revolution. With high walls to avoid curious public eyes, this maritime giant was able to produce one ship per day. Their secret: division of labor. Each part of the Arsenal built a different part of a ship such as munitions, rope, and rigging. Afterward, similarly to an assembly line, the pieces were quickly put together, creating the final product.
The Arsenal was such a historically iconic piece, that is was mentioned in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy:
As in the Arsenal of the Venetians
Boils in winter the tenacious pitch
To smear their unsound vessels over again
For sail they cannot; and instead thereof
One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks
The ribs of that which many a voyage has made
One hammers at the prow, one at the stern
This one makes oars and that one cordage twists
Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen…
Take a Gondola ride through the canals
The Gongola rides have become an iconic symbol of the city of Venice and are one of the most frequent items in the bucket list of tourists in town. All this for good reason, the Gondolas are a very traditional mean of transportation, and provide a unique view of the city, one that exists for hundreds of years.
The standards ride usually last for 30-45 minutes and cost between 80-120 euros, getting more expensive during the night. The Gondoliers can be found all around town, mostly close to the Grand Canal.
You cannot negotiate the price of the Gondola rides. However, if you ask for a much longer tour, you will be able to agree on a more accessible price.
Buy Fresh Fish At The Rialto Market
If you wanna have an almost exclusively local experience, you can always shop for fresh sea fruits at the Rialto Market. Here you can find a variety of options, such as squids, octopi, shrimps, salmon, etc.
Although you will not have where to cook it while staying at a hotel, you should definitely give it a try if you are renting an apartment to visit the city.
Visit San Giacomo di Rialto
Legends say that this is the oldest church in the whole of Venice, dating back to 421. Bu truth be told, the first document mentioning the church dates back to 1152. Still, the place is considered an important piece of Venetian history.
It has a large 15th-century clock above the entrance, considered a useful item in the Venetian business district but regarded as a standing joke given its inaccuracy.