Best things to do in Venice
Avoid the queues at San Marco's campanile by riding a vaporetto (water bus) over to San Giorgio Maggiore island Here you'll find the San Zaccaria, a stunning bell tower that provides some of the best views of Venice around. Before you leave, be sure to check out the century-old paintings by Italian master Tintoretto on the central alter of the chapel.
If crowded water boats aren't your style, take a private water taxi. It might be pricier, but the most scenic routes are down in the small canals, where you can slow down for photo-ops. Some boats even serve on-board champagne. This indulgence is pricier than public transport, but it’s a great idea if you're traveling in a group and want to indulge in water-borne transport (it’s often cheaper than gondolas, too).
Another way to bypass the throngs of tourists who flock to Venice each year, is to hire your own water taxi. While this option is more costly than the crowded water buses, it's often cheaper than the gondolas, and you can take these down the smaller canals, which are beyond scenic. Plus, as it's only your group onboard, you can slow for photos as often as you like.
Set in the heart of San Marco Square, Caffé Florian is legendary. This iconic slice of Venetian history has been a hallmark of royalty since 1720, attracting celebrities over the centuries from Charlie Chaplin to Andy Warhol, and its décor hasn’t changed much since the 18th century. Try the risotto—or for something sweet, the gourmet chocolates, specialty coffees and ice-cold gelato. The patio is perfect in the summer.
If you hadn't guessed already, the Venice Biennale takes place every two years and fills the city to the brim with art from all over the world. However, if your trip doesn't coincide with the festival, don't dispair: the foundation hosts lots of other events regularly. Such as the Festival of Contemporary Music or the International Film Festival.
If the Mediterranean weather brings some showers, try spending an afternoon at the Cinema Multisala Rossini. Just steps away from the historic San Marco Square, the three-story tower boasts three theatres; the main one screens Italian flicks (with subtitles), while the other two feature independent and arthouse films. There’s also a cultural centre where the Cinema features talks from visiting filmmakers.
Every February, the city hosts their traditional Carnival where more than three million people dress up in masquerade costumes and dance until dawn. What makes this party different? It dates to Renaissance times. Venetians wear gilded white masks, and the theatrical outfits range from black capes to ball gowns and feathered hats. It’s a spectacular sight to see.
Antico Forno is a small, understated pizzeria, and the perfect pit stop on a day of walking down Venetian streets. Customers call the shots, as the pizzas here can be made with either thick or thin crust. Since 2001, they’ve garnered the reputation for having some of the city’s best pies, all of which are made fresh daily. Whether you’re into vegetarian or with meat, all are made with their special 'fiodilatte' mozzarella. They also have great focaccia.
Castello is a quiet, residential region just 15 minutes from the bustling San Marco Square on foot. In this peaceful district you'll find calm canals, independent businesses to browse and food markets. If you're on a budget, it's worth venturing away from the tourist traps to Castello to save a few pennies.
Burano might be a 40-minute vaporetto from the main island, but it’s worth the day trip. This island is filled with homes painted in every colour of the rainbow. Stroll past the 13th-century church of Santa Caterina to check out local restaurants, like the Trattoria Al Gatto Nero, which serves fresh seafood and homemade pasta (just look for the bright blue building).
In medieval times, the Burano Lace School taught merchants how to make the intricate fabrics, which Leonardo da Vinci stopped by to purchase in 1481 (he bought fabric here for the main altar of his masterpiece at the Duomo di Milano). The Venice Lace Museum (Museo del Merletto) outlines the intricate lace history in a historic palace, Piazza Galuppi. Don’t miss the famous Church of San Martino, which has its own a leaning campanile (just like the leaning tower of Pisa).
The Rialto bridge’s food market is widely known for its Italian produce and homemade pasta. The Rialto Food & Wine Tour pokes around the fresh daily markets, offering samples of fresh cow cheese from the highlands of Asiago, polenta chunks with marinated seafood and olives from the nearby Lake Garda. The tour ends at Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, a popular square which has some great desserts.
Tiramisu is the decadent Italian cake dessert made of ladyfinger cookies dipped in coffee and layered in a cream. It was originally founded in Venice in the 1960s and its secret recipe has been preserved by local restaurants and bakeries. The I Tre Mercanti bakery offers 25 different kinds of fusion tiramisu, from strawberry to limoncello and passion fruit, but the traditional classic with cocoa is a must-try.
Venice has more than 400 bridges connecting its archipelago, the Ponte di Rialto (or Rialto Bridge) is the most famous. Built in 1588, it offers romantic views of the city and has elevator-sized boutiques lining its grand staircase. Purchase traditional Venetian jewelry (stamped for authenticity) or pick up one-of-a-kind gems by local designer Eredi Jovon. The shops stay open late, so it’s the perfect place to browse while watching the sunset.
To escape tourist crowds, take a private boat to Lazzaretto Nuovo. In the middle ages, the main building on this off-the-beaten track island was used as a monastery. Today, it’s a cultural centre with exhibitions, events and guided tours of the scriptures on the walls that tell the tales of ancient merchants.
This popular destination is accessible by most vaporetto boat lines; the island is a 30-minute ride from San Marco. Lido’s 11-kilometer sandbar has a serene beach and is at the heart of the city’s film history. Visit the famed Hotel Riviera, which was a refuge for famed writers Ernest Hemingway and Lord Byron; it’s also where Thomas Mann wrote his 1912 novel, Death in Venice. The Venice Film Festival is held here every September, perfect for star spotting.
If you're looking for a cycling holiday, the Venetian islands may not be your first choice. In fact, it’s impossible to bike around most Venetian islands—except Lido, where they have roads for both cars and bikes. Venice Bike Rental allows you to ride around for the day at a reasonable price. Ride to the Chiosco Bar Pedrocchi for lunch and then head to the beach, right by the fishing village of Pallastrina. You can bike the length of the island (20 km) in two hours. Mount your saddles, people.
Known as the oldest part of Venice, Burano is the island where Ernest Hemingway lived in 1948 to write Across the River and Into the Trees. The book was written at the Locanda Hotel, which is still owned by the same Cipriani family. If this five-star decadence is not your style, at least stay to order one of their world-renowned Bellini cocktails—prosecco and peach nectar—which was invented in the 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani (and Hemingway adored them).
Torcello Cathedral is a basilica church built in 639 AD, and is the oldest building in Venice. This iconic piece of Venetian-Byzantine architecture is famous for its colourful mosaics; at the altar, find a gold-leaf masterpiece from the 11th century, ornate icons of Virgin Hodegetria and an expressive mosaic called the 'Harrowing of Hell'. This spooky church is decorated with the skull of Saint Cecilia, which has been kept here for hundreds of years.
Glassmaking is a thousand-year-old tradition that originated on the island of Murano, which is still a glass production hub. The Murano Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) displays the island's glass history, from mosaic glass to chandeliers, beads and ornate techniques from the 15th century. Today, the Fornace Ferro Murano glass factory offers visitors a look inside their open studio, which shows how they make glass vases, light fixtures and jewellery.
The Aman Grand Canal Hotel is as exclusive as it gets in Venice, but don’t be fooled. This 16th-century palazzo can be perused as a museum, where you can oggle museum-quality treasures, gilded walls, ceiling frescoes and period furniture. Step into their on-site bar—which has direct access to the hotel's secret garden—to sip on an aperitivo of white wine, Campari and a shot of seltzer while basking in the city's late afternoon sunshine.
Have kids in tow?
The visually dazzling, no-place-else-like-it city of Venice seems like it’s made for the youngest travellers, who marvel at its canals for roads and its narrow maze of alleys, as well as its gondolas, palaces, pigeons and nearly theme park-like ambiance. Here are some of our favourite things to do and special moments to share with kids in Venice.