What are the five best things to see and do in Venice?

Hayley Bosch

Venice is a small, walkable island surrounded by water— but that doesn't mean there aren't hundreds of things to do and see here. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to see and do in Venice.

1. St. Mark's Basilica. One of the grandest basilicas in the world, St. Mark's is gorgeous inside and out. Inside, the cathedral of Venice has more than 40,000 square feet of glittering Byzantine mosaics, the sacred relics of St. Mark and the Pala d'Oro, plus an altarpiece that uses more than 1,900 separate gems. From the panoramic terrace, you get not only a sweeping view of St. Mark's Square, but a peek at copies of the famous Greek horses — ancient bronzes that were sacked during the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople. (The originals are inside in St. Mark's Museum).

2. Doge's Palace. The seat of government throughout Venice's 700-year republic, Doge’s Palace also served as the home to its government, court and prisons. Inside, you can explore the Doge's opulent apartments, the creepy prisons and the fascinating armor. Don’t miss the famous Hall of the Great Council, where the city's general assembly made decisions and where you can still see world-famous frescoes by Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto. Book a tour in advance to explore the palace’s "secret passages,” including the hidden rooms used by Venice's VIPs and you’ll even get to see the prison cell where Casanova was kept.

3. Gallerie dell'Accademia. What the Uffizi is to Florence, the Accademia is to Venice. This is where you’ll find Venice’s greatest "old master" paintings, including not-to-miss works by Giovanni Bellini, Canaletto, Lorenzo Lotto, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Leonardo da Vinci. 

4. Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. There are dozens of beautiful churches in Venice, but for the quality of its art (and the importance of those laid to rest here), Santa Maria Gloriosa deserves special mention. Built in the 14th century, the church boasts works by Giovanni Bellini and Donatello, but its real masterpiece is the altarpiece: Titian's world-famous "Assumption." After you've seen the painting that made the Venetian artist so famous, pay a visit to his tomb, which is also inside. Other historical figures buried here include famed neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova (although only his heart is buried here) and the great composer Claudio Monteverdi.

5. Explore Venice's quieter neighborhoods. Most tourists tend to congregate (and stay) in the area around the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Basilica. If you want to get off the beaten path, head to quarters like Castello and Cannaregio. There, you’ll see children kicking soccer balls in piazzas and old women sitting outside their doors. Be sure to explore the area’s shops and restaurants while you’re there.

  • On July 9, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What are the best day trips from Venice?

    One of the best day trips from the island of Venice involves exploring other islands in the Venetian lagoon. We especially love the colorful fisherman's island of Burano, where the buildings are painted in bright colors, making it a delight for the eyes and a haven for photographers and artists. Burano is also where you can buy handmade lace and taste excellent seafood. Torcello, where Venice actually got its start, has a fascinating 7th-century cathedral with gorgeous 11th- and 12th-century mosaics; and Murano is great for seeing glassmakers handcraft exquisite chandeliers, sculptures and jewelry.

    Further afield, the city of Padua is well worth a stop for its gorgeous Scrovegni Chapel, home to stunning frescoes done by Renaissance master Giotto in the early 14th century. It's just a half an hour on the train from Venice. Verona, located an hour from Venice, is known around the world as being the setting for William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. However, there's much more to the city than its literary history, including beautiful palaces, medieval churches, ancient ruins, a castle and one of the most breathtaking cityscapes in all of Italy.
  • On July 9, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What is the best thing to bring home from Venice?

    The best thing to bring home from Venice is a handcrafted good. Most Murano glass sold on the island of Venice isn't actually handmade or from Murano, so make sure that what you buy is the real deal by looking for the "Vetro Murano Artistico" trademark decal that authentic sellers put in their shop windows. You can also buy handmade lace goods — everything from baby booties and table linens. The best place to buy them is on the island of Burano, which is known for its lace-making. A handcrafted Venetian mask is also a gorgeous gift. If you liked the mosaics at St. Mark's Basilica, you might want to take home one of your own. The store Mosaico!, in Santa Croce, sells handcrafts and shimmering mosaics in every style. Finally, even though you can't take home a full-sized gondola from Venice, you can buy a miniature model of a gondola (or of another boat) from Gilberto Penzo, a model boat maker in San Polo.
  • On July 9, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What are the five best Venice food experiences?

    Venice is known for its food, so you’ll have no problem finding delicious cuisine. Here, according to our Forbes Travel Guide editors, are the five best food experiences in Venice:

    1. Cicchetti. Kind of like tapas, cicchetti (pronounced "chee-KEHT-eeh") are small plates of food, eaten alongside a glass of wine. Usually consumed at lunchtime or in the evening (before 9 p.m.), they're either a delicious pre-dinner aperitivo or a stand-in for dinner itself, depending on how many nibbles you order. Cicchetti can be anything from fish to meat, mini-sandwiches to fried offerings. The tradition of indulging in them — preferably at a local wine baris as Venetian as you can get.
     
    2. Sardee in saor. In Venetian dialect, this means "sour sardines." If that sounds strange, so does the recipe: sweet and sour sardines are combined with pickled onions, pine nuts and raisins. But the plate is delicious and thoroughly Venetian.

    3. Risi e bisi. This dish used to be offered to the Doge family on St. Mark's Feast Day. Today, you can get it at almost any restaurant in Venice. A soupy dish of rice and peas, it's stick-to-your-ribs delicious.

    4. Vermicelli al nero di sepia. Cuttlefish ink is used a lot in Venetian cuisine. Sometimes it's served with risotto, sometimes with the fish itself…and sometimes on vermicelli, which are long, thin noodles. 

    5. Carpaccio. Invented here in Venice by Harry's Bar, carpaccio is raw, thinly sliced meat served with a sauce of mustard, cream, tomato and mayonnaise. If you're looking for some meat after consuming all the yummy seafood, there isn't a better dish than this one.
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  • On July 9, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    Where is the best nightlife in Venice?

    The best nightlife in Venice is in Dorsoduro, the quarter in the southwest corner of the island. Local university students flock here, especially to Campo Santa Margherita, a lovely piazza that starts to bustle with fun-seekers as the sun sets. Nightspots range from hip wine bars to dive bars, and some have live music. Other good spots for nightlife that Forbes Travel Guide's editors' love include bars in the neighborhoods of Cannaregio and Castello. Meanwhile, Venice's most touristy quarters, Santa Croce and San Marco, are mostly dead by midnight. In general on the island, it can be hard to find places that have much of a crowd or are even open late at night. For example, the local wine bars that serve drinks and snacks usually close at 9 p.m. And many other nightspots have to close by midnight, due to the island's noise ordinances.
  • On July 9, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What is the best way to see Venice in one day?

    It's impossible to see everything Venice has to offer in one day, but since the island's small, you can pack a lot in. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest starting with Venice's two most famous (and crowded) sights: Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica (you can book reservations in advance at both sights). From there, walk to Rialto to see the world-famous Rialto Bridge and the nearby market, then continue north into the quarter of Cannaregio to get a glimpse of one of Venice's more authentic neighborhoods. Don't miss the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli — it’s one of the loveliest churches in Venice. Have lunch in the area and explore the neighborhood's artisanal shops, and then take a ferry across the Grand Canal to get a feel for life as a Venetian. Visit the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari before continuing down to the Gallerie dell'Accademia; or, if modern art is more your style, head to the nearby Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Have a drink on Campo Santa Margherita — which gets lively as night sets in — before grabbing a water taxi for one last spin around the whole island.
  • On July 9, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What are the five best places to eat in Venice?

    To find the best places to eat in Venice, you often have to get a little off the beaten path. Here are Forbes Travel Guide's editors' picks for the five best places to eat in Venice, Italy.

    1. Anice Stellato. Safely removed from the tourist-heavy areas, Anice Stellato is a local favorite on the north side of the city. Expect simple and elegant Italian dishes like pasta with prawns and zucchini.

    2. Al Ponte del Megio. This fish restaurant has one of the best locations in Venice: right on the canal in Santa Croce. When it's warm out, you can sit outside and watch the gondolas go by.

    3. Da Fiore. Thanks to the 2003 Da Fiore Cookbook, this restaurant is a hotspot with a reputation for being one of Venice’s best. The always-delicious dishes from chef Mara Martin are new spins on Venetian classics, such as whole wheat pasta with sardines and caramelized onions as well as eel with celery and blueberries.

    4. Locanda Cipriani. On the island of Torcello, this elegant restaurant is run by the Cipriani family, who founded hotspots Harry's Bar and the Hotel Cipriani. The restaurant has gorgeous views of Torcello's churches, and its food, which includes fish and pasta, is top-notch.

    5. Corte Sconta. Popular with both tourists and local foodies, this vine-covered spot serves house-made pasta dishes like gnocchi with shrimp. Come in the warm-weather months when you can dine in its idyllic courtyard surrounded by trees.
  • On July 9, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What are the five best places to stay in Venice?

    Venice has hundreds of hotels, B&Bs, and apartment rentals, and finding the best places to stay can feel overwhelming. To help you out, Forbes Travel Guide editors have sifted out the top five places to stay in Venice.  

    1. Hotel Danieli. One of the most famous hotels in Venice, Hotel Danieli is located in a 14th-century palazzo right in the heart of Venice. And it's simply luxurious. Expect opulent suites, a rooftop restaurant and romantic views of the lagoon.

    2. Hotel Gritti Palace. You can't get much more decadent than staying in the former residence of a Venetian Doge. The Hotel Gritti is in a 16th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal. Its 91 rooms are styled luxuriously, with Murano glass fixtures and antique furnishings. We suggest asking for one with a view of the canal. 

    3. Hotel Cipriani. Located on the island of Giudecca, just across the lagoon from Venice, this is one of Venice's finest luxury hotels. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, it boasts three bars, three restaurants and a pool, along with 79 sumptuous rooms. Plus, the service is impeccable.

    4. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo. The location of this small boutique hotel couldn't be more ideal — it's on the Grand Canal, just a 15-minute walk from St. Mark's Square, in the lovely neighborhood of Santa Croce. On top of the excellent location, the hotel's 10 rooms are decorated in an elegant 18th-century style and the staff is friendly and helpful.

    5. Palazzina Grassi Hotel & Residence. Located right on the Grand Canal, this hotel inside a 15th-century palazzo features guest rooms with white-leather furniture, contemporary accessories and flat-screen TVs. It’s also tucked away and discreet — there’s no sign, so be sure to have the address on hand when you first arrive.
  • On July 8, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    Where is the best shopping in Venice?

    To find the best shopping in Venice, get off the beaten path and head away from Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, which abound with chain stores and souvenir shops. Instead, seek out Venice's artisans, who sell everything from handmade Venetian masks to glass baubles. At mask shops like Ca' Macana in Dorsoduro or Benor Maschere Venezia in Santa Croce, you can actually watch the masks being made. 

    But two of the best Venetian souvenirs are found on other islands in the Venetian lagoon. Burano is famous for its exquisite handmade lace, while the island of Murano is famed for its glass-making (and you can actually watch the glassblowers at work at many of the factories). If you don't have the time for a trip to Murano, know that some stores on the island of Venice sell Murano glass…but many more claim to sell Murano glass. How do you know for sure if it's authentic (and not cheap, imported glass)? Look for the little "Vetro Murano Artistico" trademark decal that authentic Murano glass shops put in their windows.
  • On July 8, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Venice?

    Though most think of Venice as a locale for romantic escapes, the Italian city can also be child-friendly — you just have to know which activities to look for. Here are five of Forbes Travel Guide’s favorite things to do with children in Venice.

    1. Take a boat ride. One of the things that both children and adults find fascinating about Venice is that the island doesn't have any cars — its canals are actually its streets. Ambulances, fire "trucks" and police "cars" are all actually boats. You don't have to take a gondola ride to join in the fun. Instead, try taking a water bus (vaporetto). Our Forbes Guide Travel editors especially like the #1, which cruises from Piazzale Roma to the Lido along the Grand Canal, and stops at the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark's Square and Giudecca. 

    2. Head to the Lido. All of that water is tempting, especially for children, and it can be frustrating if they can't take a dip. Resolve the problem and have some fun in the sun at Venice's Lido Beach (you can get there on the #1 or #2 vaporetto). The water here is shallow and warm, and the beach gets packed in the summer with both visiting and Italian families. It’s a great opportunity for your kids to make some local friends.

    3. Watch glass-blowers at work in Murano. The island of Murano has been home to all of Venice's glass factories since 1291, and its glass is world-famous even today. Watching the craftsmen at work is entrancing for both adults and kids. Some of the glass factories produce higher quality work than others, so do your homework before you pick one. We like the New Murano Gallery, where the work is exquisite (Picasso used to partner with the factory for his creations) and no one pressures you to make a purchase.

    4. Make your own Venetian mask. Watch Venetian artists handcraft beautiful masks or even make one with your kids. Many of Venice's mask shops have mask-making classes, including Ca' Macana, Il Canovaccio and Benor Maschere.

    5. Climb a tower. For kids with lots of energy to burn, a climb up one of Venice's towers might be the best way to pass an hour. The Campanile in St. Mark's Basilica has great views but often has long lines. Across the water from St. Mark’s, the church of San Giorgio Maggiore also has a tower with breathtaking views.
  • On July 8, 2012
    Hayley Bosch answered the question: Hayley Bosch

    What are the five best things to see and do in Venice?

    Venice is a small, walkable island surrounded by water— but that doesn't mean there aren't hundreds of things to do and see here. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to see and do in Venice.

    1. St. Mark's Basilica. One of the grandest basilicas in the world, St. Mark's is gorgeous inside and out. Inside, the cathedral of Venice has more than 40,000 square feet of glittering Byzantine mosaics, the sacred relics of St. Mark and the Pala d'Oro, plus an altarpiece that uses more than 1,900 separate gems. From the panoramic terrace, you get not only a sweeping view of St. Mark's Square, but a peek at copies of the famous Greek horses — ancient bronzes that were sacked during the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople. (The originals are inside in St. Mark's Museum).

    2. Doge's Palace. The seat of government throughout Venice's 700-year republic, Doge’s Palace also served as the home to its government, court and prisons. Inside, you can explore the Doge's opulent apartments, the creepy prisons and the fascinating armor. Don’t miss the famous Hall of the Great Council, where the city's general assembly made decisions and where you can still see world-famous frescoes by Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto. Book a tour in advance to explore the palace’s "secret passages,” including the hidden rooms used by Venice's VIPs and you’ll even get to see the prison cell where Casanova was kept.

    3. Gallerie dell'Accademia. What the Uffizi is to Florence, the Accademia is to Venice. This is where you’ll find Venice’s greatest "old master" paintings, including not-to-miss works by Giovanni Bellini, Canaletto, Lorenzo Lotto, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Leonardo da Vinci. 

    4. Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. There are dozens of beautiful churches in Venice, but for the quality of its art (and the importance of those laid to rest here), Santa Maria Gloriosa deserves special mention. Built in the 14th century, the church boasts works by Giovanni Bellini and Donatello, but its real masterpiece is the altarpiece: Titian's world-famous "Assumption." After you've seen the painting that made the Venetian artist so famous, pay a visit to his tomb, which is also inside. Other historical figures buried here include famed neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova (although only his heart is buried here) and the great composer Claudio Monteverdi.

    5. Explore Venice's quieter neighborhoods. Most tourists tend to congregate (and stay) in the area around the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Basilica. If you want to get off the beaten path, head to quarters like Castello and Cannaregio. There, you’ll see children kicking soccer balls in piazzas and old women sitting outside their doors. Be sure to explore the area’s shops and restaurants while you’re there.