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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.
First, take a boat and get lost in the Venice Laguna. Have dinner at Cipriani’s Harry’s Bar. Have a lunch at [Trattoria] Da Romano or [Trattoria al] Gatto Nero in Burano. Go to dinner at Venissa [Ristorante Ostello] on the island of Mazzorbo.