Visitors flock to Venice year-round, and who can blame them?

Some 118 islands float on this fairy-tale lagoon, linked by 400 bridges. Each is crammed with dazzling palazzos and heart-stopping art – Venice really is a place like no other. 

All the famous stereotypes are true, to an extent. It’s spectacular and it’s just like the photos but, thanks to mass tourism, Venice’s world-famous sights are overcrowded and in precarious health (even during the quieter months). 

It is worth remembering that even in the busiest areas, step just one or two blocks away from the fray and you’ll find empty streets and local voices in the neighborhoods beyond. Spend more time here – five days is a decent starter – and you’ll discover that the true beauty of Venice isn’t the wow factor of its blockbuster sights, as magnificent as they are, but within the quieter spaces, where life goes on as it has done for centuries. Once you glimpse that life, you’ll want to protect it.

To help counter the overtourism that is exploiting the city, stay overnight in a hotel or B&B (not vacation rentals, which hollow out housing stock), eat in family-owned restaurants, and buy souvenirs from Venice’s artisans who ply centuries-old trades. Then, not only are you helping the city stay alive, but you’re also ensuring a better trip – Venice done well is unforgettable.

Here are the best experiences in Venice.

1. Take in the Piazza San Marco

For many people, this waterfront square is Venice: the rolling domes of the basilica, the centuries-old cafes beneath the stately porticoes, the vast Campanile (belltower) throwing its shadow around the square, high tide occasionally sloshing around your feet. There’s so much to see around Piazza San Marco (or St Mark’s Square) that you could easily spend a day here.

Start in the Basilica di San Marco, the Byzantine basilica that glitters with golden mosaics inside. Then move on to the Campanile, where elevators whisk you up 98.6m (323ft) for enticing views of Venice and the lagoon. Spare a few hours for the Museo Correr, at the opposite end of the square from the basilica, which tells the story of the city through its objects. Need a break at any point? Stop for a coffee or a spritz at Quadri, our favorite of the 18th-century cafes in the square.

Local tip: Keen to understand these icons better? Time for some reading. Family-run Libreria La Toletta in Dorsoduro is Venice’s best bookshop, with literally hundreds of volumes about the city. For kids, try Ponte dei Sogni in Castello, whose beautiful picture books tell the history of the city.

A couple walk near the empty arches of the a palace in a wide open waterside square as the sun sets
The Doge's Palace is still as imposing today as when it was built 900 years ago © Ketkarn sakultap / Getty Images

2. Enter the seat of power at the Palazzo Ducale

If you only visit one museum in Venice, you need to make it this: the vast Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), the Republic of Venice’s seat of power for around 900 years. With its pink and white facade squaring off against the lagoon, it has everything: mindblowing art and architecture, plus a whole load of atmosphere.

There’s so much to see here – every single room is plastered with works by some of the greatest artists of all time – that you shouldn’t expect to take it all in. But it’s worth saving more time for the rooms and their art than speeding across the famous Bridge of Sighs and through the grim prisons – although the latter is great for kids.

Planning tip: Lines can get long here, especially before 11am. Skip the wait and book a fast-track ticket in advance through sites such as

Transform your visit to Palazzo Ducale by booking with GetYourGuide.

Gondola being guided along a canal with a large domed church in the background
Gliding along the Grand Canal by vaporetto (or gondola) is a must © canadastock / Shutterstock

3. Sail down the Grand Canal

Venice may be ideal for wandering, but its majestic palazzos were built to be admired from the water. Take the number 1 Vaporetto (waterbus) that plies the Grand Canal and experience one of the world’s greatest public transport routes.

You’ll find beauty every way you turn but heading south don’t miss: the Fondaco dei Turchi (once the headquarters for Arab and Muslim merchants, now the city’s natural history museum); Ca’ d’Oro, with its spectacular carved and marble-clad facade; Ca’ Foscari, the city’s beautiful university; and the bombastic octagonal Salute church, right before the Grand Canal meets the lagoon.

Local tip: Get off at Salute, and walk down to Punta della Dogana for the best lagoon views, and then up along the Zattere waterfront. From here you can pick up a number 2 Vaporetto, which takes you to St Mark’s Square from the other side.

4. Venture over the Rialto

Everyone who visits Venice wants to see the Rialto Bridge, the flouncy white crossing over the Grand Canal made of gleaming Istrian stone. Yet what the bridge leads to is arguably just as interesting. There’s been a market on the western side of the bridge for over 1000 years – while it’s not the trading hub of centuries past, there’s still a lively fish market and a fruit and veg area too.

If you’re looking at the stalls, do remember to buy something, and don’t get in the way of other shoppers – this is still a real market, even if many tourists treat it as an Instagram backdrop. Stop for a drink beside the Grand Canal on Campo Erbaria – Bancogiro is always a good bet for cicchetti (small snacks) – then lose yourselves in the surrounding alleyways, still full of food stores.

Planning tip: For a behind-the-scenes look at this most touristy of areas, take a tour with Go Guide, a local group of guides who focus on Rialto.

Explore the Rialto effortlessly with GetYourGuide. Book your tour today.

A detailed ceiling including frescos, plasterwork, painted figures and golden edges
Don't forget to look up at the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice © Mark Edward Harris / Getty Images

5. Be immersed in world-class art at the Accademia

In Dorsoduro, sitting quietly at the end of the famous wooden Accademia Bridge, is one of Italy’s finest art museums, the Gallerie dell’Accademia. The meandering itinerary takes you through buildings packed with works that once hung from the city’s church walls, telling the story of Venetian art in the process. It starts with Paolo Veneziano, carries through to Carpaccio, Mantegna and Bellini, and then explodes into the finest works of Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese.

Detour: Near the Accademia are two of Venice’s best artisans. At Cornici Trevisanello, the Trevisanello family has been making picture frames for the likes of Picasso for decades; they also make jewel-like smaller frames that make perfect souvenirs. Near Ca’ Foscari is bookbinder Paolo Olbi, who creates beautiful stationery with hand-printed Venetian and Byzantine motifs. Further up towards Rialto, in Campiello dei Meloni, is Il Pavone, where Paolo Pelosin makes everything from stationery to earrings with exquisite marbled paper.

6. Eat cicchetti in a bacaro

Three essential words for your Venetian stay: ombra, cicchetti and bacaro. Ombra (shadow) is the local name given to a small glass of wine served in a bacaro – a traditional wine bar or tavern. It may only be a small glass but don’t forget to follow it with cicchetti – finger food-style bar snacks, rather like Spanish tapas. You’ll find bacari all over town – when you spot one that looks good, make sure you stop.

Local tip: These days most cicchetti are slices of baguette bread topped with anything from cheese to fish but don’t miss old-style ones like a hard-boiled egg with anchovies, or sarde in saor – sardines in a sweet-sour marinade with pine nuts and raisins.

A happy woman in red sunglasses holds onto her hat in the sunshine as she wanders past houses painted bright pastel colors
It's the brightly-colored houses that attract people to Burano, but there's much more to explore © frantic00/ Shutterstock

7. Seek out local traditions in Burano

Most visitors flock to Burano to photograph its gorgeous candy-colored cottages. Fair enough – but to do only that is to miss out on one of the most special places in the lagoon. A fishing community since medieval times, Burano’s relative isolation in the north lagoon – a 45-minute vaporetto ride (or four-hour paddle) from Venice – has kept its culture intact. Or rather, it did until mass tourism hit.

Today, the Buranelli are assailed by crowds who come, photograph and hop on the boat back to town without spending a cent – but you can help them by practicing more sustainable tourism. Visit the Museo del Merletto, which teaches you about the island’s lace-making tradition, and take a tour of the tranquil north lagoon with fisherman Andrea Rossi, who’ll sweep you past mudflats and islands in perfect peace, with birds overhead your only company. It’s definitely one of the top experiences in Venice to change everything you think about the city.

Local tip: Stop for lunch at the family-run Trattoria al Gatto Nero. Try the risotto di gò (goby fish risotto).

Explore Burano effortlessly with GetYourGuide. Book your tour today.

8. Acknowledge the painful history behind the Jewish ghetto

The sinister word ghetto comes from the Venetian geto, or foundry – a clue to the past of this area, which was abandoned and undesirable when the Jewish community was forcibly settled here in 1516. Originally one tiny island, the area was expanded twice by the 17th century, with residents gated in every night, and living in eight-story "skyscrapers".

Despite the appalling conditions, the Jewish community flourished here, building no fewer than five synagogues that were as lavish as Venice’s churches. Guided tours of the area get you access to some of them, including the atmospheric Scola Levantina, with scarlet-swaddled walls and a dark carved ceiling, redesigned by Venice’s 17th-century starchitect, Baldassare Longhena.

Planning tip: Book ahead for tours of the ghetto. The Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum) is closed for renovation until further notice.

A man and woman both stand on a set of stone stairs admiring the intricate murals painted on the surrounding walls
Scuola Grande di San Rocco is covered in artworks by the great Venetian artist Tintoretto © Isogood_patrick / Shutterstock

9. Gaze upon the artworks in Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Forget Titian and Tiepolo – for many, Tintoretto is Venice’s greatest artist of all time. His finest paintings fill two floors of the vast Scuola Grande di San Rocco, one of Venice’s many scuole (lay confraternities that did charity work in the community), including the ceiling. They were decorated by Tintoretto to celebrate the end of the 1576 plague, which wiped out a third of the city.

There are more than 60 paintings of swirling Biblical scenes (Tintoretto revolutionized the depiction of movement and amped up the use of rich color), including on the roof of the main hall. This is Venice’s answer to the Sistine Chapel.

Planning tip: Many visitors see the Scuola and forget about the nearby church of San Rocco, which has yet more Tintoretto artworks inside.

10. View the Grand Canal from Ca’ d’Oro

Nobody loved Venice like Baron Giorgio Franchetti. In 1894, he bought the 15th-century Ca’ d’Oro, a Gothic palazzo on the Grand Canal so lavish that it was named the "Golden House". 

It had fallen into disrepair by the time he bought it and Franchetti dedicated his life to bringing the house back to its former glory, by rebuilding, repairing and filling it with sublime art. His ashes are now buried in the courtyard. It’s undergoing a major restoration, but the gallery will remain open throughout, with some parts closed, stage by stage. The views of the Grand Canal and Rialto market are spectacular from its balconies.

Planning tip: The best way to arrive at Ca’ d’Oro is by traghetto – a large gondola-style boat that acts as a shuttle across the Grand Canal. The Santa Sofia stop is right by Ca’ d’Oro, and connects with the Rialto market.

An artisan works some molten glass into shape in a glass-blowing workshop
Learn the process behind creating beautiful delicate glass pieces in Murano © Gabri90 / Getty Images

11. Get to know glass on Murano

Floating in the lagoon a 10-minute vaporetto ride north of Cannaregio, elegant Murano is a mini Venice with opulent waterfront palazzos, knockout churches, and even its own Grand Canal. It is best known for its glass blowers, as it has been for centuries. Start at the Museo del Vetro, the island’s glass museum, where you’ll learn that the art of glass-making was perfected in the Middle East, before Venice’s medieval trade links with Syria allowed it to copy the techniques and take it to new heights.

A small, easily digestible museum with a jewel-like collection, it’ll give you the background you need to appreciate the often tacky-looking glass ornaments in the shops. Ready to buy? We like Lucevetro, where Cecilia Cenedese designs products and gets island maestri to craft them for her, while Wave Murano Glass offers furnace tours and even lessons.

Detour: You may be here for glass but don’t miss Murano’s churches. The Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato has a knockout 12th-century marble mosaic "carpet", while the church of San Pietro Martire has works by Bellini, Tintoretto and Veronese.

12. Take in the modern Querini Stampalia museum

The Fondazione Querini Stampalia is a fascinating space in a 16th-century palazzo, combining a museum, gallery, library archive and a modernist wing and garden designed by Venice’s 20th-century architect, Carlo Scarpa. The main gallery has works by the likes of Palma il Vecchio, Canaletto and Bellini, whose Presentation at the Temple is one of the city’s finest artworks.

It’s also a brilliant example of a modern museum: the information panels, redone in 2022, contextualize the art and teach you about Venetian life, from the poor conditions for house staff to arranged marriages and the banning of homosexuality.

Detour: In the square outside is the church of Santa Maria Formosa, one of the few true Renaissance buildings in Venice.

A tourist with a backpack stands in front of an ornate church facade
It's said that Venice has a church for every day of the year, so choose wisely © Vera_Petrunina / Getty Images

13. Explore the city's finest churches

It’s no secret that some of Venice’s best art lies in its churches. But in a city which, as legend says, has a church for every day of the year, how do you know where to start? Buying a Chorus pass is the way forward. Eighteen of Venice’s loveliest churches belong to this group – each is €3.50 to enter, but a pass for all of them, valid for one year, is just €14.

They’re dotted all around the city, so as you do your obligatory Venice wander, you can pop in for an art fix. All are worth seeing, but the standouts are Santa Maria dei Miracoli (a marble-clad Renaissance jewel), and San Sebastiano, frescoed and painted almost entirely by Veronese.

Planning tip: Some of the churches have limited opening hours. When you get your pass, ask for the map of the churches – it also lists opening hours.

14. See Venice’s birthplace on Torcello

This island just across the water from Burano is where Venice began. The first island of the lagoon to be settled, and then a bustling early medieval boomtown, today Torcello is a haunting place of around a dozen inhabitants, and one big draw: the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, the vast church that dominated the north lagoon for centuries. Still visible from the airport, its interior sparkles with Byzantine-style mosaics from the 11th century. It’s pure magic.

Planning tip: Visit Torcello before Burano – if you do it the other way round, you’ll be trying to board a packed vaporetto back to Venice.

15. Pay your respects to Tintoretto

Peaceful Cannaregio is worth a stroll for its tranquil canals lined with grand palazzos, and for the church of Madonna dell’Orto. This big barn of a place was Tintoretto’s neighborhood church – today he’s buried here, along with his artist children Domenico and Marietta, and its walls are covered with his paintings, as well as works by Titian, Palma il Giovane and Cima da Conegliano.

Detour: A short walk away is the church of Sant’Alvise, part of the Chorus association, and famous for its spectacular trompe l’oeil ceiling.

This article was first published Oct 8, 2021 and updated Feb 28, 2024.

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