The 20 best things to do in Venice

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 11.04.2024

It’s not possible to see everything that Venice has to offer in one visit – and we don’t suggest you try. What follows, in no particular order, is a selective taste of the best things to do in Venice, from outstanding galleries and museums to busy markets and pristine churches.

This article is based on our Pocket Guide to Venice and verified by Martina, our Italy travel expert.

Admire the Basilica di San Marco

Piazza San Marco • Open to tourists Mon-Sat 9.30am–4.45pm, Sun 2–5pm; Loggia dei Cavalli is also open on Sun morning • Main part of the church is free, but fees are charged for certain sections

San Marco is the most exotic of Europe’s cathedrals and has always provoked strong reactions. To Herman Melville, it was beautiful and insubstantial – as though “the Grand Turk had pitched his pavilion here for a summer’s day”. Mark Twain adored it for its “entrancing, tranquillizing, soul-satisfying ugliness”. Herbert Spencer found it “a fi ne sample of barbaric architecture” and to John Ruskin, it was the most gorgeous of holy places, a “treasure-heap…a confusion of delight”. 

The Basilica di San Marco is certainly confusing, increasingly so as you come nearer and the details emerge. Still, some knowledge of the building’s background helps bring a little order out of the chaos.

Editor's tip: When travelling to Venice, be sure to check out our guide on how to get around Venice to make it easier to explore this stunning city.

St. Mark's Basilica and St.Mark's Campanile above the San Marco square in Venice © Shutterstock

St. Mark's Basilica and St.Mark's Campanile above the San Marco square in Venice © Shutterstock


Tips from Martina

Italy Travel Expert


"Discover the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a hidden gem where art and history converge in stunning displays of Tintoretto's work. It's a quiet sanctuary from the bustling streets, offering a unique glimpse into Venice's soul."

Visit the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

Calle dei Furlani 3259a • Mon & Wed-Sun 10am–5.30pm • – you can pre-book all visits, via the website

Venice has two brilliant cycles of pictures by Vittore Carpaccio – one is in the Accademia, and the other is in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, which sits beside a canal to the south of San Francesco. Venice’s relations with the Slavs (schiavoni) were not always untroubled – the city’s slave markets were originally stocked with captured Slavs, and in later centuries the settlements of the Dalmatian coast were a harassment to Venetian shipping. 

By the mid-fifteenth century, though, Venice’s Slavic inhabitants – many of them sailors and merchants – were sufficiently established for a scuola to be set up to protect their interests. After several years of meeting in the church of San Giovanni di Malta, the scuola built itself a new headquarters on the church’s doorstep at the start of the sixteenth century and summoned Carpaccio to brighten up the first-storey hall. 

Painted from 1502 to 1508, after the Accademia’s St Ursula cycle, Carpaccio’s pictures were moved downstairs when the building was rearranged in 1551, and the interior has scarcely changed since.

The Canals of Venice, in Italy © Shutterstock

The Canals of Venice, Italy © Shutterstock

Go shopping at the Rialto market

It was through the markets of the Rialto that Venice earned its reputation as the bazaar of Europe. Trading had been going on here for over four hundred years when, in the winter of 1514, a fire destroyed everything in the area except the church. 

The possibility of relocating the business centre was discussed but found little favour, so reconstruction began almost straight away: the Fabbriche Vecchie was finished eight years after the fire, with Sansovino’s Fabbriche Nuove following about thirty years later. 

Today’s Rialto market is much more modest than that of Venice at its peak, but it’s still one of the liveliest spots in the city and one of the few places where it’s possible to stand in a crowd and hear nothing but Italian-spoken.

Gaze at the 450-year-old San Giorgio Maggiore

Daily: April–Oct 9am–7pm; Nov–March 8.30am–6pm • Free, but there’s a charge for the campanile

Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore, facing the Palazzo Ducale across the Bacino di San Marco, is one of the most prominent and familiar of all Venetian landmarks. It is a startling building, with an impact that’s enhanced by its isolation on an island of its own. 

Designed in 1565 and completed 45 years later, San Giorgio Maggiore was a greatly influential solution to the chief problem of Renaissance church design: how to use classical forms in a structure that, with its high central nave and lower aisles, had no precedent in classical culture. 

Palladio’s answer was to superimpose two temple fronts: the nave being defined by an upper pediment supported by gigantic Composite columns, and the aisles by lower half-pediments resting on Corinthian pilasters. Inside, the relationship between the major Composite order and the minor Corinthian is maintained, so unifying the facade of the church and its interior. The scale of the building and the use of shadow-casting surfaces ensure that the design retains its clarity when viewed from across the water.

Venice carnival © Calin Stan/Shutterstock

Venice carnival © Calin Stan/Shutterstock

Don't miss the Regata Storica

Held on the first Sunday in September, the Regata Storica is the annual trial of strength and skill for the city’s gondoliers and other expert rowers. It starts with a procession of historic craft along the Canal Grande course, their crews all decked out in period dress, followed by a series of races right up the canal. 

Re-enacting the return of Caterina Cornaro to her native city in 1489, the opening parade is a spectacular affair, and is followed by a race for young rowers in two-oared pupparini; the women come next (in boats called mascarete), followed by a race for canoe-like caorline; and then it’s the men’s race, in specialized two-man racing gondolas called gondolini. 

The Regata Storica has been increasingly marketed as a touristic spectacle, but there’s nothing artificial about the smaller regate that are held throughout the year: 

  • the Regata di San Zanipolo (late June); 
  • the Regata di Murano (early July);
  • the Regata di Malamocco (mid-July); 
  • the Regata del Redentore (during the Festa del Redentore); 
  • the Regata di Pellestrina (early August); 
  • the Regata di Burano (late September).
Epiphany Regatta in Venice © Shutterstock

Epiphany Regatta in Venice © Shutterstock

Discover the Punta della Dogana

Fondamenta della Dogana alla Salute • Mon & Wed–Sun 10am–7pm • Charge – combined ticket with Palazzo Grassi •

On the point where the Canal Grande and the Giudecca Canal merge stands the huge Dogana di Mare (Customs House), another late seventeenth-century building, which was serving as a customs office as recently as the mid-1990s but in 2009 became the Centro d’Arte Contemporanea Punta della Dogana.

Financed by François Pinault, the co-owner of Palazzo Grassi, the Dogana arts centre – like the Grassi – has been renovated to designs drawn up by the ever-subtle Tadao Ando. The exterior has been restored in a way that gives no indication of the building’s new function, and the shell of the interior has similarly been left unaltered, with massive wooden roof beams spanning walls of beautiful raw red brick.

Some three hundred works are usually on show at any one time, and Pinault has invested in many of the really big names of the current art scene, so you can expect to see pieces by the likes of Cindy Sherman, Luc Tuymans, Thomas Schütte and Marlene Dumas, to name but a few. Usually, exhibitions at the Dogana are twinned with equally vast shows at the Grassi.

Taste the best Venetian wines

The Veneto has been very successful at developing wines with French and German grape varieties (notably Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer) and now produces more DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) wine than any other region. 

The three famed Veronese wines: 

  • Valpolicella (red)
  • Bardolino (red)
  • Soave (white)

are sold all over the world, as is prosecco, from the area around Conegliano. Don’t miss a chance to sample the delicious Cartizze, the finest type of prosecco – and don’t turn your nose up at prosecco spento (without the fizz). 

Wines from neighbouring Friuli are well worth exploring too: the most common reds are Pinot Nero, Refosco, Raboso, Merlot and Cabernet, with Tocai, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon the most common whites.

White wine being poured

Enjoying Venetian wine is one of the best things to do in Venice

Explore art works at Treviso

Treviso is a smart and self-sufficient commercial centre and the capital of a province that extends to the north almost as far as Belluno, but to most tourists, it’s known merely as the place that the cheap flights go to. It deserves far more visitors than it gets – it’s a lively place and has some fine works of art, and the townscape within the sixteenth-century walls is often appealing too. 

A lack of local dressing stone led in the thirteenth century to the use of frescoes to decorate the houses, and these painted facades, along with the lengthy porticoes that shelter the pavements and the fast-running canals that cut through the centre, give many of the streets an appearance quite distinct from that of other towns in the region. 

Venice is rich in charming neighbourhoods, but where to stay during your visit? You can find the answer in our guide to the best places to stay in Venice.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Campo San Rocco • Daily 9.30am–5.30pm • Charge •

Venice may not tell you much about Titian’s work that you didn’t already know, but in the case of Tintoretto the situation is reversed – until you’ve been to Venice, and in particular the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, you haven’t really got to grips with him. 

“As regards the pictures which it contains, it is one of the three most precious buildings in Italy,” wrote Ruskin, and although the claim’s open to argument, it’s not difficult to understand why he resorted to such hyperbole. (His other votes were for the Sistine Chapel and the Campo Santo at Pisa – the latter was virtually ruined in World War II.) 

The unremitting concentration and restlessness of Tintoretto’s paintings won’t inspire unqualified enthusiasm in everyone: Henry James, though an admirer, found the atmosphere of San Rocco “difficult to breathe”. But even those who prefer their art at a lower voltage will find this an overwhelming experience.


Treviso, Italy @ Shutterstock

Visit former refugee islands Torcello

“Mother and daughter, you behold them both in their widowhood – Torcello and Venice.” So wrote John Ruskin, and it’s almost impossible to visit Torcello without similarly sensing an atmosphere of bereavement. This outlying island has now come almost full circle. 

Settled by the very first refugees from the mainland in the fifth century, it became the seat of the bishop of Altinum in 638 and in the following year its cathedral – the oldest building in the lagoon – was founded. 

By the fourteenth century, its population had peaked at around twenty thousand, but Torcello’s canals were now silting up and malaria was rife. By the end of the fifteenth century, Torcello was largely deserted – even the bishop lived in Murano – and today fewer than a dozen people remain in residence.

Experience the buzz at Padua

Extensively reconstructed after the damage caused by World War II bombing, and hemmed in by the sprawl which has accompanied its development into the most important economic centre of the Veneto, Padua (Padova) is not at first sight as alluring as many of the region’s towns. It was, however, one of the most important cultural centres of northern Italy, and retains plentiful evidence of its impressive lineage in its churches, museums and frescoed interiors. 

It’s also the home of one of Italy’s major universities, which gives the city a buzz that’s unlike any other in the Veneto. Padua also was an artistic and intellectual centre: Donatello and Mantegna both worked here and in the seventeenth century Galileo conducted research at the university, where the medical faculty was one of the most advanced in Europe.


Padua, Italy @ Shutterstock

The church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo • Mon–Sat 9am–6pm, Sun noon–6pm • Charge •

Like the Frari, the massive Gothic brick edifice of Santi Giovanni e Paolo – slurred by the Venetian dialect into San Zanipolo – was built for one of the mendicant orders which burgeoned in the fourteenth century. Supported largely by charitable donations from the public, the mendicants were less inward-looking than the older orders, basing themselves in large urban settlements and working to relieve the sick and the poor. 

Reflecting this social mission, their churches contain a vast area for the public congregation, and this requirement for space meant that they were usually built on the edges of city centres. In Venice, the various mendicant orders are scattered outside the San Marco sestiere. (The dedicatees of this church, by the way, are not the apostles John and Paul, but a pair of probably fictitious saints whose story seems to be derived from that of saints Juventinus and Maximinius, who were martyred during the reign of Julian, in the fourth century.)

Make a day trip to Verona

With its Roman sites and streets of pink-hued medieval buildings, the irresistible city of Verona has more in the way of historic attractions than any other place in the Veneto except Venice itself. Unlike Venice, though, it’s not a city overwhelmed by the tourist industry, important though that is to the local economy. 

Verona is the largest city of mainland Veneto, and its success is largely due to its position at the crossing of the major routes from Germany and Austria to central Italy and from the west to Venice and Trieste. Set within the low amphitheatre that the wide River Adige has carved out of the hills, Verona conveys a sense of ease that you don’t find in the region’s other cities. 

As you walk past the great Roman arena along the embankments or over the bridges that span the broad curves of the Adige, you’ll be struck by the spaciousness of the city. With cars and buses barred from many of the squares and narrow medieval lanes of the historic centre, this is a city that invites dawdling.

Don't want to limit yourself to one city? Find out about the best day trips from Venice.

Verona image during summer sunset © Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock

Verona during summer sunset © Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock

Visit "the central building of the world": Palazzo Ducale

Piazza San Marco • Daily: April–Oct 9am–7pm (Fri & Sat open till 11pm); Nov–March 9am–5.30pm • Entrance with Museum Pass or I Musei di Piazza San Marco card •

Architecturally, the Palazzo Ducale is a unique mixture. The style of its exterior, with its geometrically patterned stonework and continuous tracery walls, can only be called Islamicized Gothic, whereas the courtyards and much of the interior are based on Classical forms – a blending of influences that led Ruskin to declare it “the central building of the world”. 

Unquestionably, it is the finest secular building of its era in Europe, and the central building of Venice. The Palazzo Ducale was far more than the residence of the doge – it was the home of all of Venice’s governing councils, its law courts, a sizeable number of its civil servants and even its prisons. All power in the Venetian Republic and its domains was controlled within this one building.

Walk around at San Sebastiano

Campo San Sebastiano • Mon–Sat 10.30am–1.30pm & 2.30–5pm • Charge / Chorus Pass •

At the end of the Záttere the barred gates of the Stazione Maríttima deflect you away from the waterfront and towards the church of San Sebastiano. The parish church of Paolo Veronese, it contains a group of resplendent paintings by him that gives it a place in his career comparable to that of San Rocco in the career of Tintoretto, but the church attracts nothing like the number of visitors that San Rocco gets. 

Veronese was still in his twenties when, thanks largely to his contacts with the Verona-born prior of San Samuele, he was asked to paint the ceiling of the sacristy with a Coronation of the Virgin and the Four Evangelists. In the following decade he executed the last of the pictures, those on the organ shutters and around the high altar. 

Other riches include a late Titian of St Nicholas, and the early sixteenthcentury majolica pavement in the Cappello Lando, to the left of the chancel – in front of which is Veronese’s tomb slab.

Night view of Christmas tree in front of Palazzo Ducale, San Marco square, Venice, Italy © Shutterstock

Christmas tree in front of Palazzo Ducale, San Marco square, Venice, Italy © Shutterstock

Visit the art collection at Accademia

Campo della Carità • Mon 8.15am–2pm, Tues–Sun 8.15am–7.15pm • Charge •

The Gallerie dell’Accademia – one of Europe’s finest specialized art collections – began its existence as an annexe to Venice’s school of art, the Accademia di Belle Arti. A Napoleonic decree of 1807 moved the Accademia to this site and instituted its galleries of Venetian paintings, a stock drawn largely from the city’s suppressed churches and convents. 

In 2013 the Accademia opened new ground-floor galleries for some three hundred paintings and sculptures that were previously in storage, a development that entailed moving the art college to the nearby Casa degli Incurabili. The upper floor now focuses on art up to the seventeenth century, with the lower galleries being devoted mainly to later artists, though there is still some chronological overlap. 

One-off exhibitions are also held in the new rooms. With San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, the Accademia completes the triad of obligatory tourist sights in Venice, but admission is restricted to batches of three hundred people at a time, so if you’re visiting in high summer and don’t want to wait, get there before the doors open.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Campiello dei Miracoli • Mon–Sat 10.30am–1.30pm & 2.30–5pm • Charge / Chorus Pass •

On the very edge of Cannaregio stands the church which Ruskin paired with the Scuola di San Marco as “the two most refined buildings in Venice” – the jewel-box-like Santa Maria dei Miracoli, usually known simply by the last word of its name.

Financed by gifts left at the painting’s nearby shrine, the church was most likely designed by Pietro Lombardo; certainly he and his two sons Tullio and Antonio oversaw the construction, and the three of them executed much of the carving. Richness of effect takes precedence over classical correctness on the exterior; pilasters are positioned close together along the sides to create the illusion of longer walls. 

Venetian folklore has it that the materials for the multicoloured marble cladding and inlays, typical of the Lombardi, were the surplus from the decoration of the Basilica di San Marco.

Magnificent view of the entrance towers to the arsenal of Venice - Castello, Italy © Shutterstock

Magnificent view of the entrance towers to the arsenal of Venice - Castello, Italy © Shutterstock

Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova

Via Canova 74 • Tues–Sat 9.30am–6pm, Sun 9.30–7pm • Charge •

As you approach Possagno, a small town lodged at the base of Monte Grappa, one of the strangest sights in the Veneto hits you: a huge temple that rises above the houses like a displaced chunk of ancient Rome. It was built by Antonio Canova, one of the dominant figures of Neoclassicism, who was born here in 1757. 

The family home now houses a magnificent museum of his work, and just as you can’t come to grips with Tintoretto until you’ve been to Venice, an excursion to Possagno is essential to understanding Canova.

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Campo dei Frari • Mon–Sat 9am–6pm, Sun 1–6pm • Charge •

San Zanipolo and Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari – customarily abbreviated to the Frari – are the twin Gothic giants of Venice. From the campanile of San Marco, they can be seen jutting above the rooftops on opposite sides of the Canal Grande, like a pair of destroyers amid a flotilla of yachts.

The campanile, the city’s tallest after San Marco’s, was finished in 1396; in recent years it has been substantially reinforced, having shown worrying signs of instability. The exterior, a mountain of bare brick, is relieved by just a few pieces of sculpture. On the west front, there’s a figure of The Risen Christ by Vittoria and a Virgin and St Francis from the workshop of Bartolomeo Bon. An impressive early fifteenth-century Tuscan relief of The Madonna and Child with Angels is set into the side of the left transept. As is so often the case in Venice, though, the outside of the church is a misleadingly dull prelude to a remarkable interior.

 San Marco square from the water © Shutterstock

San Marco square from the water © Shutterstock

Villa Barbaro

Via Cornuda 7, Masèr • April–Oct Tues–Sun 10am–6pm; Nov–mid-Dec & mid-Feb–March Sat & Sun 11am–5pm • Charge • • Bus from Bassano or Treviso

The Villa Barbaro at Maser, 7km east of Ásolo, has a claim to be the most beautiful house in Italy, because the careers of two of the central figures of Italian civilization in the sixteenth century – Palladio and Paolo Veronese – crossed here and nowhere else. The villa was built in 1557–58 for Daniele and Marcantonio Barbaro, men whose diverse cultural interests set them apart from most of the other wealthy Venetians who were then beginning to farm the Veneto. Both were prominent figures in Venice. 

The association between Palladio and the brothers was very close by the time the villa was begun – in 1554 Daniele and Palladio had visited Rome, and they’d worked together on Barbaro’s edition of Vitruvius – and the process of designing the house was far more of a collaborative venture than were most of Palladio’s projects.

Looking to visit Venice? Talk to our local Italy experts to start creating the trip of your dreams. And to make sure you're well prepared for your trip, explore our list of Italy travel tips.

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 11.04.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

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