Holidays in Venice: Our Top 10
If your travel fantasies include holidays in Venice, we're here to help you make that a reality. And to help you decide where to go, we've complied a list of the top 10 attractions you really shouldn't miss:
1. St. Mark's Basilica
St Mark's Basilica is one of the most popular attractions in Venice. But unless you pre-book online, you run the risk of spending some time waiting in line, especially in peak tourist season. A little forward planning can ensure your holiday in Venice is as stress-free as possible.
While you're at St Mark's Basilica, be sure to visit the bell tower, St. Mark's Campanile, where you'll get an excellent view of the Square. Torre dell' Orologio, St. Mark's Clock, is housed in the clock tower. But, if possible, avoid touring the tower on the hour, as this is when the clock strikes.
2. St. Mark's Square
When we think of holidays in Venice, the image that comes most readily to mind is St. Mark's Square, or Piazza San Marco. The Square is essentially the city center of Venice and a magnet for tourists from around the world.
When you visit, you'll notice many tables around the Square set up for outdoor dining. Keep in mind that if you sit at one of these tables, the restaurant staff will assume you're there to eat a meal. The tables aren't meant for lounging or giving your feet a rest.
St. Mark's Square is very beautiful at night, and this is really the best time to appreciate the architecture since the crowds will have thinned by then.
3. The Doge's Palace
Facing St. Mark's, the Doge's Palace is a very popular attraction. As well as being the former residence of the Duke of Venice, the palace also housed government offices of the Republic of Venice until Napoleon's invasion in 1797. The building is now a museum which houses paintings by Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese.
The Bridge of Sighs connects the old Venetian prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. It was named by the English poet, Lord Byron, in the 19th century, who imagined the bridge offered the last view of Venice to convicts about to begin their imprisonment. If you want to walk across the Bridge, a tour of the Palace will allow you to do so. Otherwise, you'll only be able to admire it from the outside.
4. The Jewish Ghetto
Cannaregio is where the largest concentration of Venetians reside. Here you'll find the Santa Lucia Railway Station and the famous Jewish Ghetto. The Ghetto, or Getto Novo, is an area where Venetian Jews were forced to live in 1516.
If you're a history buff, be sure to visit the nearby Jewish Museum. You can also take a tour through the five synagogues of Venice from here.
5. A Gondola Ride
For anyone spending their holidays in Venice, a gondola ride is a must. You'll come across many men throughout Venice offering you this service. Just know that prices are negotiable, so beware of being overcharged. You can also book a gondola from a taxi station but this is usually more expensive. If you find one of these gondola 'salesmen' away from the crowds, he will generally offer lower prices and be more willing to haggle.
And if you're on a budget, another option is to hook up with a few fellow travelers and share a gondola with them.
If you don't feel like walking around Venice to see the city, you can take a slow ride down the Grand Canal on a vaporetto. Keep in mind that this isn't a guided tour, so having a guide book with you will help you appreciate the sites along the way.
6. The Rialto Markets
To truly immerse yourself in the culture of the locals, visit the Rialto Markets in the San Polo district. This area has long been a center for commerce, and is still a busy retail area, with greengrocery and fish markets offering fresh produce to local cooks. The Rialto is referenced in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese.
If you cross the Grand Canal via the Rialto Bridge, you can also visit San Giacomo di Rialto, the oldest church in Venice. While most of the original buildings in the Rialto were destroyed by a fire in 1514, the church was the sole survivor.
7. The Lido
The Lido di Venezia is the sandy barrier beach that encloses the Lagoon of Venice. It's been a popular beach area since the late nineteenth century, and is a great place to visit in the hot summer months. The Lido has a typical European resort feel, featuring hotels, cafes and promenades. Be aware that some beaches require an entry fee while others are free.
The Lido hosts the Venice Film Festival once a year in September, and its renowned Excelsior hotel was the setting for Thomas Mann's classic novel Death in Venice, filmed in 1971 with British actor Dirk Bogarde in the lead role. Venice has been used as a backdrop for numerous films over the years.
8. Museums, Art Galleries and Churches
If your holiday in Venice includes a thirst for local art and history, there are a wealth of museums, art galleries and churches (which we regard as free art galleries) to satisfy your quest. Here are six of the top art galleries:
As well as Saint Mark's Basilica, there are a number of impressive Venetian churches well worth visiting. Among them are:
- Galleria d'Arte Moderna
- Gallerie dell' Accademia
- Galleria Franchetti
- Museo Correr
- Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
- Scuola Grande di San Rocco
And for museum fans, here are just a few of Venice's many fine museums:
- Giorgio Maggiore
- Madonna dell'Orto
- San Pietro di Castello
- San Zaccaria
- Santa Maria della Salute
- Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
- Santissimi Giovanni e Paolo
- SS Rendentore
- Museo Civico Correr
- Museo Orientale
- Museo Storico Navale
- Museo Dipinti Sacri Bizantini
- Museo del Settecento Venezian
- Museo della Fondazione Queriri Stampalia
Murano is an island renowned for glass making and crystal. Venetian glass blowers were driven to Murano from the main island of Venice because of the fires sometimes caused by their craft. Most of the factories on Murano offer glass blowing displays, and you can also visit the wonderful crystal museum, Museo Vetrario.
Beautiful glass pieces and crystal can be purchased in Murano, and are also available in the shops near St. Mark's Square. But if you have time to spare, a trip to Murano is worth your while to witness the craft of glass blowing firsthand.
Burano is a small village famous for its lace. You may have seen photos of its multi-colored houses, painted in distinctive colors by the local fishermen to help them find their homes when returning from sea at the end of the day. Here you'll find fewer crowds and enjoy a less tourist-driven experience.
A short distance from Burano, you can travel to Torcello, home to the first Cathedral in Venice, the Cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta, which was built in the 7th century. This area is also off the beaten path, and will give you a break from the tourist crowds.
A Final Word On Venice: Places To Eat
As in most of Italy, Venetian restaurants don't typically offer the best quality food or reasonable prices if they're in tourist areas. Generally you'll find the best food in less accessible areas. Find some locals and ask for their suggestions.
One of our favorite things to do on holidays in Venice is to get 'lost' – just wander around and see what you find.
- Osteria Il Milion – for traditional Italian fare
- Ostaria Antico Dolo – typical Venetian “cicchetti” restaurant, comparable to a “tapas” restaurant (meaning small plates)
- Devil's Forest Pub – if you're looking for a little more casual pub atmosphere
- Ristorante da Raffaele – canal side restaurant, very intimate but expensive
- Skyline Bar – has a rooftop terrace so you can see Venice while you dine. While the prices are high, this restaurant is worth it, even if you just stop by for a drink.
Venetian addresses, maps and directions are often difficult to follow so be sure to have a good map with you when you go wandering.