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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 24 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Nicky Swallow

La Serenissima is one of the world’s great romantic destinations, a unique and exotic city built on water by architects who looked to Constantinople, Cairo and Aleppo rather than Rome or Florence.

Home to some of the world’s finest painters – Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto – barely a church is without a masterpiece. Yet so spectacular is the city with its narrow calle (streets) and quiet campi (squares), polychrome marble palaces and gondola-dotted canals, it’s a pleasure just to wander and observe.

What’s more, Venice is no mere floating museum; the Biennale and Punta della Dogana contemporary art centre add a thoroughly 21st-century vibe.

Orientation

A fish-shaped island bisected by the serpentine Grand Canal, Venice is divided into six sestieri (neighbourhoods), each of which possesses its own unique charm.

St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), with its serried arcades and exquisite basilica, is still the city’s beating heart but is often flooded with tourists; it’s at its best after dark.

For world-class art, including the Accademia Gallery and Peggy Guggenheim Museum, head for elegant Dorsoduro. For a picturesque, local feel, head to Cannaregio and Castello.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Saint Mark’s Square
Experience

Saint Mark’s Square

Venice, Veneto, Italy

It’s huge, and often crowded, but St. Mark’s square is one of the most emblematic spots in the city and is lined with over-priced cafés that offer live music. But out of season, on a foggy winter’s evening or at dawn, it’s undeniably atmospheric.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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St. Mark’s Basilica

Venice, Veneto, Italy

Surely the most exquisite, beguiling and opulent place of worship in Italy, St Mark’s cathedral was built to satisfy the wildest dreams of the Doges and is rich in glittering Byzantine mosaics, Gothic carvings and sumptuous treasures.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Accademia Gallery (Venice)

Venice, Veneto, Italy

From Titian to Tiepolo, the Accademia’s world-class collection represents the Golden Age of Venetian painting. A dazzling collection of masterpieces but also a voyage through the history of Venice itself.

Best for ages: 18+ | £15

Doge’s Palace

Venice, Veneto, Italy

A glittering monument to the Golden Age of Venice – ducal, divine and downright decadent. From Casanova’s rooftop escapade to the twisty tale behind Tintoretto’s enormous Paradise paintings, these walls have seen Venetian history at its most decadent and devious.

Best for ages: 18+ | £25

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Venice, Veneto, Italy

Of all Venice’s many churches, the huge, Franciscan barn-like Frari (1338-1469) is one of the most art-packed. It boasts the second-highest bell tower in the city and a severe exterior, but once inside, the quality of the art is extraordinary.

Best for ages: 18+ | £2

Bridge of Sighs
Experience

Bridge of Sighs

Venice, Veneto, Italy

Although you can’t actually walk over it, the Bridge of Sighs (visible from the Ponte di Paglia) is one of Venice’s most famous sights and links the Doge’s Palace to the adjacent prisons and torture chamber. The sighs were emitted by prisoners en route knowing what awaited them.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Church of Madonna dell’Orto
Experience

Church of Madonna dell’Orto

Venice, Veneto, Italy

Way off-piste in northern Cannaregio, Madonna ‘of the Garden’ (1399-1473) is stuffed with paintings by the great Venetian master who is also buried here along with his son and daughter. A highlight is his beautiful painting of St. Agnes in the Contarini Chapel.

Best for ages: 18+ | £2

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Church of Santa Maria della Salute
Experience

Church of Santa Maria della Salute

Venice, Veneto, Italy

Magnificently located at the entrance to the Grand Canal, this vast pale – and unique – church was built in honour of St. Mary of Health in thanks for deliverance from the plague of 1630-31. The best artworks are in the Sacristy, most notably Tintoretto’s Marriage at Cana.

Best for ages: 18+ | £3

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

 Venice In a Day: Basilica San Marco, Doges Palace & Gondola ride

Venice In a Day: Basilica San Marco, Doges Palace & Gondola ride

Venice

If you only have a short time to explore Venice this tour is your perfect all-inclusive ticket to the top attractions of the city. Follow on...

€139 | Rating 4.77 / 5 [631 ratings]

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3 Hour Natural Lagoon Kayak Tour in Venice

3 Hour Natural Lagoon Kayak Tour in Venice

Venice

Venice Kayak transmits the magic of the lagoon by offering an unforgettable experience to all customers, which makes them happy and spiritua...

€120 | Rating 4.93 / 5 [16 ratings]

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4-Hour Venice guided walking tour with Doge's Palace & St Mark's Basilica

4-Hour Venice guided walking tour with Doge's Palace & St Mark's Basilica

Venice

Enjoy this combined guided walking and the best way to see Venice, part of our tour is off the beaten track and away from the main tourist s...

€123 | Rating 4.47 / 5 [19 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Best of Venice Walking Tour with Gondola, St Mark's Basilica and Doge’s Palace

Best of Venice Walking Tour with Gondola, St Mark's Basilica and Doge’s Palace

Venice

Join a guided tour of the highlights and of the most authentic places of the city, enjoy a Gondola ride to admire the city from the water an...

€215 | Rating 4.97 / 5 [38 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Hotel Flora

Venice, Veneto, Italy

This family-friendly (and family-run), old-fashioned charmer occupies a tall, 17th-century palazzo just a stroll from St. Mark’s Square and the vaporetto stop.

Official star rating:

Hotel La Calcina

Venice, Veneto, Italy

A three-star, reasonable-priced charmer in the artsy Dorsoduro neighbourhood, close to the Accademia gallery, with glorious views over the Giudecca canal.

Official star rating:

Oltre il Giardino

Venice, Veneto, Italy

A romantic six-room Arcadian retreat of family-run homeliness. The shady, canal-side garden is a godsend at the end of a long, hot day’s culture fest.

Official star rating:

Orologio

Venice, Veneto, Italy

A stylish, modern and good value alternative to some of Venice’s more traditional hotels. Just steps from the Rialto produce market and the Rialto bridge.

Official star rating:

When to go

Venice is a busy tourist destination all year round, apart from January; that’s the time to visit if you want the city to yourself in all its misty, ghostly glory. From November to February, and occasionally at other times of the year too, acqua alta (high water) sees the city flooding from water coming up through the paving stones.

It’s jammed for the Carnivale (the two weeks prior to Lent). July is hot, but the Redentore festival on the third weekend, with a sea of boats in St. Mark’s Bay and a stunning fireworks display, is worth the trip. Forget August unless the beach appeals.

May and September are idyllic thanks to clement weather, and the Film Festival is an added bonus in early September.

Getting there and away

Marco Polo Airport, Venice’s international gateway, is just north (4 miles) of the city. The easiest way to get to the city from the airport is via the ATVO bus, which stops at Piazzale Roma on the west of the city.

Alternatively, a taxi to Piazzale Roma costs around EUR30. If you’re staying on the eastern side, near San Marco, consider the Alilaguna waterbus.

Getting around

Due to the city’s diminutive size – you can walk from one side to another in under an hour – and its extraordinary beauty, the best way to get around is on foot (cars are banned). Get a copy of Calli, Campielli e Canali, the only comprehensive map of this labyrinthine city. But at 22cm x 23cm, it’s too big for pockets. Smaller but also accurate is the Italian Touring Club’s 1:5000 Venezia map.

Otherwise, vaporetti (waterbuses) depart from stops throughout the city. For crossing the Grand Canal (there are only four bridges), there are traghetti – public gondolas rowed by two oarsmen that shuttle back and forth at various points. No need for a ticket; you pay the boatman as you board.

Water taxis, available throughout the city and at the airport, are exorbitantly expensive but fast and fun. They’ll also drop you exactly where you want to go.

Where to stay

Venice is small, so rather than stay near the two central hubs of Piazza San Marco and Rialto – both of which are disagreeably touristy – consider the quieter districts.

Castello is truly popolare (local), with a little market on Saturday mornings at Via Garibaldi and washing still strung across the narrow streets.

Lively bars, some with music, line the long canals of Cannaregio, making the area a favourite with younger visitors.

Dorsoduro, home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Punto della Dogana contemporary art space, is classy and cultured.

Where to eat or drink

In Venice, it pays to steer clear of the most touristy areas to avoid inflated prices and mediocre food.

Instead, wander through some of the quieter neighbourhoods (along the Fondamenta Misericordia in northern Canareggio, in and around Via Garibaldi in Castello, the area in and around the Zattere in Dorsoduro) to find places where Venetians go to eat and drink.

Venetian resident Monica’s blog about life and food in Venice is a reliable and interesting source of information about the city, and has excellent foodie recommendations.

A fun way to enjoy the ciccheti tradition and to sample the wide variety on offer is to take a ciccheti crawl.

Where to shop

The major international A-list brands such as Gucci and Chanel cluster around Piazza San Marco. A colony of Venetian artisans has set up shop in Castello, near Campo alla Bragora.

Higher up the luxury scale are the galleries, Murano glass and homewares stores close to Palazzo Grassi in the area known as San Samuele.

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination