Our favourite things to do in Venice
Venice: an island-city made up of meandering canals, mazes of winding streets, and timeless charm. It will dazzle and entice you with its colourful buildings, many bridges, and shimmering waters. This is a city that truly invites you to allow yourself to get entangled in its web and discover its secret squares, hidden passageways, and endless gems.
Settled in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, Venice has canals the way other cities have roads. People get from place to place on foot, by boat, and via waterbus – which means that instead of splurging on a gondola ride, you can move about the city like a local, and enjoy the same great views while cruising down the canals at a fraction of the price. People between the ages of 6-29 can purchase the Rolling Venice card, which offers a discount to young travellers on all public transport, including waterbusses and travel to and from Marco Polo Airport. Another pro tip: buy a bottle of wine and hop on on waterbus around sunset for a cheap and super delightful way to take in the views. Walking is usually the fastest (and always the cheapest) way of getting around, so consider saving your waterbus for when you’re carrying luggage or getting to one of the more outer islands, like Burano.
If what your heart truly longs for, however, is a gondola ride, here’s a bit of info. For centuries, the gondola – steered by a gondolier – was the primary mode of transportation for Venetians, with thousands of them making their way up and down the canals. Today, with a few hundred operating to primarily serve the demands of tourists, the gondola is an iconic and beloved symbol of Venice. The price of a gondola ride is a standard set rate across the city, and will cost you €80 for a 40-minute ride, with additional charges at every additional 20 minute interval. The price shoots up even higher after 7pm, when you can expect to shell out €100 for 40 minutes. You can try to save a bit of cash by seeing if you can find other travellers willing to share a ride, as gondolas can carry up to six people and don’t charge per person. For an alternative gondola experience, try the traghetti, gondola ferries taking people across the Grand Canal for €2. It may not offer the same romantic vibes of the traditional gondola rides, but for €2, it’s hard to beat.
You can’t have a city connected by canals and made up of more than 100 islands without having a few bridges, and while every bridge in Venice has its own beauty and allure, there are a couple that are a little more famous than all the rest. The Bridge of Sighs historically lead convicts to their cells, as it connected Doge’s Palace, where trials were held, to the prisons, and offered those marching towards their sentences their last view of Venice before getting locked up. The name suggests prisoners may have let out a sigh at the sight. Ironically, many consider this to be one of the most romantic spots in Venice. The Rialto Bridge – Ponte di Rialto in Italian – was built in the 1500s, and was the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot until 1854 when the Accademia Bridge was built. Connecting San Marco and San Polo, this is one of the top tourist attractions in the city. Two rows of small shops line the walkways, offering the opportunity to slowly saunter along, window shopping as you check out all of the Murano glass and more.
The Venetian Ghetto is located in the city’s largest and most northern district, Cannaregio, and is the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world. The ghetto is divided into the Ghetto Nuovo (New Ghetto) and the Ghetto Vecchio (Old Ghetto), however Ghetto Nuovo is actually the older area. There you can pay a visit to the Jewish Museum and take a tour of the synagogues. For a delicious kosher meal, head over to Gam Gam for classics like matzo ball soup, an array of pastas and cous cous, and Italian favourites like branzino and grappa to wash it all down with.
Venice is made up of many little squares, called campi, and you can find them as you wander through the city’s many narrow streets. Take a walk over to Campo San Barnaba, where you’ll find, of course, the Church of San Barnaba. For all you film bluffs, this neoclassical church made it into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Remember when Indiana Jones climbs out of the manhole in the middle of a bunch of people dining at an outdoor restaurant? That’s this square. Of course the most famous square in Venice and the most well known is Piazza San Marco. Here you can find several of Venice’s most popular sites in one place. Visit The Basilica San Marco, an ornate, domed church, and the towering Campanile, the church’s bell tower and one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Doge’s Palace (remember from the Bridge of Sighs?), the square’s clock tower which shows not only the time, but also the phases of the moon and zodiac signs, and several museums and a library can also be found in the piazza.
It comes as a surprise to nobody that Venice is loaded to the brim with churches. As you find yourself getting lost in the criss-crossing labyrinth of roads and canals and bridges, you’ll stumble upon countless churches; discover the smaller ones, and find your favourites. Some of the bigger and more well-known churches include the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, which is free to visit, and San Giorgio Maggiore, located on an island of the same name.
For a splash of technicolour splendour, take a 40 minute ferry ride to visit the island of Burano, whose rainbow-hued houses offer up a different feel from what you’ll find in central Venice. Head out away from the main street and away from the throngs of people to find bright, peaceful pockets of this Venetian paradise. Burano is known for its lace making, so naturally you can visit the Lace Museum. Conveniently, using the same ferry you can take to Burano, you can also stop off and pay a visit to the glass-making island of Murano, where life is quieter and slower than in the bustling city centre. Check out the Museo de Vetro, the glass museum offering the chance to discover the island’s incredible glass-making history. Walk along Murano’s equivalent of the Grand Canal, sit in a sidewalk cafe with a drink as you watch life go by, and find a glassblower’s shop to take a peek into.
Stay at the beautiful waterfront Ostello Venezia, located in the heart of Venice in a refurbished grain store on Giudecca Island. You’ll enjoy incredible views as well as the hostel’s luxe design, bar, restaurant serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and swanky lounge.