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We’ve each spent a few days exploring in and around Venice. While it wasn’t our favourite city, there’s still plenty to see and do there. Here’s our list of the top things to do in Venice for if you’re a first time visitor.
Free Walking Tour
First on the list of things to do in Venice is a free walking tour. It’s a great way to get a brief background and overview of the city. Free Venice City Tours offer a good free walking tour. The tours all meet at Campo San Geremia at either 10am or 4pm. They go for about 2.5 hours. Check out their website for more info.
Wander the streets
Getting lost in Venice is one of the best things you can do. The city really is a maze of little streets and alleyways. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get lost if you wander for a while, but that’s part of the fun! Better yet, this activity is free and is great exercise.
Cruise the Grand Canal
The grand canal stretches around 2 miles from the main train station to San Marco. It was once a major shipping lane for trade between the western and eastern parts of the world in the middle ages. It’s well worth jumping on a cruise up and down the canal. It’s a good way to get a better feel for the city.
You can buy a single trip ticket for €7 that is valid for one hour. These can be bought from ticketing machines at most of the jetties on the canal.
Take a Gondola ride
A gondola ride in Venice would have to be on the bucket list for most travellers coming to the city. It’s also very, very expensive. In our opinion it’s a massive rip off, but hey, if it’s something you have always wanted to do, then go for it.
The gondola holds up to 6 passengers and can cost around €80 in total for 30 minutes. Keep in mind if you have less than 6 people, you will be paying a higher individual price. There are various routes and itineraries to choose from. You can find meeting points all around the city and they operate all throughout the day. See the Local Venice Tours website for more information. They also offer combined tours with other attractions that may help you save some money.
Check out Piazza San Marco
San Marco is a famous piazza or main square in Venice. It’s probably the most visited part of the city. Napoleon reportedly once described it as ‘the drawing room of Europe’. Be sure to spend some time walking around the square and going down the little laneways shooting off from the main thoroughfare.
- Tip: Visit the square at night. It’s usually empty as everything is closed… But seeing all of the buildings lit up can be quite impressive.
There are a few different things to check out in the square…
St. Mark’s Basilica: You can’t really miss it at the end of the square. The basilica dates back to the 11th century, although construction and modifications to the church were ongoing right up until the 17th century. It’s that two Venetian men sailed to Alexandria and brought back with them relics of St. Mark himself, and that they’re still inside the church.
Torre dell’Orologio: Designed by Maurizio Codussi, this famous clock tower was built between 1496 and 1506. It towers over the piazza and provides great views if you’re game to climb the narrow, steep stairs. Check out Museo Correr to book a ticket if you would like to climb the tower for yourself.
Interesting fact: The clock tower used to be manually wound up by a man that lived in the tower itself. This continued up until 1998, when the manual apparatus was finally replaced by an electric mechanism.
The Campanile: The Campanile is the tallest building in Venice. Standing at 99m, it was built between 888 and 912. Getting to the top of this building is well worth it, as you are rewarded with fantastic views of the city and surrounding lagoon. This is a really good way to help get a true appreciation of the maze of canals, islands and bridges that make up venice.
The building originally served as a watchtower for the city during the middle ages. Since then it has also been used as a bell tower and even a lighthouse for passing ships. It also collapsed in the early part of the 20th century, but was later rebuilt.
Take a trip to Burano Island
One of our favourite things to do in Venice was visit Burano Island. It’s further out into the lagoon, away from the main tourist filled islands. The island is most famous for its brightly coloured buildings. It’s a great place to relax and escape if you are sick of all the crowds.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the most iconic attractions in Venice. It was the very first bridge to be built over the grand canal. It has been rebuilt several times over the years as it was once made of wood and continued to collapse. It was finally rebuilt using marble, and has remained standing since then. The views from the bridge are impressive as you can admire the grand canal sprawled out in front of you.
Museo Civico Correr
If you visit one museum in Venice, make it this one. It contains artefacts that tell the story of the history of Venice. You can also learn about the Venetian culture, including things like the Venice Carnival.
We’d recommend spending about 1-2 hours here if you have the time. The museum opens at 10am and closes at 5pm daily. (7pm in the summer months.) Entry is €20, or €13 with a student card. Keep in mind tickets to other tourist attractions in Venice can be bought here. Check out the website for further information.
Visit the Jewish Ghetto
The Jewish Ghetto in Venice is said to be the very first ever created in Europe. The Jewish population was forced to reside in the north western section of the main island in 1516. By day the Jewish population was free to leave the ghetto and go about their business, however they had to return by nightfall.
These days the former Jewish Ghetto is a really vibrant neighbourhood, with heaps of great bars and restaurants. This is a really cool place to hang out for a few hours. A tour of the Ghetto is quite interesting, and can be be done through Tours Italy.
As you can see, there’s plenty of things to see and do in Venice. We’d recommend 1-2 days exploring the city, but you shouldn’t need much more than that.