Venice, oh so beautiful and romantic. Venice has always been a very popular tourist destination in Italy, especially honeymooners (Even George Clooney got married in Venice!). The idea of staying in Venetian palazzo, riding gondola down the narrow canals, sipping Bellini (or Aperol Spritz in my case) by the wharf makes Venice an idyllic place to visit any time of the year and one can easily spend a whole week there to really soaking up the romance. Having said that, most visitors who come to Venice usually won’t spend more than 3 to 5 days before moving on to the next destination. With the time constraint, obviously you want to experience as much as possibly can and make the most of it during your stay. That is why we have you covered and list out everything you need to know. During our visit, we spent a good nine days to get right to the heart of this city, from visiting all the major attractions to rowing a gondola down the canals.
So here are the Top 10 must dos in Venice:
1. St Mark’s Basilica and Campanile
Piazza San Marco or commonly known in English as St Mark’s Square, is the principal public square of Venice. You will definitely find yourself here one way or another, because most of the major attractions lie within this area including St Mark’s Basilica, Bell Tower, Doge’s Palace and Cafe Florian, the oldest cafe in the world. Not to mention, the pesky pigeons and hawkers trying to sell you selfie-sticks.
The St Mark’s Basilica by far is one of the most extravagant churches I’ve seen. Inside the church is fully covered in gold-gilded mosaics from floor to ceilings. It is free to visit the main part of St Mark’s Basilica, but best to book your entry (normally is free, but now is €2 during summer months according to their website) in advance online to skip the long queue especially during peak season. And again, book ahead to get to the top of Campanile, the bell tower or be prepared to join the long queue. According to the website, the entry fee is €11 during summer months. From the top, it offers a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the whole Venice city. On a clear day, you can even see the Italian alps in the background.
2. Get lost in Venice
Often people say let yourself get lost to really experience the city. Here in Venice you definitely will get lost, like literally. Did you know Venice is actually a cluster of 118 small islands that are separated by canals linked by bridges, a total of 400 of them!? As cliche as it may sound, yes, the best way to experience Venice is to just go out and have a wander around the neighbourhood without looking at the map, absorb the beauty of the surroundings, admire the architecture and pat a few local puppies.
3. Explore the canals
Let’s face it, Venice probably won’t be as popular and charming without its canals. I found them fascinating, each canal is like peeking through the window into the locals normal daily life. The best way to explore the canals is by taking a gondola ride, but be mindful they are not cheap. Then there is also the Grand Canal, it forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in the city and here lies some of the major attractions include the Rialto Bridge, Peggy Guggenheim art collection, Santa Maria della Salute. You will be able to visit all these places by taking the convenient water buses.
4. Doge’s Palace Tour
One of the main landmarks of the city of Venice is the Doge’s Palace. This Venetian Gothic-style palace is an impressive structure composed of layers of building elements and ornamentation from countless rebuilt over many centuries. You can visit the palace by yourself but I highly suggest to take the ‘secret itinerary’ tour to learn about the history of this significant building and marvel all the treasures. Plus, you will also get to visit secret rooms and chambers exclusively to the tour only. During the tour, you will learn about the holding prison cells within the palace and how famous inmate Giacomo Casanova escaping through the roof, re-entering and exiting the palace by walking down the golden staircase.
5. Food tour in Venice
The best tour we did in Venice was the gourmet food tour. Within the four hours, we waddled through dark alleys, visited about eight places, from old favourite establishments to new hipster bars, we devoured some of the best food and sipped exquisite vinos this city has to offer. I’ve done many food tours in different countries and this one was definitely value for money. If you want to find out more about the foodie spots in Venice, please check out my previous post.
6. Islands hopping to Burano and Murano
Burano, the colourful island of lace; Murano, an archipelago of glassmaking; both islands are only a short boat ride away from Venice city. There are water buses depart Venice frequently to these two islands and beyond daily and it costs around €10. First stop – Burano; be overwhelmed by the colour explosions throughout the whole city. Everywhere you turn, is Instagram-worthy. Apart from the technicolour terraces, Burano is also famous for its excellent craftsmanship in lace work. Burano’s lace is world renowned and they are some of the finest in the world.
Second stop, Murano. If you have a colourful piece of Murano glass at home, very likely that it is made on this island. Murano is like Venice, but a lot smaller; a series of islands are linked by bridges and with a population of just over 5,000. It is famous for its glass making, here you will find glassmaking tour, glass sculptures on the streets and also don’t forget to bring a piece of glass home.
7. Visit Rialto Market and Fish market
This is a no brainer, visiting the local fresh food wet market is a must for me. The Rialto Market and Fish market is only a stone throw away from the Rialto Bridge. Take a stroll around the market even if you are not buying anything. Every morning, these markets are filled with colourful local fresh produce and seafood, many chefs come here to get their ingredients for the daily menu at their restaurants. It is worth considering to book into an Airbnb with a kitchen for your next visit so you can cook up a storm with all these beautiful produce.
8. Gondola rowing lesson
Why ride a gondola when you can actually row it? Hands down, the best thing we did in Venice. As mentioned, gondola ride is very popular among tourists in Venice, but they are not cheap. (I believe is around €90 for an hour ride, please don’t quote me on this). For the same amount of money, you can actually spend 2 hours on a gondola, but not only ride it, but actually learn how to row it. It was actually a lot of fun and definitely not easy! There were a few moments I seriously thought I was going to fall into the water. I highly recommend it.
9. Day trip to The Dolomites
Sick of canals, bridges and gondolas? Why not head north to the Italian Alps? The Dolomites, also known as the “Pale Mountains”, are a mountain range located in northeastern Italy, can be easily reached on a day trip from Venice. Many people visit the Dolomites to do trekking during summer months and skiing during winter. But our one-day trip was just as refreshing and exciting to be surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains, and trudging on the powdery snow field. You are also not far from the Prosecco region during the trip, so drink up.
10. Ghost Tour in Venice
During the day, Venice can be overcrowded with tourists, especially during high peak season. So the only time you can truly admire this beautiful city from a different perspective is at night time. Feel the tranquillity and romance of this city where only a few couples holding hands, strolling along the canals. For thrill seekers, I suggest you take a ghost tour where you will be led through dark alleys, uncover gruesome stories or murders, ghouls and even the dark secrets of the ‘red light’ district. Whatever you do, just don’t get separated from the group, you definitely do not want to be left behind.