Venice, consisting of 118 small islands, is perhaps the most romantic city in the world. No fewer than 400 bridges connect the tiny areas separated by canals. The city is home to numerous landmarks, and its surroundings are famous for attractions, while its historic centre is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
Venice covers an area of 420 square kilometres and is Italy's second most visited city after Rome. The "Sinking City" attracts millions of visitors every year.
Why is Venice unique?
Venice's unique cityscape, with its intricate canal network, bridges, and historic buildings, is unlike anywhere else. The absence of roads and cars enhances its charm and appeal. Gondolas - traditional flat-bottomed boats - are symbols of the city.
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- Its architecture is a blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Byzantine styles. Landmarks like St. Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, and the Rialto Bridge showcase its rich artistic and architectural heritage.
- The annual carnival is one of the most famous and extravagant parades worldwide. It attracts visitors from all over the world who witness elaborately crafted masks, costumes, processions, and festivities.
- It is famous for its exceptional Murano glass, which you can see being made in person. The glassmaking tradition dates back centuries.
Where is Venice?
Venice is located in the northeastern part of Italy, in the Veneto region. It sits within the lagoon of the same name (Laguna Veneta), a marshy area along the Adriatic Sea. Padua and Verona are just a few kilometres away. The nearest major Italian city is Bologna.
- Distance from Rome: 6.5 hours / 600 km
- Distance from Trieste: 2 hours / 160 km
- Distance from the Dolomites (Bolzano): 3 hours / 220 km
- Distance from Lake Garda: 1.5 hours / 130 km
- Distance from Verona: 1 hour / 110 km
Airport - Traveling by plane
The Marco Polo Airport (VCE) is the city's primary airport, located approximately 8 kilometres north of the centre. The most common and convenient way to reach the city's heart is to use the Alilaguna waterbus, which directly connects the airport and Venice's significant attractions, including St. Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge.
Venice's map might look like a maze, but don't be intimidated. With a bit of explanation, navigating becomes easier.
- The city's heart is the San Marco district, home to the iconic St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco), St. Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, and the Campanile (bell tower). The famous Rialto Bridge, which spans the Grand Canal, is also here.
- Cannaregio is the largest district, housing the Venice Jewish Museum, which presents the history of the local Jewish quarter. The community also contains five historic synagogues and the 15th-century Ca d'Oro.
- The San Polo district is connected to the centre by the Rialto Bridge. While this quieter part of the city may not have top-tier attractions, it's worth exploring. It is home to the Rialto Market and Campo San Polo, the city's second-largest square after St. Mark's. It's the smallest of Venice's sestieri, but don't let its size fool you. It's rich in artisan shops and typical Venetian bacari, or taverns.
- Dorsoduro is the university district, a lively area with fantastic bookstores. In addition to its many wonders, the district is home to Ca' Foscari University and the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection - a must-visit for art lovers.
- The less-visited Santa Croce district is home to the main bus terminal at Piazzale Roma. It doesn't offer top-tier attractions, but it can be a budget-friendly accommodation choice.
- Castello is one of the least-visited parts of Venice, making it a great place to escape the crowds. In addition to the famous Arsenal and the Naval History Museum, there are even more lesser-known attractions here.
Tourist offices, known as "APT" (Azienda di Promozione Turistica) or "IAT" (Informazione Accoglienza Turistica), can be found. These offices provide information, maps, brochures, and assistance to tourists. Here are some tourist offices in Venice:
- Piazzale Roma: This is a central transportation hub, and there's an office near the entrance to the People Mover station.
- Venice Marco Polo Airport: There's an information office in the airport's arrivals area.
- Santa Lucia train station: Within the train station, there's another office near the main entrance.
- St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco): There's another office near the entrance to the Doge's Palace.
- Rialto Bridge: An office near the Rialto Bridge, not far from the Vaporetto (water bus) stop.
Choosing with so many attractions can be difficult, but this list includes the most visited and famous sights. The attractions listed are not in order of popularity:
#1 Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
The Rialto Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks. It spans the Grand Canal, connecting the San Marco and San Polo districts. The stone bridge was completed in 1591, although a wooden structure was in its place earlier. The bridge is a pedestrian crossing known for its elegant design and arches. You'll find shops and businesses in the surrounding area.
#2 Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
The Bridge of Sighs is a small bridge that can only be admired from the outside. It is located near the Doge's Palace and connects the palace to the new prison. It was built in the early 17th century. The bridge's name comes from the romantic notion that prisoners would sigh as they glimpsed Venice through the small windows before being led to the prison.
#3 St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)
Piazza San Marco is the so-called main square and the city's heart. It has been a social, religious, and political centre for centuries. It is located in the San Marco district and adjacent to the Grand Canal. The massive square is almost rectangular and is surrounded on three sides by historical landmarks (the fourth side opens onto the lagoon).
#4 Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's Basilica)
The Byzantine-style basilica dominates one side of Piazza San Marco. One of Italy's most famous churches, it showcases a unique blend of architectural influences, including Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic elements. The basilica is adorned with intricate mosaics, marble columns, and fine details inside and out. It is home to various relics and treasures, including the famous Pala d'Oro, a valuable altarpiece adorned with precious gems and enamel.
#5 Campanile di San Marco (Bell Tower)
Next to the basilica stands the tall bell tower, offering superb views of the surroundings. The current campaign is a reconstruction of the original tower that collapsed in 1902.
The Procuratie buildings line the other side of the square. These historic structures once served as offices and residences for local prosecutors and officials representing the Venetian government.
#7 Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower)
Also found in St. Mark's Square is the Clock Tower, featuring an astronomical clock and decorative sculptures.
#8 Venetian Lagoon
It's worth mentioning the Venetian Lagoon, a vast area covering over 550 square kilometres, extending over 50 kilometres from north to south. It hosts numerous islands, the largest and most famous being Venice, which is built on over 100 small islands. Other notable islands in the lagoon include Murano, Burano, Torcello, and Lido di Venezia.
#9 Canal Grande
The Grand Canal is approximately 3.8 kilometres long, snaking through the city in an "S" shape from the Bacino di San Marco to the lagoon. Along its banks, you'll find a stunning array of palaces, mansions, and historic buildings, many featuring elaborate facades, intricate decorations, and intricate details. Notable palaces include the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Ca' d'Oro, Palazzo Dario, and Palazzo Barbaro.
#10 Gondola Ride
You can't leave the city without trying a gondola ride. A typical ride lasts 30 minutes and costs around 40 euros for a shared ride. Private gondola rides for up to six people range from 80 to 120 euros for a 30-minute journey.
#11 Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)
The Doge's Palace is one of the most significant landmarks. It is located on the waterfront of Piazza San Marco and served as the residence of the Doge (the elected ruler) and the centre of the republic's political power. It is a remarkable architectural masterpiece combining Gothic, Byzantine, and Renaissance elements. The exterior facade features intricate pink and white marble decorations, arches, and ornate details.
#12 Rialto Market (Mercati di Rialto)
The market is located near the Rialto Bridge. It is the most famous market square in the area, serving as a bustling commercial centre for centuries. The market's history dates back to the 11th century when it was initially a small fish market. Over time, it expanded to offer various goods and products. Originally consisting of just two sections (one for fish and one for fruits and vegetables), today, you can also find various artisanal goods.
#13 Ca' d'Oro
Ca' d'Oro, also known as Palazzo Santa Sofia, is a historic palace along the Grand Canal. It is famous for its beautiful Gothic architecture. It was built in the 15th century for the Contarini family, one of Venice's prominent noble dynasties. The palace is characterized by its ornate facade, which includes intricate tracery, marble columns, and decorative motifs. Originally, the palace's exterior was adorned with gold leaf, giving it the name "Ca' d'Oro" or "Golden House." It once served as a private residence and is now a museum.
#14 Teatro La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice opened its doors in 1792. Over the years, the theatre has been destroyed by fire twice, but on both occasions, it was meticulously rebuilt, preserving its original elegant Neoclassical style. The façade has massive columns, striking decorations, and a grand central entrance. It is richly decorated with intricate details, gilded ornamentation, and plush seating.
Tourists can explore the theatre's stunning interior and learn about its history through guided tours. These tours provide insights into its architectural features and even take you behind the scenes. It is located in the San Marco district and close to Campo San Fantin.
The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, commonly known as the Salute Basilica, is an outstanding church. It was built in the 17th century to fulfil a vow made by the population during a plague epidemic. The city was severely affected by the epidemic, and in 1630, the Senate vowed to build a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary if the town were spared further devastation.
Designed by architect Baldassare Longhena, the building is a splendid example of Baroque architecture. It is renowned for its imposing dome structure that dominates the skyline. Its grand exterior, intricate decorations, and massive central dome are its hallmark features. But it is not only the exterior; the interior is equally captivating, adorned with marble sculptures and decorative elements.
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is a historic building and confraternity established in the 16th century as a religious community dedicated to Saint Roch, the patron saint of plague victims. Its purpose was to assist the sick and needy. The renowned Renaissance architect Bartolomeo Bon designed this impressive structure.
It is famous for its extensive collection of artworks, particularly by Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto. Tintoretto was commissioned to decorate the interior of the building, and his paintings cover the walls and ceilings of various rooms and chambers in the Scuola. The collection includes masterpieces such as the "Crucifixion" and the "Last Supper."
#17 Librairie Acqua Alta
The unique and charming Librairie Acqua Alta bookstore is located in the Castello district, near the picturesque Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa. It is known for its peculiar and unusual atmosphere as books are placed in bathtubs, crates, and even a sizeable gondola-shaped bookshelf.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, often referred to simply as the Frari Church, is a significant 14th-century structure. Originally built as the main church for the Franciscan friars, it derives its name from the "dei Frari" (of the friars). It is a remarkable example of Gothic architecture. Its simple yet imposing exterior is characterized by its tall brick façade, rose windows, and pointed arches. The interior is equally noteworthy, with a spacious nave, high ceilings, and numerous chapels.
It houses an exceptional collection of artworks, including masterpieces by renowned artists. For example, Antonio Canova's monumental marble sculpture "Monument to Canova," Titian's painting "The Assumption of the Virgin," and Titian's "Madonna di Ca' Pesaro."
The Accademia Gallery is a museum showcasing an extensive collection of 14th to 18th-century Venetian art. Visitors can view works by renowned artists such as Giovanni Bellini, Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese, and Canaletto. The museum features paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints covering various subjects, including religious works, portraits, landscapes, mythological scenes, and historical paintings.
Palazzo Rezzonico was built in the 18th century for Carlo Rezzonico, who later became Pope Clement XIII. The Rezzonico family were prominent Venetian patricians. The palace is an excellent example of Baroque architecture, featuring elegant details, including statues, ornate balconies, intricate decorations, and a grand façade. The interior spaces are lavishly decorated with frescoes, stucco work, and fine furnishings.
The historic shipyard and naval complex of the Arsenale is located in the Castello district. It was crucial in Venice's maritime power, especially during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Established initially as a state-owned shipyard in the 12th century, its purpose was to build and maintain a naval fleet. The complex covers a vast area of both land and water, comprising buildings, docks, canals, warehouses, and workshops dedicated to various aspects of shipbuilding, including carpentry, sailmaking, blacksmithing, and rope production.
After enjoying numerous religious and artistic programs, visiting the Naval History Museum can provide a refreshing change. Located in the Castello district, adjacent to the Arsenale, it houses a diverse collection of artefacts related to Venice's maritime heritage.
The museum showcases ship models, historical navigation instruments, cannons, armour, uniforms, paintings, maps, and other naval memorabilia. Additionally, you can explore an extensive collection of ship models, each representing different aspects of maritime history.
The Contarini Palace is a unique architectural gem, famous for its external spiral staircase known as the "Scala Contarini del Bovolo." This staircase is a remarkable example of Renaissance and Gothic architectural styles, and the word "bovolo" means "snail" in the local dialect, which reflects the staircase's spiral shape.
The palace was originally built for the Contarini family, one of the noble families of Venice, in the 15th century. Its design combines Gothic and Renaissance architecture elements, with pointed arches and intricate tracery on the one hand and classical columns and proportions on the other.
#24 Murano Island
Murano is a small island in the lagoon known for its centuries-old glassmaking tradition. The island has been the centre of glass production since the 13th century. You can explore numerous glass shops and galleries as part of your daily itinerary. Additionally, consider visiting the Murano Glass Museum, which showcases various glass objects, including ancient Roman glass, historical glassworks, and contemporary creations.
#25 Burano Island
Burano, also located in the lagoon, is accessible by Vaporetto, just like Murano. It is famous for its vibrant and colourful houses. Each building is unique and brightly coloured, and the tradition of painting houses in vivid hues has a practical purpose: to help fishermen identify their homes from a distance. In Burano, there is a long-standing lace-making tradition, and you will find many lace shops and boutiques.
#26 San Giorgio Maggiore Island
San Giorgio Maggiore is an island in the lagoon, just a short walk from St. Mark's Square. The island is primarily known for the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, which dominates the city's skyline. Designed by Andrea Palladio, the basilica is an outstanding example of Renaissance architecture. It features a classical façade, a large dome, and a campanile (bell tower).
#27 Torcello Island
Torcello is another island in the lagoon; in the past, it was a thriving commercial centre and settlement. Today, it is a tranquil and sparsely inhabited area. Its main attraction is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, also known as the Torcello Cathedral. This ancient church dates back to the 7th century and features remarkable Byzantine mosaics worth admiring.
One of the most popular times to travel to Venice is during the Carnival season. If you are considering a visit during this time, it's worth being aware of the following information:
- Dates: The Carnival is held in the weeks leading up to Lent, and the exact dates vary each year. It typically starts at the end of January or the beginning of February and lasts about two weeks.
- Parades: Typically, the carnival known as "Festa delle Marie" takes place on the first Saturday. This parade showcases the procession of beautifully dressed women known as the "Marie," who represent the 12 Venetian girls historically chosen as the bride of the doge. In addition to the Festa delle Marie, there are many other parades on different days.
- Costumes and Masks: The Carnival is known for its elaborate costumes and masks. Many people dress in period costumes, traditional Venetian attire, or creatively designed outfits (even tourists join in the fun). Wearing a mask is common, and you can either rent or purchase one in advance.
- Events: The Carnival features parades, masquerade balls, street performances, concerts, and various cultural and artistic exhibitions.
- Venues: Many of the festival's events occur at iconic locations such as St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco), the Grand Canal, and historic palaces.
Day Trips from Venice
Lido di Venezia
If you're travelling during the summer, spend a day at the long sandy beach on Lido. The island is located in the lagoon, east of the main island, and is accessible by Vaporetto. The island's beaches stretch along the eastern and southern shores, facing the Adriatic Sea. Expect crowds in the summer, but the island appeals not only to sunbathers and swimmers but also to locals and tourists who come here for biking, jogging, and picnicking. Stroll along the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, a long avenue with shops and cafes.
It's also worth knowing that the annual Venice Film Festival takes place on the island. The festival is held at the Palazzo del Cinema and attracts renowned filmmakers, actors, and industry professionals worldwide.
Padua (Padova) is one of the oldest cities in Northern Italy, with a history spanning over 3000 years. The city, located just 40 km away, was a prominent centre of trade and culture in the Roman Empire. Later, in the Middle Ages, it grew into a thriving city-state.
It is home to one of Europe's oldest universities, the University of Padua, founded in 1222. The university was a centre of academic excellence and innovation, attracting notable scholars. It boasts numerous architectural treasures, including the Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni), adorned with frescoes by the Italian painter Giotto. Other remarkable architectural landmarks include the Basilica of Saint Anthony (Basilica di Sant'Antonio), ornate Byzantine-style domes, and the Palazzo della Ragione, an impressive medieval palace.
Not far from Verona, you'll find the stunning Lake Garda (approximately 140 km away). On sunny days, visiting one of Italy's most famous lakes for swimming, sunbathing, and boating is worth visiting. Afterwards, dine at one of the local restaurants and savour delicious dishes.
Venice's history spans over a millennium. Here's an overview of significant periods and milestones:
- Foundation: Venice was founded in the 5th century by settlers fleeing the barbarian invasions of the Italian mainland. These early inhabitants adapted to the lagoon environment and built their structures on wooden pilings. Later, they developed a network of canals for transportation and defence.
- Rise of the Republic: Venice's power and prosperity grew during the Middle Ages. By the 9th century, it had become a significant maritime republic. The Venetian Republic, led by the Doge, had a unique system of governance that combined elements of aristocracy and democracy. The republic established trade routes across the Mediterranean, expanding its influence and wealth. During the Renaissance, it became a centre for art, culture, and learning, attracting renowned artists, architects, and thinkers.
- Expansion: Venice continuously expanded its territories, establishing colonies and trading outposts along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, including Greece, Crete, Cyprus, and the Adriatic coast. Its naval power was crucial in ensuring maritime dominance and making the republic a significant player in European and Eastern trade and diplomacy.
- Decline: In the late 15th century, Venice faced challenges such as the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the discovery of new sea routes that bypassed its trade network. Over the following centuries, the republic began a gradual decline, losing territories and experiencing economic setbacks. In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice, leading to the end of the republic, and it eventually became part of the Habsburg Empire.
- Modern Era: After the unification of Italy in 1866, Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy. In the 20th century, it faced rising sea levels and mass tourism threats. Conservation efforts and infrastructure projects were undertaken to protect the city's unique heritage and address long-term challenges related to its geographical location.
Is it sinking?
Yes, unfortunately, Venice faces challenges related to its gradual sinking. The problem is caused by a combination of natural factors, including the compaction of sediments upon which the city is built and groundwater extraction from underground aquifers. In addition to sinking, the city is also threatened by rising sea levels. As global sea levels rise, Venice's vulnerability to flooding becomes more pronounced. The sinking and rising sea levels have led to periodic flooding, known as "acqua alta."
Various engineering measures have been implemented over the years to address these challenges, including the MOSE project. MOSE is a movable barrier system that can be raised during high tides to protect the city from flooding. While sinking is a cause for concern, it's important to note that the city remains habitable and attracts millions of visitors annually.
- Seafood: Seafood plays a prominent role in the local cuisine. Popular dishes include "sarde in saor" (sweet and sour marinated sardines with onions and raisins) and "risotto al nero di sepia" (risotto cooked with squid ink, giving it a black colour).
- Bigoli: Bigoli is a type of pasta similar to thick spaghetti. It's often served with traditional sauces like duck ragù, anchovies, and onions.
- Risi e Bisi: Risi e bisi is a classic local dish that combines rice and peas. It resembles a creamy risotto and is often made with fresh spring peas.
- Cicchetti: Cicchetti is a small bite or appetizer typically enjoyed in "Bacardi" (traditional wine bars). Cicchetti can include a variety of small dishes, such as fried seafood, topped crostini, pickled vegetables, and marinated meats.
- Fegato alla Veneziana: Fegato alla Veneziana is a Venetian-style liver dish made from veal liver, onions, white wine, and butter. It's often served as a main course and is considered a traditional local delicacy.
- Baccalà Mantecato: Baccalà mantecato is a creamy and flavorful whipped salted cod, which is soaked and then whipped with olive oil, garlic, and parsley. It's typically spread on crostini or served with polenta.
- Desserts: Local desserts and pastries are delightful. Favorites include "fritole" (small fried doughnuts often filled with cream or raisins), "baicoli" (long, thin, and crisp biscuits), and "zaeti" (soft biscuits made from cornmeal, raisins, and nuts).
The primary mode of public transportation in Venice is by boat, specifically vaporetto water buses. Vaporettos are operated by ACTV (Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano). They run along the Grand Canal and other major canals. Vaporettos connect popular destinations such as St. Mark's Square, the Rialto Bridge, and Murano, Burano, and Lido islands. Numbers identify their routes. Private water taxis offer a faster but more expensive option.
Vaporetto: Passes and Tickets
- Various types of Vaporetto passes are available. Standard options include 1-day, 2-day, 3-day, and 7-day passes.
- During the validity period of the pass, you can use Vaporettos as often as you like. Their validity starts from the first use or activation and typically covers consecutive days. Passes cannot be split across non-consecutive days.
- The passes are valid on major routes, including the Grand Canal and the outer islands like Murano, Burano, and Lido.
- Passes can be purchased at various locations, including ticket booths, self-service machines at stops, and official resellers.
- Prices: one day (€30), two days (€40), three days (€50), seven days (€70).
- Water taxis are also available for those who prefer private transportation.
- The boats are accessible to people with disabilities.
(Prices might slightly increase every year!)
It's important to note that no conventional roads in Venice are suitable for regular vehicle traffic. As a result, no cars or buses are circulating in the city centre. However, the absence of vehicles contributes to the unique charm and tranquillity of the city and allows for accessible transportation.
Did you know?
The name of Saint Mark is reflected in numerous landmarks in Venice. The reason for this is an ancient legend that states Saint Mark's relics were brought here in the 9th century. According to the story, two local merchants travelled to Alexandria, Egypt, where Saint Mark was reportedly buried. They devised a plan to smuggle the saint's remains back.
They hid the relics in a shipment of pork, as it was considered impure by Muslims and, therefore, less likely to be inspected. The relics were successfully brought back and eventually placed in a newly constructed church known as the Basilica di San Marco (Basilica of Saint Mark). After this, the city chose the saint as its patron saint.
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