Best 10 (+1) Attractions to Visit in Venice

July 15, 2014
Enrico Catani

Visiting Venice at least once in life seems to be everyone’s dream. Its picturesque canals and little islands, its rich history and artistic heritage, as well as its deep relation with the sea, make this wonderful city a unique and precious place in the world, permeated with a timeless romantic atmosphere.
Located in a lagoon and surrounded by islands and marshlands, Venice is interpenetrated by the sea. Deep within its urban structure, the canals runs beneath the bridges, along the historic buildings, creating a dual network of land and water: a magical city composed of 117 small islands, linked together by bridges, all to be explored.
Venice is a land filled with ancient traditions to discover, such as the Carnival and the glass handicraft, and things to do as a classic gondola ride along the canals. But among all, the city boasts some of the greatest monuments and squares in all of Italy, which attract every year thousands of tourist from all over the world.
So, once you are in Venice, here is the ItalyXP list of the main sights you should definitely visit, because your trip wouldn’t be completed otherwise!

Piazza San Marco

Known as the San Mark’s Square in English, Piazza San Marco is located in the very heart of the city. It is among the most famous and magnificent attractions in all of Italy, claiming a place apart in the collective imagination of anyone, with its splendid architecture and the shiny marble that adorn it.
Being the widest open area in the historic centre, the square has long been an important meeting place for citizens, where all the most important religious and civil celebrations were held, and still are today.
Perpetually inhabited by pigeons, it is one of those places where you will be able to eXPerience the typical Venetian phenomenon of high-water, unique in the world, when the square is completely submerged (just make sure to wear your high boots!).
Besides the important monuments and museums that surround it, the square is filled with nice cafés and restaurants under the portico, which provide a lively atmosphere at any time of the day or night. A tour of Piazza San Marco is an absolute must for any tourist.

Basilica of San Marco

Located in the homonymous square, the Basilica of Saint Mark (“San Marco” in Italian) is the largest and most important church in Venice. Built between the 9th and the 11th and finished during the 13th century, it is an example of the finest Byzantine and Venetian architecture.
Known as “the Church of gold”, the Basilica of Saint Mark has long been a symbol of the prosperity of Venice. Its façade is a gothic masterpiece, a rich complex of columns, riches and cupolas. Inside, it is impossible not to admire the splendid gilded mosaics, a true treasure of the Venetian goldsmiths’ craft.
The Basilica of Saint Mark houses many works of art of inestimable value, and it is rich in details to be discovered, better if through a guided tour that will reveal all the hidden secrets. One of the most iconic landmarks of the city and an absolute prerequisite during your visit to Venice.

Saint Mark’s Campanile

Affectionately nicknamed as “the Lord of the House” by Venetians, this impressive bell tower is the tallest building in the city. It fiercely stands in a corner of Piazza San Marco with its 97 meters tall, characterizing the skyline of Venice.
The Saint Mark’s Campanile (“Campanile di San Marco” in Italian) has a simple and recognizable shape, especially compared to the nearby Basilica of Saint Mark: the main plain reddish-bricked structure supports a belfry that houses five bells (each with a specific function); on top is a green pyramidal roof where sits a golden 3 meters statue of the Archangel Gabriel, which rotate when pushed by the wind (note that when the statue faces the Basilica, it is suppose that there will be high water).
Construction began in 888, but the structure collapsed several times over the centuries. However, the Venetians couldn’t give up on their beloved monument, and so the Saint Mark’s Campanile was systematically rebuilt, assuming its final, current shape in 1912.
From the top of the bell tower, you have a terrific view over the city and the Venetian Lagoon. If you’re not scared of heights, we definitely suggest climbing it, but it’s better to go early in the morning, when it’s not too crowded.

Doge’s Palace

Overlooking the Piazza San Marco on one side and the sea on the other, the Doge's Palace is one of the most important buildings of the city, with its unmistakable, unique architecture.
The original structure, dating back to the IX century AD, was conceived as a castle to control the city due to its strategic position. Later, after several fires and subsequent rebuilding, the Doge’s Palace has changed its architecture, becoming the former residence of the Doge of Venice, the highest political authority in the Republic of Venice.
The Doge's Palace is a splendid example of Venetian architecture, characterized by a “light” feeling, indicative of this style: the openness of its façade, with its arches and columns, is a sign of the power of Venice as it symbolizes the not-necessity of a fortified castle. The interior of the Palace deserves a through guided tour, to admire its beautifully painted and decorated rooms, rich in works of art. 

Grand Canal

Long more than three miles, it is the main waterway in Venice. Connected to a maze of smaller canals, its S-shaped course passes through the main monuments of the historic centre.
Being the widest of the Venice’s canals, it has been for centuries the heart of the commercial life in the city, providing easier transport and access to shipping at a time when boats were the main means of transport.
Some of the buildings lined with the Grand Canal belonged to the merchants who did business on the sea (the characteristic “fondaco” houses), while others belonged to the wealthy Venetian families, recognizable for their decorated façades with colorful frescoes and mosaics.
A great way to admire the splendid scenery of the Grand Canal and its surrounding treasures is through a boat tour. But for an even more memorable eXPerience, you cannot miss a picturesque gondola ride that will give you the opportunity to breathe the romantic atmosphere of Venice.

Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal, and a true icon of Venice. Built where once stood an old pontoon bridge, it has been for three hundred years the only way to cross the Grand Canal. Originally it was made of wood, taking its current arched shape at the end of the 16th century by design of architect Antonio de Ponte.
The bridge has three walkways: two along the outer railings, and a wider central one, covered by a portico under which are numerous shops on either side: those small, characteristic boutiques have been there since the foundation of the bridge, and they mostly sell jewelry, laces, Murano glass, and other typical souvenirs.
It owes its name to its proximity to the Rialto Food Market, which is older than the bridge and has been the city’s most important market for about 1000 years: a great sight to have a nice stroll and eXPerience the local products and specialties of Venice.
The Rialto Bridge can be accessed via the wide stairs that rise from either side of the bridge, even with a guided walking tour that will let you discover its history and secrets. Further, the bridge can also be admired through a private gondola tour of the Gran Canal, passing underneath it.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Founded in 1478, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is one of the six Venetian confraternities, which are Catholic organizations that played an important role in the religious and social life of Venice.
This imposing monument is of great importance for the history of Venetian painting of the 16th century. In fact, to decorate its hall was held an important competition, which was attended by the greatest painters working in Venice at that time: Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Andrea Schiavone, and more.
The Tintoretto won the completion, and he donated to the confraternity of San Rocco the most important paintings: the wonderful cycle of twenty-seven canvases that narrate episodes from both the Old and New Testament, following one another in a narrative flow.
Exploring the halls of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is like walking through the pages of the Bible, reliving the most important episodes of the Christian tradition. This collection of masterpieces by Tintoretto, spread over the two floors of the building, will let you discover all the splendor of Venetian painting: an must-do eXPerience for every lover of art.

Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs, known as the “Ponte dei Sospiri” in Italian, is one of the most intriguing attractions of Venice. Built in the early 17th century in Baroque style, it served as a connection between the interrogations rooms (located in the Doge’s Palace) and the prison cells.
It takes its name from a famous legend of Romantic literature: according to it, the condemned prisoners who crossed through it, on the way to their execution chambers, would sigh for their lost freedom and their last glimpse of Venice through the tiny windows.
Despite its gloomy function, the Bridge of Sighs is lovely seen from outside: entirely made of white limestone, its ornamental arched profile, suspended over the canal, composes a picturesque scene that no visitor should miss!
You can admire the Bridge of Sighs from the street or from the canal that flows below it by taking a gondola tour. But is also possible to visit its interior with a guided tour of the Doge’s Palace, through which you’ll also have the opportunity to see the ancient prison cells.

Venetian Ghetto

The first Jewish ghetto in Venice was established in 1516 in a small island in the Cannaregio district, an area of ​​town where were many foundries. In fact, from the Venetian word “getar” (meaning “to melt”) comes the term “ghetto”, used for the first time in Venice to indicate the area in which the Jews were confined.
In Venice, the area of the Jewish ghetto was enclosed by gates, and residents could not leave it from sunset to sunrise. The term ghetto then spread in all the cities of Europe to indicate the districts of segregation of the Jews.
The picturesque Jewish ghetto of Venice is known for its urban structure and the presence of the tower-houses. In fact, in order to contain the greatest number of people in a limited space, the houses of the Jewish ghetto developed in height, giving rise to tall buildings up to eight floors and with ceilings lower than average.
Today, the Jewish community of Venice is quite small, but the Jewish ghetto is a must-see, especially for the five synagogues, the oldest in Europe, which are now restored and open to visitors for guided tours. Worth a visit are also the traditional bakeries that sell local products from the oven, such as the unleavened bread, as well as the ancient libraries and handicrafts Hebrew shops.

The Fenice Theatre

The Teatro La Fenice (“Phoenix” in English) is the main opera house in Venice. Although it has a relatively short history, dating back to the late 18th century, it has soon become one of the most prestigious theatres in the world, and has made Venice a premiere city for the debut of new operas.
Inaugurated 1792, the Fenice Theatre was built over an earlier theatre building burned to the ground. For this reason it was given the Phoenix name, in honor to the mythological bird that was believed to reborn from its own ashes… However, in 1863 it was destroyed by a malicious fire; rebuilt in the following years, the structure was heavily damaged again in 1996. Following the motto "the way it was, where it was" the theatre was finally reopened to the public in 2003.
Despite its troubled past, the theatre has managed to withstand numerous misfortunes, honoring its name. Once in Venice do not miss the opportunity to visit this true symbol of the tenacity of Venice with a guided tour

Fondaco dei Turchi

Characterized by ten arches and two tall towers, the Fondaco dei Turchi (The Turks' Inn) is one of the oldest buildings in Venice. It is an imposing palace, structured on two floors, built in the 13th century in the typical Venetian-Byzantine architectural style. The building overlooks the Grand Canal and from the 1621 it was used as the headquarters of the Turkish merchants (from which it takes the name).
Today, this impressive building houses the Museum of Natural History in Venice: here, you can admire a large aquarium that displays the fauna and flora of the Venice Lagoon, as well as a huge dinosaur skeleton found in the Sahara Desert.
You can admire the majesty the Fondaco dei Turchi navigating along the Grand Canal with a boat tour or a gondola tour. However, if you want to visit its interior the Museum is open to the public Tuesday to Sunday from 09:00 to 13:00, and the cost of the ticket is 4.50€.

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