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Things to Do in Veneto

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St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)
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St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) is filled with centuries of history and is still the symbolic heart of Venice; it has even been referred to as the drawing room of Europe. With the grand St Mark's Church at one end, the Campanile bell tower rising in the middle and the elegant colonnaded arcade of famous cafes on three sides, it is a wonderful place to be - and the hundreds of pigeons think so too.

Sit and have coffee (you'll only be able to afford one) and watch the whole world pass by while a tuxedoed band plays. Then plunge north into the narrow streets full of shops leading towards the Rialto Bridge, or west into the city's pocket of high fashion designer stores finishing with an extremely expensive Bellini at Harry's Bar, the place that invented the peach/champagne drink. Alternately, head out of San Marco to the east and stroll the waterfront on the Riva.

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St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
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Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Cathedral) is magnificent. It is both a wonderful architectural flurry of Gothic, Byzantine, Romanesque and Renaissance styles declaring the wealth of Venice over centuries, and a spiritual place of worship. Its domes and turrets, and gold mosaic stand out over the square and over Venice, and four ancient classical horses top the entrance, taken from Constantinople (Istanbul) when Venice sacked that city around 1200. Inside the church is dazzling.

The church was begun in 828 when the body of St Mark was returned to Venice, smuggled by merchants from its resting place in Alexandria, Egypt. An angel had told St Mark his final resting place would be Venice (which did not even exist at the time) and the Venetian leaders were keen to make it happen. Over the years, churches were built, burnt, rebuilt and expanded resulting in the incredible building we see today.

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Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
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Until 1797, the Doges ruled the Venetian Empire and the Palazzo Ducale was where they ruled from. It was one of the first things those arriving in Venice saw as their ships sailed through the lagoon and landed at Saint Mark's Square. The Doges lived here and the government offices were also in this building. Justice was meted out here and the Golden Book, listing all the important families of Venice, was housed here. No one whose family was not in the Golden Book would ever be made Doge. It was an extremely political process ruling Venice and residents could accuse others of wrong doing by anonymously slipping a note into the Mouth of Truth.

Inside the palace is wonderful art (paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese), majestic staircases, the Doge's apartments, the government chambers, the prison cells and the Bridge of Sighs. Outside, along the piazzetta, each column is different.

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Grand Canal
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The Grand Canal is the main street of Venice. Lined with beautiful, if aging, palazzo, you can hop aboard a gondola and imagine a time when these boats were the main means of transport (once there was 10,000 now there are 400). The impressive palazzo, homes to all the wealthy families, had highly decorated exteriors with colorful paintings and mosaics. These days they tend to have faded to one color but many still have the ornate, oriental facades influenced by the merchant trading with the East which made Venice rich.

Only a few bridges cross the Grand Canal: the Accademia Bridge, the Rialto Bridge and the bridge near the station at Ferrovia. Stand on these and watch boats pass by filled with fruit and vegetables, slabs of soft drink, building materials etc because Venice is still a city without cars and everything the city needs has to be transported by water or handcart.

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Murano
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Murano is one of 118 islands in the lagoon of Venice, famous for its glass factories. This is where the unique colored glass of Venice is made, in family-owned factories. Once located in the main city of Venice, they caused too many fires and were exiled to Murano in 1291 - that's how long the industry has been going.

It takes ten years to master the art of making proper Venetian glass. It's such a specialized art that in centuries past glass-makers were forbidden to leave Venice, and if they looked likely to betray industry secrets they were killed! These days the handmade glass is expensive and the industry is dying out - you are enthusiastically encouraged to purchase when you visit. Murano is home to 4,000 people. In its heyday it had 30,000 residents and the rich Venetians built their summer houses with lush gardens on the island. In fact, Murano had Italy's first botanical gardens.

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Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
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Rialto Bridge or Ponte di Rialto was the city's first bridge over the Grand Canal. Connecting the highest points on the lagoon islands settlement, the first bridge was built in 1180 and this more solid marble one in 1588-92. The bridge is an elegant arch with steps and shops, a mass of water traffic passing underneath, and huge numbers of tourists and Venetians heading across it.

The area around the bridge was, and still is, full of important city functions. Nearby are the city's markets: the fresh produce and the fish market. They have been there for 700 years. This area was also where the first banks were established, where the traders who made Venice rich set sail from and sold their goods on return, where courts met, prisoners were held and punished, and new laws were declared.

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Venice Islands
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Of the several islands in the Venetian Lagoon, the 3 main ones are Burano, Murano and Torcello. Though small, each island has developed its own name and fame separate from Venice. The people of Burano are known internationally for their lace industry. Murano's inhabitants have a reputation as artisans as well, producing world-famous glassware. Torcello was the first of Venice's Islands to be populated, making it home to some of the areas oldest buildings and finest cathedrals.
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Cannaregio
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Cannaregio is the northernmost of the six districts of central Venice. It is also the largest and most populated of all the districts. This district is home to the Venetian Ghetto, the world's oldest Jewish Ghetto, established in 1516. Since the people in this area were forbidden to expand outwards, they were forced to expand upwards. As a result, you'll find uncharacteristically tall buildings in this part of Venice. Remains of old buildings and memorials stand as a remembrance of the struggle the Jewish people in Venice once had to endure.

Cannaregio Canal, where water buses called vaporetto run, cuts through the district, and the Santa Lucia train station is also located here. You'll also find many historic churches in Cannaregio. On the busy main street, Strada Nuova, you'll find plenty of souvenir shops and tourists. But it doesn't take long to find a quiet piazza in this neighborhood.

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More Things to Do in Veneto

Accademia Bridge (Ponte dell'Accademia)

Accademia Bridge (Ponte dell'Accademia)

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The Ponte dell’Accademia spans the southern end of Venice’s beautiful Grand Canal between the Galleria dell’Accademia in Dorsoduro and Campo San Vidal in San Marco. As one of only four bridges crossing the canal, it has had several incarnations since the original steel structure was constructed in 1854. This was replaced by a wooden bridge designed by Eugenio Miozzi in 1933, which in its turn was deemed unsafe and removed. Today’s version is identical in construction to Miozzi’s, crafted out of wood in a single arched span but with additional steel supports, and it was erected in 1984.

The bridge is the perfect spot to catch views of the church of Santa Maria Salute and a good vantage point from which to observe the festivities at Venice’s annual Lenten carnival. Latterly the craze for lovers placing locks on bridges in European cities has taken hold here; the Venetian authorities fear for the structure of the bridge and are trying to clamp down on the phenomenon.

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Marco Polo's Home (Casa di Marco Polo)

Marco Polo's Home (Casa di Marco Polo)

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The Venetian building that was once the supposed home of famous explorer Marco Polo and his family is now easily missable to passers-by. The nearby square is known as the Corte Seconda del Milion, pointing to the title of Marco Polo's travel memoirs—Il Milione.

Located near the San Giovanni Crisostomo Church and just behind the Teatro Malibran, the building is not open to the public, but there is a small marble plaque on the wall commemorating the site's significance.

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Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

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Built in 1602, the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) connected the interrogation rooms in the Doges Palace with the prison cells. It got its name from the fact that prisoners passing across it sighed for their lost freedom and their final view of Venice through the barred windows. The prison cells were small, dank and often a final stop before death. You can see them on a tour of the Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace).

Designed by Antoni Contino whose uncle designed the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs is covered-in, with bars on the windows, made of white limestone. From the outside it is lovely, from the inside not so pretty.

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Dorsoduro

Dorsoduro

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Venice is one of Italy’s most iconic destinations—and as a result, it’s also one of the country’s most crowded. But travelers in the know say Dorsoduro, one of the city’s six sestieri, is home to incredible museum, delicious rustic food, impressive architecture and plenty of old-world churches with just a fraction of the crowds.

Visitors can wander along the canal, then check out the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which houses dozens of masterpieces by some of Venice’s most-prized painters, or the Peggy Guggenhein Colletion, which is home to an equally impressive array of modern artworks.

Dorsoduro’s San Sebastiano, one of the sistieri’s most famous churches, offers visitors incredible access to ornate fresco ceilings and gilded altars without the crowds. And travelers looking for tasteful souvenirs at a fraction of the cost can find them at Calle Sant’Agnese.

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Campo Santa Maria Formosa

Campo Santa Maria Formosa

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In the Castello neighborhood of Venice is Campo Santa Maria Formosa, a lively piazza named after the 15-century church that sits in the area. The structure has two facades, each representing two different architectural styles, with its more ornate Baroque façade opening up onto the square.

The large square also includes the 13th-century Palazzo Vitturi and the 17th-century Palazzo Ruzzini, both of which are now hotels that have largely kept many of their original elements. Visitors are likely to see locals shopping in the area, as well as children playing in the square.

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Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Collezione Peggy Guggenheim)

Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Collezione Peggy Guggenheim)

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Peggy Guggenheim was an important art collector who left the USA to live in Venice for the last thirty years of her life. When she died in 1979 her collection of early 20th century European and American art founded the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Inaugurated in 1980, the collection is still housed in her Grand Canal home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. She was the last person in Venice to keep a private gondola and gondolier.

The collection includes artists such as Picasso, Magritte, Kandinsky, Pollock and of course Max Ernst, the surrealist artist and her husband. There is also a sculpture garden and changing exhibitions. After all the centuries old art and architecture of Venice, the Guggenheim collection can be a nice breath of modernity.

Photo courtesy of the Guggenheim Venice.

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Piazza delle Erbe

Piazza delle Erbe

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Piazza delle Erbe is the central square in Verona. The name translates to Square of Herbs and is the site of the local market. It has been the center of political and economic life in Verona for centuries. It was also once the site of a Roman forum. Tower Lamberti, the tallest tower in Verona, is located on the piazza. It stands at 272 feet high and has an octagon shaped structure at the top which holds the Rengo and Marangona bells dating back to 1464. Palazzo Commune, Verona's town hall building, is also located here. It was built in the Middle Ages, but renovations in the 19th century added a neoclassical facade.

Also located in Piazza delle Erbe is Torre Gardello, which was built in 1370 but not finished until 1626. Palazzo Mafei is a Baroque building on top of which are sculptures of the gods Jupiter, Venus, Apollo, Hercules, and Minerva. The most popular attraction in the square is the 14th century Madonna Verona Fountain, also known as the Virgin of Verona..

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Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta)

Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta)

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The power of storytelling should never be underestimated. Every year hundreds of thousands of us trek to Verona to see the balcony where Juliet stood while Romeo declared his love. None of us care that it's very possible that Romeo and Juliet were only figments of Shakespeare's imagination. This is the most powerful love story in western culture and we all want to live a little part of its dream – though not its tragic ending.

The house in Verona known as Juliet's house was owned by the family dell Capello, a name not too far from Capulet, right? The house dates from the 13th century and the family coat of arms can still be seen on the wall. A slight problem is the balcony itself, which overlooks the courtyard – it was added in the 20th century. But that's of no matter to the hundreds of girls who every year step out onto it and gaze below seeking their Romeo among the milling tourists.

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Verona Arena

Verona Arena

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There's nothing quite like sitting where you know others have sat and watched performances for two thousand years. The lovely pink marble Roman amphitheatre built in 1AD still proudly dominates the piazza in the middle of Verona, and people still travel from miles around to witness a spectacle; these days it's opera rather than sports, games and gladiatorial battles. The third largest amphitheatre in Italy, Arena di Verona could once seat 30,000, these days its capacity is 15,000.

With the decline of the Roman Empire, the outer walls were ripped down and used for building materials. In the twelfth century, an earthquake damaged the place and it wasn't really until the nineteenth century that there was an interest in using it once more to stage performances. The current incarnation as a major outdoor opera venue began in 1913 with a celebratory mounting of Verdi's Aida to mark 100 years since his birth.

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Venice Jewish Ghetto (Ghetto di Venezia)

Venice Jewish Ghetto (Ghetto di Venezia)

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A designated Jewish Quarter from the 16th to the 18th century, Venice’s Campo del Ghetto gave us the word ‘ghetto.’ ‘Gheto’ in Venetian translates to ‘foundry,’ referring to an island of Venice that Jewish citizens were once confined to. The Venetian Republic decreed that Jews could enter Venice during the day, but on Christian holidays and during the evenings had to stay within the ghetto.

Interestingly, the area is divided into the Ghetto Nuovo (New Ghetto), and the adjacent Ghetto Vecchio (Old Ghetto), though the Ghetto Nuovo is actually the older of the two. Jews from all over Europe lived in the neighborhood — in fact, each of the different synagogues was historically designated by origin (German, Italian, Spanish, etc.) Today the Campo del Ghetto is still the center of Venetian Jewish life. There is a Jewish museum, cemetery, two Kosher restaurants and five synagogues which remain mostly in their original form.

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Madonna dell’Orto Church (Chiesa della Madonna dell'Orto)

Madonna dell’Orto Church (Chiesa della Madonna dell'Orto)

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The Church of the Madonna dell’Orto is a small church in Venice, built in the 14th century by a religious order that no longer exists. Roughly 100 years after it was built, it was taken over by a different congregation. After another 200 years, the church was again taken over by another religious order, and in 1787 the church fell under public administration.

The Madonna dell’Orto church was reopened in 1868 and has undergone several restorations in the 20th century. While the church is officially dedicated to Saint Christopher, it’s most commonly known by its nickname, “Madonna dell’Orto” - “Madonna of the Orchard.” The name comes from a statue of the Virgin Mary that was commissioned for a different church in the 15th century, rejected by that church, and left in a nearby orchard. The supposedly miraculous statue was brought to the church that would later bear its name, and the statue is still on display in the St. Mauro Chapel.

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Venice Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Venice Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

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Venice is home to many important churches, including the huge Basilica of Saints Giovanni and Paolo (John and Paul). Known as “San Zanipolo” in Venetian, this Basilica was the setting for every Venetian doge’s funeral from the 15th century on, and is the burial site for 25 of those doges. Santi Giovanni e Paolo was built in the 14th century on land donated by a 13th century doge. The church is enormous - one of Italy’s biggest - and contains artwork by notable Italian artists as well as several tombs. Because the church also holds a piece of a saint - in this case, one of the feet of St. Catherine of Siena - it rises to the level of “Basilica.” Artists whose work appears in Santi Giovanni e Paolo include Bellini, Veronese, and two generations of Lombardo sculptors. Not only does a painting by Bellini hang in the church, Bellini himself is also buried inside. Other tombs in the church include 25 Venetian doges and the 3rd Baron of Windsor, who died in Venice in 1574.
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