Things to do in Venice: The Best Tourist Sights

There are many things to do in Venice, but rather than tick off a list of well-worn sights, Venice is a place to experience. But there are a few highlights that a trip to the sinking city wouldn’t be complete without. Here are my favourite things to do in Venice.

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Fiona Lisa gondola Atlas Introspective

Rialto Bridge & Markets

The Rialto Bridge is iconic and is to Venice, what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal, & was originally built in 1181.

My favourite place to visit is just to the side of the famous bridge, the Rialto Markets. One of Italy’s greatest joys is food, so what better way to start your trip than to get right to the source. Witness the celebration of fresh produce where the culinary journey begins. Italians are high critics of food, so rub shoulders with vendors, sea mongers, chefs and get an education in quality ingredients.

On my last visit to Venice I booked an apartment at the Ca’ della Scimmia located beside the Rialto Bridge. I highly recommend it for the modern ammenities and central location. It even had a lift (almost unheard of in Venice) and would suit travellers with small children or those with mobility issues.

Things to do in Venice

Gondola ride

It’s a cliché’, I know. Perhaps even a little tacky. But ignore the gimmick and focus on the experience. Taking a gondola ride allows you to see the canals from water level and offers a totally different viewpoint of this unique city. The slower pace allows better opportunities to appreciate the architecture and ironically it’s a quiet respite from other tourists.

Things to do in Venice: The Outer Islands of the Venetian Lagoon

When considering things to do in Venice, most tourists only consider the main island, and although most of the must-see attractions are on the main island, it’s a mistake to ignore the outer islands.

The biggest threat to Venice is not rising tides, but tourism. Over the years demand for hotels has grown at such a rate that natives can no longer afford property and are leaving Venice in droves. Consequently Venice increasingly exists as a tourist monument, rather than an independently functioning city and incrementally distancing visitors from the culture they have come to admire.

While the Grand Canal does hold a lot of charm, during the height of summer it can be hard to appreciate it amid fellow tourists. But there’s so many more things to do in Venice beyond the main island. The Venetian Lagoon includes over one hundred islands and most visitors rarely stray far from San Marco’s. So if you’re looking for things to do in Venice, that are closer to an authentic experience, not to mention have a decent meal, catch a vaporetto and explore the outer islands.

Murano Island

A joint visit to both Murano and Burano Island makes a great day trip. From Fondamenta Nove catch the L12  vaporetto.

All Venetian glass is traditionally made on Murano Island and then sold throughout Venice. Visitors to Murano Island can watch glassware being made and buy direct from artisans. Look for the Vetro Artistico Murano trademark pressed in to the glass, to ensure you are purchasing the real deal.

Burano island 2 Atlas Introspective

Burano Island

Needle point lace is Burano’s modern tourist drawcard, but originally it’s main industry was fishing. The buildings along the canal were painted bright colours as it is thought it would help fishermen to see their way through the fog when returning from sea. The residents continue this ritual and a structured colour system ensures the greatest contrast. Any resident wishing to change the coloured exterior of their property, requires permission from the local government. This gives Burano Island it’s own unique aesthetic, distinguishing it from other islands in the Venetian Lagoon.

Giudecca Island

Giudecca Island will always hold a special place in my heart because I stayed there on my first visit to Venice. After arriving without a hotel reservation during a holiday weekend, a kind-hearted receptionist suggested a womens-only Nunnery on Giudecca Island. The nuns ran a tight ship. After querying the curfew we were admonished, “Why you want to stay out after 9 o’clock! Only bad girls stay out after 9 o’clock!” They wore racing-car red Nike trainers beneath their habit and kept our reputations in tact.

These days, Giudecca’s emerging contemporary art scene has been compared to SoHo. But it’s just far enough away from San Marco to deter most tourists.

St Marks sunset Atlas Introspective

Piazza San Marco

No list of things to do in Venice would be complete without Piazza San Marco. The main public square and the only true piazza, San Marco’s is a site of religious and political significance. Napoleon called it, “The drawing room of Europe,” and it’s a great place for people-watching. Once you’ve marvelled at the architecture and indulged in an over-priced beverage, continue through to the lagoon. The open space is all the more stunning after the narrow venetian footpaths.

Things to do in Venice: Get lost

Wander. Marvel. Get lost. Undoubtedly the greatest joy of Venice is just being there and witnessing its sheer decadence. It takes awhile to get the hang of navigating the rabbit warren of footpaths. Embrace it. Discover hidden stores and breath-taking architecture; stumble upon children’s playgrounds and canals in the midst of repair to better understand how the city functions.

Venetian canal Atlas Introspective

Venice originally served as a refuge, built by those fleeing barbarians. It brings me joy to know that a place of such beauty could be born out of necessity.

There are many things to do in Venice, but it’s a city to experience and travellers often leave with more questions than answers. How did they build it? How has it survived so long? And how can we preserve its magic for future generations without it becoming a masquerade of its former self.

Looking for things to do in Venice with children? You may enjoy Venice with Kids. While you’re in Italy, why not visit Rome!