A city of boundless beauty and vast historical importance, Venice is a unique destination. It is made up of 117 islands that are separated by canals and connected by bridges. So you might wonder, what are the best things to do in Venice, Italy?
Far beyond the physical allure and romantic atmosphere of its islands and canals, Venice presents amazing choices for travelers. The city is home to many churches, piazzas and museums that preserve the splendor of the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance during which Venice was a world power and the center of magnificent cultural and artistic development.
As one of the most popular tourist sites in Italy, Venice is also the starting and ending point for most European cruises with Carnival. A cruise, after all, is the best way to see Europe. Instead of driving long distances between countries or stressing out over an ongoing series of flights, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the cruise ship on your way between ports of call.
Before or after you take a cruise from Venice, find time to spend a few days (or a even week!) in the north of Italy, exploring the many intriguing places Venice has to offer.
Here’s our list of 10 must-do adventures while visiting Venice.
1. Get Serenaded by a Gondolier
Venice is where the asymmetrically-shaped gondola originated and you can still spot this ancient type of rowboat on canals all over the city. This unusual and ornately decorated watercraft allows the gondolier to stand on the rear (or stern) of the boat and easily navigate the narrow Venetian waterways with a single oar.
A serenade by the gondolier is also an essential part of the gondola ride. Listen to a live performance of lovely, traditional Italian songs as you glide past the beautiful Baroque buildings and bridges of Venice.
2. Take a Vaporetto Down the Grand Canal
To hop around easily between islands in Venice, you’ll need to travel on a much larger boat, known as the Vaporetto. Riding this Venetian public water taxi down the Canale Grande, or Grand Canal is a European cruise must-do.
The Grand Canal is the largest waterway in Venice and will remind you of a river. More than 170 buildings line its banks, with some dating back to the 12th century. Only four bridges span this Grand Canal as people in Venice typically travel down the river, rather than walking across it.
3. Shop for Souvenirs on a Bridge
One of the four bridges that traverse the Grand Canal, Ponte Rialto, is world-famous. Connecting the San Polo and San Marco areas of the city, Ponte Rialto is a major pedestrian thoroughfare and also a big draw for tourists.
Once made of wood, this bridge collapsed in 1524 and was then replaced by the elaborately decorated stone structure which stands there today. Stroll across Ponte Rialto and shop in the stores along the bridge for souvenirs and keepsakes to take home with you.
4. View Ceiling Frescos
Step back in time to 1092 A.D., the creation date for St. Mark’s Basilica. If you can only visit one church during your Italian cruise, it should be this one. A short walk from the Grand Canal, this prime example of Italian Byzantine architecture is a place of incredible beauty, from the intricate artwork and sculptures on the front façade to the gorgeously painted frescoes on the ceiling inside the church dome.
If you have time while you’re there, step on over to see the other major landmarks along St. Mark’s Square, including Torre dell’ Orologio, St. Mark’s Campanile and the Doge’s Palace. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the ruler of the former Venetian Republic, for more than 1,000 years.
5. Find Out the Phase of the Moon
Easily viewable from the square, and even from the Grand Canal, is the Torre dell’ Orologio. This tower is an ornate, 500-year-old clock tower which displays not just the time, but the current phase of the moon and the dominant sign in the zodiac.
One level above the enormous clock face is a statue of the Virgin Mary. On the third level, you’ll see a relief of the winged lion of St. Mark, patron saint and symbol of Venice. At the very top are two bronze figures, representing giants, which strike the bell each hour.
6. Catch a Panoramic View
San Marco Campanile is an even older and taller architectural structure than the clock tower. Standing almost 325 feet in height, the Campanile was first built in the 12th century as a lighthouse on the site of an earlier 9th-century building, most likely a watchtower. The campanile was redesigned in the 16th century to add a balcony decorated with marble and bronze, a belfry and a new spire topped with a statue of the Archangel Gabrielle, which acted as a weathercock.
You can also admire the campanile from the square, and you can take an elevator to the bell tower to catch one of the best available panoramic views of Venice.
7. See the City Center From a Different Island
Hop aboard another Vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore, lovingly restored in 1951, after 150 years of military use that started with its occupation by Napoleon during the early 19th century. On the island today, you can rise to the top of another campanile, mirroring the one in St. Mark’s Square. You’ll get to see additional amazing panoramic views, this time looking across the water to the center of Venice.
Take a leisurely stroll around the small harbor there and gaze at the boats. Visit the fantastic Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, with its beautifully carved wooden sanctuary, and view the former Benedictine monastery, now the site of a prestigious international cultural institute.
8. Get Dazzled by Murano Glass
Visiting the island of Murano is another fun activity during your stay in Venice. World-famous Murano glass got its name for a good reason. Murano has been the internationally-renowned center for hand-blown glass and glassmaking for over 1,000 years.
While you’re on this Venetian island, visit the Basilica of Santi Maria e Donato to discover a 12th-century floor mosaic with images of birds and other creatures, all crafted from shards of Murano glass. Go to Murano glass museums to see other wonderful examples of this craft. Take a tour of a glass factory, and view live demonstrations of how this wonderous glass is produced. Then shop for Murano glass to your heart’s delight.
9. De-Frazzle at Torcello
The main tourist attractions of Venice can become crowded. If you prefer a quieter, slower pace, the island of Torcello is a place where you can easily unwind, while still being surrounded by the beauty of the canals and historic sites of Venice.
In the main square of the village is Attila’s Throne, an ancient chair made of stone. According to local tradition, this chair was used by Attila, King of the Huns after the Huns’ invasion of Torcello.
At the end of the main street, you’ll find the fantastic Santa Maria Assunta, a very old Jesuit church containing a preserved 9th-century portico with arches. This peaceful island is located to the far east of Venice and is about a 45-minute ferry ride from the city.
10. Chill Out at the Lido Beach
That’s right. Venice offers its own beach, too. The island of Lido acts as a barrier between the rest of Venice and the Adriatic Sea and features a long stretch of gorgeous beach.
You can also shop in Lido, enjoy the local restaurants and book a hotel for overnight stays before or after your European cruise.
When you’re in Venice, the city is your oyster. Will you explore the historical museums? Indulge in the delicious cuisine? Take a gondola ride down one of the many canals? When taking a cruise from Venice with Carnival, you’ll be able to explore all that Venice has to offer.
Whether you decide to wander the city with your group or travel solo, you’re bound to have an incredible trip. Be sure to tag your photos with #Choosefun and share your memories with us!