Venice Travel Guide
Venice is one of the most evocative and unforgettable cities in the world.
Famous for its canals, bridges, gondolas, and hidden alleys, the city was the seat of the Venetian Republic for 1,000 years.
Venice’s role as the capital of a maritime republic and as one of the most significant ports in the Mediterranean meant that its culture and style developed in part thanks to influences from abroad. The city’s east-facing focus is reflected in some of its architecture, most notably in the five Byzantine-style cupolas that top its most famous building — St. Mark’s Basilica.
Known as Venezia in Italian, Venice is one of the most visited cities in Italy for both first-time and experienced travelers. Its fame has led to it earning many nicknames over the years. They include the “City of Water,” “City of Canals,” “City of Bridges,” “Queen of the Adriatic,” and “La Serenissima,” to name a few.
“La Serenissima” means “the most serene” and is derived from an honorary name given to the name of the Republic.
The historic center of Venice and the islands in its lagoon are all classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Venice and its lagoon are made up of 117 islands. The oldest part of Venice is divided into six districts, known as sestiere. They are: Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, San Polo, San Marco, Santa Croce, Castello.
Top Things to See and Do in Venice
- St. Mark’s Square. Piazza San Marco. The largest and most important square in Venice.
- St. Mark’s Basilica. Basilica San Marco. Located on St. Mark’s Square, known for its distinctive, multi-domed architecture and golden mosaic interior.
- Doge’s Palace. Palazzo Ducale. Former palace and residence of the Doge of Venice.
- Bridge of Sighs. Ponte dei Sospiri. The infamous covered bridge that connects the Doge’s Palace to the prisons.
- Grand Canal. Venice’s “main street” canal.
- Rialto Bridge. This 16th-century arch bridge spanning the Grand Canal is one of the most famous bridges in the world.
- Rialto Market. Food and fish market on the eastern bank of the Rialto Bridge.
- Accademia. Fine art gallery with works from many notable Venetian artists including Canaletto, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. Leonardo da Vinci‘s sketch of the Vitruvian Man is here.
- Peggy Guggenheim Museum. One of the most important contemporary art museums in Italy, with works by Picasso, Pollock, Mondrian, and more.
- Santa Maria della Salute. Domed church off the Grand Canal
- Frari. The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is a grand church notable for its red and white patterned floor. Titian is buried here.
- Ca’Rezzonico. Palace museum dedicated to 18th-century Venetian painting.
- Venice Arsenal. Famous for its monumental lion statues.
- San Giorgio. Island directly across from Piazza San Marco. Its bell tower has great views over the heart of the city.
- Giudecca. Now a chic, residential neighborhood island, the Giudecca is most famous for its “plague church” Il Redentore.
- Ghetto. The Jewish quarter in Venice has the unfortunate distinction of being the world’s first “ghetto,” a small area where Jews were subjected to forced segregation. The area remains the center of Jewish life in Venice and has several synagogues and a Jewish Museum.
- Murano. Traditional island of Venetian glassmakers.
- Burano. Small island known for its pastel-hued homes and shops.
- Isola San Michele. This peaceful cemetery island is the final resting place of Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound, among others.
- Torcello. Pastoral island where Ernest Hemingway once lived.
- Lido di Venezia. Venice’s beach.
Top Tours and Experiences in Venice
A veritable warren of streets and canals, Venice can be a difficult city to navigate on your own. Consider one of these top tours to get the most out of your Venice visit.
- Venice In A Day With St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, & Gondola Ride. Quintessential Venice. Explore the city’s two main sites — Basilica San Marco and the Doge’s Palace — and cruise through the canals on a gondola.
- Venice by Boat: Grand Canal Tour. An enchanting way to travel through the Grand Canal and smaller canals while learning about Venice’s main sites and architecture with an expert local guide.
- Private Group Gondola Ride. See Venice from a traditional gondola. This tour is ideal for families or groups of up to six people.
- Venetian Rowing Class. Learn the stand-up rowing secrets of Venetian gondoliers with this active, two-hour rowing class through the quieter canals of Venice.
- Private Cannaregio and Jewish Quarter Tour. Get acquainted with a less touristy part of Venice and learn about its storied Jewish neighborhood.
- Boat Trip: Glimpse of Murano, Torcello & Burano Islands. Slow down with a visit to Venice’s islands. This tour takes you to a glass-making factory in Murano and gives you free time to explore all three islands on your own.
- Rialto Market Food and Wine Lunchtime Tour of Venice. An excellent tour for food lovers.
- Venice Aperitivo Tour. Home to the Spritz and Bellini, Venice is renowned for its cocktail hour. Get a taste of these and more with this early evening tour.
- Fresh Pasta Making in Private Venetian Apartment. Momentarily feel like a local as you learn how to make fresh pasta with a Venetian cook.
- Cicchetti Dishes and Wine Bar with a Local. Venice is famous for these small-plate appetizers. Enjoy traditional cicchetti and local wine and prosecco while winding down after a day of touring.
- Create Your Own Carnival Mask Workshop. Why buy an off-the-rack mask when you can make your own? Learn about the traditional art of Venetian mask making and create your own Carnival-worthy souvenir.
Festivals and Holidays in Venice
Venice is best known for Carnival (Carnevale), which happens in February or March and the Biennale, an arts event that happens every two years (on odd years). The Venice Biennale has spawned multiple iterations, including the film biennale, also known as the Venice Film Festival.
Here is a shortened calendar of Venice’s biggest festivals and holidays:
- January 6 – Regatta della Befana
- February/March – Carnevale
- March 25 – Venice’s Birthday. City myth says it was founded on this day in 421.
- April 25 – Festa di San Marco. Feast Day of Venice’s patron saint.
- Late May – Palio of the Ancient Maritime Republics (every four years)
- Third Sunday of July – Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer)
- Early September – Venice Film Festival
- November 21 – Festa della Madonna della Salute
See the Italy calendar for details on public holidays and other important dates in Italy.
Best Time to Go to Venice: Weather and Seasons
The best time to go to Venice weather-wise is in the spring and the early fall when temperatures are mild.
Venice can be a city of climate extremes, with hot summers and very cold winters. July and August are the hottest months. January and February are the coldest months. June is usually the rainiest month in Venice.
Winter in Venice can feel especially cold because of the damp lagoon air and cold scirocco winds.
The acqua alta (high water) season is also in late fall and early winter. Lower parts of Venice, including Piazza San Marco, can flood during November and December.
In 2020, Venice began experimenting with the MOSE flood barrier system, which is engineered to keep Venice from flooding.
The Venice Tourism office is the best place to learn more about the acqua alta phenomenon.
Books About Venice
A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich
Considered the definitive guide to Venetian history, this 704-page volume by British historian John Julius Norwich covers the origins of Venice up to its decline in the 18th century. A great book to prepare for your trip…or to fill in the blanks afterwards.
Venice: Pure City by Peter Ackroyd
Renowned biographer of London Peter Ackroyd turns his attention to the history and mystery of Venice. Filled with anecdotes from history and literature, this is a quick read about Venice’s culture, characters, beginnings, and ends.
Venice: A New History by Thomas F. Madden
Professor and historian Thomas F. Madden covers Venice’s 1,600 years with his “New History.” More concise than Norwich’s guide, this book goes beyond Venice’s fall to explain its ensuing years, from Napoleon to the present day.
The Architectural History of Venice by Deborah Howard
Full of beautiful color photos and illustrations, this engaging guide by Cambridge Professor of Architecture Deborah Howard takes you inside and around Venice’s gorgeous palaces and quay-side buildings. A great book to have with you while visiting the city.
Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization by Meredith F. Small
Anthropologist Meredith F. Small tells the story of how Venice came to invent more than 200 ideas, organizations, and objects, ranging from double-entry bookkeeping to the navy to casinos and opera houses. The word “ciao” was first used in Venice. Read more…