Venice – A Tour through the City of a Thousand Bridges
Located in a lagoon in northeastern Italy, the city of Venice is the capital of the Veneto region, from which it takes its name. Venice is an assemblage of small sandbanks formed by sediment washed up by the rivers. Over time, these islands were connected and developed into one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. 150 canals, 3,000 streets and alleys and more than 400 bridges lead through Venice today. The city is connected with the mainland via a three-kilometre-long bridge.
History Of Venice
Venice is one of the few cities in Italy not founded by the Romans. In the fifth century, the first people made their way from the mainland to a few of the islands. In the ninth and tenth century, they populated the islands of Venice individually and the economic advancement started via trading between the islands.
The peak of power and wealth was reached in the 13th to 15th centuries, especially thanks to the region’s advantageous geographical location by the sea. Unfortunately, the discovery of America and new trade routes to India weakened their position of power increasingly and the trade market was relocated.
Today, about 60,000 people live in Venice, but hardly any families, since living space on the island is very expensive. Every other person’s livelihood is dependent on tourism.
Sights in Venice
Venice is a very historical city; therefore, it has many famous sights to offer. Here’s our list of the most famous ones, as well as some hidden gems.
Piazza San Marco
The centre of the city and of tourism is St. Mark’s Square. With a length of 175 metres and a width of 80 metres, it is the largest square in Venice and the only one called Piazza. The Piazette San Marco is the smaller version of the square. There, you will find the two columns with the patron saints of the city: the lion of St. Mark and the statue of San Todaro. If you visit Venice in February, you will get to experience the beginning and the end of the Venice Carnival on the Piazza.
Located on St. Mark’s Square, the clock tower Torre dell’Orologio impresses with its beautiful facade. It is adorned with an astronomical clock that displays the phases of moon and sun, as well as the zodiac signs. Every hour, two bronze figures strike the bell. Since the square is usually bustling with tourists, it is not allowed to sit down here. If you want to take a break, find a seat in one of the cafés on the square – two of which are directly on the ground floor of the clock tower.
The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs, Ponte di Sospiri, is famous all over the world. It got its name from the fact that the condemned were led across this bridge to prison in former times. Here, they could take a look at freedom one last time. If you visit Doge’s Palace, you will get to walk across this bridge yourself.
Doge’s Palace is the former seat of government of Venice’s head of state, the doge. In the ninth century, a first building was erected, which was rebuilt in the beginning of the 12th century, though. Until the 15th century, it was constantly extended. Due to the long construction period, you will discover various architectural styles in this Gothic palace.
Today, Doge’s Palace is a museum. On a tour through the building, you will discover the private rooms of the doges, official premises, the loggia and even the prison cells. The rooms are well-preserved and bursting with pomp and gold.
If you want to see more of the majestic palace, you have the option to book a tour through the secret passages and side chambers.
Ponte di Rialto is Venice’s most famous bridge and an often-photographed sight. The 48-metre-long bridge crosses Canal Grande. Nearby, you will find visit the popular fish market, Mercato di Rialto.
Canal Grande – the motif of Venice
Nothing is more romantic than a gondola ride on Canal Grande! For many, this is the image we have in our minds of Venice. It is one of the most popular tourist activities, and yet, you wouldn’t want to miss it. On your tour, you will catch a glimpse of some of the sights from an entirely new perspective. Particularly beautiful are the facades of the hotels and palaces along the canal. There are about 200 aristocratic palaces lined up here.
Teatro la Fenice
If you can’t get enough of the beautiful architecture, you will be impressed by the Teatro la Fenice, Venice’s biggest opera house. It was opened in 1792; though it suffered through multiple fires, it was rebuilt each time. You can either visit the opera house on your own or by joining a guided tour.
Viewpoints of Venice
Since Venice’s alleys are often very narrow, you will get a better view of the city from above. A particularly beautiful viewpoint is on the roof of Palazzo Contarini de Bovolo. This Gothic palace is in the San Marco district. Here, a spiral staircase will take you up high. At the top, you will have an incredible view over Venice. However, the ascent is not free of charge.
If the thought of a narrow spiral staircase isn’t very tempting for you, you can admire the facade of this building from the ground. Thanks to the exterior staircase, the building was nicknamed “The Snail Shell”.
Another option is the roof terrace of the luxury department store Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which can be accessed on the fourth floor. Entry is free of charge here.
You will get another fantastic view from the bell tower of Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of the same name. It is located across from San Marco. On top of the 75-metre-high tower, you will see Venice’s old town as well as the surrounding islands.
Hidden Gems of Venice
The high amount of tourism can be a deterrent at first, but don’t worry. It’s possible to find some places that aren’t as crowded.
The district of Dorsoduro in the south of Venice is a university district with quieter alleys and cheaper bars and restaurants. In the evening, the nightlife starts here, attracting many of the local students.
In this district, you also get to check out the Squero di San Trovasa gondola workshop. Since the workshop is still in operation, it sadly isn’t open to visitors. Nevertheless, you can catch a glimpse of it from the outside. Located right across the canal Rio San Trovaso, you will find the bar Osteria Al Squero. There, you can enjoy Italian snacks like aperitifs and ciccetti.
The district of San Paolo, features the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. In the past, scuolas were homes to various brotherhoods that were dedicated to religion, art, or social charity. In the 13th century, a particularly large number of these scuolas were founded. The best preserved among them is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. It is a special highlight for every visitor because many paintings by the artist Jacopo Tintoretto can be found here. He decorated the scuola with over 60 murals! These paintings were created between 1564 and 1588 and depict episodes from the Old and New Testament.
Only a few minutes’ walk away, you can admire Chiesa di San Pantalon. From the outside, the church looks rather inconspicuous, but inside you will find a huge ceiling painting by the artist Gian Antonio Fumani.
Also worth seeing is Chiesa di San Zaccaria in the Castello district, east of San Marco. This church is famous for the painting “Sacra Conversazione” by Bellini. It dates from the 16th century, which makes it almost as old as the “Mona Lisa”.
Another highlight can be found beneath the church – the crypt. It is the tomb of the famous artist Alessandro Vittoria. Due to its location, the crypt is often flooded, but typically, it’s open to visitors.
The district of Cannaregio is off the beaten tourist mile Strada Nova and also less crowded. Nevertheless, it’s not too far from the famous sights, and you will get to San Marco in no time.
Here, too, you will find many bridges, churches, and small alleys. The Jewish quarter is also worth a visit. We also recommend a visit to the Jewish Museum, the synagogue and a number of historic monuments.
A little tip: Gondola rides are usually cheaper here than in other parts of the city!
Travel, Transport and Accommodations
We recommend travelling to Venice by train. Although it is possible to go by car, parking is very expensive here. Most sights are not far from each other, and for longer distances, you can use public transport, such as the vaporetti or water taxis. For these, you can buy day or multi-day tickets locally or online. It also might be worth it to invest in one of these tickets, because there are no bicycles allowed in this city.
For your accommodations, we recommend looking for a place outside of Venice. Especially the San Marco district is very expensive and often fully booked. The surrounding districts like Cannaregio, Castello or Dorsoduros often offer cheaper hotels and vacation rentals.
The Best Time to Visit
Venice is a city that can be visited all year round! However, in summer, it’s very hot, and in winter, tourism increases over the holidays.
Spring and autumn are perfect for a visit, since it won’t be too hot, and you can expect fewer tourists. However, in autumn, the city is more likely to be affected by Acqua Alta floods. Therefore, remember to leave space in your rucksack for some rubber boots!
To avoid crowds of tourists, travelling during holidays and on long weekends isn’t a good idea; plan your trip during the week instead. For a more detailed look at when to travel to Italy, check out our climate guide.
A particularly nice experience is to end your day in Cannaregio at the canal. In the evening, some of the bars and restaurants set up their tables by the water. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the sunset and the romantic atmosphere with a glass of wine.
Also, getting up early is definitely worth it. Venice at sunrise is a beautiful chance to explore the city in peace and without many tourists around.
If you also want to avoid long queues, buy tickets for sights in advance online. It’s worth it to plan your trip well.
Venice is a must-see when visiting Italy. It is an amazing city filled with history and art, where you will discover interesting details at every corner. Let yourself be carried away by the small alleys to new places!
You can visit the famous sights, but it’s also possible to venture out on your own into the surrounding districts and islands to find hidden gems. The crowds of tourists can be off-putting for many travellers at first, but with our tips and tricks, you will be able to avoid them and get to experience the real Venice.
Take a look at what else Italy has to offer, and combine multiple cities in your trip.
What are you waiting for? Enjoy!