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Venice, the City of Canals and the capital of Italy’s Veneto region, covers more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriactic Sea. With its Grand Canal lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces and hidden piazzas, Venice is the most magical city that I’ve yet explored.
Looking to make the most of a visit to this beautiful place? Check out these fun experiences in Venice, Italy.
A Bit About Venice
This historically significant city is perhaps the most unique in the world. The 117 islands connect by way of 400 bridges built over 150 canals. During the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance powerful Venice served as a military and financial center. Its art made it a cultural center as well.
Today this floating city is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Currently, Italy is open to travelers who provide proof of COVID vaccinations or a recent negative test result. Check out the latest updates on travel to Venice HERE.
Venice does not have roads, relying instead on water transportation. It’s a very walkable city with water taxis and vaporettes (water buses) available for travel between islands and to and from the mainland.
During your visit, try a couple or all of these fun experiences in Venice, Italy.
Explore St Mark’s Square
Also called Piazza San Marco, this huge public square is the heart of Venice. It’s named for the city’s patron saint, Saint Mark the Evangelist, and it’s the perfect starting point for exploring Venice.
Many famous landmarks are found in the square including Doge’s Palace, St Mark’s Basilica, the Clock Tower, the Campanile and the Winged Lion high on its tall granite column.
Ornate buildings surround the square, with cafés on the north end offering the perfect spot to sip a drink and people watch. In the evenings the square is full of people enjoying live music and dancing.
Tour the Doge’s Palace and Bridge of Sighs
The Republic of Venice existed from the 8th century until the late 18th century. During that time The Doge, a magistrate elected for life, ruled over the republic. The magnificent Doge Palace, or Palazzo Ducale, housed The Doge.
Today the white stone palace is a popular museum and landmark. Tours lead visitors through ornately decorated rooms full of gorgeous furniture and artwork.
While touring the palace, take a moment to pass over the Bridge of Sighs. It’s the only way to walk through the bridge. Otherwise, view the exterior of the famous structure from one of the nearby bridges over the canal.
The Bridge of Sighs connects the inquisitors’ offices in the palace to the prison. The name arose because prisoners stopped on the bridge and sighed at their last glimpse of beautiful Venice before entering confinement. The damp, cold, challenging conditions of the small cells often resulted in the deaths of the prisoners.
Peering out through the stone lattice windows, those escaping sighs surely carried regret, fear and grief.
Visit St Mark’s Basilica
Also located in the square, St Mark’s Basilica is an impressive structure built in 1092 and embellished over the centuries. The gorgeous building features sculptures and artwork on the front facade and beautiful painted frescoes and Byzantine art on the inside of the domed ceiling.
Visit the small museum inside along with the outdoor terrace with views of the square below.
Ride in a Gondola
Gondolas are iconic symbols of Venice and her canals. Imagine gliding through the canals of the city, propelled by a gondolier who may or may not sing to you. It’s a charming way to appreciate Venice’s amazing architecture, from the water. And some gondolas even float beneath the spectacular Bridge of Sighs.
Think a gondola ride is only for romantic couples? It doesn’t have to be. If romance isn’t what you seek, consider a gondola a tour through the city.
Look for Venetian Lions
According to early traditions, each of the evangelists who authored a gospel in the Bible is represented by a winged creature. The winged lion represents Mark. Many of the Venetian lions scattered throughout the city, therefore, display wings and hold an open book beneath a paw. Sometimes the head is wreathed in a halo.
The winged lion that presides over the square and the city is a symbol of strength. The flag of Venice carries the image and a golden lion is given as the prize at the yearly Venice International Film Festival.
Lions adorn buildings, arches and towers all over Venice. The more you look for them, the more you find. Make it a game, to see how many lions of Venice you can find. Read Lions of Venice, for additional clues about locations.
Go On a Ghost Tour
One of my favorite ways to learn more about a city is through ghost tours and spooky stories. Typically, a great deal of history accompanies those macabre tales. Wander through darkened alleyways and past centuries old buildings, learning about bizarre and tragic ends to Venetian citizens and local hauntings.
Check out tours HERE and read my Ghost Stories from Venice, for an introduction to Venice’s dark side.
Watch a Glass Making Demo
One of Venice’s oldest specialties is glassware. Most of the city’s glasshouses moved across the lagoon to the island of Murano in 1291, where they remain. Take a water taxi or vaporetta to that island to watch a glass making demonstration or there are still studios in Venice where you can watch a master craftsman at work.
Take a Day Trip to Burano
Burano is an island in the Venice Lagoon, about 45 minutes away by boat. Often called one of the most colorful towns in the world, Burano is well worth exploring as a day trip…or even half a day…from Venice.
The island is known for its charming canals lined with colorful houses and shops. Legend says that the houses were originally painted in bright colors so that fishermen could find their way home on foggy nights. The fishermen could also easily tell which house was theirs, as each house features a different color.
Plus, Burano is famous for lace making. From lace tablecloths to collars to umbrellas to shawls and scarves, there is a vast variety of Burano lace available for purchase. Visit any of the shops in the square or along the narrow streets to find a lace souvenir to take home or to watch a traditional lace making demonstration.
Check out more things to do in Burano HERE.
Take a Selfie Over the Grand Canal
The Grand Canal runs in a reversed S shape through the city. Remarkable buildings and palaces line the canal and boats of all kinds continually move up and down the wide waterway.
Four large bridges span the Grand Canal, including the famous Ponte de Rialto Bridge. What began as a pontoon bridge in the 12th century underwent multiple transformations to become the beautiful structure it is today.
Take a selfie while standing on the Rialto or any of the other three bridges spanning the Grand Canal. Even better, catch a sunset from there as well.
Get a Little Lost Wandering in Venice
My favorite activity in any city that I visit is to get a little lost as I wander and explore. This is especially easy to do in Venice!
The city contains six historic districts. There are many narrow alleys, hidden piazzas and bridges over canals to explore. Pick a direction and start walking. Don’t worry. With its winding passageways, canals and bridges, you will get lost. However, it’s a small city…built on islands. You can’t get too lost.
Take time to pop into the tiny shops lining the streets. Snap photos of the small squares you happen upon, with their central basilicas. Sit at a table in an outdoor café and enjoy a drink or meal. Savor a cold and creamy gelato. Cross over any bridge you discover.
My daughter, grandson and I crossed over the Grand Canal and wandered for quite some time in the neighborhoods on the other side. We occasionally walked back to the canal to get our bearings. At last, we used our phones to guide us back to our accommodations near St Mark’s Square. It was a delightful time of getting acquainted with Venice.
Have you visited this marvelous city? What is your favorite fun experience to enjoy in Venice?
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