Venice is an open-air museum, so beautiful and picturesque that in the eyes of an art lover, every building, view, channel, and 'calle' conveys emotions equal to those of admiring a painting or a statue. The ultimate Venetian experience is to venture out without a map and to get lost in the maze of streets. Each walk is a unique artistic experience that brings with it a sense of excitement of discovery. We recommend that you combine your unguided and unplanned strolls through Venice with a 'must see' list to assure nothing is missed. To assist you we have assembled a three-day itinerary to help make certain that you see the most important museums and attractions. We include what a true art lover absolutely must see with time to wander. Follow our route and you will return home with unforgettable memories of Venice.
Start your first day in the beautiful heart of Venice, at the Piazza San Marco with its rich history and its many masterpieces. Directly overlooking the lagoon, it is one of the most spectacular and visited squares in the world.
Begin with the top attraction, ancient home of the Doges, the rulers of the Republic of Venice, the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) will surely leave you open-mouthed with its history, its beautiful surroundings, and its furniture and art that combine to make it the most beautiful ancient building in Italy. As a masterpiece of European gothic art, it has undergone many changes over the centuries due to fires, riots, and renovations. It features paintings by Bosch, Titian, and Tintoretto, and breathtaking rooms such as the Great Council's room, one of the largest rooms in Europe (a staggering 53 by 25 by 12 meters). Also included are the terrifying prisons of Venice where, among others, Casanova was imprisoned. It's the most visited museum in the city, so book your entrance in advance so you do not waste your precious time in line!
Make your visit to the Ducal Palace even more interesting with the Secret Itineraries of the Doge's Palace, which gives you access to the hidden rooms not included in normal tours. You'll experience not only the artistic beauty of the Palace but also the dozens of stories, intrigues, and conspiracies that help you enter into the culture and charm of Venice. A useful option to individual museum passes is the Museum Pass Card, your ticket to all the Civic Museums (valid for 6 months access to the Correr Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, Ca' Rezzonico, and many others).
As you leave the Palace, enter the Basilica of San Marco, which holds the relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist since 828. The church is the most visited site in Venice, but you can jump the line by booking your entrance in advance! We also recommend the Guided Tour of the Golden Basilica to better discover the richness of its interior, the golden mosaics, and relics brought by wealthy merchants over the centuries, making it one of the most important Christian churches.
Satisfy your passion for art with the audio guide and experience artworks and curiosities of the Basilica and the Bell Tower at your pace!
There are few panoramas of Venice as stunning as that from the top of the 99 meter (324.80 feet) high bell tower or Campanile (elevator with fee). Few people know that at the time of the Republic, prisoners were cruelly hung in the air in cages from the windows of the tower. Now you can see Venice from above – peacefully. Take a walk under the arcades of the square, admire antique shops and relax in one of the famous cafés – some with live classical music orchestras.
The last stop in the square is the Clock Tower (your entry ticket to the Tower will also open the doors to the Correr Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, and to the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana). Climb the beautiful wrought iron spiral staircase towards the complex workings of the clock proper. Get a close view of the mechanism and the gears linking it with the south and north clock faces, overlooking Saint Mark’s Square and the labyrinth of little streets of Venice's ancient center of trade, the Mercerie. Your guided visit to this masterpiece of technology and engineering takes you all the way up to the terrace that is home to one of Venice's curiosities – the two giant bronze statues known as the “Moors” because of the dark patina on the metal. The bodies are hinged at the waist to permit them to strike the bell. Aside from the original and curious bell mechanism, the view from the Moors' terrace is stunning.
After the visit to the beauties of Piazza San Marco, if you still have the afternoon available, we recommend the Discover Venice Walking Tour, which will guide you to some of the city's gems hidden to the public, such as the Scala Contarini del Bovolo. Otherwise, head into the heart of the city on Calle Frezzeria and pass in front of the Gran Teatro La Fenice, the world famous temple of classical music destroyed by a fire in 1996 but beautifully rebuilt (you can visit the complex), and the church of San Moise. Continue up to Campo Sant'Angelo and Campo Manin, where you can see the famous statue of the Venetian patriot, and go on to Calle dell'Oro, which takes you straight to the Rialto Bridge.
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and most famous of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal,and from it you can enjoy a wonderful view, and take some great pictures. Originally made of wood, it was rebuilt in stone in 1500 and has, since its earliest days, hosted jewelry and souvenir shops. Examine your purchases carefully as many shops don't offer true handcrafted objects! If you are looking for quality souvenirs, try the Artisans of Venice Shopping Tour, and you'll be sure to buy truly handmade and locally crafted masks and creative artifacts. Ready for more discoveries? You will find the Ca d'Oro about 500 meters (0.31 miles) from Rialto on the same side as San Marco. The Ca d'Oro is a beautiful noble residence of the 1400s that today houses the Galleria Franchetti, with its many art works by Mantegna, Titian, Giorgione, and others, as well as furniture and antique porcelains. The “House of Gold” is one of the most beautiful and best preserved Palazzi on the Grand Canal. Looking for a romantic and relaxing way to end your first day? How about a private Gondola Serenade, which will make your evening unforgettable...
Venice is much more than Saint Mark's Square and Rialto. Spend your second day across the Grand Canal, in the vibrant and fascinating sestiere (district) of Dorsoduro. You will find stunning sights of the city and artisan workshops. From Campo Santo Stefano (still on the San Marco side) you can find the Church of San Vidal and the splendid Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti that is now headquarters of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere e Arti and frequently houses cultural events. Cross the Accademia bridge, which offers a fabulous view of Venice over the Grand Canal, so prepare your camera! Crossing the bridge, you'll find yourself in front of the Accademia Galleries, Venice's former academy of fine arts and a museum that houses an outstanding collection of Venetian art, with masterpieces such as Giorgione's Tempest. You will also find works by Bellini, Tintoretto, and Titian (his spectacular Presentation of Mary in the Temple), as well as sculptures and drawings. Only a few know that the drawing of the Vitruvian Man, one of Leonardo da Vinci's most iconic drawings, is stored at the Accademia, though it is only occasionally on display. The Accademia is one of the most important museums in Italy, so reserve your tickets and avoid waiting in line!
After your visit to this one-of-a-kind museum covering the period of 1500 to 1700, you'll find art of the first half of the 20th century at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Located in Peggy's former home, the unusual Palazzo Venier dei Leoni overlooking the Grand Canal, it houses one of the foremost collections of European and American art in Italy. Opened in 1980, it contains Peggy's personal collection, the Gianni Mattioli Collection's masterpieces, the Nasher Sculpture Garden, and temporary exhibitions. Enjoy Dorsoduro’s numerous private art galleries nearby, the antiquarian bookshops, and shops where you can watch artisans at work on jewelry, embroidery, ceramic, or wood.
Continue along the narrow winding streets, take a coffee or cappuccino break every now and then – you'll find secret corners and beautiful churches, such as the Gesuati overlooking the Giudecca island, or San Nicolò dei Mendicoli. Pass in front of the "squero di San Trovaso" (just off of the Zattere waterfront promenade), where gondolas are still built and repaired thanks to wisdom gained from centuries of tradition. Take a (discrete) look – you'll get a good view from the other side of the little Rio San Trovaso canal. Continue following the course of the Grand Canal to the splendid Ca' Rezzonico, which you can visit with the Museum Pass. The great palace now houses a museum dedicated to 18th century Venice. It is one of the pearls of the city with the most impressive private salon in Venice.
Just on the other side of the Grand Canal, an interesting contemporary art museum awaits you in the Palazzo Grassi. It is one of the two museums of the François Pinault Foundation, and hosts changing exhibitions, the cutting edge of contemporary art. Today's route ends at the other François Pinault Foundation museum, the Punta della Dogana, back on the Dorsoduro side of the Grand Canal. The Punta della Dogana is the complex of former customs buildings right next to the grand church of Santa Maria della Salute. Dear to the Venetians even today, it was built as a vow to the Madonna for the liberation of the plague that decimated the population between 1630 and 1631. To end the day nearby, try one of the restaurants on Campo Santa Margherita, throbbing heart of Venice's student life, and a favorite for the real Venetian, too. You'd rather end your day “alla grande” (in an extravagant and celebratory way)? Then we suggest you dine by candlelight on an ancient Venetian Galleon, enjoying a gourmet dinner on the glorious nocturnal lagoon.
After having dedicated your first two days to exploring the major galleries and museums, we suggest you take a day to see Venice through its churches and popular culture. The best way to discover Venice's churches is with the Chorus Pass, which will take you to the sixteen most significant churches of Venice (there are some 150 churches of them!). The Chorus Pass is a convenient and economical way to get to know the city and some of its architectural treasures – and your purchase contributes to keeping the churches “alive.” The sixteen churches include masterpieces such as Santa Maria dei Miracoli (a jewel of early Renaissance with polychrome marble), Santa Maria del Giglio and its Baroque facade, Santo Stefano and Santa Maria Formosa with the works of Tiepolo, Bellini, and many others. To enrich your experience, choose the Walking Tour of Venice, starting at Saint Mark's Square, the tour will take you to the House of Marco Polo (the Venetian merchant who discovered Asia and opened new trade routes), Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo (Venice's "Pantheon") and little streets with authentic Venetian craftsman's ateliers.
Take advantage of the Museum Pass to visit the Museo Correr and Ca' Pesaro. The first is located in the Napoleonic Wing of the Procuratie (the buildings that housed the offices of the Republic of Venice) on San Marco's Square and offers a collection of works depicting Venice's history as well as sculptures by Canova. The Correr Museum also contains original furnishings and rooms that tell the life of the Doges and wealthy merchants that made Venice Italy's commercial center. Ca' Pesaro on the other hand, located about 700 meters (0.43 miles) from Rialto overlooking the Grand Canal, is a magnificent building that houses the International Gallery of Modern Art as well as the Museum of Oriental Arts, both of them absolutely not to be missed!
The walk from Rialto to the Museum is also full of picturesque views, such as the fruit and vegetable market, which is an explosion of colors, flavors, and folklore! If you are a gourmet, then don't miss the Flavors of Venice Tour, to sample sweets, cheeses, jams, olive oil, spices, and liqueurs. Here are some unusual suggestions to help you end your three days in an unusual way – suggestions that will reveal the popular culture, craftsmanship, wealth, and artistic knowledge of Venice to you: The Museum of Costume is located in the elegant Palazzo Zen near the Frari church (San Polo sestiere).
Take a journey through the history of Venetian clothing and fashion. Starting from the yarn and the pigments used to color the cloth, to the different types of fabric, to the reproduction of historical clothing – you'll get to know some of the secrets of this fascinating world. If you love clothing and fabrics, deepen your knowledge with the Sumptuous Venice: The Secrets of Antique Venetian Costumes Tour. At home in the Palazzo Zen ai Frari, the Atelier Pietro Longhi produces magnificent historical dresses for sale or rent to private parties and theaters. Join a costume history lesson and discover a tailor's shop where you can watch the sewing of an eighteenthcentury gentleman's jacket and of a Renaissance woman's dress. It's impossible not to be tempted by the shopping in Venice, but many stores are little more than tourist traps. Here's how to find quality craftsmanship – take the Scents and Silks of Venice Tour, or the Art and Antique Dealers of Venice Tour, which will surprise you with high quality, luscious perfumes and silks, with paintings, textiles, jewelry, prints, and much more.
Looking for something out of the ordinary? With your Personal Shopper, we promise you will find the unfindable, and take home the perfect souvenir of an unforgettable trip to Venice!