Venice is a city rich in art and culture, which many first time visitors try to “do” in just one day – with a quick visit to Saint Mark's Square and the surrounding streets following the classical route to the Rialto Bridge, lost among the many souvenir shops. But Venice is an ancient gem with a thousand faces, which cannot fail to capture you and call you back for a second, more in-depth visit. Now you can dig deeper and enjoy getting to know more about the art, history, folklore, and culture that made you fall in love with Venice the first time around. Follow our itinerary, step off the beaten track, and you'll truly meet the pearl on the water!
First time visitors to Venice often miss the artistic and cultural treasures of the city, not seeing the various museums of great importance, among the most beautiful and rich in Italy. A great choice for starting your renewed experience of Venice is to see Piazza San Marco from a different perspective – from above. Even if you are not an art buff, these visits will give you new points of view from which to enjoy the city on the water.
Did you enter the magnificent Basilica of San Marco, during your first time in Venice – or did you let yourself be discouraged by the endless line at the entrance? Don't miss the opportunity this time by booking your admission in advance, and sailing right past the long line of tourists! An even better idea is to take the guided tour The Golden Basilica which will not only illustrate the works and history of the Cathedral, but will give you access to the terraces from which to enjoy a special view onto the most famous square in Venice.
As you leave the Basilica, you'll find the Clock Tower to your right. Step inside the secret life of this Astronomical Clock, an ancient masterpiece of technology and engineering. True to the Renaissance spirit, beauty and functionality go hand in hand in this little-visited Venetian landmark! See the complex network of pulleys, weights, and counterweights as they silently rise and fall at regular intervals. 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.
Once you're back under the arches of the Piazza San Marco, this could be the right moment for splurging on a break in one of the famous cafes – sit back and relax as you listen to one of the live orchestras, sipping a cappuccino. For a closer look at Venice's history and art through the centuries, visit the Correr Museum opposite the Basilica of San Marco – admission is included in your Clock Tower ticket, as well as in the convenient Museum Pass, the combo ticket for eleven of Venice's most important museums (valid for 6 months).
The Correr Museum is located on the first floor of the Napoleonic Wing of the Procuratie (the buildings that surround Saint Mark's Square). Through the rich collection of works of art - including sculptures by Antonio Canova – as well as pieces of furniture, maps, decorative items, you'll experience some of the environment that brought forth rich merchants and Doges during the Republic of Venice's days of greatest wealth and splendor. And during your visit, you'll enjoy beautiful views of Piazza San Marco through the windows and at the adjoining café, which we recommend for a snack. Crown your in-depth tour of Saint Mark's Square with a visit to the Campanile (bell tower) of San Marco, for the most majestic view over Venice and the lagoon. Don't worry, you won't have to climb any stairs, as access to the top happens by comfortable (paying) elevator. From a height of 99 meters (close to 325 feet) you will have all of Venice before you. Many stories surround the Campanile – the first one collapsed on July 14, 1902, and was replaced by the current tower in 1912. In the olden days, the base was surrounded by taverns and wooden booths, which were demolished in 1872. There are many other stories about the Campanile, you'll find them on the audio guide.
Spend your afternoon discovering the most popular Venice. It's hard to resist the shopping, but in order to avoid unpleasant surprises, we recommend you choose one of the following tour options: The Artisans of Venice Tour will surprise you – this is not your classic shopping tour, but a journey steeped in creativity and tradition, love for the past, and innovation. Visit the workshops of young and senior artists and craftsmen who renew the splendor of Venice every day. This itinerary illustrates the city of arts and crafts reflected (amongst other items) in Rocailles beads, hand-made masks, and jewelry in "hi-tech" or recovery materials. The Art and Antique Dealers of Venice Tour will take you to antique shops hidden in the districts of Dorsoduro, San Polo, and San Marco. You will find antique furniture, fine furnishings, fine fabrics such as brocade, damask, and silk, Venetian-style mirrors, and glass creations – a window onto the finest traditions of Venice.
Not a fan of shopping? Leave the crowded Rialto Bridge area, and discover the Cannaregio Sestiere (district). Visit the Ca D'Oro, a beautiful mansion from the 1400s that owes its name, "House of Gold," to the fact that its intricate facade was once decorated with gold. Today, this "pearl on the Grand Canal" is the home of the Franchetti Gallery, with works by Titian, Mantegna, Giorgione, as well as furniture and antique porcelain. If you didn't try the classic Gondola ride during your first visit, do it this time – the evening is the best time for this unique experience. Book your Private Gondola Ride and discover the canals of Venice from the world's most beautiful boat – the perfect way to conclude your first day back in Venice.
Speaking of the jewels of the Piazza San Marco - for your first day back in Venice, we deliberately omitted the splendid Doge's Palace because it is the most culturally important and requires time to be enjoyed fully. Start your second day with it – and then follow our itinerary that starts at the Palace and heads away from the center and towards the lagoon. The Doge's Palace was the center of the political life of the Serenissima Republic of Venice for centuries, the seat of the Doge and of the Venetian judiciary. Visit the gloriously decorated Institutional Rooms, such as the enormous Sala del Maggior Consiglio (the Grand Council Hall), the Senate Room, the College Room, the apartments of the Doge. Your visit will also take you across the Bridge of Sighs into the much feared Venetian prisons, which once even held Casanova. Make your visit of the Doge's Palace truly unusual – take the Secret Itineraries Tour, which will take you along a route that isn't open normally, but includes the Secret Chancellery, the room of Torture connected directly to the prisons and to the Piombi area (the special cells for political prisoners). The Secret Itineraries Tour is most in demand, so make sure you book your tickets in advance as they are limited!
Taking your family to discover Venice? Here is a brilliant idea to feed your appetite for art as well as that of your children for lighter fare – visit the Doge's Palace with the Combo Ticket that includes lunch or dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe! The Venice Hard Rock Cafe is located just behind the Piazza San Marco. With this great combo ticket, you'll enter the museum without standing in line, and you'll have lunch (or dinner) at the famous restaurant, where you'll get the first free table and be served the classic Vinyl menu. The same combo is also available for the Accademia Galleries Museum.
Time to leave the busy heart of the city – take a stroll overlooking the lagoon along the Riva degli Schiavoni. As you cross the first bridge, you'll see the Bridge of Sighs from the outside, on your left. Continue on, and you'll pass the church of San Zaccaria – cross under the sottoportego, a passage under a building on the Riva. La Riva is home to historic hotels, bars, and some vaporetto (water bus) stops that take you to the rest of the city, including the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, just opposite. Continue for about 400 meters (0.2 miles) and you'll find the Arsenale on your left, the ancient shipyard and armory site of the Venetian Republic. Founded around 1104 by the Doge Ordelafo Falier, it employed over 5,000 workers. The Venice Arsenale was Europe's biggest industrial complex before the Industrial Revolution.
Back on the Riva, continue a little further on, and you will find the beautiful park of the Giardini della Biennale (Biennale Gardens), one of the few public green spots of Venice, an area that is crowded only when the Venice Biennale is happening.
Continue your day in the best way possible – with the Lagoon Islands Excursion. After sailing past the island of San Giorgio and the Lido island, famous for its beaches and movie stars, you will come to Murano. Murano's glass industry is renowned the world over, and you'll discover why as you visit one of the artisanal workshops. Then you will stop at the picturesque island of Burano with its brightly colored fishermen's houses, where lace-making is a celebrated tradition. The itinerary also includes Torcello, the oldest section of the lagoon with the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and its magnificent mosaics. If you really love being on a boat, you may want to choose this original way of discovering the lagoon of Venice – the Half Day Sailing Trip aboard a Bragozzo (the traditional Venetian sail boat). Discover the Venetian lagoon, a unique natural landscape, with beautiful islands and small fishing villages. Enjoy a welcome drink, and for lunch you'll have the choice between a picnic on board or a meal in one of the restaurants of the lagoon. Love good food and prefer to stay on dry land? Complete your second day with a delicious tasting of traditional products! With the Flavors of Venice tour, you'll discover the wines, sweets, cheeses, jams, olive oil, spices, liquors of Venice – all in traditional surroundings, and with the opportunity to purchase some authentic gifts for those at home.
Venice is much more than Saint Mark's Square and Rialto. Spend a day discovering the other sestieri (districts), such as that of Dorsoduro, one of the most vibrant and fascinating. Overlooking the Grand Canal from the south, it is a lively area, thanks also to one of the most beautiful museums of Italy, the Accademia Galleries. In the little streets around it, you'll find a flurry of private galleries, bars, exhibitions, all adding a special flair to a neighborhood that has always been rich in art and craft workshops. Start your third day at the Accademia Galleries, a museum that every well-informed tourist visits. Don't miss the best collection of Venetian art with paintings by Giorgione (The Tempest), Tintoretto, Bellini, and Titian's moving Presentation of Mary in the Temple. Only 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.
Discover another Dorsoduro gem near the Accademia Galleries – Ca' Rezzonico, which is included in your Museum Pass. The beautiful palace overlooking the Grand Canal houses the Museum of Eighteenth Century Venice. You'll find the splendor and magic that made Venice unique reflected in it – such as in the impressive and beautifully frescoed private ballroom, which you may well have seen on the movies screen. Curious about where the gondolas are made? Go take a (discrete) peek at the boatyard (squero) of San Trovaso! You'll get a good view onto it from the other side of the little Rio San Trovaso canal. The workshop is on the corner of the San Trovaso square, and is one of the few sites where Venetians are still handing down the tradition of building gondolas, a complex and complicated undertaking requiring highly skilled artisanship.
Take the time to turn off the beaten track and wander the charming calli (streets). The Dorsoduro sestiere is full of bookshops and ateliers. Catch a glimpse of artisans at work – creating jewelry, sewing precious fabrics, and chiseling and carving wood. Look out for the beautiful shops of forcole manufacturers – a forcola is the gondola's special oarlock. You'll also find ceramics and, of course, the famous Carnival masks. If you are fascinated by the folklore of the ancient Venice carnival, the Costume Museum is a must-see for you. It 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.
Choose between two options to end your day – discovering some of Venice's most beautiful churches, or exploring the excellent International Gallery of Modern Art at Ca' Pesaro. The center of Venice is home to dozens of churches, many of them as interesting as the famous San Marco. Sixteen of these can be accessed with the very affordable Venice Chorus Pass such as that of the Frari. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is also the largest of the sixteen churches, and home to monumental altars, organs, and spectacular works by Titian, Bellini, and Donatello. Other churches to visit with the Chorus Pass are Santa Maria del Giglio with its Baroque facade, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a jewel of the early Renaissance with polychrome marble, and the spaces of Santo Stefano and Santa Maria Formosa with the works of Bellini and Tiepolo. Follow the route of the various churches and you will discover lesser-known and highly picturesque corners of Venice. Another option is to head north from Palazzo Zen, following the signs for the Frari church, and then continue to Campo San Polo and along the Rio Terrà.
You'll find Ca' Pesaro, a magnificent palace overlooking the Grand Canal. Your Museum Pass admits you to this spacious and generally uncrowded museum, which houses the International Gallery of Modern Art (with works by Chagall, Bonnard, Morandi, among others) and the impressive Museum of Oriental Art. Seal your second time in Venice by taking some spectacular sunset pictures. You are very close to Rialto