Planning your Venice Trip: the Must-See Attractions
With its atmospheric canals, grand palazzos and quirky little shops filled with colourful carnival masks, Venice is a holiday destination like no other. Here’s what you should see the first time you visit the glorious city of Venice.
St Mark’s Square, Basilica and Campanile
When you first arrive in Venice, you’ll probably want to make a beeline for its symbolic heart: the beautiful Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) and the basilica that dominates it. Inside the basilica – one of the world’s finest examples of Byzantine architecture – prepare to be dazzled by over 8,000 square metres of gold mosaic. Alongside it, the Campanile, or bell tower, is well worth a visit for incredible views across the whole city of Venice (see if you can spot any canals from this high vantage point).
Next door to the basilica, and connected to it, the grand colonnaded building is the Doge’s Palace. As well as being the opulent residence of the rulers of Venice in the days when it was a Republic, it was also the seat of the Venetian government. It’s now a fascinating museum, and as an added bonus, your ticket – valid for three months – gets you into a number of other museums in Venice as well.
Bridge of Sighs
Built in 1614, the romantic nickname of this bridge belies its historic function: to connect the Doge’s Palace with a new prison wing. The wistful-sounding ‘sighs’ of its later nickname – a 19th century translation by Bryon of the Italian ‘ponte dei sospiri’ – actually refers to the sighs of the prisoners as they glimpsed their last view of Venice through the bridge’s tiny windows before being taken to their cells. Facing the Grand Canal from St Mark’s Square, walk left along the waterside for a great view of this iconic monument.
Another famous Venetian bridge, on an altogether more epic scale than the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto spans the Grand Canal and was completed in its present form in 1591. Whether you’re perusing its rows of shops or photographing it from every conceivable angle, the Rialto never fails to impress. For the ultimate Venetian experience, why not take a romantic gondola ride under the bridge and into some of the smaller canals?
While you’ll probably spend most of your Venice trip on the main island, it’s easy to escape the crowds by hopping on a water bus (vaporetto) over to some of the others, which are quieter yet have a charm of their own. Murano is particularly worth a visit thanks to its world-renowned glassmakers, many of whom offer free demonstrations. A piece of Murano glass also makes a wonderful souvenir of your time in Venice.
There’s a lot to be said for spending your time in Venice simply getting lost amongst its maze of streets and waterways, but as we’ve seen, the city has some extraordinary landmarks that you won’t want to miss. If you’ve never visited this unique city before, don’t leave without seeing these top Venetian attractions – and remember to have your camera at the ready, because in Venice, there really is beauty everywhere you look.