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Top Venice Attractions

The first time you visit Venice, or any new destination, the question asked isn’t usually what attractions should be scene but what attraction to see first, what to expect, how to get there, and how much time is needed. We’ve provided tips, advice, and other information about the top tourist attractions in Venice to help with your itinerary planning.

Rialto Bridge Rialto Bridge
St. Mark’s Square St. Mark’s Square
Saint Mark’s Church Saint Mark’s Church
Doge’s Palace Doge’s Palace
Murano Island Murano Island

Rialto Bridge

When the wooden bridge that originally spanned the Grand Canal collapsed under the weight of a large crowd, officials of Venice proposed a contest to remodel the structure. Celebrated artists, such as Michelangelo, Sansovino, and Palladio, all vied for the right to build their chosen designs. However, the opportunity was awarded to a lesser – known Antonia da Ponte, and his nephew, Antonio Contino. Completed in 1591, da Ponte’s stone design included a 24 – foot arch, big enough for the Grand Canal’s traffic to pass safely underneath. The bridge was constructed on a relatively large scale, as the artist anticipated the inclusion of a double row of stores.

While walking across the Rialto, be prepared for constant steps, as you will proceed on a continuous incline to the center, and then down an equal length. The Bridge is composed of three walkways, the center path enclosed by souvenir shops on each side. The exterior of the Rialto is recognizable by its symmetrical twelve arches, evenly divided in the center by a slightly larger, thirteenth arch. Among the bridge’s relatively simple details, are the images of St. Mark and St. Theodore, as well as the Annunciation. Truly symbolic of the city, the Bridge is perfect for pictures. Scenes depicting the Rialto Bridge, and scenes captured from its perspective, will forever represent classic Venice.


St. Mark’s Square

The sole official piazza of Venice, the spectacle of St. Mark’s lives up to its historical and cultural significance as the center of the great city. Although you may easily reach it by water taxi, the best way to enter Saint Mark’s Square is by passing through the narrow walkways of Venice. The dark and narrow alleys abruptly empty into the vast golden square, providing a breathtaking first impression. As you walk further into the piazza, you will be amazed as to the landscape and elaborate architecture that surrounds you. The Grande Canal, St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Doge Palace, the Campanile, the Clock Tower, and the Procuraties encompass crowds of enthusiastic tourists, honeymooners, and vendors.

The largest of all of the buildings are the Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove, which originally housed the offices of the Procurers, some of the most powerful men in Venice. No longer needed as political offices, the Procuraties were eventually converted into museums. Near the Procuratie Vecchie, the late 15th century Clock Tower displays not only the time, but also the zodiac symbols and the phases of the moon. Above the colorful timepiece, the upper section of the tower boasts a winged stone lion, the symbol of St. Mark, in front of a painting of gold stars on a blue background. Alongside the Procuratie Nuove, the Campanile stands approximately 320 feet tall, adjoining the main piazza with a smaller, piazzetta. The Doge Palace and the Columns of St Mark and St Theodore are located in St Mark’s piazzetta. Topping one column is the winged lion, and topping the other is a statue of St. Theodore, the original patron Saint of Venice.


Saint Mark’s Church

 Hours Monday to Saturday, 9:30 am to 5 pm
 Price Basilica – Free, Pala d’Oro – 1.50 euro
 Phone 0415225205

The resting place of Saint Mark has been transformed many times throughout the ages. As it stands now, St. Mark’s Church is exemplary of Byzantine architecture, and the result of constant creation and restoration. The original St. Mark’s Church was created as a shrine to the remains of the Saint, but burned down in the 10th century. By the early 11th century, a new church had been constructed with the help of Byzantine architects. Throughout the centuries, the church has preserved its Byzantine characteristics, but also included certain Gothic influences. From the outside, the dramatic golden façade, with its five arches displaying five mosaics, is a preview of the grandeur that awaits you inside. The layout is in the form of a Greek cross with five domes evenly placed, with one in the center and one on each of the four arms. Inside, the church holds one of the most precious pieces of religious decor, the Pala d’Oro, or Golden Altarpiece. The painting is composed of silver and gold and is decorated with thousands of gems, such as pearls, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Mosaics, whose golden backgrounds illuminate the religious figures they represent, cover the interiors of the domes. While the domes and the Pala d’Oro command much attention, other aspects of the Church are worthy of just as much praise. A fusion of Eastern and Western influences, Saint Mark’s Church conveys the best of both worlds.


Doge’s Palace

 Hours Summer (April – October) 9 am – 7 pm, Winter (November- March) 9 am – 5 pm
 Price 11 euro
 Phone 0412715911

The Palazzo Ducale, boasting an elegant Gothic style beige, pink, and white marble exterior, sits along the Grand Canal, in Saint Mark’s Square. Although it has gone through several renovations, many believe the original Doge’s Palace was built in the early 9th century. Inside the palace, you will find an enclosed courtyard, surrounded by exterior hallways of the building’s three levels. The main rooms of the palace are accessible by long staircases, the entrances of which are flanked by columns and statues. The Golden Staircase is one of the most popular staircases, and, as its name implies, boasts an arched ceiling covered in embossed gold, the pattern thoroughly detailed. As it may be difficult to avert your eyes from this magnificent ceiling, be sure to mind your step, as the staircase is long and steep.

The center of political life for almost a thousand years, the Palazzo served primarily as the residence of the Doge, figurehead of Venice, and housed the offices of politicians as well as the city’s original prison. Eventually, another prison was built to accommodate the growing number of inmates. It is a building separate from the Doge Palace, but attached by the famous Bridge of Sighs, the route through which prisoners would be taken to their cells. As for the more elegant sections of the palace, you may view the former quarters of the Doge and the grand rooms of the political rulers through professional or self-guided tour. Should you choose the later option, be sure to understand the significance of the Doge Palace to Venetian history before embarking. Its importance is marked throughout the numerous chambers and among various relics, from famed paintings to preserved furniture and clothing.


Murano Island

 Hours Glass Museum – Tuesday to Thursday 10 am to 5 pm, Church of Santa Maria and San Donato – Monday to Saturday 9 am to 7 pm
 Price 4 euro
 Phone 041739586

Murano glass floods the souvenir shops of Venice to the point that almost every visitor leaves with a piece. For many years, the glassblowers of Murano were the only craftsmen capable of creating a mirror. They successfully developed various types of specialized glass, and wealthy aristocrats around the world desired the delicate chandeliers and beads created by the island’s artists. The status of glassblowers swelled to a point during the 14th century, when they held a rank similar, but not quite equal, to nobles.

The island became inhabited by the glassblowers when, in 1291, officials of Venice ordered the city’s glassblowers to move the location their work. The furnaces of the glassblowers were considered a fire hazard in the confines of Venice, as many of the original buildings were made of wood. After this move, glassblowers dominated the island, giving way to the label Murano glass. When you visit Murano, a detailed history of its renowned glass is available in the Museo Vetrario, or Glass Museum. Founded in 1861, the Glass Museum was once a palace, and now houses innumerable examples of glass produced throughout the centuries. The island of Murano exhibits the work of the glassblowers, like art, as a constant progression of talent.

Although much of the island is dedicated to the craft of glassblowing, there is another true work of art that cannot be missed. The Church of Santa Maria and San Donato is much older than any of the glass factories and is located in close proximity to the Glass Museum. The Church is known for its intricate mosaic floor, completed in 1140, as well as its elaborate interior design. Murano is a thorough representation of various types of art, from the classic mosaic to the more modern glass.


Venice Travel Guides
 Frommer's Venice
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