Venice had its golden period for a thousand years, and led the world as a thriving hub of trade while the rest of Europe struggled through the dark ages. Immense riches flowed through this port as it connected East and West, and the influence of this trade is evident in Venice’s unique gothic style architecture.
The name of the city is derived from the fishing tribes that lived on the shores of the marshy Venetian lagoon. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the ensuing instability, the inhabitants of the surrounding area sought protection and shelter in the estuaries, creating small islands. A complicated network of passageways that only locals could navigate protected the fishing communities from the barbarian tribes roaming the Italian peninsula. By the 700s AD, Venice had developed their own unique process of electing a leader, or Doge, and began developing trading routes throughout the Mediterranean. Venice served as the kick-off point for the crusades and also the first port of entry on their return, benefitting from the riches attained by the armies passing through. When Columbus discovered the New World, attention turned from East to West, and Venice slid into decline after being battered multiple times by the plague.
Today, tourism is by far the city’s strongest trade, with visitors flocking to take in the elegant buildings and architecture left over from Venice’s heyday. The best thing you can do in this town is wander...and wander, and wander, and wander some more. Explore the famous alleys and get lost. You’ll feel more lost than you’ve ever known, but take a deep breath and relax, because you’re probably never more than half a mile from where you started. As long as you don’t cross the four-lane highway back to the island, you’re never more than a twenty minute walk from hostels and St. Mark’s square. Staying on the island itself is a must, as the true magic of the city reveals itself after sunset.
Top 11 Sights in Venice
San Marco’s Square
One of the most famous squares in all of Europe, the Piazza San Marco emanates the image of Venetian elegance that comes to mind when daydreaming about this remarkable city. Originally put into place back in the 800s, this square is named after the patron Saint Mark, because back in 828 relics of St. Mark were brought to the city from Alexandria. Due to the significance of these relics, the Doge and citizens of Venice adopted the apostle as their official patron saint to watch over the city. The square also contains some of Venice’s top attractions, including the Basilica di San Marco, the Companile, the Torre dell’Orologio, and Doge’s Palace.
This “palace-turned-museum” certainly isn’t one of the greatest museums in Italy, yet it provides you with a perfect example of Venetian Gothic architecture and history. The Palace was supposedly built back in 810; however, due to large fires that occurred periodically throughout history, there is little evidence of any of the original construction. Regardless, the Palace has been the center of political life in Venice ever since it was constructed, and in 1923 it became a state run museum, containing old Renaissance artwork and furniture, institutional chambers, the royal apartments, and the old, stuffy, once bug infested prisons.
The Campanile (Bell Tower)
Another stunning site in the Piazza di San Marco, the Campanile is the tallest building in Venice, naturally giving you the best panoramic views of the city. This beautiful bronze bell tower apparently makes such an impression on people that two major hotels, one in Vegas and another in Macau, were built and named The Venetian, both recreating the bell tower as the main feature of the hotel.
Murano and Burano Islands
Both islands off the coast of Venice these islands provide visitors with adorable, brightly colored old cottages to admire along the Venetian Lagoon. The islands are each historically known for different things: Murano for its glassmaking and Burano for its lacemaking, hence, window shopping along the way will be well worth it.
The most popular place for visitors to view the Grand Canal is from the famous Rialto Bridge, where images of the legendary city of Venice have been illustrated and described for centuries. While extremely touristy and nothing short of a major cliche, seeing the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge is just something that everyone must do! It's a classic Venice experience.
Ponte dell' Accademia
For an equal or even better large bridge experience in Venice, try crossing the Ponte dell'Accademia (Academy Bridge), the other major crossing of the Grand Canal. This bridge lacks the bustle, tourist crowds and bombardment of tourist shops found at the Rialto Bridge and thus can be even more enjoyable.
You can't really visit Venice without seeing or riding a boat along the Grand Canal. This waterway slices the city into almost two equal halves, meaning that sooner or later, all visitors will likely cross its path. While the many smaller, more romantic canals are often preferred, there is no denying the grandeur of the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is a classic Venetian tourist attraction, one that cannot be missed (actually, you literally can't miss it) when in Venice.
If you’re going to visit one market during your stay in Venice, the Rialto Market is your best bet. You’ll find seafood available there that comes fresh out of the Venetian sea, all locally caught and in season (Be careful though and read the stall place cards carefully, as some stalls import their seafood from Asia or random South American countries). The market also carries the freshest produce and vegetables you’ll find anywhere in Europe, all locally grown for your tasting pleasure.
One of the country's finest Renaissance gardens, the Giardino Giusti was laid out in 1580. The beautiful formal gardens of clipped hedges, topiary, potted plants, and statues contrast well with the upper area of natural woodland. These two very different areas are linked by stone terracing. The gardens are open daily and should you decide to visit, you will not be disappointed.
Situated next to the Piazza San Marco, this stunning public garden is full of established trees, flowers, pathways, and seats, so you can rest and enjoy the calming atmosphere. The Royal Gardens were originally created in the early 19th century by Napoleon, to give him a stunning view from his nearby offices.
The chain of shopping streets and boulevards, extending from the Rialto Bridge to St. Mark’s square is called Mercerie. This part of Venice was and has always been the connecting link between the religious-political and the economic centre of the lagoon city. Dealers settled along these connecting roads and offered their goods (Mercerie is a haberdashery). Thus, these roads developed over time to become Venice’s classic shopping district. From jewelry and fashion, to carnival masks, costumes, everyday food, and kitschy souvenir stands of all kinds, you can buy almost everything there. Shopping fans need to keep the necessary small change in their pockets – because Venice is everything but cheap!