Things to Do in Veneto
The crown jewel of Venice, St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) is an ornate cathedral which blends elements of Gothic, Byzantine, Romanesque, and Renaissance architecture. Topped by soaring domes and replete with astonishing golden mosaics, the church is so opulent it is known as the Chiesa d’Oro, or the Golden Church.
The powerful Doges ruled the Venetian Empire from the Gothic fantasy palace that is Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) until 1797. The site was one of the first things those arriving in Venice saw as their ships sailed through the lagoon and landed at St Mark's Square, and the doges ruled with an iron fist—justice was often meted out here. Today, the site is one of the most well-known attractions in Italy.
St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), often referred to as “the drawing room of Europe,” is one of the most famous squares in Italy. The geographic and cultural heart of Venice—with St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace at one end, the campanile in the center, and the colonnaded arcade topped by the Procuratie palaces lining three sides—this elegant piazza is also steeped in history. Settle in at one of the many coveted café tables and watch tourists (and pigeons) pose for photos while you sip a Bellini and soak in the square’s Renaissance splendor.
Venice is a city built on water, and the Grand Canal (Canale Grande) is its bustling main street. Lined with sumptuous Venetian palaces and crowded with gondolas, water taxis, and vaporetti (public ferries), this thoroughfare is a feast for the senses. The Grand Canal winds its way through the central neighborhoods of Venice from the Santa Lucia train station to St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), passing under the iconic Rialto Bridge along the way, and functions as the scenic main artery for transporting both people and goods around the City of Canals.
Venice is made up of over 100 small islands, but generally “the Venice islands” refers to the three most famous outlying islands in the Venetian lagoon: Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Murano, just north of Venice proper, has been the center of Venice’s famous glass-making industry since 1291, and the island’s expert glassblowers still handcraft stunning pieces of Murano glass today. Farther north, Burano has quiet canals lined with brightly painted fishermen’s houses and is home to Venice’s traditional lace artisans. Its neighboring island of Torcello, first settled in 452, is believed to be the first populated island in the Venetian lagoon.
The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) was the first to span Venice’s Grand Canal (Canal Grande) between its two highest points above sea level. The original 12th-century wooden bridge was replaced in 1592 by a stone structure resting on wooden pilings—a bold design by Antonio da Ponte featuring a single central arch over the water that allow ships to pass. Today, the bridge is among Italy’s most famous, carrying an endless stream of tourists and locals across the canal while countless gondolas and vaporetto water buses pass beneath.
Of Venice’s 100-plus outlying islands, the group that forms Murano is the most famous. This tight cluster of small islands has been the center of the Floating City’s historic glassmaking industry since 1291, when the city center’s glass factories were forcibly moved across the lagoon—just north of Venice proper—after a number of devastating fires. Today, travelers visit Murano to see how expertly trained artisans blow glass into exquisite stemware, chandeliers, vases, and sculptures. Those particularly interested in the history of glassmaking should stop by the Museo del Vetro, which traces the art back to ancient Egypt.
Feel like part of history as you attend an event in the Verona Arena (Arena di Verona), a spectacular Roman amphitheater that has dominated Piazza Bra since the first century. Once a venue for sporting events, games, and gladiatorial battles, today audiences of up to 15,000 gather to watch opera, music concerts, and dance performances.
Home to the city’s town hall and other important buildings, Piazza Bra sits at the heart of life in Verona. The huge city square welcomes visitors from all around the world who come to stroll the wide expanse, enjoy a coffee or a meal at one of the al fresco restaurants, or attend one of the regular music performances held at the Verona Arena.
William Shakespeare put Verona on the map for the English-speaking world, setting his tale of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet in this northern Italian city. The Bard’s timeless story has inspired a steady flow of romantics to visit Juliet’s House, or Casa di Giulietta, as Verona’s 13th-century palazzo of the Dal Cappello family is now known. Though Romeo and Juliet were almost certainly figments of Shakespeare’s imagination and the famous balcony where Juliet is said to have gazed down at Romeo was added centuries after the love story was written, the romance of Juliet’s House transcends fact or fiction.
More Things to Do in Veneto
As poignant as it is beautiful, Venice’s 17th-century, white-limestone Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) spans the narrow Rio di Palazzo canal between the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) and the New Prisons just opposite. It’s one of the most famous bridges in the Floating City.
Padua is home to one of Italy’s greatest treasures of medieval art: the Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni). Decorated with an exquisite early-14th-century fresco cycle by Giotto—considered a masterpiece of Western art—the chapel was restored in 2002, and the frescoes were returned to their original magnificence.
Venice is made up of a group of islands that is crowded with opulent churches and sumptuous palaces. The humble island of Burano, though, in the outer reaches of the Venetian lagoon, shows a completely different side of the city, with its jumble of technicolor fishers’ houses and a long tradition of lace-making.
In a quiet corner of Venice ,the Venetian palace (palazzo) believed to be explorer Marco Polo’s former residence is easy to miss. Stop by Corte Seconda del Milion, a square named for Marco Polo's travel memoirs, Il Milione, to honor Italy's most famous adventurer while visiting the Floating City.
Ringed with bustling cafes and elegant Baroque-style buildings, Piazza delle Erbe (or market square has been the home of Verona’s main market since ancient Roman times. Today, visitors still come to browse the market tables stacked high with regional produce, olive oil, and wine; or just enjoy a traditional Italian espresso while enjoying the sounds of the open-air market.
Burial place of 25 Venetian doges and one of the largest churches in Italy, the Italian Gothic–style Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo is among the most important churches in the city. Known as San Zanipolo to locals, it is home to works by Bellini, Veronese, and two generations of Lombardo sculptors.
To get a glimpse into authentic Venice, a visit to the city’s historic outdoor Rialto Fish Market (Mercato di Rialto) is a must. Venetians have been purchasing their fish and seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other foods at the Rialto Market since 1097, making it one of the most long-lived aspects of daily life in the Floating City.
With its ornate facade and towering dome, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is one of the most beautiful sights along Venice’s Grand Canal. Known simply as La Salute, the church dominates the mouth of the canal and its steps seem to rise directly from the water, inviting visitors to explore its soaring interior.
In northeastern Italy, close to the Austrian border, the Dolomites form a stunning mountain range of jagged peaks, dramatic spires, and picturesque valleys. The Cinque Torri–a group of five tower-like rocks outside the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo—is one of the most famous attractions in the Dolomites and offers an array of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Of the many historic opera houses in Italy, few are more legendary than Venice’s Teatro La Fenice. Opened in 1792, the theater quickly became a major venue for opera and ballet. Today you can view the sumptuous 19th-century-style interiors during a musical or dance performance, or join a guided tour of the theater.
Historically, Piazza dei Signori (also known as Piazza Dante in honor of the poet’s statue in the square center) was the civic and political heart of Verona, and is still home to the Loggia del Consiglio, the former city hall. Lined by medieval palaces and elegant arches, this square is a vibrant local gathering place.
Sitting high above St. Mark’s Square and visible from the Grand Canal, the remarkable clock in St. Mark’s Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio) has served as Venice’s official timepiece for more than 500 years. Touring this historic symbol of the city is a highlight of any visit, not least for the sweeping views from the top of the tower.
Tucked away from the crowded piazzas of Venice, Campo Santa Maria Formosa is a charming little square in the Castello district. With a handful of cafés, a co-op market, and local shops, Campo Santa Maria Formosa offers a nice reprieve from the tourist hustle of Venice and allows a glimpse into local life.