It may be a fairly small city, but there is a seemingly endless array of Venice landmarks wherever you go. It’s partly because Venice history is so rich that there is so much Venice sightseeing to do. With so many landmarks in Venice to see, how are you going to get around them all?
Most people visit Venice on a day trip, and many tend to stay there a short time – a weekend in Venice, perhaps, or three days there. You’ll need more than this to get around all the main things to do in Venice Italy. You’ll want to make the best use of however many days in Venice you have.
We’ve simplified things for you by showing you all of the main landmarks of Venice. This will help you choose which Venice sights you want to see the most. If you’re pushed for time, you’ll be heartened to learn that you can see eight of the top landmarks Venice has from the waterfront next to Piazza San Marco.
If you take a vaporetto – waterbus – ride down the Venice Grand Canal you will also catch sight of no less that 15 of the 34 top Venice attractions on our list.
- 1 San Giorgio Maggiore
- 2 Santa Maria Della Salute
- 3 Rialto Bridge
- 4 San Geremia
- 5 San Michele Cemetery
- 6 Il Redentore
- 7 Burano
- 8 Torcello
- 9 Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frani
- 10 San Simeone Piccolo
- 11 Calatrava Bridge Venice
- 12 Hotel Danieli
- 13 Bridge Of Sighs
- 14 Grand Canal
- 15 Madonna Dell’orto
- 16 Ca’ D’Oro
- 17 Ca’ Pesaro
- 18 Arsenale
- 19 San Francesco Della Vigna
- 20 San Zanipolo
- 21 Ospedale
- 22 San Giorgio Dei Greci
- 23 Santa Maria Formosa
- 24 Rialto Fish Markets
- 25 Santa Maria Dei Miracoli
- 26 Columns Of St Mark And St Theodore
- 27 Doge’s Palace
- 28 Bacino Orseolo
- 29 Scala Contarini Del Bovolo
- 30 San Marco Basilica – St Mark’s Basilica
- 31 St Mark’s Campanile
- 32 Gesuati Church
- 33 San Trovaso Church and Boatyard
- 34 Santa Maria Del Giglio
San Giorgio Maggiore
We’ll start with one of the absolute must see in Venice sights – the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, one of the masterpieces of Renaissance era architect Andrea Palladio. The most famous view of the church is from the Molo, the San Marco waterfront area where many gondolas are lined up. It looks especially magical during a winter sunrise.
San Giorgio Maggiore is a beautifully proportioned church, and looks magnificent from wherever you see it. You can also ascend a lift to the top of the campanile (bell tower) for an outstanding view over the Venice lagoon. It should always be near the top of any what to see in Venice list.
Vaporetto stop: San Giorgio
Santa Maria Della Salute
If you’re looking from San Marco to San Giorgio Maggiore, cast your eyes to the right and you’ll see the familiar domes of Santa Maria della Salute. This Basilica church guards the San Marco end of the Grand Canal, its graceful outline making it one of the most beautiful churches in Venice.
The church was built in the 17th century as thanksgiving for deliverance from a severe outbreak of plague. It’s one of the most popular Venice icons, and indeed one of the best places to visit in Venice. The vaporetto stops right outside.
Vaporetto stop: Salute
The Ponte di Rialto is one of the best-known Venice top attractions. It was the first bridge over the Grand Canal, built in 1571, and is an instantly recognisable symbol of Venice and indeed Italy.
It’s unique because of its arches, each housing jewellery and designer boutiques. It’s located roughly halfway down the Grand Canal, but you can also take a shortcut on foot to San Marco from there. It’s one of the busiest Venice Italy attractions, thronged with crowds during the peak spring and summer months. If you visit Venice in winter, it’s a different story altogether – it makes one of the best vantage points for Venice sunsets.
Vaporetto: Rialto or Rialto Mercato
If you’re wondering where to go in Venice, just get yourself a vaporetto ticket and take the #1 service down the Grand Canal. One of the first Venice landmarks you see is the large church of San Geremia, on the left at the junction with the Cannaregio Canal. The brick tower is believed to date from as early as the 12th century, while the body of the church was built during the 18th century.
It’s one of the things to visit in Venice that looks better from the outside than within. Its interior is surprisingly sombre and plain. That doesn’t deter the stream of visitors paying their respects at the shrine of St Lucy of Syracuse (Santa Lucia). The relics were originally held on the island of Ortigia in Syracuse, but were removed to Constantinople and, in turn, pilfered by the Venetians.
Vaporetto: Ferrovia or San Marcuola
San Michele Cemetery
If you walk along the Fondamente Nove, the route along the north of the city, you’ll have the Cinitero di San Michele for company much of the way. Venice’s cemetery is, like everything else in the city, built on an island.
The cemetery is one of the most intriguing Venice things to see. You see the grand tombs of the city’s doges (elected rulers) and artists in the basilicas of Venice. This is where the Venetian hoi polloi are interred to this day. There are a few famous names, including Igor Stravinsky and Serge Diaghilev. The church of San Michele in Isola is well worth a visit too.
Giudecca is a series of islands to the south of the sestiere of Dorsoduro, of which they are officially part. The most prominent landmark of Venice on Giudecca is the church of Il Redentore (The Redeemer), another work by master Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
It should rate more highly as one of the main Venice points of interest, but its location probably means relatively few make it across the Giudecca Canal to visit it. It’s one of the most harmonious and beautiful churches of Venice Italy, with a Neoclassical façade based on that of the Pantheon in Rome. I’d also say that top things to see in Venice like this get overlooked simply because there are so many other things in Venice to do – you’re bound to miss out on some.
Burano island is in the north of the Venice lagoon. You can see it from afar because of its tall church tower, reaching high into the sky like a wonky rocket waiting for its launchpad. It’s home to a gorgeous fishing village, its houses painted a multitude of vivid, bright colours from across the spectrum.
It’s one of the most popular destinations for day trips from Venice, a half-hour boat ride north from Fondamente Nove. The best things to do in Burano are exploring the streets and canals, then sitting back and enjoying lunch or dinner at one of the seafood restaurants in the village. It’s one of the most beautiful villages in Europe, and the trip out is one of the top things to do in Venice, especially if you’re there more than a couple of days.
Remote Torcello island is where Venice began, and it’s still one of the most important Venice historical sites. It’s just across the water from Burano, and is another popular excursion from Venice. Much of the settlement of Torcello was recycled into buildings in the city of Venice. The result is a glimpse into what the islands of the Venetian lagoon were like before being settled in the 7th century.
Torcello is now a one-canal hamlet that’s home to a restaurant, an unusual medieval bridge, a couple of guesthouses, a Byzantine-style church and the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, the original Venice cathedral. The 12th century apse mosaic is breathtaking. Climb the tower for a view over the island, which has reverted to its original state of low-lying mudflats.
Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frani
This enormous brick church was begun by the Franciscans in the 13th century, though it took another 200 years. It’s like a vast Gothic cavern, much of the space within empty. The walls are taken up with a series of monuments, most notably to 16th century painter Titian, 17th century composer Monteverdi and sculptor Antonio Canova.
The Frari also has an art collection to rival most galleries. Highlights include paintings by titian and Giovanni Bellini, and sculpture by Donatello and Jacopo Sansovino.
Vaporetto: San Toma
San Simeone Piccolo
San Simeone Piccolo is the first landmark in Venice many people see. It was certainly the first I saw many years ago, a church with a tall green dome right across the Grand Canal from Venezia Santa Lucia railway station. It was one of the last Venetian churches to be completed, in 1738.
San Simeone Piccolo was closed for many years, frustrating our attempts to explore it further. It is, however, open again. Unusually for Venice, it has a crypt which you can explore – one of the most unusual things to see in Venice.
Calatrava Bridge Venice
The Calatrava Bridge – officially called the Ponte della Constituzione – is the one contemporary landmark Venice has added this century. It is the fourth bridge across the Grand Canal, designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2008.
It’s a glass and steel truss bridge connecting the Piazzale Roma bus station with the Ferrovia (railway station). It has never really been loved by Venetians, with complaints varying from it wasn’t needed to its minimalist style isn’t in keeping with the rest of Venice.
Vaporetto: Piazzale Roma
The august Hotel Danieli is one of the best luxury hotels in Venice. It’s housed in a magnificent medieval Venetian Gothic palazzo, just beyond the Bridge of Sighs and Doge’s Palace.
It’s an unmistakable sight, with bright red pained exterior walls and beautiful Gothic windows. It sits at the beginning of the Riva degli Schiavoni, looking out to San Giorgio Maggiore. You don’t get Venice hotels much closer to San Marco than this.
Vaporeto: San Marco (San Zaccaria)
Bridge Of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs Venice is part of the Doge’s Palace, but has become a landmark in its own right. It got its name – Ponte dei Sospiri in Italian – from the sighs of convicts being taken across to the dank Prison the other side of the bridge.
It has always been one of the most popular things to see in Venice. If you’re having trouble locating it first time around, look out for the crowds on the bridge at the end of the Doge’s Palace. All the cameras there are pointing at it.
Vaporetto: San Marco (San Zaccaria)
The Grand Canal Venice is one of the most famous thoroughfares in the world. It runs through the heart of Venice, from the bus station at Piazzale Roma to San Marco and the entrance to the lagoon.
A trip down the Grand Canal on the number 1 vaporetto (waterbus) is one of the very best things to do in Venice – I’d recommend this over a Venice gondola ride. The array of stunning palaces, churches and Venetian landmarks is bewildering. We’ve been lucky to travel the tram 28 in Lisbon, the Star Ferry in Hong Kong and the Manly ferry in Sydney, and we’d recommend the #1 vaporetto as the best public transport journey in the world.
Vaporetto: Piazzale Roma to San Marco (Vallaresso)
Madonna dell’Orto – Our Lady of the Garden – is in an isolated spot near the north shore of Cannaregio sestiere. Its location means it gets very few visitors compared to, say, San Marco. This is a very good thing: it’s one of the finest churches in Venice, Italy and one of my personal Venice highlights.
The medieval Gothic exterior is beautiful, its distinctive tower visible from the Ponte della Liberta, the bridge linking Venice with the mainland. However, the main reason to visit is the treasure trove of Tintoretto artworks inside. This was his parish church, where he worshipped and was laid to rest. It’s undoubtedly one of the best churches in Venice for art lovers.
Ca’ d’Oro is one of those Venice Italy landmarks most visitors will pass at some point. It’s a gorgeous palazzo (palace) on the northern side of the Grand Canal, in the Cannaregio district.
Its name is Venetian dialect for ‘House of Gold’ – it was originally painted this colour. Now it gleams a brilliant white, its windows patterns of elaborate Gothic tracery. It’s one of the best examples of Venetian Gothic architecture in Venice. The building now houses the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti.
Vaporetto: Ca’ d’Oro
This splendid Venetian Baroque palace in the Santa Croce sestiere looks out over the Grand Canal. It houses two art museums – the Gallery of Modern Art and the Oriental Art Museum.
It dates back to the early 18th century – it was originally designed by Baldassare Longhena, architect of the Santa Maria della Salute church at the other end of the Grand Canal and the hidden Ospedaletto church in Castello.
Vaporetto: San Stae
Hidden away in Castello Venice, the shipyard of medieval Venice was the world’s first production line. The Venice Arsenale was known and feared the world over: it could turn out a small ship in a single day. This, remember, was 400 years before the Industrial Revolution swept through Europe.
All you can see now is the ceremonial gateway to the Arsenale. It’s a great sight, and worth the brief trip in conjunction with the Museo di Storico Navale (Naval Historical Museum) at the entrance to the canal. Unfortunately, much of the Arsenale is still in use as a naval base, but some parts have been opened for trade fairs and exhibitions. If you happen to visit Venice around these, try to take a look inside.
San Francesco Della Vigna
If you take the 4.1 or 5.1 vaporetto around the north-eastern end of Venice, you’ll soon see a tall red-brick campanile not unlike that of San Marco. It’s by far the most prominent landmark on this part of the Venice skyline, in the backstreets of the Castello sestiere. Relatively few make the journey here on foot or via the little-used Celestia vaporetto stop, but it’s so worth the visit.
This lovely church has a façade by Palladio (of San Giorgio Maggiore and Redentore fame), the aforementioned elegant campanile, and a peaceful cloister, a very unusual feature in Venice. As Venice becomes over-saturated with visitors, these are the sort of places to go in Venice that we should be seeking out.
San Zanipolo is the Venetian dialect name for Saints John and Paul (Giovanni e Paolo) – not the two of New Testament fame but two later, obscure Roman martyrs. It’s a minor Basilica, and is the main church of the Dominicans in the city. It’s also one of the most imposing churches in Venice.
It’s a colossal Gothic brick barn of a building, dominating the surrounding area. It’s the burial place of 25 of Venice’s doges (elected leaders), and also home to some outstanding artworks (note the west doorway by Bartolomeo Bon and the triptych by Giovanni Bellini in the south aisle).
Next door to San Zanipolo, the stunning building that is now the front of Venice’s Hospital was once the Scuola Grande di San Marco. This was one of six confraternities in the city which were involved in causes from helping the poor to sponsoring the arts, often commissioning staggering portfolios of work.
One of our Australian friends was once brought here suffering from exhaustion, a result of being dragged all over by her daughter, whom she was ready to throw into the nearest canal. Her mood changed dramatically as she saw the main façade: “Oh wow!” was the response. All was not exactly forgiven, but was forgotten for a while. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Venice, in a part of hidden Venice well worth exploring.
San Giorgio Dei Greci
Everyone knows about Pisa’s leaning tower, and Bologna has a very prominent one too. Yet it’s Venice that probably has the most of all. Perhaps it’s something to do with the muddy foundations, but I’m pretty sure Venice wins the wonky belltower competition. One of them is San Giorgio dei Greci.
It took until the end of the 15th century for the Venetians to allow the Greek Orthodox Church to celebrate their own rites. They have done so ever since at this church, midway between San Marco and the Arsenale. The leaning campanile helps make the Rio dei Greci one of the most picturesque of Venice canals. The church deserves a visit to see its collection of icons, unique in Venice.
Vaporetto: San Marco (San Zaccaria) or Arsenale
Santa Maria Formosa
If you stand at the top of St Mark’s Campanile and look out over the Castello sestiere, you’ll see a tall, slender white campanile towering high above the rooftops below. It’s the only obvious landmark in the vicinity, one that you would pass if walking from San Marco to San Zanipolo. This is the tower of Santa Maria Formosa, which translates as ‘St Mary the Buxom’. This came about because the Virgin Mary appeared to St Magnus in a dream as a buxom woman.
The interior of the church is worth visiting to see Palma Vecchio’s Polyptych of St Barbara. Also look out for the amazing gurning grotesque on the corner of the exterior wall of the church – one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Vaporetto: San Marco (San Zaccaria)
Rialto Fish Markets
Rialto Bridge is one of the most obvious top sights in Venice, but just around the corner you’ll find another Venice landmark that’s less photogenic but a lot more rewarding: the Pescheria, or Rialto Fish Market.
It’s where the daily lagoon catch is disgorged and bought up by stallholders. There’s a good chance you’ll see that night’s dinner wriggling in a bowl or on a table top. It’s one of the few places you can still see a slice of true Venice life. There’s no more of a quintessential Venetian sight than a grandmother or grandfather lugging a trolley-load of fish to the nearest traghetto (gondola ferry) before crossing the Grand Canal to take it home to cook.
Vaporetto: Rialto Mercato
Santa Maria Dei Miracoli
Santa Maria dei Miracoli church is perhaps more of an exquisite hidden treasure than a landmark, but it deserves the attention all the same.
It was built by Pietro Lombardo in the late 15th century to house a painting of the Virgin Mary believed to have miraculous properties. It’s one of the most beautiful of all Venice buildings, with most of the interior and exterior covered in marble. The church is hidden away in a quiet corner of Cannaregio sestiere, the sort of place you’re either seeking out or stumble upon.
Vaporetto: Rialto or Ospedale
Columns Of St Mark And St Theodore
The Piazzetta di San Marco is the space between the waterfront (Molo) and the Piazza di San Marco (St Mark’s Square) proper. A column each side frames the grand entrance to the city. It’s one of the best entrances you can make to a city – the Praca do Comercio in Lisbon is probably the next best, but this is something else.
The two columns are believed to date from the 13th century. One is topped by a statue of St Theodore, the patron saint of Venice before St Mark was given this title. The second column supports the statue of the Lion of St Mark, the emblem of the city. It is actually a griffin, believed to date from around 300 BC, acquired from Cilicia.
Vaporetto: San Marco (Vallaresso) or San Marco (San Zaccaria)
The Doge’s Palace Venice (Palazzo Ducale) was the official residence of the elected leaders of Venice. It’s one of the three or four top tourist attractions in Venice Italy, and likewise one of the premier Venice museums. As with the other top things to see in Venice Italy, you’re confronted with the problem of getting in without wasting hours of your precious time queuing up. One solution is to visit Venice out of season, of course.
It was the headquarters of the Venetian government, and one of the world’s outstanding Gothic buildings. Even by Venetian standards it’s sumptuously decorated, with amazing works by all of the Venice art greats – Tintoretto, Titian, Carpaccio and Veronese for starters. It also contains Venice’s gaol, which you access through the Bridge of Sighs.
Vaporetto: San Marco (Vallaresso) or San Marco (San Zaccaria)
This humble canal basin would seldom feature as one of the top things to see in Venice, but it’s one of the most frequented Venice tourist spots.
It’s hidden away just behind St Mark’s Square, one of the most popular Venice places to visit of all. It’s a gondola park, where anything up to 25-30 gondoliers can be found looking for custom at any one time. As well as being in prime gondola ride in Venice territory, it’s also a great spot to visit if you’re photographing Venice.
Vaporetto: San Marco (Vallaresso)
Scala Contarini Del Bovolo
We might be stretching it slightly calling the Scala Contarini del Bovolo a Venice landmark as it’s quite hard to find. It’s well off the beaten path in Venice terms, but is one of the most worthwhile, intriguing places in Venice to visit.
The Scala is the external staircase of a medieval palazzo. It winds its way up a corner of the building like a snail (bovolo), hence the name. It has opened to visitors over the last few years, and offers a great view over the rooftops of Venice.
Vaporetto: Rialto or Sant’ Angelo
San Marco Basilica – St Mark’s Basilica
San Marco is one of the most beautiful churches in the world, an exotic concoction of domes and crosses evoking visions of the Near East. It was hugely influenced by Byzantine architecture, its stunning exterior matched inside by the incredibly lavish golden mosaics, along with those at Ravenna among the finest in the world.
Everyone wants to see St Mark’s Venice. It’s a staggering sight, and should be at the top of most what to see in Venice wish lists. The only drawback is that the Basilica is absolutely jammed with visitors most of the time, and you have ten minutes being herded through like cattle when you really need hours to appreciate it. San Marco is one of the best free things to do in Venice, but you pay for ‘extras’ such as entrance to the Loggia or the Pala d’Oro, a spectacular golden altarpiece.
Vaporetto: San Marco (Vallaresso) or San Marco (San Zaccaria)
St Mark’s Campanile
The Campanile of San Marco is the tallest. most visible, most prominent landmark Venice has. It dominates the San Marco skyline, towering high above St Mark’s Square. It’s also an outstanding vantage point from which you can see the entire city and many of the Venice lagoon islands.
The campanile was rebuilt in 1912 after collapsing ten years earlier. It’s 323 feet (98 metres) high, and is one of the most recognisable Venice icons of all. It has also been the inspiration for many similar towers around the world, including the church of St Euphemia in Rovinj, Croatia.
Vaporetto: San Marco (Vallaresso) or San Marco (San Zaccaria)
The Gesuati church is the most prominent landmark in one of the most beautiful parts of Venice, southern Dorsoduro sestiere. Its Neoclassical front dominates the Zattere, the walkway along the Giudecca Canal on the southern shore of Dorsoduro. And its dome can be seen along the canals behind.
It was built in the 18th century to accommodate the Jesuate order, and has mostly remained intact, retaining its Rococo decorations. The highlight inside is the frescoed ceiling by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
San Trovaso Church and Boatyard
Just around the corner from the Gesuati church, you encounter a scene you could only ever find in Venice. The Squero di San Trovaso is a boatyard next to the canal, one of the last places you can go to get your gondola repaired. Behind it, a 16th century church completes the scene, its belltower leaning to the right, looking like it’s about to topple into the canal.
Sit across the canal at the Osteria del Squero, enjoy a drink and some of the best cicchetti in Venice (Venetian bar snacks). One of the most beautiful places in Venice, just off the beaten track but close to one of the main vaporetto stops.
Santa Maria Del Giglio
The church of St Mary of the Lily occupies a prominent square halfway between San Marco and the Accademia bridge. It’s also known as Santa Maria Zobenigo, after the family that originally founded it.
The present church dates from the late 17th century, and is one of the brashest, boldest, downright marvellous works of the Venetian Baroque period. The bright white façade is stunning, though don’t go looking closely for any religious statuary. It’s dedicated to the life of Admiral Antonio Barbaro, for whom the church was built. One of the best things to do in Venice at night is to walk from San Marco to Accademia bridge and back. This is also one of the best walks in Venice.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.