Photograph by Theo Westenberger
St. Mark’s Square
Called “the drawing room of Europe,” the Piazza was long the symbolic heart of Venice. These days it’s overcrowded with tourists and pigeons, but still magnificent, and it could take days to explore the sights: The Basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the bell tower, the clock tower, the Correr Museum, and more. Fees vary. Tip: Prebook entry to the Basilica (www.basilicasanmarco.it/) and special exhibits and tours (http://www.visitmuve.it/) to avoid lines.
Touristy, overpriced, and the singers belt out songs from Naples for an extra fee, but you’ll see Venice as it was meant to be seen—from the water. Tip: Avoid the jam-packed gondola points by St. Mark’s in favor of less-crowded spots like San Tomà. Ask for a trip through back canals rather than the Grand Canal, which you can see by vaporetto. Fee. www.gondolavenezia.it
Grand museum of Venetian masters from the 14th to 18th century, with works from Bellini, Tintoretto, and Titian; includes Veronese’s “Feast in the House of Levi” (intended to be a “Last Supper,” but when the Inquisition objected to its realistic details, Veronese changed the name). Tip: Entry to the Quadreria is by advance reservation only. Dorsoduro 1050; tel. 39 041 522 2247; fee. www.gallerieaccademia.org
Cross the famous 16th-century bridge and walk to the centuries-old open-air fish and produce markets; nearby meat, cheese, and specialty-food shops attract gourmands. Fish market is closed on Sundays and Mondays; produce market closed on Sundays. Afterward, take a traghetto (gondola ferry) across the Grand Canal for 50 cents; locals stand, but sit if you feel unsteady. Tip: Don’t handle the produce or you’ll risk a scolding; vendors select and bag it for you.
Aristocratic mansion on the Grand Canal where Robert Browning died in 1889; now a museum featuring 18th-century art and offering a peek at lifestyles of the past. Dorsoduro 3136; tel. 39 041 241 0100; fee. http://www.visitmuve.it/
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
“The single most concentrated dose of Tintoretto in the city.”—Damien Simonis, author, Lonely Planet Venice and Venice Condensed. The grand Renaissance building, home of the lay confraternity, is adorned with numerous paintings by Venetian school master Tintoretto; the artist’s masterpiece, ”La Crocifissione” (“The Crucifixion”), hangs upstairs in the Sala dell’Albergo side chamber. San Polo 3052; tel. 39 041 523 4864; fee. www.scuolagrandesanrocco.it
Chorus Pass Churches
“These museum-churches run the gamut in age, architectural style, and artistic content.”—Nan McElroy, author, Italy: Instructions for Use. Chorus Pass covers entry into 16 churches; includes must-see frescoed Frari and the “jewel box” Miracoli; buy at the first stop and visit the others as you wander; valid for one year. Fee. www.chorusvenezia.org
The Museo Ebraico di Venezia contains archives and artifacts documenting the history of Jewish life in the city; tours highlight the unique high-rise buildings in the area necessitated by overcrowding in the old Ghetto and some of the area’s historic synagogues; explores the culture of the different Jewish groups who lived in Venice. Cannaregio 2902/B; tel. 39 041 715 359; fee. www.museoebraico.it
San Giorgio Maggiore
The island opposite St. Mark’s Square offers breathtaking views (bell tower vista is incredible, with no lines); Palladian church contains Tintoretto’s “Last Supper;” weekend tours of the cloisters available. Fee. www.cini.it
Burano and Torcello
Tiny adjacent islands are worth the hour-long boat trip. Burano is a fishermen’s village and a photographer’s dream with its brightly colored houses. Torcello, steeped in Venetian history, was home to one of the swampy region’s first settlements; features a Byzantine church, bell tower with lagoon views, and a small museum.
Throngs of shoppers descend on the island of Murano to watch glassblowing demonstrations and buy souvenirs; local museum focuses on the history of world-famous Murano glass. En route, stop at San Michele, the cemetery island, last resting place of Igor Stravinsky, Ezra Pound, and others. Tip: Read Michela Scibilia’s Comprehensive Guide to the Island of Murano to get the most out of your visit.
Wander without an itinerary (but with a map in your pocket) away from the main sights to see authentic Venice. Try the long, sunny expanses of Cannaregio, the boatyards and neighborhood shops of San Pietro di Castello, the warren of narrow streets in Santa Croce. Cross some of the hundreds of bridges (each with a name); spot commemorative emblems on houses; pass through lanes so narrow you have to walk sideways.
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