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What Is Venice Known for & Famous For?

Venice is a once-in-a-lifetime tourist destination and features high on many people’s bucket lists. It’s known for its beauty and unique waterway system, but what else makes this Italian city so unique, and why is it worth visiting?

Venice is known and famous for its extensive waterways, romantic gondola rides, and exquisitely-designed churches. As a coastal city, it has a rich fishing heritage and was the birthplace of Marco Polo, the famous explorer.

Venice is made for romance and offers a glimpse back into history with its glorious architecture and old-world charm. If you seek a destination of magic and beauty, please read on to discover why visiting Venice is so worthwhile.

1. Canals

Venice’s winding canals are arguably the city’s most famous feature. Instead of streets, the city has a network of canals, separating the various districts into islands. A convenient way to get around Venice is by Vaporetto (public waterway transport) or gondola.

The canals were present before the city was populated, but the local authorities have modified them over the centuries to make them easier to navigate.

You’re not allowed to swim in the canals, and the local authorities will fine you if they catch you throwing litter into the water.

2. Water

Venice has plenty of water in its canals, but this water has a dark and murky tinge. It’s not advisable to drink Venice’s canal water because it contains low levels of pollution and it is full of sediment from the canal bed.

You can clearly see the distinction between the canal’s high and low tides—at low tide, the canal’s edges become visible, while high tide causes the water levels to rise by a few inches.

3. The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal is Venice’s largest waterway and has a unique s-shape. It’s the busiest Venetian waterway, and you can spot numerous boats and gondolas making their way down the canal at any time of day.

Catching a ride with the Vaporetto, the canal’s public transport system is the easiest way to experience the Grand Canal. From the boat, you’ll spot many famous landmarks, including:

 

  • Palazzo Corner della Ca’Grande. 
  • Santa Maria della Salute.
  • St. Mark’s Basilica.
  • Doge’s Palace.

Another popular way of exploring the Grand Canal is walking or enjoying a drink alongside it.

4. Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance occurred between the 14th and 17th centuries and was a time of extraordinary cultural and technological discoveries. The Renaissance movement strongly influenced Venice due to its watery location, allowing trading ships to stop and sell their wares.

The extensive trading during the Renaissance made Venice a very wealthy city; you can still see evidence of this in the beautifully-adorned buildings throughout the city.

5. Adriatic Sea

Venice lies on a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, the northernmost part of the Mediterranean Sea. All of its canals eventually run into the Adriatic Sea, and the city is the ideal location for boarding a cruise of the surrounding countries and cities.

Many tourists explore Venice for a few days or weeks and board one of the many ferries in the Adriatic Sea port. Traveling by sea is a comfortable and relaxing way to discover Italy’s neighboring countries, such as Croatia.

6. Gothic Palaces

Venice was a busy trading port in the 14th to 16th centuries, and, during this time, its population increased rapidly, with a corresponding rise in more homes and official buildings. The city’s strong North African, Turkish, and Oriental influences resulted in a unique, Gothic architectural style.

This style included:

  • Stained glass windows.
  • Excessively ornamental building facades.
  • Pointed arches.
  • Tall spires.

If you would like to admire some typical Gothic architecture in Venice, you should visit the following well-known buildings:

  • Basilica di San Marco.
  • Santa maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
  • Madonna dell’Orto.
  • Doge’s Palace.

7. Piazza San Marco

The center of Venice is the Piazza San Marco, the city’s main public square, which is always bustling and vibrant. It’s the perfect base to explore Venice’s most famous landmarks and a convenient place to meet someone.

Buildings with beautiful facades flank the square and also allow easy access to the canals.

8. Doge’s Palace

You will locate Doge’s Palace on St. Mark’s Square, and it’s an ancient Venetian palace featuring fascinating Gothic architecture.

It has many ornate ceilings and walls, but its main highlight is the world’s largest oil painting, Il Paradiso, which Jacopo Robusti painted.

As you walk through Doge’s Palace’s intricately decorated halls, you can admire Titian’s world map and the palace’s chambers with their original furnishings.

There is only a nominal entrance fee for Doge’s Palace. However, you can opt for a more immersive experience by paying for a guided tour.

9. Venetian Glass

Venetian glass is one of the city’s oldest treasures, and if you head to the island of Murano, you can admire the many pieces on display in museums.

Glassmakers began creating boldly colored glassware with intricate designs in the 16th century. Today, Venetian glass remains popular, although it’s expensive.

You can buy beautiful wine glasses with delicate and ornate stems or bulky vases with wavy rims, one of the characteristics of Venetian glassware.

Murano has many glassware shops where you can buy unique pieces with elaborate designs and specks of gold or silver.

10. Food

As a coastal city, Venice’s supermarkets and restaurants always have plenty of fresh seafood, which is the main ingredient in many popular dishes.

Popular menu items at Venetian restaurants include traditional Italian food, such as pasta and thin-based pizza. However, you should consider the following Venetian delicacies at least once during your visit:

  • Fritto Misto. This delicious dish is fried fish (usually whitefish), and locals commonly serve it with French fries. 
  • Sarde in Saor. You can try sarde in Saor (or sardines) as a starter or side. 
  • Bigoli in Salsa. Bigoli in salsa is a tomato-based pasta dish with sardines that will have you begging for another helping. 

11. Culture

Venice has a rich and varied culture. The city is famous for its gondolas and fishing boats as it has a coastal location and extensive waterway system.

Above Venice’s winding canals, many ornate bridges provide picturesque views of the city and its beautiful, Gothic buildings.

When strolling down one of Venice’s narrow streets or walkways, you’ll feel that you’ve gone back in time because the city has resisted modernization, and its main elements have changed little over the centuries. This love for tradition is the main feature of Venice’s culture.

Although the city is vibrant and busy, it retains its serene and laid-back atmosphere, and locals often refer to it as “La Serenissima,” which means “serene” in Italian.

12. St. Mark’s Square

St. Mark’s Square (known as Piazza San Marco in Italian) is Venice’s largest and most central square. surrounded by a few famous landmarks, including:

  • Doge’s Palace.
  • St. Mark’s Basilica.
  • The Caffe Florian (which is one of the world’s oldest cafes).

This vibrant square is ideal for enjoying coffee and snacks while watching the entertaining street performers and impromptu concerts.

If you want to enjoy a meal at St. Mark’s Square, it’s better to walk a block or two and find a reasonably-priced cafe or restaurant because those on the square are notoriously expensive.

13. Peggy Guggenheim Collection

If you love contemporary art, you should visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a museum that’s easily accessible from the Grand Canal.

The museum has countless paintings by famous artists, including:

  • Vincent Van Gogh.
  • Pablo Picasso.
  • Giorgio de Chirico.
  • Jean Metzinger.
  • Gino Severini.

This museum is one of Venice’s most popular tourist attractions, and if you want to visit, you should try and book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

14. Venetian Lagoon

The Venetian Lagoon lies on the Adriatic Sea, where Venice’s canals flow into the ocean. There is so much to do and see in Venice that it is easy to forget the Venetian Lagoon’s natural splendor with its mudflats and numerous islands.

When the lagoon is at low tide, the shape of the mudflats and islands becomes more prominent, making it an excellent time to visit.

The best way to explore the Venetian Lagoon is by taking a guided boat trip. Many companies offer boat trips around the lagoon and stop at the islands, and some also include dinner and dancing.

15. Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica (or the Basilica di San Marco) is Venice’s main Roman Catholic church, located on the Piazza San Marco.

Before entering this imposing church, you will encounter the beautiful facade, which features many ornate arches in the Byzantine style. Once inside, you’ll need a few hours to admire the numerous decorative arches and mosaic-covered walls.

Unfortunately, you can’t take photographs inside as the flash could damage the interior’s delicate features.

Entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica is free, but you might consider paying a small fee for a guided tour as they are incredibly informative.

16. La Serenissima

La Serenissima is one of Venice’s most famous nicknames. It’s a very apt description of Venice because its meaning in Italian is “serene.”

Venice has always been a harmonious and happy city, the main reason for this nickname. Over the years, Venice has lived out its serene reputation and has remained a peaceful place, even when the rest of the country was in turmoil.

When interacting with locals, you’ll notice their friendly demeanor and relaxed approach to life, another feature of the city’s harmonious lifestyle.

17. Gondolas

You can’t leave Venice without experiencing at least one gondola ride. Instead of doing all the hard rowing work, a gondolier propels the boat for you and points out all the passing sites.

Gondola rides can be pricey, but negotiating is acceptable, and you should never accept the first quoted price.

You can take a gondola ride at most times of the day, but if you want a memorable experience, try and arrange one at sunset, when you can admire Venice in the early evening.

18. Marco Polo

Marco Polo was a famous explorer and one of Venice’s most famous residents. He was born in the 13th century to a wealthy merchant family and set sail from the city to embark on his many prosperous voyages.

After reaching China, Marco Polo returned home and chronicled his experience in the famous book, “The Travels of Marco Polo.” Today, you can visit his old home (Casa di Marco Polo), which is close to the Rialto Bridge.

Unfortunately, you can’t enter the house, but you can admire its exterior.

19. Acqua Alta (High water)

Acqua Alta refers to Venice’s highest tide levels, typically occurring for a few days each year (generally between October and January). Acqua Alta coincides with prevailing high winds and the astronomical high tide.

At this time, water in the canals rises by several inches and floods some low-lying areas. Although St. Mark’s Square often floods, you can still walk through it.

20. Rialto Bridge

Venice has many bridges, but the Rialto Bridge (or Ponte di Rialto)  is unique because it’s a shopping bridge.

Located over the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge has several independent stores selling trinkets, Italian fashion items, and Venetian glass.

The Rialto Bridge is the perfect place to pick up a special souvenir or a gift. However, if you’re not a shopping fan, you could always admire the bridge from a gondola in the Grand Canal. Here, you can take photos of its beautiful, symmetrical patterns and whimsical carvings.

21. Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs (or the Ponte dei Sospiri) is a decorative limestone bridge suspended above the Rio di Palazzo canal.

This bridge is close to Venice’s central prison and is so-called because it’s the place where legend tells that prisoners would emit one last sigh before going to jail.

You can only cross the bridge if you pay for a guided tour of Doge’s Palace. However, you can view it from various points, including the Cononica or Pagli Bridge.

22. Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute (or Saint Mary of Health) is a large church along the Grand Canal.

After stepping off your boat or gondola, you climb the large staircase, and your first view of this basilica will be the intricate statues at the entrance.

Make sure that you have plenty of time to explore this beautiful basilica because it has exquisite architecture and many interesting paintings by Tiziano Vecellio, including:

  • St. Mark Enthroned with Saints.
  • Sacrifice of Isaac.
  • St. John the Evangelist.
  • The Descent of the Holy Ghost.

23. Teatro La Fenice (La Fenice)

Teatro La Fenice is Venice’s fabled opera house in the city’s central San Marco district. It is one of Italy’s most renowned opera houses and features regular performances by famous opera singers.

It suffered a devastating fire in 1996, but it was lovingly rebuilt, redecorated, and reopened in 2004 after an elaborate reopening ceremony.

La Fenice is usually fully booked, and booking tickets online is advisable well in advance.

24. Venetian Arsenal

The Venetian Arsenal was a famous shipyard built in the 12th century to showcase the city’s naval prowess and impressive ship fleet.

Over time the locals gradually expanded the shipyard until it became obsolete as it was no longer large enough to accommodate large ships. 

You cannot enter the Venetian Arsenal, but it’s worth admiring its monument at the entrance, which features two clock towers.

25. Carnival

Venice is famous for its elaborate carnival, which takes place annually, and a few weeks before Lent.

The carnival became an annual tradition during the Renaissance when there was a sentiment to make all Venetians feel equal. The carnival organizers made this possible by asking all participants to wear masks and elaborate masquerade costumes so that everyone could hide their identity.

Masks and costumes aren’t mandatory at the carnival today, and you can admire the many processions and performers from the sidelines.

26. Venice Film Festival

Venice Film Festival is a popular cinematic event occurring during the summer. Most people would say that the Cannes Film Festival is more popular, but the Venice Film Festival is the oldest one globally.

It takes place on Lido Island in the lagoon and showcases the best offerings from the film industry.

If you get a ticket, it’s well worth attending as you might spot more than a few movie stars walking around the island.

27. Libreria Acqua Alta

Libreria Acqua Alta is one of the world’s most famous bookstores. It’s located in Castello, close to the Venetian Arsenal, and has multiple rooms with wall-to-ceiling shelves of books.

No one knows how many books this store has, but if you’re looking for a particular title, you’ll probably find it if you spend a few hours browsing its vast stock.

28. Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art

Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art is a Santa Croce-based museum showcasing multiple works of art by 19th and 20th-century artists.

You’ll need at least three hours to appreciate everything the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art offers because it has three floors, and each piece will captivate you.

Examples of artists featured in the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art include:

  • Georgio de Chirico.
  • Wassily Kandinsky.
  • Umberto Boccioni.
  • Gustav Klimt.

29. Basilica S.Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (or St. Mary of the Friars) is a spectacular 13th-century Venetian church featuring various Renaissance artworks, such as:

  • “Madonna and Child with Saints” by  Giovanni Bellini.
  • “Pesaro Madonna” by Titian.
  • “Saint John the Baptist” by Donatello.

This impressive building is Venice’s largest church. Although it doesn’t have an ornamental facade like many other Venetian churches, its interior will enthrall you as you admire the beautifully decorated walls and ceilings.

30. Expect To Get Lost

Venices is famous for its winding canals and alleyways, which all look similar. When wandering around the city, getting lost is normal, but there is always a friendly local to give you directions.

Some locals only speak Italian, so it’s worth learning a few words before you visit. Alternatively, download a navigation app on your phone to help you find your way.

31. Tourism

Venice is one of the most-visited cities in the world, and the city sees around 20 million tourists every year.

Most people enjoy visiting the city during the summer when the weather is warm and sunny. However, if you visit during the winter months, you can benefit from lower prices and a less crowded experience as there are fewer tourists.

32. San Giorgio Maggiore

Venice is typically a busy city, even more so during the peak summer season. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, take a Vaporetto ride to San Giorgio Maggiore, an island just outside the city offering superb views.

After admiring Venice’s skyline, you can explore San Giorgio Maggiore’s campanile (or bell tower). There is an elevator if you don’t feel like walking to the top.

33. Venetian Ghetto

The Venetian Ghetto is located in Venice’s Cannaregio district and became a Jewish ghetto in 1516 when the local government forced Jews to live in one area.

Today, it’s a trendy Venetian district and well worth exploring as its backstreets have numerous informal market stands selling vintage goods and unique craft items.

After browsing the market stalls, you can eat at one of the area’s many excellent restaurants, including:

  • Ristorante Upupa Ghetto Venezia.
  • Osteria Al Vecio Forno.
  • Ba Ghetto Ve.
  • Mezzo Pieno.

34. Murano

Murano is a popular Venetian island that is famous for its glassmaking. It’s located near the Venetian Lagoon and features numerous glassware stores and places where you can watch glassblowing demonstrations.

Many of Murano’s glassmaking establishments date back several generations, with most families having their own glassmaking guidebooks.

35. Burano

You will find Burano in northern Venice, an ancient fishing village with brightly-colored fishermen’s cottages. You can often spot fishing boats moored along the waterways, and there are many opportunities to buy delicious and freshly-caught fish.

It’s also famous for its unique lace-making traditions, and there are many old lace stores where you can buy some beautiful pieces.

Conclusion

Visiting Venice is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s difficult not to fall in love with its winding canals and beautiful architecture.

The coastal location strongly influences its rich Italian culture, making eating at one of the many restaurants a treat for foodies.

It doesn’t matter when you decide to visit this famous Italian city because each season offers unique highlights. A summertime visit allows you to enjoy the long days and streetside cafes, while visiting in the winter is perfect for those wishing to avoid the crowds.

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