While exploring Venice… I have to admit, I saw more ratty rundown “museums” then I cared too, but I also saw masterful works of art and a room with a ceiling that moved me far more than the Sistine’s did.
In all, I spent a week in Venice and These are
My Best of Venice Picks
Bridges & Canals
To start with, (as I’m sure most anyone who’s been there would agree) the best part of Venice is simply Venice itself.
All the evocative little streets zigzagging along scenic canals and the picturesque bridges around every corner. Venice is enchanting.
St Mark’s Basilica:
Glistening gold mosaics in Byzantine motifs cover the ceilings throughout St Mark’s. The floors and columns are covered in beautiful marble of varying colors. When visiting there are two options; one can visit during normal hours or take a special access tour at night. See my post — where I compare the two options. During normal hours there are optional sights within the Basilica that require additional paid admission; the treasury, the altarpiece known as the Pala d’Oro, and the San Marco Museum. The museum houses the original bronze horses from Constantinople and gives one access to the upstairs viewing area. I go into further detail about these in my post mentioned above.
The Palazzo Ducale was not just the Doge’s residence, this gothic style palace was also the center of Venetian government. I admit I wasn’t really expecting much of the Palazzo. I’ve seen my share of museums that used to be big important buildings that are now really just big empty buildings. So I was joyously surprised with my visit and it definitely makes my best of Venice list. I do, however, recommend a guided tour, because there definitely were a few rooms that without the guide would have been just that… rooms.. A visit to the Doge’s Palace also gives one access to walk across the Bridge of Sighs where you can gaze out at Venice through the stonework lattice windows.
Scuola Grande Di San Rocco:
This place was so stunning it took my breath away. It is often called, “Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel,” but in my most respectful and honest opinion, it was so much better. The Scuole were confraternities. There were different types of Scoule in Venice that were assembled to protect the various interests of their members. From craft worker’s scoule to religious scoule. The Scuola Di San Rocco was formed around the veneration of St Roch, the patron saint of plague victims. As Venice was repeatedly ravaged by plague, the Scuola Di San Rocco soon became one of the most prominent Scuola in Venice. The walls and ceiling of its meeting hall are adorned with large, gold framed, canvases mostly painted by Tintoretto and they are an impressive sight to behold.
Wow, this museum has some incredible artwork. A few of the guide books I read before my trip, (in their suggested top itineraries) recommend visiting the Gallerie “Only if you’re really into art”. I have to say, I wholeheartedly disagree. Some of the pieces I saw in this museum were breathtaking and went beyond the simple category of art, to that which was simply glorious to behold. I think my favorite were the panels by Carpaccio, the details and the colors made me so happy and were so delightful… I didn’t want to leave.
Small dishes eaten before lunch, for lunch, and after lunch, often with an apertivo (a pre-meal drink). My favorite were the mini crostini sandwiches. There are little cafes selling cichetti all over Venice.
Big Churches here, little Churches there….lots of Churches everywhere:
While several of Venice’s churches are beautiful from the outside and can be admired from the canals as you float by, there are others where it’s worthwhile to find your way inside. The best churches I stepped foot within (other than St Marks Basilica)…..
Basilica S.Maria Gloriosa dei Frari:
From artwork to monuments, the very large Frari Church is packed with sights to see. A few of the most highly regarded include, the altarpiece by Titian and Donatello’s St John the Baptist. Full disclosure, I don’t know that much about art. Often when I look at highly acclaimed works I end up thinking to myself, “hmm… I don’t get it” and for me this church has a lot of, “I don’t get its”. But it’s still worthwhile and always fun to see such trumpeted pieces, especially Donatello’s. Thanks to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I’ve been familiar with the name Donatello since I was a kid. How could I not want to see a Donatello? Even if when I actually saw it, I was a completely nonplussed and all I could think was, “Wait…what… that’s it?” lol 🙂
Church of Santa Maria Assunta:
Located in a very peaceful and quiet area of Venice this church is exquisite inside and out.
Chiesa di San Pantalon:
This is definitely a church one should step foot inside. The best example of a plain facade hiding an incredible interior. The main highlight is the immense ceiling painting, The Martyrdom and apotheosis of St. Pantalon, by G. Fumiani. The exterior is so plain you might miss it, so look for the graffiti painting across the canal from the church.
Church of Saint Roch:
Just across from the Scuola di San Rocco (or the school of Saint Roch) is the Church of Saint Roch. Like the Scuola there are several paintings by Tintoretto in the church as well as paintings by many others, including Fumiani, who painted the ceiling of the San Pantalon church mentioned above. Above the altar lies the urn with Saint Roch’s body and to the left of the altar one of my favorite Tintoretto paintings, St Roch comforted by an Angel in prison.
Chiesa di San Zaccaria:
This church is hard to miss with its large, rather stark, white facade. The darker interior filled with beautiful paintings is a perfect contrast to the exterior.
Chiesa di San Moise:
This very small church doesn’t have a lot of art and none of it is famous, but I loved it all the same. It had an air of mystery and I felt enveloped by an unseen spirituality inside. It’s hard to tell in the photo but when seen in real life, the entire altar painting looks like a sculpture until you get right up in front of it.
My Honorable Mentions:
Visit one of the many Palazzo (Palace) Museums: Ca’Rezzonico is a good option although by no means the only one.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum: This modern art museum may not appeal to everyone. But it does house works by Picasso, Kandinsky, and Pollock.
What to Skip:
Using a Vaporetto as a substitute for a gondola excursion –
With all due respect to Rick Steves the Vaporetti were not my idea of an enjoyable experience. Unless you’re super lucky and get one of just a few good seats, you likely won’t have a view of much. The vaporetti are crowded with people constantly getting on and off. You’ll be bumped, jostled, and pushed about and in most cases any view you might have had will be blocked by the extremely overzealous and totally unaware. I can’t count the number of times I was whacked in the head by some guy with a protruding backpack he seemed to completely forget he was wearing.
The over hyped Murano and Burano Islands –
It seems to be extremely trendy to recommend visiting the islands of Murano and Burano. Their colorful houses are the main attraction. Considering there is very little else to see and it takes well over an hour to get to them, these over hyped islands make my short list of what to skip.