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. 

cafe restaurant in Venice Italy

All the evocative little streets zigzagging along scenic canals and the picturesque bridges around every corner.  Venice is enchanting.

boat under bridge along canal venice italy
morning breakfast on the canal in venice italy
Breakfast at my hotel on the Grand Canal
sunset with gondalas boats grand canal venice italy

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.

st marks domes and spires
byzantine gold mosaics covering inside of basilica
mosiac stone and marble floor
gold bejeweled pala d'oro
Pala d’Oro
upstairs area of st marks basilica
Upstairs access via the Museum
four bronze horses in st marks museum
The original bronze horses housed in the Museum
bronze horse close up eyes

Doge’s Palace:

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.

St marks square with a view
The Palazzo Ducale on the left
palazzo ducale courtyard
Courtyard inside the Palazzo Ducale
doge with lion of venice italy
The Winged Lion, the Symbol of Venice
paintings and secret panels in the palazzo ducale
One of the Rooms with Secret Panels
painting of the doge
gilded ornate ceiling
pink marble
looking through the stone window on bridge of sighs
View from the Bridge of Sighs

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.

titians painting of angel visiting
One of a few paintings not by Tintoretto, Titian’s, The Annunciation
gilded framed paintings by tintoretto
Tintoretto’s Ceiling
close up of painting on ceiling
close up on part of the ceiling
dark wood carvings
large tintoretto painting
Tintoretto’s The Crucifixion

Gallerie dell’Accademia: 

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.

titian painting of little girl in blue dress
Titian’s The Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple
gallery art room with seats
This Museum has a lot of seating which is always nice
painting of St Ursula's dream
A panel in Carpaccio’s The Legend of Saint Ursula series
painting by carpaccio
Another panel in Carpaccio’s The Legend of Saint Ursula series
painting by veronese
Veronese’s The Feast in the House of Levi was originally, a Last Supper. Veronese changed the title after the inquisition, who disapproved of some of the characters and chaos in the painting, brought him to trial on accusations of irreverence and heresy.


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.

cichetti on a plate
food in Venice italy
cichetti next to canal with wine

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 🙂

brick facade of frari church

Church of Santa Maria Assunta:

Located in a very peaceful and quiet area of Venice this church is exquisite inside and out.

ornate interior of church

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.

crazy ceiling
The church sells postcards of the ceiling but they don’t do it justice.
street art
Apparently done by a well known street artist who goes by the pseudonym of Banksy

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.

beautiful altar

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.

white facade of church
dark beautiful paintings

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.

3d altar painting
inside church

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.

guy with backpack
My View

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.

pastel houses
The Houses….. now you’ve seen them

Venice Enchants…

marble facade
inside a shop with a view and masks
brick bridge along small canal
pink marble