Venice for Free

Fourteen free sights and experiences in Venice

The mosaics of St. MarksBasilica di San Marco ★★★ - Let's just come out and say it: there simply is no church in Europe more lavishly decorated, more exquisitely mosaicked, more glittering with gold than San Marco, the cathedral of Venice. Built in the 11th century, this medieval basilica topped by a quintet of Byzantine domes is swathed inside in 40,000 square feet of glittering golden mosaics... » more
The Canale Grande of VeniceThe Grand Canal ★★★ - The Grand Canal is Venice's main artery and primary boulevard, a two-mile ribbon of water plied by hundreds of ferries, gondolas, garbage scows, speedboats, and small commercial craft daily. This inverted S-curve of a canal is lined with more than 200 of the most gorgeous Venetian palazzi (palaces), called home by a legion of ex-pats like Wagner, Byron, Robert Browning, Hemingway, Proust, Henry James, and Ruskin... » more
St. Mark's Square in VeniceDancing on Piazza San Marco ★★ - The living room of Venice is a year-round carnival, one of milling tourists, the glittering mosaics of St. Marks' cathedral, kids feeding an endless supply of pigeons, locals relaxing at outdoor café tables under 16th century arcades, and couples caught up in Venice's romance dancing on the cobblestones... » more
The island of Torcello near VeniceTramping around Torcello ★★ - Wander in the footsteps of Hemingway on this swampy, half-deserted island in the northern Lagoon with a remarkable mosaicked medieval church... » more
The island of Burano near VeniceStrolling around Burano ★★ - Sleepy but vibrant Burano is the fishing village version of Venice, where little old ladies still hand-tat old fashioned lace in the doorways of tidy little houses, each painted in a glorious cacophony of colors that's reflected in the gently rippling waters of quiet canals... » more
Lose the map; enjoy exploring VeniceGetting lost ★★ - You're going to get lost anyway in Venice's incomprehensible tangle of alleys and sudden dead-ends into canals; might as well put the (useless) map away and enjoy it... » more
The church of San Giorgio Maggiore in VeniceSan Giorgio Maggiore - Nearly every visitor to Venice snap a picture of it, yet barely a handful ever board the vaporetto to visit this Palladio-designed church on its own little island in the Bacino San Marco, where the Grand Canal empties out in front of Piazza San Marco. This is a shame, since they're missing a Venetian architectural glory decorated with works by Tintoretto, Carpaccio, and Jacopo Bassano—plus spectacular views from the bell tower (though that bit does charge admission)... » more
San Trovaso boatyards in VeniceWatching gondolas be made at the Squero di San Trovaso - One of the few remaining gondola boat yards in Venice, just a few hundred yards from the Accademia, where you can watch these master boat builders ply their ancient craft... » more
The Ponte di Rialto in VeniceRialto Bridge - This shop-lined, 16th-century stone bridge was, until the 19th century, the only place you could cross the Grand Canal. It has for centuries been a gathering place and prime meeting spot, the place you to get the pulse of the city (or these days, the pulse of the tourists)... » more
The Rialto market in VeniceRialto Market - A crowded market of fish, veggies, and souvenirs in the San Polo district... » more
The church of Santa Maria della Salute in VeniceSanta Maria della Salute - This majestic and compact 17th-century baroque jewel decorated with works by Titian, Luca Giordano, and Tintoretto proudly reigns at the tip of Dorsoduro, almost directly across from Piazza San Marco where the Grand Canal empties into the wide Bacino San Marco basin. A grateful Venice commissioned La Salute in 1631 after surviving yet another plague thanks to the divine intervention of the Virgin Mary of Good Health (La Salute)... » more
The church of San Simeone Piccolo in VeniceSan Simeone Piccolo - Not an important church, but it begs to be identified since its green-oxidized copper dome is the first thing nearly every visitor sees—right across the Grand Canal from the train station. Rebuilt in 1718–38 by Giovanni Scalfarotto on the site of a 9th-century church, San Simeone holds the quirky status of being the only church in Venice to celebrate Mass in Latin daily... » more
Scola Spagnoli synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto of VeniceThe Jewish Ghetto - The historic Jewish Ghetto, first of its kind in Europe and still home to Venice's tiny Jewish population, is the only bit of Venice with medieval "skyscrapers." To truly appreciate the history and culture, though, you will have to pay for a tour of the synagogues via the local museum of Jewish life and history... » more
The hand-blown glass of VeniceBrowsing the glass workshops - Sure, buying will cost you a pretty penny, but it's free to browse, and to watch the artisans hand-craft trinkets at their desks (for the bigger stuff, and proper glass-blowing facilities, hop a ferry to the island of Murano). » more

Tips & links

How to find the Venice sights that will interest you

There are several ways helps you browse the sights of Venice, each neatly tucked into its own box below. You can get quick lists of all the top sights—the ones no one wants to miss when they visit Venice—or of all the attractions that are free of charge.

Or you can check out Reid's List, a thoroughly subjective compendium of some of my favorite, slightly less famous sights and experiences.

If you prefer thematic categories, you can see all the major museums or churches or palazzi at once, or if you're looking for something else to see or do nearby a major sight, you can peruse everything by neighborhood.

If you like to leave the planning of the daily itinerary to others, you can also sign up for a guided tour or two.

Or, if you want help cramming as much of it all as possible into your visit, you can peruse our perfect itineraries for one, two, or three days in Venice.

The top half-dozen or so sights listed under each category above are just a sampling. If you want to read short, one-line reviews of all sights within a category, click on the category title (or you can click on an individual sight for a quick link to its full description).

About the star ratings

I have rated every sight and experience in Venice from zero to three stars.

Three stars, two stars, etc. are fairly self-explanatory—but note that it's not that the "no-star sights" are not worth the bother.

In fact, in any other city they'd probably rank much higher. They're just cursed to be in Venice, competing for your precious vacation time alongside St. Mark's Basilica, the Accademia Gallery, and a gondola ride—all solid three-stars.

This is a purely subjective rating, but it will help you get a sense of which sights pack the highest wow factor—and where to spend your time. In fact, you could view the starts thusly:

  • Anything rated three stars you should try to see even if you only have one day in Venice.
  • With two days, you can try to pack in as many two-starred sights as well.
  • With three or four days, you'll have time to fit in some one-star sights around the edges of your sightseeing schedule.
  • If you're lucky enough to be in town for more than four days, you might take the time to visit some of the no-starred sights.
Tours, walks, & activities
How long does it take to see Venice?

Planning your day: You could spend an afternoon in Venice, a day or two, or a week and never run out of things to do and new corners to discover.

I would try to give Venice at least a day and a half. Three days would be better, but most people don't have that kind of time, even for Venice.

I have suggestions for how to spend anywhere from half a day in Venice up to three full days on the Venice itineraries pages.

Venice is a city that, at first glance, seems excessively touristy and overrun. Some visitors can't wait to move on to someplace that feels a bit less like a canal-rodden Disneyland.

However, given time (and purposefully getting lost once or twice), Venice reveals its serenissima side and begins to seduce even the most jaded of travelers.

Venice itineraries

Venice sightseeing passes

There are several cumulative ticket museum passes and discounts for pre-booking Venice:

  • Museum Pass ★★ (covering 11 civic museums and sights)
  • Chorus Pass (covering 16 major churches)
  • Venice Connected (a pre-booking service for sights and services offering minor discounts)
Venice links & resources

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Venice tourist information
Giardini ex Reali, San Marco (between Piazza San Marco and its western ferry stop)
Vaporetto: San Marco–Giardinetti Reali
tel. +39-041-529-8711

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