Venice is one of the most unique cities in Italy and holds many free sights and attractions for the tourist. One of the best things to do in Venice is just walk around, strolling along the canals and admiring beautiful squares and buildings. Venice is divided into six sestere or districts. You can pick your favorite neighborhood and take a stroll. Use our sestiere Map to find the location of each district.
Here are suggestions for free places to see in Venice (free as of this writing). Click on each photo to see it larger. You can see more photos in our Venice Photos.
Basilica San Marco by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com
Piazza San Marco or Saint Mark's Square is the main tourist destination in Venice. Around it are important monuments, elegant historic buildings and expensive cafes, some with live music in the evening. You can hear the music for free as you walk around but sitting at a table is very expensive. Take a peek at the famous Caffe Florian, popular since 1720, and visit Basilica San Marco, Saint Mark's Cathedral, an impressive Byzantine style monument.
Piazza San Marco Photos
The picturesque and crowded Rialto Bridge has been the main bridge crossing Venice's Grand Canal since 1591. On the bridge are covered arches and shops and on one side is the Rialto Market, a good place to visit in the morning. This lively food market with lots of little stalls has been in operation for about 1000 years. Go early to see fresh fish being unloaded from the boats. In the Rialto Market area you can see what was probably Venice's first church, San Giacometto, founded in 471 and rebuilt in 1071, about the same time the Rialto Market was built. More about the Rialto Bridge.
Canals and Bridges
Venice Canal by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com
Venice has more than 150 canals ranging from the Grand Canal, the city's main thoroughfare, to tiny canals that are barely accessible to small boats. The canals are lined with old houses, often decked with flowers. Wandering along the streets by the canals is a pleasurable past-time. You're likely to get lost but that's part of the charm of Venice. Find a bridge on a quiet canal and watch the gondolas glide under it or head to the Grand Canal and watch the many boats that ply the waters of Venice. More than 400 bridges cross the many canals. Top Venice Bridges
Basilica Santa Maria della Salute
Santa Maria della Salute Church by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com
The octagonal Basilica Santa Maria della Salute is one of the most photographed churches in Venice. The Baroque church, built in the 17th century as thanks for the end of the plague, sits on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro neighborhood and is visible from the entrance to Piazza San Marco. Dramatic steps leading to the entrance are made of white Istrian stone and more than 100 figures adorn the church's buttresses. The massive interior is awe-inspiring and contains several Titians. For the festival held on November 21, a temporary bridge is laid across the Grand Canal and Venetians walk across it to the church.
The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, San Giorgio dei Greci, is the oldest and possibly historically the most important church of the Orthodox Diaspora. The church, considered to be one of the best Orthodox temples in the world, was constructed by the Greek community in the 16th century. It's found in the Castello district, once the home to a large Greek population. Inside are iconography accented with gold, post-Byzantine mosaics, wood stalls, and a frescoed cupola painted under Tintoretto's supervision. The church also has a leaning bell tower.
The word ghetto originated in Venice with the creation of the Jewish ghetto in 1516. Thousands of Jews were forced to live in a segregated area of Venice in what was Europe's first segregated Jewish community. There are two parts to the ghetto, the Ghetto Vecchio (old) and Ghetto Nuovo (new). Multi-story apartment buildings were built with low ceilings to accommodate the dense population and they can still be seen as you walk around. Two of the five historic synagogues are still in use, the Byzantine style Schola Spagnola, used in summer, and the Baroque Schola Levantina, used in winter.
Museum of Music
Near the Renaissance Scuola Grande di San Rocco art museum in the San Polo sestiere you'll find the free and interesting Museo della Musica. Besides a good collection of instruments and an exhibit about violin making, the museum gives an interesting look at the life of Antonio Vivaldi, composer and musician from Venice, in an exhibit called Antonio Vivaldi e il suo tempo.
Campo Santa Maria Formosa and Venetian SquaresCampo is what a square or piazza is called in Venice. Campo Santa Maria Formosa, in the Castello district, is one of the largest in the city. The campo is surrounded by an interesting collection of palazzi showing Venice's unique architectural styles. Each district has at least one major campo and many churches sit on a campo. The campo often serves as the neighborhood gathering place and is a good spot for people watching.
Venice is a window shoppers delight. Many small shops have inviting window displays. Top items are blown glass (from Murano Island), jewelry, and beautifully decorated carnival masks. In the San Marco neighborhood there are many upscale designer shops. The Strada Nova, the wide main street of the Cannaregio district, is a mix of souvenir shops and shops used by locals. Art galleries and antique shops are found in the Dorsoduro district. Avoid buying items from vendors on the streets who may be selling counterfeit goods. You can be fined for purchasing these.
Venice has colorful festivals throughout the year. One of the best celebrations is Carnevale
, lasting about two weeks. Although many events are expensive, you'll see lots of free entertainment on the streets and canals, including gondola and boat parades along the Grand Canal, mask parades, elaborate costumes, and a huge fireworks finale. The historic regatta in September is an exciting historic boat race and parade of boats. The Festival of San Marco on April 25 honoring Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, starts with a huge procession to San Marco Basilica.