St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) is filled with centuries of history and is still the symbolic heart of Venice; it has even been referred to as the drawing room of Europe. With the grand St Mark's Church at one end, the Campanile bell tower rising in the middle and the elegant colonnaded arcade of famous cafes on three sides, it is a wonderful place to be - and the hundreds of pigeons think so too.
Sit and have coffee (you'll only be able to afford one) and watch the whole world pass by while a tuxedoed band plays. Then plunge north into the narrow streets full of shops leading towards the Rialto Bridge, or west into the city's pocket of high fashion designer stores finishing with an extremely expensive Bellini at Harry's Bar, the place that invented the peach/champagne drink. Alternately, head out of San Marco to the east and stroll the waterfront on the Riva.
A designated Jewish Quarter from the 16th to the 18th century, Venice’s Campo del Ghetto gave us the word ‘ghetto.’ ‘Gheto’ in Venetian translates to ‘foundry,’ referring to an island of Venice that Jewish citizens were once confined to. The Venetian Republic decreed that Jews could enter Venice during the day, but on Christian holidays and during the evenings had to stay within the ghetto.
Interestingly, the area is divided into the Ghetto Nuovo (New Ghetto), and the adjacent Ghetto Vecchio (Old Ghetto), though the Ghetto Nuovo is actually the older of the two. Jews from all over Europe lived in the neighborhood — in fact, each of the different synagogues was historically designated by origin (German, Italian, Spanish, etc.) Today the Campo del Ghetto is still the center of Venetian Jewish life. There is a Jewish museum, cemetery, two Kosher restaurants and five synagogues which remain mostly in their original form.
The Venetian building that was once the supposed home of famous explorer Marco Polo and his family is now easily missable to passers-by. The nearby square is known as the Corte Seconda del Milion, pointing to the title of Marco Polo's travel memoirs—Il Milione.
Located near the San Giovanni Crisostomo Church and just behind the Teatro Malibran, the building is not open to the public, but there is a small marble plaque on the wall commemorating the site's significance.
Santa Croce is one of the six districts of Venice, Italy, and it's the only district where cars are allowed to drive. It is connected to the mainland by the Ponte della Libertà bridge, which stretches across the lagoon. The smallest of Venice's districts, Santa Croce is a mix of chaos at Piazzale Roma, where there is a big bus station and ferry hub, and quiet charm from Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, one of the city's prettiest squares. Visitors can also see the historic church San Giacomo dell'Orio here.
Other interesting sights in the area include Ca' Pesaro, which is a Baroque palace that is now home to Venice's Museum of Modern Art with pieces from the 19th century to today. Along the Grand Canal is the Natural History Museum at Fodaco dei Turchi and a church dedicated to Sant'Eustachio called San Stae. Palazzo Mocenigo is a palace that is open to the public and has historic costumes on display.
Frari Church, whose official name is Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, is one of the grandest churches in Venice. It sits in the San Polo district on the Campo dei Frari and is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. The church contains many Renaissance masterpieces and monuments to Renaissance artists and sculptors. It was built in an Italian Gothic style, and visitors will notice the plain exterior. This was intentional as it emphasizes the Franciscan values of poverty and austerity.
Inside you can see Titian's Madonna di Ca' Pesaro in the left aisle, which was modeled after his wife who died in childbirth. Over the main alter is Titian's Assumption of the Virgin. This piece is famous for its innovative style and bright colors, though at the time, the church was hesitant to accept the piece because of these features. Titian's tomb is in the church. Other notable artwork that can be seen in Frari Church includes Giovanni Bellini's Madonna and Child with Saints.
What do you do with an historic castle that has been half destroyed during centuries of wars and retaliations? It's a question often faced in Italy and they've dealt with it superbly at Castelvecchio, where the old and the new come together in elegant respect.
Built in the 14th century by the Scaliger clan who ruled Verona in the Middle Ages, Castelvecchio was a seriously paranoid, moated fortress designed to keep out the people and give the family an escape route if the revolt should occur. Eventually their worst fears came to pass and the family escaped to Germany while the Venetians took over the city, followed in the 18th century by Napoleon. Napoleon made the Veronese so angry they stormed the castle and left it devastated. Bombings in World War II were a final insult to the building.
Come the 20th century and visionary architect Carlo Scarpa was given the job of turning the building into a museum during the 1960s.
A bustling square at the heart of Venice’s historic center, Campo San Luca has long been a popular meeting point for locals, and its constant stream of visitors make it a lively hub both day and night.Home to a cluster of shops, cafés and restaurants, Campo San Luca makes a good spot for people-watching, but it’s also an important navigational landmark, just a short stroll from the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, en route to Piazza San Marco.
An ancient waterway connecting the Italian cities of Padua and Venice, the channel of the Brenta Riviera dates back to the 16th century and was built to flow directly into the lagoon of Venice. The green space lining the canal inspired many wealthy Venetians to build villas along its waterfront, and some still remain open for exploration today. These country homes often served as second residences for Venice’s noble families — far enough away to enjoy a countryside atmosphere but close enough to return quickly to Venice. Not just any second home, many of the Brenta Riviera villas are more like monuments or palaces complete with exquisite works of art and large frescoes. The amount of villas, gardens, and residences lining the canals built up to a point where it was nearly considered an extension of Venice’s Grand Canal. Many of the villas can be visited still today, including the Villa Foscari and the Villa Pisani — which has gardens, an art collection, and a famous maze.
A fascinating nod to Venice’s rich classical musical heritage, the small but impressive Music Museum (Museo della Musica) is one of the city’s little-visited gems. Housed in the beautifully restored church of Chiesa di San Maurizio, the museum is devoted to the art of violin making and the preservation of rare and unique musical instruments, dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Visitors can learn more about Venice’s most famous composer, Antonio Vivaldi, through information boards, and gain an insight into the city’s violin-making legacy, but most compelling are the instruments themselves. The collection includes a wide variety of string instruments, including violins, cellos and harps, with highlights including a 19th-century lyre and an exquisite mandolin inlaid with mother-of-pearl.