The Venetian Doge was the head of the Republic for nearly a thousand years until the city lost its independence during the Napoleonic wars. Today, the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) stands as a monument to the fiercely proud Venetian spirit. Guided tours take you through the city’s administrative offices, Casanova’s jail, and up on the 500-year-old roof. Admission also includes the Correr Museum, which includes a fine collection of globes, Roman antiques and a picture gallery. Join the other visitors at the Museum Café’s patio on San Marco square.
It’s a cliché image of Venice for a reason. A gondola ride is just about the best way to experience Venice’s unique architecture and urban design. Most buildings don’t have pavement in front of them, so the water is the only way to get a look at their facades. A private gondola ride can also be a very romantic experience.
A cheaper option is taking a Vaporetto (water bus). Take the route down the Grand Canal right before sunset for beautiful views of the 13th-18th century architecture under the soft orange sunlight.
"The Lido" has become a byword for a beach resort since the first bathing facility was set up here in 1857 -- the first time anything like it had been seen in Europe. The Lido is now home to the Venice Film Festival, the Venice Casino and the Grand Hotel Excelsior. Malamocco, at the center, was once a home of the Doge of Venice. Alberoni at the southern end is a golf course.
The sandy beach along half the Adriatic side of the island are mostly private, belonging hotels, including the Excelsior and the former Grand Hôtel Des Bains, the setting for Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. The latter hotel closed in 2010 to be divided up into private condominiums, much to the dismay of Film Festival glitterati. At the northern and southern ends of the island there are two expansive public beaches for regular folk.
The Piazza San Marco is one of Europe’s great public spaces and one of the few that is completely inaccessible by car. It forms the social, religious, and political heart of Venice, to the extent that locals simply call it La Piazza – no need to distinguish it from any other. Sit here for a while and you’ll see the whole city pass by. The piazza is full of iconic architecture and sculpture, including the Basilica di San Marco and its campanile, the Renaissance-era Clock Tower, the famous four horses of Venice (so iconic that Napoleon stole them to France to break the Venetians spirit after he conquered them), and the Lion of St. Mark.
The Rialto Bridge is another famous Venetian landmark and until the 20th century was the only bridge that spanned the Grand Canal. The Rialto Market is home to several small shops and restaurants and a farmers’ market. Shopping here is slightly less expensive than in Piazza San Marco, but it’s still very touristy.
Venice has long been famous for its glass artisans who were among the most skilled glassworkers in the world for centuries. Venetian glass is colorful, ornate, flamboyant and intricate and highly decorated. The most important center for glass making today is on the island of Murano, a short ferry ride from Venice. You can visit glass workshops to see how these sculptural pieces of glass are made. You can also learn more at the Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum).