Veneto lies in the north-east region of Italy, starting in the Venetian Prealps and expanding to stretch between the Dolomites and the Adriatic Sea which is where its capital, the famous city of Venice, can be found. A stay in this region means that everything will be at your doorstep, from the dreamy canals, lakes, rivers, valleys, and beaches to medieval villages, walled towns, and intriguing cities.
Whether you want to explore art galleries, architecture, and archaeological museums or want to enjoy the tranquility of nature while out on hiking trails, you’ll be just a short drive from it all. The biggest problem is finding the time to do it all. Unless you have months or more at your disposal, you’ll need to narrow your itinerary down. This guide will help you do just that by providing the top things to do in enchanting Veneto, starting with its capital that has no roads, only canals.
Soak up the atmosphere in St. Mark’s Square by sipping coffee at one of the beautiful cafes scattered along its edges and marvel at the multiple iconic landmarks, including St. Mark’s Basilica. Dating to the 11th century, it’s one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture, built to guard Saint Mark’s relics which were stolen in Alexandria, Egypt. It includes over 500 marble columns, luminous mosaics, and gold reliquaries which Venetian crusaders brought following the fall of Constantinople.
Step inside to discover a treasure trove of art like the silver and gold Pala d’Ora with its 2,000 gemstones and then climb the bell tower for a breathtaking view. Doge’s Palace stands adjacent, facing the Grand Canal. A 14th century masterpiece of Venetian architecture, it contains Gothic, Byzantine, and Moorish styles and features a remarkable collection of art by Venetian masters inside along with the prison that once held Cassanova, before he escaped through the roof.
While it might be touristy, you really have to take a gondola ride in Venice while visiting Veneto. It’s a bucket-list experience providing a window into its past while getting the best view of the grand palaces and the chance to see areas of the city that can’t be accessed on foot. You’ll be traveling the same way most Venetians did from the 11th century through the mid-20 th century, with all the gondolas handmade using traditional methods that have been passed down through generations.
While not all gondolas have the same routes, you can influence the type of experience you’ll have by the place you hop aboard. Take one from the Rialto Bridge and you’ll glide down the famous bustling Grand Canal, which will have the longest lines and highest prices. If you head to a side canal where the vaporetti and water taxis don’t have stands, you’ll enjoy a more serene, off-the-beaten-path trip.
The Rialto Market is the best way to immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant social life. Open every day of the week except Sunday, Saturday morning is the best time to come as it’s when all the locals do their grocery shopping. It was first opened in the late 11 th century and is one of the world’s most atmospheric places to shop.
The stalls around San Giacometto Church, west of the Rialto Bridge are renowned for their fresh seafood and seasonal produce, including lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Food from the lagoon is the focus with a wide variety of creatures from the deep, including some you probably won’t recognize as it comes in all sizes, shapes, colors, and price ranges. From locals to famous chefs, everyone comes to get the best seafood here. By arriving early, you can avoid the big crowds and watch the fishermen come to sell their fresh catches to the vendors.
While in Venice, take a tour of two of its most famous islands, Murano and Burano. The islands are known for their highly skilled artisans who have been creating beautiful works of lace and glass for centuries. Murano is home to a glass factory producing pieces using a unique style and it’s available for private tours.
Many trips include a glass-blowing demonstration and in the display room, there are a variety of works for sale. Burano Island is renowned for its lace, as well as the many brightly painted, colorful homes that give it a cheery feel. Enjoy the view, and the photo ops, and then head to a lace factory to learn all about Burano’s world-famous lacemaking tradition. One of the skilled workers will demonstrate the craft so you can see how it’s made. Most tours include time for exploring further, allowing you to wander the narrow streets and maybe barter for your favorite items.
Less than an hour’s drive northwest of Venice, Cittadella is Europe’s only town that still has fully intact medieval walls. Founded in the 13th century as a military outpost of Padua, its surrounding wall, made of river stones and red bricks, has been impeccably restored and stretches for about a mile along the medieval parapet.
It comes complete with turrets, keeps, gates, and towers, with its defensive towers reaching as high as nearly 99 feet. Jutting above the rooftops, visitors can walk right atop the wall for a panoramic stroll through history while enjoying the magnificent views of the historic center, the Venetian plains, and the mountains. If you enter through the North Gate, you’ll see the Captain’s House which is now the tourist office. It includes a small museum with displays featuring medieval life and weaponry. Among the many historical landmarks here are a 13 th -century prison and torture chamber mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Romance seekers won’t want to miss Verona, famous for its association with William Shakespeare and Juliet’s House, Casa di Giulietta. Attracting thousands of visitors every day, it’s one of the most iconic symbols of the city, located near Piazza delle Erbe at Via Cappello 23. This is where you’ll see the fabled balcony from the scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet where Juliet calls “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo.”
Except this balcony was built in the 20th century, so you’ll need to suspend belief for a moment. Of course, Juliet wasn’t based on a real person and the house has no relation to the story, though it dates to the 13 th century and was once inhabited by the Capello family. In the courtyard, there is a statue of Juliet, and inside, you’ll find a museum that includes the bed used in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of the story and Renaissance-era costumes.
Everyone knows all about the Colosseum in Rome, but few seem to be aware that Verona has one that can rival it. Built in 30 AD, it’s just as impressive and even more well-preserved as a triumph of Roman engineering and lies adjacent to Piazza Bra. Having managed to stand the ultimate test of time, it’s still used today for all sorts of performances, including concerts.
All of the original seating and exterior arches are still visible, making it easy to envision the 30,000 or so spectators that watched shows and games like the Roman Ludi which included chariot races and various types of theatrical performances. They were preceded by elaborate parades with dancers, musicians, images of the gods, mounted Roman noble youths, and competitors. If you can’t be here for a concert or another type of event, tours are available that will allow you to explore the arena and admire its centuries-old beauty.
Castle Vecchio, or Castelvecchio, is another must-see in Verona, set along the banks of the River Adige. It was built to defend the city in 1354 and at the time, it was widely regarded as the Scaliger dynasty’s greatest engineering achievement. At the front is an imposing gatehouse, two guard towers, and crenulated battlements.
By stepping inside, you can learn more about the castle’s history in the museum which has a variety of artifacts and displays. Castle Vecchio Bridge is attached to the main complex. When it was constructed (shortly after the castle was finished), it was decorated in the same style as the castle walls made from red brick and was the longest of its kind in the world, stretching about 160 feet. Visitors can access the towers of the bridge by climbing the stairs for a magnificent view of the river and beyond from its elevated perch.
Vincenza, known as the “Heart of Veneto,” the “Pearl of the Renaissance,” and other monikers, sits halfway between Verona and Venice. It’s famous for its architecture, as a veritable open-air museum with opulent palaces and other buildings that have inspired other structures throughout Europe and North America over the past 500 years. It’s also the reason Vincenza is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Founded in the 2nd century B.C., the city prospered under Venetian rule from the early 15th to the end of the 18th century.
The work of Andrea Palladio (1508–80), which was based on a detailed study of classical Roman buildings, as well as his own villas, is scattered throughout the region. It inspired a unique architectural style now known as Palladian. Originally from Padua, he made Vincenza his adoptive city, with the Olympic Theatre, Palladian Basilica, Loggia del Capitanio, and Palazzo Valmarana, among others, all thanks to Palladio.
The Museum of Medical History is located in Padua, just under 30 miles from Venice. It’s a fascinating mix of high-tech exhibits and historical artifacts detailing the city’s significant contribution to world medicine from the 16 th through the 18 th centuries. Tours are taken by virtual guides and represent the most famous physicians providing a narration of the university’s greatest discoveries. The thematic displays focus on the functioning of the human body, potential fails, and treatments.
It concludes at the Anatomical Theatre which mimics Palazzo Bo’s original theater where a huge mannequin is lying on a dissection table prepared for an augmented reality investigation. The building itself has an interesting history as the first public hospital in Padua. Financed by a wealthy heiress, it was constructed in 1414 to replace medieval hospices. In fact, it was here that medical students began to learn clinical practice on patients, setting down the foundation for today’s academic approach to medicine.
Lake Garda is part of three regions, including Veneto, Trentino, and Lombardy. It’s a must-visit, particularly during the warmer months, although even in the winter it’s worth visiting for the photo ops. During the summer, sunbathe on one of the many beaches, swim, and take part in all sorts of water sports. Windsurfing, paragliding, canoeing, and even diving, can be all enjoyed here, and on land, you’ll find trails that wind throughout the hills and mountains for scenic hiking and biking.
The Pista Ciclo-pedonale Lazise-Bardolino path is a great way to explore the shoreline on foot or two wheels and you’ll find some of the best places to explore in Veneto along Garda’s banks, including picturesque towns like Peschiera del Garda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which sits at the southern end. It’s encircled by massive Venetian defensive systems with the 16 th -century Porta Verona one of the gateways that ring the historic center. Don’t miss the Palazzina Storica Museum.
The Dolomites are some of the world’s most stunning mountains, attracting countless visitors with their breathtaking beauty. If you come during the warmer months, you can explore them by hiking the miles and miles of trails, while winter brings the opportunity for skiing and snowboarding.
Lake Sorapis is an ideal destination for hikers, famous for its surreal turquoise hue that comes thanks to the glacier that feeds it. It’s typically accessible between June and September and takes about two hours to reach, or 3.8 miles from the trailhead at Passo Tre Croci. Another option is to spend the day around Auronzo di Cadore, home to Auronzo Lake which has a path that encircles it that’s great for walking or mountain biking. If you don’t want to drive, there are tours that will bring you into the Dolomites from major cities like Venice, providing a relaxing way to marvel at the mountains, lakes, and charming villages.
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