Although it’s mainly known as one of the world’s romantic cities, don’t forget that Venice is also full of history. The “Floating City” dates back millenia. Luckily, many of its historical waterways and palazzos have been well-preserved for centuries, and there’s no way you should make a visit here without exploring some of the city’s oldest buildings and monuments.
For many centuries the Venetian Republic was ruled by the Doge from his palace on the water. Although Venice hasn’t had a doge since the end of the 1700s, the Doge’s Palace (or Palazzo Ducale) has been preserved largely as it was since its construction in the 1300s. The huge Gothic-style complex now serves as a museum. The apartments and public rooms of the doge and governmental bodies still are there, and can be visited in a basic tour option. Or you can opt for one of the more expensive guided tours, which take visitors through the dungeon complexes that connect to the Bridge of Sighs and the story of Casanova’s imprisonment and escape. Consider doing the dungeon tour only in the cooler months, or bring lots of water in summer – it can get pretty stuffy in the windowless parts of the palace!
Adjacent to the Doge’s Palace is St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), another can’t-miss historical spot to visit in Venice and the city’s most well-known piazza. Around the square are the Campanile, the Basilica, the Clocktower, and the Procuratie Vecchie. The Basilica was originally built inside the Palace, and then was relocated to its present location on the Piazza around a millenium ago. Entrance to the first floor is free and a trip upstairs is cheap, resulting in extremely long mid-morning lines. Get in early for a less crowded viewing of the mosaics inside. The Campanile is also worth a visit. Originally built as a lighthouse, it now serves as a vantage point for panoramic views of the city. The elevator to the top holds less than a dozen people so lines can be long here as well, but it’s absolutely worth it for a 360-degree view of the city and a spectacular way to see the layout of the canals and the city. Bring a camera – you’ll regret it if you don’t!
From the Campanile you can easily see the island of San Giorgio Maggiore to the southeast where another campanile stands tall. It was originally built as a Benedictine monastery in the 700s, and it is a beautiful complex built in the Renaissance style that gets much less tourist traffic than the Basilica. The boat ride over can be worth the trip all on its own on a sunny summer day, too.
[photo courtesy of ell brown]