Rick Steves

Explore Quintessential Venice

The image of Venice is a familiar one: romantic gondolas glide through quiet canals, while palaces, churches, and rustic bridges skirt its banks. Yet, whether it's your first time there or a repeat visit, the in-person Venice is always much dreamier that you could have imagined.

To savor the unique charms of this city, let's follow travel expert Rick Steves on his own adventure through Venice's past and present. Here's a breakdown of a few of the must-do's he points out while visiting the city in this episode of "Rick Steves' Europe."

Join Steves on more European adventures every weekday, as episodes of his travel show air twice a day -- at 5:30 a.m. and again at 7:30 p.m.

Start at the Piazza di San Marco

Also known as St. Mark's Square, this is Venice's largest and most important plaza. Built in the ninth century, it was once the Venetian Republic's main religious and political center, and is still where everyone goes to see and be seen. Many of the city's top sights -- which are included in this list -- are located here, making this a great jumping off point for your Venetian adventure.

Visit Doge's Palace

Right there in the Piazza lies the residence of Venice's duke (or "doge"), which, for four centuries, was Europe's most powerful piece of real estate. Today, you can take a one-way tour through the palace's public quarters, Bridge of Sighs, and the prison. The famous Venetian outlaw, Casanova, did time there. All in all, this building itself is impressive.

Go to the Top of the Campanile

From Doge's Palace, you don't have to go too far to get one of the best views in town. After checking out St. Mark's Basilica, head over to its famous bell tower, which has stood for more than 1,200 years. Ride the elevator up over 300 feet to the top, where you'll get an unbeatable panoramic view of Venice's islands, lagoon, and rustic skyline. If you're there at the top of the hour, you'll get a front-row seat for listening to the bells ring.

Cruise the Grand Canal

Joy riding through town by boat is hands down the best and most authentic way to see the city. Vaporettos are boats that work like buses, stopping every few minutes along Venice's main drag, the Grand Canal. Traffic on the canal can get congested with water taxis, private boats, and gondolas. Nonetheless, the views along the way are worth the ride.

Enjoy Venetian Finger Foods

Take a little break from sightseeing to explore Venice's back lanes and grab a bite at a local bar. Want to try something unique to Venice? Then "cicchetti," or Venetian-style hors d'oeuvres are your pick. These small bites pair perfectly with wine. Your selection will be limited, but that's because these finger foods are made with what's fresh from the market that day -- even more reason to give it a try.

Head to the Rialto Bridge

The grandest bridge on the Grand Canal, the Rialto was an engineering marvel when it was built in the 16th century. The area surrounding this famous bridge has long been the commercial center of Venice. There, you'll find shops galore -- mostly high-end but with some smaller ones mixed in. A staple in the Venice skyline, you'll recognize the Rialto as soon as you see it.

Ride a Gondola

For all you romantics out there, save the best for last: the quintessential gondola ride. The early evening is the perfect time to find a gondolier you like, negotiate your price, and be on your way to tour the secluded corners of Venice. You'll glide along the city's most serene and private canals. And when the crowds are gone, and the lighting is right, you can bask in the splendor of Venice's past and present.

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Venice from Rialto Bridge | Photo: C./Flickr/Creative Commons License

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Berlin

A tumultuous 20th century left Berlin filled with powerful sights - from evocative memorials, to surviving bits of its communist and fascist days, to its glass-domed Reichstag. We enjoy its now-trendy east side, its people-friendly riverfront, and its vibrant social scene. Reunited Berlin - perhaps the fastest changing and most happening city in Europe - is entertaining more visitors than ever.

  • 2020-04-20T02:00:00-07:00
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Germany's Hamburg and the Luther Trail

Hamburg, Germany's mighty port city has risen from the ashes of World War II with a gleaming new skyline and a brisk creative energy. From there, Rick visits the great historic sights of Martin Luther and the Reformation (Erfurt, Wittenberg, and Wartburg Castle) before finishing in the capital of Franconia: wine-loving Wurzburg.

  • 2020-04-21T02:00:00-07:00
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Germany's Dresden and Leipzig

Saxony, part of the former East Germany, remains a secret to most travelers. Rick visits the two great cities of the region: the capital city of Dresden, with the opulent palaces and art treasures of the Wettin dynasty, and Leipzig, with its Bach heritage, a massive monument to the day Europe beat Napoleon, and museums remembering its communist heritage.

  • 2020-04-22T02:00:00-07:00
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Germany's Frankfurt and Nurnberg

Skyscraper-studded Frankfurt - with so much commerce it's nicknamed "Bankfurt" - has a delightful-to-explore old center. Rick also visits Nurnberg, a capital for both the First Reich (the Holy Roman Empire) and the Third. From its towering castle and playful fountains to its Nazi Documentation Center and maze of underground bomb shelters, Nurnberg is a fascinating study in contrasts.

  • 2020-04-23T02:00:00-07:00
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Bulgaria

Bulgaria, so mysterious to most Americans, has a vivid identity as a crossroads of the Balkans. Rick traces the country's complex history, from ancient Thracian tombs to medieval Orthodox Christian monasteries to Soviet monuments. And he enjoys an intimate taste of contemporary culture: the yellow brick road of Sofia; the gregarious craftspeople of the medieval capital, Veliko Tarnovo; and the thriving pedestrian zones of cosmopolitan Plovdiv.

  • 2020-04-24T02:00:00-07:00
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Romania

Rick and his team tour Romania's vibrant capital, Bucharest, with its "Little Paris of the East" architecture and lingering reminders of a brutal communist dictator. Then they head into Transylvania, where they visit fortified churches, cobbled merchant towns like Sighisoara, and castles made famous by an imported German king and the real-life Dracula. Finally, they explore Maramures, where everyday life still feels like an open-air folk museum.

  • 2020-04-27T02:00:00-07:00
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Assisi and Italian Country Charm

In the Italian countryside, Rick connects with rustic, traditional culture: enjoying an agriturismo (farmhouse inn), seeing how prosciutto and pecorino cheese are made, and hiking down into deep and ancient wine cellars. He ends in Assisi - the hometown of St. Francis - which retains its spiritual aura to this day. Like pilgrims, he explores its stony center before trekking to its awe-inspiring basilica, built on the tomb of the beloved saint.

  • 2020-04-28T02:00:00-07:00
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Siena and Tuscany's Wine Country

Siena, once a proud and independent city-state, retains its confidence and unique traditions. Rick enjoys a front-row seat at its wild horse race - the venerable Palio - and marvel at cultural treasures from the days when Siena rivaled Florence for leadership of Tuscany. Then he heads into wine country for a little dolce vita under the Tuscan sun.

  • 2020-04-29T02:00:00-07:00
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West England

The quintessence of charming England is the "West Country": quaint Cotswold villages with their fine churches, manor homes, and gastropubs; Wells, England's smallest cathedral town; and the New Age capital of Glastonbury, with its legends of the Holy Grail and King Arthur. He finishes by pondering the dramatic prehistoric stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury.

  • 2020-04-30T02:00:00-07:00
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Southeast England

Arcing along the southeast coast of England, Rick travels from Canterbury (with its famous cathedral) to Dover (stoutly fortified from Roman times to the Battle of Britain). Then he hikes the trails that top the towering chalk cliffs of the South Downs, wander into the beachy resort of Brighton (England's Coney Island), and push on to Portsmouth, whose naval heritage has left it with the best collection of historic sailing ships anywhere.

  • 2020-05-01T02:00:00-07:00
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England's Cornwall

The far southwest of England is a world unto itself, with a persistent Cornish culture. He explores a world of flowers springing from towering hedges, a tin-mining heritage going back to biblical times, salty pirates' towns and fishing villages, and the Land's End of England. Then, side-tripping deep into the vast and mysterious Dartmoor National Park, he hikes to forgotten stone circles and chase wild ponies.

  • 2020-05-04T02:00:00-07:00
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