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.

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

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