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

Full Episodes

Upcoming Airdates

Travel Skills: Cruising

Setting sail on the Mediterranean, Rick explores the ins and outs and pros and cons of cruising. He learns how to get the most out of a cruise, and exercises his independence to make smart use of limited time on shore by planning well, avoiding lines, and eating quick-but-local meals on the go. Along with the joys and efficiencies of cruising, Rick considers the downsides, including the inevitable congestion and commercialism that comes with mass tourism.

  • 2019-05-20T02:00:00-07:00
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Croatia: Adriatic Delights

A fascinating land with a hard-fought history in a complex corner of Europe, Croatia is emerging as one of Europe's top destinations. Sampling the very best of Croatia, we start by exploring the fabled Dalmatian Coast from dramatic Dubrovnik to crusty Adriatic island ports. Heading inland, we hike through Plitvice Lakes National Park and enjoy the thriving capital city Zagreb. Our Croatian finale: the Istrian Peninsula and its enchanting port town of Rovinj.

  • 2019-05-20T11:30:00-07:00
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Greek Islands: Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes

Rick island-hops through the Aegean, sampling three classic Greek getaways - Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes - and basking in their dramatic beauty. He tours ancient ruins, traces the vestiges of the Crusaders, samples rustic cuisine, savors classic Greek-island views, and compares beaches - from the ultimate party beach to idyllic quiet hideaways. And he shows how a cruise ship can be an efficient way to link up great island stopovers.

  • 2019-05-21T02:00:00-07:00
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Dubrovnik and Balkan Side-Trips

Nestled inside its mighty ramparts is Dubrovnik, the "Pearl of the Adriatic." From this remarkably preserved medieval fortress city, we venture into less-touristed corners of the former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia, we visit Mostar - war-torn in the 90s, but bursting with promise today. In Montenegro, we sail the fjord-like Bay of Kotor and explore its mysterious, mountainous interior.

  • 2019-05-21T11:30:00-07:00
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European Festivals I

In this first of two episodes on Europe's greatest festivals, Rick cheers with the masses at Siena's crazy Palio horse race, tosses a caber at a Scottish Highland Games, dons a mask for Carnevale in Venice, and celebrates Easter in Greece. Dropping in on some of the Continent's top parties, he discovers that each one is a celebration of traditional culture, and all of them are full of opportunities to sing and dance, feast on traditional food, and party with locals.

  • 2019-05-22T02:00:00-07:00
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The Best of Slovenia

Little Slovenia is the least visited and most underrated of Europe's alpine countries. From its prosperous capital of Ljubljana, we enjoy the mountain resort of Lake Bled, venture into the Julian Alps for natural thrills mixed with World War I history, go spelunking in a gigantic cave, and swim with Slavs in a charming Adriatic port.

  • 2019-05-22T11:30:00-07:00
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European Festivals II

In this second of two episodes on Europe's greatest festivals, Rick dances with Spaniards at Sevilla's April Fair, celebrates Bastille Day in Paris, runs with the bulls at Pamplona, and hoists a frothy stein at Munich's Oktoberfest. And he celebrates a traditional family Christmas, browsing the holiday market in Nurnberg and sledding down alpine slopes by torchlight in Switzerland. With the entire Continent as his playground, fun is his mission.

  • 2019-05-23T02:00:00-07:00
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Granada, Cordoba, and Spain's Costa Del Sol

Andalucia's Moorish heritage sparkles in the historic capitals of Granada and Cordoba. And the pride of the Reconquista and the power of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand enliven the region's great sights. Tasting the smooth sherry and marveling at prancing stallions, we find the passion in Andalucian culture. And we top it off with fun in the Spanish sun on the Costa del Sol.

  • 2019-05-23T11:30:00-07:00
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The Best of Sicily

This tour of Sicilian highlights starts in Palermo, where Rick sings with the merchants in the markets, joins locals in their passeggiata, drops in on a contessa, and marvels at the Romanesque cathedral of Monreale. Then he sips wine on the slopes of Mount Etna, munches cannoli, ponders Greek temples at Agrigento, admires Roman mosaics at the Villa of Casale, and marvel at the view from the Greek theater in Taormina.

  • 2019-05-24T02:00:00-07:00
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Andalucia, Gibraltar and Tangier

Exploring Andalucia, we experience the quintessence of Spanish culture. Starting up high, in Spain's whitewashed hill towns, we roll down to the coast to enjoy the windsurfing mecca of Tarifa. Then we catch a bit of Britain on the Rock of Gibraltar, and sail to Africa for a Moroccan finale in Tangier.



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Sicilian Delights

Sicily serves up a full-bodied and tasty travel experience. Rick dines on fresh seafood at the fisherman's harbor in Cefalù, ponders ancient Greek greatness in Siracusa, communes with monks - alive and departed - in a Capuchin crypt, sleeps in an olive orchard at an agriturismo, and eats his way through a classic Sicilian banquet with a famous chef.

  • 2019-05-27T02:00:00-07:00
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Oslo

The proud spirit of the Norwegian people shines in every dimension of their capital city-from its once-fearsome Viking ships to its sleek new Opera House, from tales of World War II heroism to the constant festival of its thriving harborfront. Connecting with the culture, we enjoy art-from Vigeland's statues to Monch's scream-and cap things off by joining local friends for a sail on their fjord.

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Scotland's Highlands

The Highlands stoke kilted dreams of Scotland...where legends of Bonnie Prince Charlie swirl around lonely castles. Rick visits the "Weeping Glen" of Glencoe, bustling Inverness, and the battlefield at Culloden. Then he makes a pilgrimage to the spiritual capital of a major clan, and goes prehistoric at Stone Age burial grounds and Iron Age island forts. Venturing along the Caledonian Canal and watching for Nessie at Loch Ness, Rick watches a sheepdog demonstration and enjoys traditional folk music.

  • 2019-05-28T02:00:00-07:00
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Norway's West: Fjords, Mountains and Bergen

For Scandinavia's most thrilling sightseeing, we sail under towering fjord cliffs, hike on powerful glaciers, and find surviving traditions in remote farm hamlets. Then we delve into the Hanseatic heritage and enjoy the salty hospitality of Norway's historic capitol, Bergen.

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Scotland's Islands

Rick begins on the tranquil Isle of Iona, where Christianity first reached the shores of Scotland, and nearby Staffa, with a lovable puffin colony. Then he visits another of the Inner Hebrides, road-tripping across the Isle of Skye, where he explores Iron Age forts, thatched crofter huts, and the dramatic Trotternish Peninsula. Finally, he sails to Orkney - more Nordic than Celtic - with its stony remnants of a thriving Iron Age civilization and evocative reminders of the 20th-century wartime harbor at Scapa Flow.

  • 2019-05-29T02:00:00-07:00
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Stockholm

Sweden's capital, confident and self-assured, glitters with souvenirs from the day when it ruled as a superpower. From pondering gilded royal staterooms to sampling gourmet reindeer and sipping vodka in an ice bar, we experience the city's cultural highlights. Then we sail the archipelago for the prettiest island-hopping in northern Europe.

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Glasgow and Scottish Passions

Glasgow, once an industrial powerhouse, offers a fun look at Scotland's vibrantly gritty urban side - full of edgy street art, trendy dining, and the striking architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Leaving town, Rick taps into Scottish passions as he tours historic Stirling Castle, enjoys a bagpiping lesson, samples a dram at the land's most beloved distilleries on the Speyside Whisky Trail, and struggles to lift the Manhood Stone at a Highland Games.

  • 2019-05-30T02:00:00-07:00
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Helsinki and Tallinn: Baltic Sisters

The fascinating capitals of Finland and Estonia offer a chance to sample each country's history, art, and distinct love of life. We'll start in Helsinki with its Neoclassical old town, modern flair for design, and steamy saunas. Then it's just a two-hour boat ride to Tallinn-with its medieval charms and new-found prosperity-celebrating its freedom and thriving in its post-USSR renaissance.



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The Majesty of Madrid

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Galicia and the Camino De Santiago

We follow the trail pilgrims have trod for centuries, from the French border to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Spain. Along the way, we stop off in Pamplona to run with the bulls, and dive into the unique Celtic culture of Galicia-where Riverdance meets flamenco.



  • 2019-05-31T11:30:00-07:00
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Highlights of Castile: Toledo and Salamanca

Castile sparkles with Roman Segovia, walled Avila, student-filled Salamanca, and holy Toledo! We marvel at El Greco, pop some explosive pickles, and ramble Spain's most awe-inspiring medieval walls. Then, just for fun, we drop in on a bachelorette party with local troubadours, slice and savor tasty jamon, stroll with the crowd, and grab a front-row seat to enjoy Europe's most enchanting square.



  • 2019-06-03T02:00:00-07:00
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Basque Country

The homeland of the proud and resiliant Basque people is split between France and Spain. From our San Sebastian home base, we tour the ancient Basque capital of Gernika, the dazzling Guggenheim Modern in Bilbao, and then cross into France for more Basque Country charms. From yummy tapa bars to lightning-fast jai alai games, we'll experience Basque culture at its most vivid.



  • 2019-06-03T11:30:00-07:00
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Normandy: War-Torn Yet Full of Life

After exploring the half-timbered charm of Rouen, we reflect on Monet's lily ponds, peek in on local artisans, and set up an easel at Honfleur's harbor. We venture into composer Eric Satie's eccentric world and feast on the finest of Normandy cuisine. After pondering sacrifice and celebrating freedom on the D-Day beaches, we hike with pilgrims to the enchanted island abbey of Mont St. Michel.



  • 2019-06-04T02:00:00-07:00
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Rome: Ancient Glory

Part one of three on the Eternal City, this episode resurrects the rubble and brings back to life the capital of the ancient world. Focusing on the grandeur of classical Rome, we marvel at the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the empire's exquisite art. Then we go offbeat by bicycle to see the Appian Way and marvels of Roman engineering.

Read our ancient Rome travel guide.

  • 2019-06-04T11:30:00-07:00
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Belfast and the Best of Northern Ireland

No trip to Emerald Isle is complete without a visit to Northern Ireland. We tour bustling Belfast, sneaking a peek at its politically charged neighborhoods. Then we head for the Antrim Coast and go wild in Portrush, Ulster's Coney Island. We taste-test Irish whiskey, scramble over six-sided rock columns, putter through a world-class golf course, and stomp our feet to Irish music in rough-and- tumble Derry.

  • 2019-06-05T02:00:00-07:00
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Rome: Baroque Brilliance

This second of three episodes on Rome reveals a city busy with life and bursting with Baroque. We ramble through the venerable heart of Rome, admire breathtaking Bernini statues, ponder sunbeams inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, and mix and mingle with the Romans during an early-evening stroll. Following an exquisite Roman dinner, we join locals after dark, lacing together the Eternal City's most romantic nightspots.

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London: Mod and Trad

London is quintessentially English...yet cosmopolitan. We check out the new - the Millennium Bridge and the British Museum's Great Court, and admire the old - well-wrapped mummies and a rare Leonardo. After bantering with Beefeaters at the Tower of London, we do some riverside beach-combing. Strolling the trendy South Bank of the Thames takes us from the Tate Modern to the dizzying London Eye.



  • 2019-06-06T02:00:00-07:00
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Rome: Back-Street Riches

In this third of three episodes on the Eternal City, we explore this grand metropolis-so rich in art and culture-on a more intimate scale, delving into its back lanes and unheralded corners. Venturing through the crusty Trastevere district, visiting the historic Jewish Ghetto, and enjoying art treasures in a string of rarely visited churches, we uncover charms of hidden Rome that compete with its marquee sights.

  • 2019-06-06T11:30:00-07:00
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Highlights of Paris: Eiffel and Monet to Creme Brulee

Packing the best of Paris into one episode, we scale the Eiffel Tower, then savor classic treats - from steak tartare to creme brulee. We marvel at Monet, Manet and company in the stunning Orsay Gallery. Tracing the sad steps of Marie Antoinette, we relive French history from its bloody revolution to its extravagant belle epoch.

  • 2019-06-07T02:00:00-07:00
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Florence: Heart of the Renaissance

Fifteenth-century Florence was the home of the Renaissance and the birthplace of our modern world. In this first of two episodes, we gaze into the self-assured eyes of Michelangelo's David, enjoy Botticelli's Birth of Venus, delve into the 3-D wonders of Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, appreciate Fra Angelico's serene beauty, and climb the dome that kicked off the Renaissance. Then we cross the Arno to where Florentine artisans live, work, and eat ... very well.



  • 2019-06-07T11:30:00-07:00
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Belgium: Bruges and Brussels

Belgium is a land of contrasts. From the powerhouse headquarters of the European Union and Europe's grandest square in big-city Brussels, we go quaint with delicate lace and back lane bike rides in small-town Bruges. We check into a medieval hospital, savor the exquisite art of Memling, and climb a bell tower to get up close and fortissimo at a carillon concert. Then passionate chefs - creators of French fries and Europe's finest chocolate-give us a taste of their art.



  • 2019-06-10T02:00:00-07:00
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Florentine Delights and Tuscan Side Trips

In this second of a two episodes on Florence, we enjoy more of the exquisite artistic treasures of the city that propelled Europe out of the Middle Ages. Then we side-trip to a couple of rival cities and cultural capitals in their own right, Pisa and Lucca, where we'll marvel at a tipsy tower, circle a city on its ramparts, and enjoy some Puccini in his hometown.



  • 2019-06-10T11:30:00-07:00
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Provence: Legendary Light, Wind and Wine

Provence, known for its soft light and fierce wind, is as loved by Americans as it is by the sun. We climb Roman ruins in Nimes, explore a papal palace in Avignon, and savor vivid views immortalized by van Gogh in Arles. Crossing acres of wispy vineyards, we explore the Cotes du Rhone and more wonders of the South of France.



  • 2019-06-11T02:00:00-07:00
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Paris: Regal and Intimate

In Paris, amidst all of its grandeur, the little joys of life are still embraced. In this first of two episodes on Paris, we cruise the Seine River, visit Napoleon's tomb, and take in the Louvre. Then we feel the pulse of Paris-shopping in village-like neighborhoods, attending church in a grand pipe organ loft, and celebrating the mother of all revolutions with a big, patriotic Bastille Day bang.



  • 2019-06-11T11:30:00-07:00
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French Riviera: Uniquely Chic

A longtime favorite escape of Europe's elite, the Riviera coastline still sparkles with yachts. We follow in the footsteps of 19th century aristocrats along Monaco's harbor and Nice's promenade des Anglais. Then we visit the picturesque, artist hangouts of Chagall, Matisse and Picasso.

  • 2019-06-12T02:00:00-07:00
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Paris: Embracing Life and Art

In this second of two episodes on Europe's "City of Light," we ride a unicorn into the Middle Ages at the Cluny Museum, take a midnight Paris joyride in a classic car, get an extremely close-up look at heavenly stained glass in Sainte-Chapelle, go on a tombstone pilgrimage at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and savor the Parisian cafe scene. Few cites are so confident in their expertise in good living-and as travelers, we get to share in that uniquely Parisian joie de vivre.



  • 2019-06-12T11:30:00-07:00
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Poland Rediscovered: Krakow, Auschwitz and Warsaw

Poland is ready to be rediscovered as the old "east" transforms itself into the new heart of Europe. Krakow, with its bubbly Baroque and cobbled charm, is emerging as the exciting "next Prague." Nearby, a visit to Auschwitz teaches us a timeless, soul-searching lesson. Systematically destroyed during World War II, Warsaw is a lively, thriving capital once again.




  • 2019-06-13T02:00:00-07:00
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London: Historic and Dynamic

In many-faceted London, we ponder royal tombs in Westminster Abbey, learn how to triple the calories of an English scone at teatime, discover treasures in the British Library, enjoy the vibrant evening scene in Soho, uncover Churchill's secret WWII headquarters, join the 9-to-5 crowd in the new London, shop where the queen shops, and straddle the Prime Meridian at Greenwich.

  • 2019-06-13T11:30:00-07:00
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North England's Lake District and Durham

Hiking through the Cumbrian Lake District-England's green and pristine mountain playground-we admire idyllic lakes, discover misty waterfalls, tour a slate mine, and conquer stony summits. And we'll meet the locals-and their beloved dogs and sheep-everywhere. Then we play a little cricket, hike Hadrian's Wall, and are dazzled by Durham's Norman cathedral.



  • 2019-06-14T11:30:00-07:00
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Lisbon and the Algarve

Experiencing the best of Portugal, we start in Lisbon, a ramshackle mix of glorious old and fun-loving new. Salty sailors' quarters and wistful Fado singers mix with ornate architecture to recall the glory days when Vasco da Gama and Magellan made Portugal a world power. Then we head for the south coast of your travel dreams-the Algarve. We explore the Land's End of Europe-windy and historic Cape Sagres before savoring pristine beaches and arm-wrestling octopi in the sleepy fishing village of Salema.




  • 2019-06-17T02:00:00-07:00
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Venice: City of Dreams

After sorting through the monuments of Venice's powerful past, we trace its decline from Europe's most powerful city to its most hedonistic one. We cruise the Grand Canal, luxuriate in a venerable cafe, and savor fresh fish canalside with Venetian friends. Becoming as anonymous as possible in this city of masks, we'll be dazzled by masterpieces of the Venetian Renaissance and get intimate with the city of Casanova...on a gondola under the moonlight.



  • 2019-06-17T11:30:00-07:00
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