Things to do in Venice for free

Must-see free Venice sights

While Venice has long been a popular tourist destination, there are plenty of ways to see the very best of this area for free. Most of the splendidly ornate churches are free to enter, and there are sprawling squares that almost demand you to stroll around them and take in their historic charm. There are lively, buzzing food markets offering free samples, high-energy festivals or simply the chance to wander along the colourful riverside in quiet Murano. So, if you’re browsing cheap holidays to Venice, fret not – we’ve got the lowdown of the best free things to do in Venice.

  1. Stroll around the Piazza and see the Basilica di San Marco
  2. Take in Santa Maria della Salute
  3. Wind your way through Rialto market
  4. Marvel at the church of San Rocco
  5. Explore the Greek quarter
  6. Celebrate at a festival
  7. Appreciate the pretty colours of Murano

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Stroll around the Piazza and see the Basilica di San Marco

The Piazza San Marco is the heart of the action, with a number of historic buildings that tell the story of this long-thriving square. As you wander around you can watch the locals chatting away and admire the scenery. You can also pay a visit to the Basilica di San Marco which is located here; note that the main part of the church is free, but other sections such as the treasury and the sanctuary charge a small fee.

Best for: Heart of the action.

While you’re there: Check out the mostly 13th-century mosaic floors.

2. Take in Santa Maria della Salute

While you have to pay to enter the sacristy, the rest of Santa Maria della Salute is free of charge. The church was completed in 1681 and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary following a terrible plague. Once you’re inside the octagonal church, check out the inscription in the mosaic floor which reads Unde Origo, Inde Salus, translating roughly as From the Origin, came Salvation, and then gaze up at the huge dome.

Best for: Churches.

While you’re there: Also in this area of eastern Dorsudoro is the Guggenheim Collection.

3. Wind your way through Rialto market

The Rialto district of Venice is home to one of the best things to do in Venice, as well as one of the top free things to do here too. The Rialto market has been in place since 1514; today it’s a lively spot, and it’s a great place to sample a range of Italian snacks on offer, from cheese to fruit.

Best for: Food markets.

While you’re there: Don’t miss the traditional Pescheria (fish market), which usually shuts shop for the day at 1pm.

4. Marvel at the church of San Rocco

If you’re into your art – specifically Tintoretto – then there’s no missing the San Rocco. Get your dose of Tintoretto’s art all for free: the church houses the likes of The Pool of Bethesda, St Roch in Prison and St Roch Healing the Animals. Plus, the detailing on both the Baroque exterior and Renaissance interior are ornate affairs; this church truly is a feast for the eyes.

Best for: Spectacular art and details.

While you’re there: Head over to the nearby canal to watch the gondolas glide past.

5. Explore the Greek quarter

Perhaps you didn’t know that Venice boasts a Greek quarter, which was first established in the eleventh century. But take the time to explore this area in Castello, where two churches (both free entry) allow you to gain an insight into what life was like for the Greeks when they first settled here. The first is San Giorgio dei Greci, with its Orthodox architectural details, 16th-century Cretan art and looming campanile. The second is San Lorenzo, which dates back to the 9th century and was once the resting place of Marco Polo.

Best for: International influences.

While you’re there: Visit San Zaccaria, another stunning building nearby.

6. Celebrate at a festival

Throughout Venice, there’s a festival taking place somewhere, from some of the busiest tourist spots to lesser-known areas. Various festivals take place throughout the year and many are largely unique to Venice’s history, so there’s a strong chance you won’t experience anything similar in the rest of Italy. There are masqueraders at Carnevale; gondola races from Sant’Elena to Canal Grande; and open-air shows and food stalls at Festa di San Pietro.

Best for: Unique events that capture the spirit of Venice.

While you’re there: In fact, there’s plenty more gondola-based festivals.

7. Appreciate the pretty colours of Murano

One of the main islands north of Venice is Murano, world-famous for its glass-blowing industry. It also makes a pretty escape from the frenetic areas of Venice, as here you can simply amble along the riverside and admire the small fishing boats that clack against the bank, and the colourful row of low-set houses. There’s also a couple of free museums worth checking out, San Pietro Martire and Santi Maria e Donato.

Best for: Picture-perfect views.

While you’re there: San Michele and Burano, the two other northern islands, are well worth a visit.

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