The city's canals
1. Explore the city's maze of canals
One of the best ways to soak up the magic of Venice is to walk it. It is easy to while away an entire day strolling along the streets by the canals.
The city has more than 150 canals, ranging from the Grand Canal - the city's main thoroughfare - to tiny, hidden canals that are barely accessible to small boats. All of them are lined with ancient, multicoloured houses, magnificent mansions and architectural masterpieces which date back as early as the 13th century. Even if you have a city map, you are likely to get lost - but that is part of the charm of Venice. If in doubt, ask for St. Mark’s Square and start over again.
2. St Mark's Basilica
Venice has its fair share of stunning churches, but St Mark's Basilica - one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the world - is arguably the most beautiful of them all. Though a few of the small museums inside the church charge an entry fee, the main part of the church is free (you can even reserve an entry time, skipping the queue).
Admire its floor-to-ceiling 12th century mosaics, intricately-patterned marble floor and the famous Pala d'Oro (Golden Pall) altarpiece, a panel of gold embedded with gems.
3. Rialto Bridge
The picturesque Rialto Bridge has been the main bridge crossing Venice's Grand Canal since 1591 and is today one of the city's most popular - and free - sights. The bridge is lined with shops, mostly selling jewellery and souvenirs - perfect for a spot of window shopping.
Near the bridge is the Rialto Market, a lively food market with lots of little stalls that has been in operation for about 1000 years. All the locals shop here, especially for their fish; visit early morning and you can see fresh fish being unloaded from the boats. It's a hive of activity, with vendors yelling to sell their products, from huge swordfish to piles of luscious peaches and cherries to wonderful herbs and spices.
4. Attend a free concert
If you know where to find them, there are often free concerts taken place throughout the city. You’ll find more during Settimana della Cultura, or "Culture Week" (April 16-25 2010), but keep an eye on posters around town and chances are a free concert will be taking place somewhere during your visit.
Touring foreign choirs often give free concerts in Venice's churches, there are local church festivals for saints' days, and you'll often just stumble across free live music in a piazza or bar.
5. St Mark's Square
The heart of Venice and a must-see for any visitor. Dubbed "the finest drawing room in Europe" by Napoleon, it is where locals and visitors alike come to meet, greet and, best of all, people watch. The only drawback of this is that it's often crammed with people; the best time to visit is early morning or late evening, before the day-trippers arrive or after they've left.
Be warned though - the cafes are phenomenally expensive. Instead, explore up the piazza on foot, admiring its striking monuments, including the Doge's Palace, one of the most famous sights of Venice.
6. San Giovanni in Bragora
Founded in the early 8th century, but renovated in late-Gothic style in 1475, this was Antonio Vivaldi's childhood church (he was baptised here; a copy of the entry in the register is on show). Free to enter, the church contains some fine paintings, the most striking of which is located high above the altar - the recently restored Baptism of Christ (1492-95) by Cima da Conegliano, with a rich landscape recalling the countryside around the painter's home town of Conegliano.
7. Free glass blowing workshops on Murano Island
You may have to pay a small fee to take the vaporetto to get there (12-hour travel card €16), but once you embark, you can spend the day exploring one of the city's best Lagoon Islands without taking your wallet out of your pocket. Murano is known as "Glass Island"; since the 1200s, Venice's major talents in the glass industry have set up shop here.
Most artisans will welcome you into their warehouse while they're working, and if you're lucky you'll meet and observe one of the traditionally trained glass blowers or artists at work. They may even give you a remnant of coloured glass free of charge. Most often, you can buy their glass art at a discounted cost. There is much on offer - though for a price - at the Vecchia Murano Glass Factory, too.
8. Campo Santa Margherita
This lively, picturesque square - in the heart of the Dorsoduro district - is much less visited than St Mark's Square, but it is just as good for people-watching (you'll find more Venetians than tourists here). It is lined with boutiques, small cafes and bars - all more affordable than those on St Mark's - and there is a bustling fish market in the mornings, and a vegetable market throughout the day.
9. Venice's annual carnival and regatta
Lasting about two weeks every February, the Venice Carnival is one of the most celebrated festivals in Italy, if not the world. Although many events are expensive, you'll see lots of free entertainment on the streets, squares and canals, from gondola parades along the Grand Canal to elaborate mask parades to a huge fireworks finale. Meanwhile, on the first Sunday in September, you can watch the historic gondola race (first took place in 1274), an exciting boat race and parade of boats.
10. Museum of Music
Housed inside the former church of San Maurizio in Campo San Maurizio, in the San Polo district, you'll find the interesting Museo della Musica. Free to enter, it houses an impressive collection of rare 18th and 19th century instruments and an exhibit about violin making. It also has an exhibit on the life and work of Vivaldi.
Extra tip: Entrance to state-run museums and galleries is free of charge throughout Italy for the Settimana della Cultura, or "Culture Week", taking place this year from April 16-25.
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