So you’re going to Venice: you’ve purchased your tickets, your lodging is lined up, and you have a good idea of what you want to do while you’re there. In addition to the requisite gondola ride through the city’s intricate canal system, savoring oh-so-slow dinners at the many restaurants and pasticcerias, and perusing the plethora of curio, specialty, and clothing shops, add a day tour of Venice museums to your itinerary.

To help you narrow things down, here are our top picks to help infuse a little refinement into your Venetian vacation—ideal for the closet historian or art geek in you!

Churches and Cathedrals

Basilica de San Marco (St. Mark’s Church)

saint mark's basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica | Photo courtesy of -Reji

If you arrive in Venice by boat, you’ll be graced with the sight of the slowly approaching Basilica of St. Mark (Basilica de San Marco), located in Piazza San Marco. Wonder at the marble-encrusted exterior before passing under the bronze replicas of the original four horses (now housed inside on the upper floor), then step inside one of the three main chapels. Witness the stunning spectacle of over four miles and 800 years of intricate gold mosaics that line the walls, and marvel at the religious stories that shaped history.

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari | Photo courtesy of london road

Sometimes called “dei Frari” (meaning “brothers”), this somewhat solemn Franciscan church—as compared to Venetian churches—matches Basilica di San Marco in size. Titian’s famous Assumption of the Virgin and Virgin of the Pesaro Family call this basilica home. The tombs of Titian and Canova, another renowned Italian sculptor, are housed here. You’ll also find Bellini’s Madonna and Child triptych and Donatello’s St. John the Baptist sculpture within these famed walls.

Art in All its Forms

Ca’ Rezzonico

grand canal venice
Ca’ Rezzonico | Photo courtesy of Keith Ewing

When it’s time for a welcome overdose of 18th-century, must-see art, visit the magnificent Ca’Rezzonico. Originally designed as a palace for the Bon family aristocrats and later inhabited by the well-known Rezzonico family, Ca’Rezzonico’s three floors showcase over 300 paintings, lavish boudoirs, and opulent exhibits dating back to the 18th century.

Gallerie dell’Accademia

Gallerie dell'Accademia
Gallerie dell’Accademia | Photo courtesy of brownpau

Another must-see stop during your day tour of Venice is the awe-inspiring Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia. Venice’s premier art museum, Gallerie dell’Accademia, boasts the world’s most extensive art collections dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Feast your eyes on Bellini’s The Tempest and the works of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Giorgione—as well as the Gothics—all of which helped create European art aesthetics. The Gallerie offers a two-and-a-half-hour tour designed for kids. Expose your young travelers to the greats with hands-on activities and games, and set them up for a lifetime of history and art appreciation.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

peggy guggenheim collection
Peggy Guggenheim Collection | Photo courtesy of Romain Moisescot

When you’ve finished browsing the Gallerie dell’Accademia, wander next door to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection—considered one of Italy’s most laudable modern art collections. Having lived in Venice much of her life, this American innovator of style and taste acquired originals from the likes of Pollock, Dali, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Duchamp, as well as the work of her husband, Max Ernst.

Punta Della Dogana Museum of Contemporary Art

Punta della Dogana
Punta della Dogana | Photo courtesy of Terence Faircloth

Renowned as the largest contemporary art collection in the world, the triangular Punta Della Dogana Museum of Contemporary Art is not only a backdrop of exquisitely curated art, it’s also an architectural wonder. In addition to the art housed therein, look overhead and see the original wood beamed ceilings with skylight additions.

Architecture and History

Doge’s Palace

Doge's Palace Venice
Doge’s Palace | Photo courtesy of MJ Baumann

Another architectural marvel with historic and artistic allure is the Doge’s Palace. Decorated with the work of quintessential Venetian artists, this gothic masterpiece brims with beauty: envision gold-plated ceilings, expansive halls and frescoes, striking murals, assorted statues, and a courtyard. A truly effusive and extravagant experience, from the art to the Doge’s living quarters and the Grand Chamber Council, visitors to this palatial venue will get an up-close and personal view into the lives of Venice’s most esteemed aristocrats.

Museo Correr (Correr Museum)

Correr Museum
Correr Museum map room | Photo courtesy of Derek Winterburn

When you purchase a ticket for the Doge’s Palace, you can also buy one for Museo Correr, located near Basilica San Marco on Piazza San Marco. Here, you’ll get another fascinating glimpse into the lives of aristocrats and politicians of the past. Held within this museum is the 16th-century Libreria Nazionale Marciana (National Library of St. Mark), bedecked with Doric columns and statues of Italian heroes and gods. You’ll also find Canova’s Eurydice and Orpheus statues and many of his other works, as well as Venetian costumes. The building’s aesthetic is influenced by a masterful blending of Italian art and French-influenced architecture.

Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca d’Oro (House of Gold)

Ca' d'Oro
Ca’ d’Oro | Photo courtesy of Dimitris Kamaras

With its Moorish horseshoe arches and architecture evocative of the Byzantine era, The Ca’ d’Oro Gallery brandishes the notable collection of Baron Giorgio Franchetti, who bequeathed his colossal palace to the City of Venice as an art museum for the public. Adorned with gold leaf (hence, its name), and jewel-toned stones on the exterior, the interior of this architectural work of art exhibits furnishings, paintings, and sculptures.

Museo Fortuny (Fortuny Museum)

fortuny museum
Museo Fortuny | Photo courtesy of Kevin Harber

While you’re at Piazza San Marco, visit Museo Fortuny: Canadian artist Mariano Fortuny’s resident art studio that he transformed from the original palace to suit his liking. Visitors here will witness the impressive output of his prolific career, evidenced in original Fortuny furnishings, fabrics and clothing, objects, and ornaments.

No matter your exposure to or understanding of art, history, or architecture, Venice museums are an essential part of the Venetian experience. See a few or see them all—either way, you’ll return home with a greater understanding and appreciation of one of the most esteemed cities in the world.

Featured photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis

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Author: Johnnie Mazzocco

Johnnie is a lifelong traveler, teacher, and writer. She's spent summers in Italy, clocked solo trips to Mexico and Canada, and traveled with each of her three children to the country of their choice upon high school graduation. Her weaknesses are tall mountains and bubbling hot springs.