While the romantic canals, enchanting gondolas, and picturesque architecture get all the glory, don’t be deceived: Beyond the waterways and facades are some of Venice’s best-kept treasures—its museums. From the storied antiquities filling Doge’s Palace to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection’s cache of contemporary treasures, to new additions like Museo Della Musica—a recently converted 15th-century church showcasing Venice’s music history—this list rounds up all of the must-hit museums for a deeper look at this classic city. Read on for our picks of Venice’s best museums.
10. Gallerie dell’Accademia
Gallerie dell’Accademia is Venetian Renaissance 101. Name an important painter from the era—Titian, Canaletto, Bellini, Bosch, Tiepolo—and you can bet you’ll find it here, spread among rooms as decadent as the paintings themselves. The collection spans the 13th to 17th centuries and consists mostly of works created in and around Venice. There are a lot of oil paintings, many of them religious masterpieces that have been beautifully restored and displayed. Particularly fun are the historical scenes of Venice, which offer a sense of the city’s chaos during its heyday as a merchant capital.
9. Doge’s Palace
Palazzo Ducale, an opulent gothic palace overlooking Saint Mark’s Square, was the city’s government seat (and the Doge’s home) from the 14th to 18th centuries. It’s been rebuilt and expanded over the years, so it’s really a conglomeration of multiple buildings and styles—pretty much all of the over-the-top and glamorous. Visitors have access to various ballrooms, the Doge’s former apartments, the grand inner courtyard, and the former prisons. It’s run as a museum, so tickets are required.
8. Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art
Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art, a marble waterfront palace in Santa Croce, houses a collection of prominent modern Italian works spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The 17th-century Baroque building still maintains original frescoes, making it worth a visit alone just for the imposing and impressive architecture. The collection, amassed over the course of more than 100 years, includes masterful works by Gustav Klimt, Auguste Rodin, Medardo Rosso, and many other notable Italian artists, all spread throughout three stories. The airy space has tons of natural light and picture windows.
7. Peggy Guggenheim Collection
This squat palazzo on the Grand Canal was once the home of the eccentric gallerist and collector Peggy Guggenheim, who played a big part in the careers of artists like Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst, and Alberto Giacometti. Today the eponymous museum still maintains the feeling of a private house. Most of the work on display was collected by Guggenheim during her lifetime—and it’s some of the best art of the 20th century. In the entryway, two Picassos hang next to a Calder mobile. There are rooms filled with Kandinskys and Brancusi’s and Pollocks and Dalis. One mantlepiece is lined with Joseph Cornell boxes.
6. Museo Storico Navale di Venezia
Take away the canals and Venice wouldn’t be Venice. The Museo Storico Navale, a naval history museum, might not be as opulent as the Doge’s Palace or as thought-provoking as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, but its 42 exhibition rooms reveal how the city’s waterways are central to its identity. The vessels at this museum are gondolas as you’ve never seen them before. The bottom floor displays port dioramas and naval artillery; the other four floors showcases artifacts, antique ships, and Italian naval memorabilia.
5. Pinault Collection
The contemporary art collection of French billionaire Francois Pinault is split between two Venetian venues: Palazzo Grassi, near the Accademia bridge, and Punta Della Dogana, the former customs house at the tip of Dorsoduro. Both are pretty spectacular, and they present a rotating program of blockbuster exhibitions. The shows at Palazzo Grassi tend to focus on a single living artist, giving them full reign of multiple floors as well as the massive central atrium. Across the canal, Punta Della Dogana usually goes wider, with thematic shows featuring work by multiple artists.
This 18th-century palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal came into existence when one of the city’s old noble families commissioned the best architects of the day to build a dream home. Now Ca’ Rezzonico serves as an icon of that era, and each room houses a trove of opulent historical and artistic relics across three floors. The ground floor boasts paintings, sculptures, and 18th-century furniture beneath a frescoed ceiling. The second floor is dedicated to the famed Venetian painters Pietro Longhi and Giandomenico Tiepolo. And the third floor is home to a replica 18th-century pharmacy.
3. Museo Della Musica
The building that houses Museo Della Musica is worthy of a visit in its own right: the Church of San Maurizio, a Venetian church with a history stretching back to the 10th century, and with Gothic and Renaissance touches. It has recently been transformed into a tribute to listeria: the Italian art of instrument-making. This niche collection explores the classical era of Italian violin and covers 300 years, back to the beginning of the golden era of stringed instruments in 18th-century Venice.
2. Museo Correr
One of the best places to get a crash course in Venetian history, Museo Correr tells the story of the city’s robust development, from its founding to its union with Italy in the 19th century. The Napoleonic Wing once housed the residences and offices of some of the Venetian Republic’s kings and emperors. The Neoclassical Rooms house works by the prominent sculptor Antonio Canova, while the Imperial Apartments of the Royal Palace offer a glimpse at life as an empress. The Procuratie Nuove, designed by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi, displays more diverse aspects of Venetian life.
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1. Museo del Merletto
Housed in a building that once housed the island’s lacemaking school, Museo del Merletto offers an intimate, up-close look at the history of Burano’s most famous craft. The collection, arranged chronologically, starts from the origins of lace in the 16th century and continues through the present today, with glamorous Renaissance examples laid out for careful inspection in tiered cases. The space is relatively quiet, save for some slow-moving tour groups during the high season in summer and the lace tends to bring those with an air of pensive curiosity.