In Venice, beauty takes countless forms and can be found in just about everything. There's the art in the palaces and churches, the charming buildings reflected in the canals, the bridges that play tricks on the eye, the trail of the gondolas and the to and fro of the vaporetti (water buses). There's stone that has been masterfully worked into statues or friezes, and stone that has been worn by lapping water and millions of hands, no longer resembling anything. Both are witness to centuries of history, including when Venice was the beating heart of trade, travel and dreams. The city has accumulated treasures over time, making every nook and cranny unique. Just let your eyes wander. Here are 10 free attractions in Venice.

    1

    Bridge of Fists

    See the roots of Fight Club

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    The Bridge of Fists is marked with white marble footprints that are remnants of an old Venetian tradition: the war of fists. It began with a rivalry between the Castellanis in the east of the city and the Nicolottis in the west. What is now known as the Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Fists) was actually a fighting ground. Starting with individual matches, with boxers stationed on the footprints, it evolved into mass battles involving hundreds. The fights were organised and regulated, complete with judges. The canal would be cleaned beforehand as contenders had to throw adversaries into the water. No small feat, considering the fights took place from September to December.

    Location: Ponte dei Pugni, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy

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    2

    Free workshop at a Murano glass factory

    Learn the secrets to the art of glassmaking

    A free workshop at a Murano glass factory featuring a glassmaking demonstration at one of Murano's kilns is fascinating and educational. Entry is often free and you’re spoilt for choice in terms of what to visit when you get off the vaporetto. The art form dates back to 1291, when glass factories in Venice were ordered to move to Murano. This was both to reduce fires and to further control the glassmakers, who couldn’t leave the lagoon for fear of leaking trade secrets. The process involves various techniques. One of the oldest is glassblowing, which makes the material more malleable – better for delicate objects. Another is hot sculpting, involving shaping the glass with a rod. You'll discover most of the kilns when walking along the Fondamenta dei Vetrai or Fondamenta Manin.

    Location: Murano, 30141 Venezia VE, Italy

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    3

    San Trovaso Squero

    Where gondolas are ‘born’

    The San Trovaso Squero in Dorsoduro, the area closest to the Canale della Giudecca (Giudecca Canal), is a picturesque, unusual and unique corner of Venice. Firstly, what's a squero? It’s a Venetian boatyard where they make small vessels. Very few remain in operation, and the Squero di San Travaso dates back to the 17th century. Its dockyard is still used to build and repair gondolas. It’s a very curious structure that stands out from the other buildings, resembling a mountain lodge. In fact, both its wood and its carpenters were from Cadore. An old Venetian song describes 2 lovers who gave each other a kiss, or baso, behind the Squero. So why not visit it for a romantic outing?

    Location: Fondamenta Bonlini, 1097, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy

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    4

    View from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi roof

    The Canal Grande from above

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    The view from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi roof lets you see the Canal Grande (Grand Canal) from roof height. Just before the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) is a palace that has been a centre for negotiation and trade for 8 centuries. It's been a warehouse, exhibition centre, customs office and post office. Now it’s a luxury shopping centre whose top floor boasts sweeping views of the city. Entry is free, but admittance is staggered to avoid overcrowding, so booking is necessary. Book via the website or in person at one of the booking stations on the 3rd and 4th floors. If there's a bit of a wait, do some shopping in the designer boutiques. It's the perfect opportunity to buy clothes, leather goods, accessories, beauty products, food and high-end souvenirs.

    Location: Calle del Fontego dei Tedeschi, 30100 Venezia VE, Italy

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 7.30 pm

    Phone: +39 04 1314 2000

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    5

    Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs

    The embrace between East and West

    • History
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    The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs in Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square), along the southern side of the Basilica, is a red porphyry sculpture that appeared in Venice in the Middle Ages. It depicts 4 characters in an embrace. Historians believe they are the 4 tetrarchs: 2 Augustuses and 2 Caesars who governed the Roman Empire when it was divided into East and West. Their embrace symbolises the union between the 2 territories, especially profound when you consider that the city's fortunes and riches are founded on trade between these 2 worlds. Popular belief tells a different, less historic but equally meaningful tale: the 4 figures went to plunder the Basilica's treasures. Caught in the act, they were struck by lightning and turned into stone by St Mark himself.

    Location: S. Marco, 30124 Venezia, Italy

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    6

    The Piraeus Lion

    The statue's long history

    • History
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    The Piraeus Lion is a 3-metre-high white marble lion that guards the entrance of the Arsenale (Arsenal). This exquisite statue from classical antiquity holds a mystery. Why, in Venice, is there a lion from Piraeus marked with Viking runes? History has the answer. Made in Greece, it probably marked the battle of Salamis between Themistocles and the Persians, guarding Athens' port for centuries. Viking mercenaries, invited by Byzantium to quell the Athenian revolt, engraved the runes in 1040. Its history concludes with another battle, which ended with the Venetian leader Francesco Morosini bringing it back to the city as a trophy, along with statues of another lion and a dog. Situated on the right of the Porta dell’Arsenale (Arsenal Gate), they are less mysterious but equally beautiful.

    Location: Campo de l'Arsenal, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy

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    7

    The leaning bell tower of Burano

    The leaning tower of the Venetian lagoon

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    The leaning bell tower of Burano behind Chiesa di San Martino Vescovo (Church of Saint Martin of the Bishop) was built in the 17th century. It went well at first, and was admired for its neoclassical shapes and 53-metre height. Then things started to nosedive, literally. The ground’s subsidence made the structure tilt on its axis. The bell tower is now a landmark of the island, together with the local lace and Piazza Galuppi, full of shops and restaurants. Ponte di Terranova (Terranova Bridge) or Giudecca provide the best views of the 183-centimetre tilt. It's worth visiting Chiesa di San Martino and the adjoining Cappella di Santa Barbara (Oratory of Saint Barbara), housing interesting artwork including a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo.

    Location: Piazza Baldassarre Galuppi, 20, 30142 Venezia, Italy

    Open: From 8 am to noon and from 3 pm to 7 pm

    Phone: +39 04 1730 096

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    8

    Accessing St Mark's Basilica

    A masterpiece of mosaics and sculptures

    • History
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    Accessing St Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco), with its unmistakable Byzantine-inspired aesthetic, offers an unparalleled visual and spiritual experience. Over 8,000 square metres of mosaics cover its walls, vaults and domes. Visiting this masterpiece is free, but you’ll need to leave suitcases and large bags at the storage area in front of Porta dei Fiori (Door of Flowers), on the northern side. Photography is not permitted inside the church. You'll notice decorative sculptures adorning the building, a harmonious yet miscellaneous collection as only some were made onsite. Many come from different towns and feature different materials and styles. Want to soak up every detail with the help of an expert? Check days and times for guided tours in the vestibule next to the main door.

    Location: Piazza San Marco, 328, 30100 Venezia, Italy

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm (from 2 pm on Sunday and public holidays)

    Phone: +39 04 1270 8311

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    9

    Contarini Snail Staircase

    An elegant spiral in the heart of Venice

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    The Contarini Snail Staircase is a stone's throw from Campo Manin and is one of Venice’s most original structures. It's a spiral staircase almost 26 metres high, elegantly blending 3 styles: Gothic, renaissance and byzantine. You’d expect this sumptuous building to overlook the Canal Grande (Grand Canal), but not all of Venice's prestigious residences open to the main thoroughfare. Palazzo Contarini (House of Contarini) was conveniently built squarely between Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square) and Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge), Venice's political and economic hub. The building dates to the 15th century. The spiral, or bòvolo in Venetian (snail), staircase was added later to make the house more distinguished and emphasise the importance of the Contarinis, whose family tree boasted a doge. Chancing upon this staircase is always a pleasant surprise.

    Location: Corte Contarina, 4303, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +39 04 1309 6605

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    10

    Calle Varisco, Venice's narrowest street, and Sotoportego Zurlin, its lowest

    A journey through record-breaking sights

    Calle Varisco and Sotoportego Zurlin are Venice's narrowest and lowest streets, respectively. Have you ever squeezed through a 53-centimetre-wide alleyway? If you want to put your waistline to the test and take some impressive photos, look for Calle Varisco in the Sestiere di Cannaregio (Cannaregio District), near the Fondamenta Nuove. It's the narrowest street in Venice. If you love to wander the streets in search of quirky corners in intricate labyrinths, another record breaker is Sotoportego Zurlin in Campo Ruga. At the east end of Venice, it's the lowest street in the city. It's said that, long ago in this dark and gloomy nook, a mysterious apparition saved a sick woman by alerting a passing doctor. Believe it or not, you'll feel a shiver down your spine when you visit it, especially if you come at dusk.

    Location: 30100 Venezia, Italy

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    photo by Nino Barbieri (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

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