Ahhhh, Venice! Yes it’s crowded, yes it can smell in the summer, yes it can be expensive, but it’ll steal your heart and make you dream! This Italian city, with its iconic gondolas and canals, has so much to offer. This said, as Venice is a city entirely built on islands, you can probably explore most of it in about three or four days (but by all means, stay longer if you can!). Here’s my quick travel guide to Venice — I tried to include everything from the top things to do to tips on accommodation and how to get there! Hopefully this post will help you plan your trip to Venice (or simply make you dream about it 😉 )!
Getting There & Accommodation
I’ve had the chance to visit Venice not once, not twice, but three times in my life. The first time I visited, I was 15 and on a school trip and I was absolutely in awe of Venice’s beauty. The two subsequent times I visited were about a month apart, once in February of this year and once in late March. In February, I had a romantic little getaway and spent only one night in Venice. We took the train in from Austria and stayed in the Cannaregio neighbourhood. Because we knew we were returning to Venice soon, we decided to focus on exploring the islands of Murano and Burano for this stay. In March, we had a different approach to our stay! We had a rental car, so we decided to stay on the mainland in Padua, which is about a 25-30 minute drive to the Tronchetto, the big parking structure in Venice. This made for a completely different experience.
There are two options when looking for accommodations in Venice. You can either pay the big bucks and stay on the islands OR stay on the mainland and figure out a way to get to Venice everyday. Depending on where you’re staying, you can either take the bus, the train or a vaporetto (water bus). The vaporetto is probably the most expensive option, whereas the train and bus shouldn’t cost more than 4 or 5 Euros each way! If you have a rental car like we did, you can also park at the Tronchetto, which is probably worth it if you’re at least three people. It costs about 20 Euros a day for parking (3 return tickets by train would cost just under 30 Euros, so you save 10 Euros). Though it can be a tad more expensive, I preferred staying in Venice proper. I loved being able to get up and get going in the morning and explore a bit before the crowds arrived. My suggestion if you want to stay on the islands and not bust your travel budget is to book and AirBnb ahead of time (like a month ahead). The cheaper (and better) ones go fast!
What to do / see
Here are my favourite places to visit and things to do in Venice!
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s square)
The main public square in Venice, it’s where you’ll find most of Venice’s museums. As you can see, it’s also where most tourists gather. There are often bands playing in the cafes on each side of this square (but beware of their prices)!
Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica)
My biggest tip for you is to go wait in line about 45 minutes before the Basilica opens! You’ll get through fairly quickly once it opens. Also, make sure to go up to the second floor to get a great view of Piazza San Marco.
St. Mark’s Clocktower
While you’re in St. Mark’s Square, make sure you check out St. Mark’s clocktower to the left of the Basilica. This clock dates back to the 15th century and can sometimes be visited if you reserve in advance.
Campanile di San Marco (St. Mark’s Bell Tower)
I thought this was TOTALLY worth the wait. 98.6 meters in height, the view from is simply breathtaking! And don’t worry, there’s an elevator that brings you to the top so you don’t have to climb 2000 steps!
Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)
This palace was the home of the Doge of Venice and became a museum in 1923. You can visit the courtyard, the Doge’s apartments, the institutional chambers as well as the old prison. Buy your tickets online, you’ll be in the fast-track line!
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs)
Try to check it out early in the morning before the herds of tourists gather around it! Sunset is the worst, as there’s a legend that says that lovers will be granted eternal love if they kiss on a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs as the bells of St. Mark’s Campanile ring at sunset. Also, you can get a good view of it from the bridge behind Basilica di San Marco! You’re a little further away, but it’s way less crowded.
This is something (I think) everyone should experience at least once! Try to go in the morning for this as well, the canals will be less crowded. I also recommend finding one as far away as possible from the main tourist areas (again, the canals will be less crowded). Normally you’ll pay 80 Euros for a 40 minute ride (maximum 6 people)… Yes, it’s quite expensive, but it’s probably something you’ll only do once or twice in a lifetime, so go for it!
Day Trip to Murano
Murano is a series of islands not too far from Venice known for it’s glass making. To get there, simply hop on a vaporetto (the return ticket is about 7 Euros if I remember correctly)! We roamed the streets, visited the glass shops, visited the Murano Glass Museum and the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato. Also, make sure you check out the Cometa di Vetro, the giant blue glass sculpture seen above.
Day Trip to Burano
Burano is a colourful series of islands about 30-40 minutes from Venice (by Vaporetto). This place is known for how colourful and well maintained its houses are. I loved roaming the streets bright and early in the morning, before all the crowds got there! Burano is also known for its lace manufacturing— if you’re interested, you could check out the Lace Museum while you’re visiting!
Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
Ponte Rialto is the oldest bridge that crosses the Grand Canal. Today, it is home to many shops (and tourists!), so I suggest checking it out either early in the morning or late at night.
Santa Maria della Salute
This beautiful catholic church is located in Punta della Dogana in the Dorsoduro sestiere. Its dome is an iconic part of Venice’s skyline and access to the church is free. In fact, most churches in Venice will let you visit for free, with the exception of the Basilica di San Marco that charges a small fee. It’s worth mentioning that there is no shortage of churches in Venice, as it used to be mandatory to have one church per island community. Make sure to check a few of them out, they’re all unique in their own way!
Museo Correr & National Archaeological Museum
I loved visiting these Venice museums (which are connected). Not only does it give you a glimpse into Venetian history and culture, but you also get an idea of where the Austrian House of Habsburg and Emperor Francis I resided while visiting Venice.
My favourite thing to do in Venice is to get lost. Roam the streets, discover new places, try little restaurants and shops. Explore the islands away from the crowds, and trust me, you’ll fall in love with the city.
Eat like the Locals
Try to avoid the restaurants near the main tourist areas or restaurants with hosts that try to get you to eat there (ugh, so annoying). As in most cities, they’re often overpriced and honestly not that great! I have two restaurant recommendations for Venice. The first is Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta To Go — This place has the best pasta in Venice, I’m convinced! And the staff is super friendly as well! The second is Rossopomodoro — I had amazing pizza here, and you don’t get a touristy vibe from this restaurant even though it’s super central! Also, make sure you enjoy a nice aperitivo (a pre-dinner drink, normally had around 7pm) at least once, and try a spritz (soda, prosecco and Aperol), which is typical of Northern Italy. Finally, don’t forget to have loads and loads of gelato! 😛
Watch the Sunset
Venice can have some pretty spectacular sunsets. You’ll get a great view somewhere along the Riva degli Schiavoni, but try to get as far away as possible from Piazza San Marco so you can (again) avoid the crowds.
Hope this travel guide helps you plan your upcoming adventure in Venice and hope you enjoy your stay in this amazing Italian city! If you’re also visiting Milan, make sure you check out my post A Perfect Stay in Milan to get some ideas on what to see and do!