Despite all the photographic evidence, Venice feels like a mystical city we’ve cooked up. Clusters of Italian islands are bridged in a stunning patchwork of canals and floating stone. No wonder it’s such a well-loved travel destination! This guide will easily help you plan a trip to Venice to enjoy this beautiful City.
The lack of roads is fascinating; apart from pedestrian bridges, travel is done via boats on canals. You’ll motor past red-roofed residences where locals lounge on their balconies, past waterside restaurants, and thoroughfare. Renaissance and Gothic palaces rise above the time-worn buildings, often in eye-catching white. You’d have heard of the central Piazza San Marco and its Basilica, which is edged with Byzantine mosaics. Maybe you’ve heard of dreamy locales and elegant hotels too.
To help you plan your trip to Venice, we’ve outlined the ultimate attractions and characterful places to stay.
Things to do in Venice
Even a month-long trip to Venice isn’t enough for you to explore every alley that makes up Venice but you can definitely check off these things to do.
1. Start with a Venice boat tour
It is a city on water so why not travel the canals with a bit more intent and direction? Literally everything happens via the waterways; deliveries are made, students and workers commute, ambulances are in boat form. Instead of cars and buses, people move around in traditional wooden gondolas, private water taxis, and larger vaperetto public boats. Sign up for a 2-hour tour of the Grand Canal which cuts through Venice in a massive reverse ‘S’! A guide will point out old trader houses, governmental sectors, the house of Prada, fancy hotels, and key bridges – it’s the best introduction one can get.
2. Avoid the crowds at Cannaregio
Move away from the tourist-strewn San Marco to the more local reaches of Cannaregio. While you still have modern shopping streets to stock up on Italian leather and luxe goods, you also get to soak up the history of the Jewish Ghetto. Delve into the backstreets where plenty of crafts and vintage goods set up shop; Fondamenta della Misericordia will treat with canal-side restaurants and bars. Honestly, it is one of the best free things to do in Venice.
3. Cross the famous Rialto Bridge
For those needing a break from all the river trips, the Rialto Bridge is a true savior. One of the four bridges that bisect the Grand Canal, you’ll probably crossover many times during your stay. It’s easily a most-photographed spot, the 16th-century architecture composed of three passageways and over 10,000 wood pilings. Anyone who sees it will no doubt call it “pretty” even with the crowds, but do try and get close to admire the graceful details. As a nifty tip, dart into Rialto’s Market for tiny wine bars when you want to linger away from the people.
4. Gawk at the Venice Biennale
This sprawling international contemporary art event alternates between visual art in odd-numbered years and architectural exhibits in even-numbered years so cross your fingers and hope you get to see what interests you more. The main venue is Giardini della Biennale of the Castello district but its entirety is spread out over pavilions, palazzos, museums, and other public spaces. Since the installations are kept up through May to November, you’ll have plenty of time to see them all.
5. Pig out at Rialto Food and Wine Tour
You know what’s coming next – a foodie-certified tour of Rialto Bridge’s food market. Italy is full of noms and the best tasting plate is fresh daily markets. Locally grown produce and homemade pasta are the least of the offerings; you can nibble on cow to goat cheese, marinated seafood, polenta, drown in olive oil… you’ll literally eat your way towards the dessert central of Campo San Giovanni e Paolo. Chefs may also want to try their hand at Venetian dishes. Sign up for a cooking class that includes in-depth market exploration.
6. Pop by colorful Burano Island
Yup, it is time to update your Instagram feed! A tourist ‘must’ thing to do in Venice is taking day trips to characterful islands. Burano is slow-slow, where the day is spent casting nets or lacemaking. It’s exactly the quiet you need after a busy day out on San Marco. Museo del Merletto is a fascinating glimpse into the lacemaking tradition, although you’ll most likely spend the trip snapping shots of Burano’s technicolored houses. Amazing how design like painting houses built to lead fishermen home through the fog has now become a trending, artistic phenomenon. A trip to Venice without visiting this colorful island is a waste, don’t you think?
7. Scour the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Quiet Dorsoduro district houses one of the world’s finest private art collections: the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Once an unfinished palace, it was bought in 1949 and transformed into a gallery of 20th-century surrealism, abstract art, and avant-garde everything. If you like debating the works of Picasso, Pollock, Mondrian, and Dali, disembark at this Grand Canal stop. There’s also a sculpture garden for some serene contemplation.
8. Get historical at Castello
It’s all brownstone and industrial tones at old Castello, narrow streets and dense neighborhoods showing Venice at its most authentic. What you get is Venice back in the day; expect crumbling buildings and historic churches on the far east while hotels run from extravagant to cheap. That’s not to say that tourists keep out! The churches of San Zaccaria and Santi Giovanni and Paolo draw in visitors curious about the past, and Arsenale shipyard is proof of Italy’s glory days. Do visit San Pietro di Castello (one of Venice’s oldest churches) between munching at the hole-in-the-wall eateries and bars.
9. Stare out from the Bridge of Sighs
Tour groups and selfie-takers battle it out on the bridge facing the Bridge of Sighs, but there’s actually nothing romantic about this famous sight. Morbid is the better word. Why? Because prisoners of Doge Palace took their final steps within the bridge, gasping for their last views of Venice through the tiny lattice gaps; a final sigh at its beauty. For a more accurate experience, go through the bridge instead of just looking at it from the outside. And be happy that you’re not walking to your execution.
10. Exercise your eyes at Torcello Cathedral
The cathedral might not look like much from the outside, but the island of Torcello was where mainlanders fled to after the fall of the Roman Empire – the Church of Santa Maria Assunta carries remnants of this powerful settlement. Although the surviving structure and its Byzantine mosaics are from the 11th century, origins trace back to the 600s. Dazzling gold relics aside (the Last Judgement mosaic the centerpiece), the historical value of this aged site is monumental.
11. Climb up San Giorgio Maggiore
Sharing a name between island and church on said island, San Giorgio Maggiore is a feature landmark. The white marble Renaissance design is stunning but no doubt you’ll be more impressed by the bell tower – more specifically, the elevator which will take you to the top. There’s no need to sweat and drag your feet up! Most people try to climb the San Marco Campanile, but San Giorgio Maggiore is a better alternative as the distance away from the city center means more expansive views of Venice’s skyline.
12. Be a tourist at Piazza San Marco
Venice’s main public square is a tourist cliché but still, one with cultural significance. You can check off the iconic Clock Tower, St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge Palace and the Winged Lion of Venice or bypass the landmarks for some prime people-watching. While sometimes you get more pigeons than people, the square is a popular gathering spot with plenty of public events. Order a thick, syrupy mug of hot choco at one of the north end cafés and enjoy the live music.
If you were to pick two main attractions to visit, you’ll want to see Doge Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. Characterized by Venetian opulence, both are easily spotted with their white façades, generously arched corridors, detailed stone carvings, and lavish artworks both on the exterior and within. St. Mark’s gold-leaf mosaics are truly of the legends. Both are museums too, so do go pick up some Venetian history.
13. Indulge in an aperitivo
You’ve probably heard about the aperitivo without knowing what it really is. This ritual of sorts literally translates as “to open”, a way to stimulate your appetite before a meal. It also offers a chance for socializing as you’d chill with friends and family while nibbling on bites and aperitif drinks. Traditionally, these drinks are made bitter with Campari and Aperol, with Negroni, Spritz, and Americano as the three main options. Take a friend (or go solo) to a rooftop bar in the early evening or late afternoon for great panoramas and enjoy life the ‘Italian way’.
14. Get dramatic at Carnevale
Maybe costumes are your thing; the more lavish the better. In that case, schedule your trip to Venice to coincide with the elaborate Carnevale festivities. Piazza San Marco is the central hosting ground but the costumed crowds will be streaming from all sorts of street fairs, parades and even formal balls. Honor tradition by buying handmade masks from Venice’s authentic workshops – or satisfy your theatrical needs with an outlandish outfit.
15. Seek out the hidden Scala Contarini Del Bovolo
We don’t know about you, but who hasn’t dreamed of a romantic spiral staircase attached to their home? Squirreled away in a tiny palazzo in San Marco is this hidden attraction: the snail shell-like Scala Contarini Del Bovolo. Sun-bleached brick, crackled white stone, and pretty pillars form arched openings all the way up. On the top floor, you’ll get an eyeful of Venice’s terracotta roofs, the domes, and San Marco Campanile.
Best Places to Stay on Your Perfect Trip to Venice
When planning trips to anywhere, accommodation can be either an exciting hunt or a big headache. We’ve narrowed down the best places to stay in Venice; you can choose your HQ based on nearby attractions, noise levels, and overall convenience.
For a central touristy location, the San Marco sestiere(division of a town) is an obvious choice. You have a pick of five-star hotels and chic boutiques between Piazza San Marco and the Accademia Bridge – galleries, eateries, and iconic monuments are just around the corner. Unfortunately, convenience comes at a price, meaning you’ll have to put up with the overcrowding.
- Luxury: The Gritti Palace – Pamper yourself with an expensive stay at 15th-century Gritti Palace. Its antiques and ornate interiors match perfectly with the priceless views along the Grand Canal; Calle Largo XXII Marzo, San Marco Basilica, and the Gallerie dell’Accademia just minutes away via water taxi.
- Mid-Range: Novecento Boutique Hotel – This hotel dials back from the crowds of San Marco by hiding in a quiet alley, some 20 minutes from the Rialto. Great compromise on price, central location, and tranquil space.
- Budget: Hotel Firenze – Elegant rooms are offered at Hotel Firenze without emptying your wallet. A mid-range option that comes with breakfast on a rooftop terrace, it’s ‘comfortably chic’.
Hipsters alert! What seems like a backwater neighborhood lights up at night with canal-side restaurants and hip bars. It’s this juxtaposition that makes it such a good base; original ghetto sceneries in the day and bustling hub at night.
- Luxury: Ca’ Bonfadini – Rated 5-star, Ca’ Bonfadini is a 16th-century Venetian gem. Spacious and gold-gilded rooms aside, the gourmet breakfast is worth every penny.
- 4-star: Hotel Palazzo Abadessa – Feel right at home thanks to the friendly staff. Like a family palace, the hotel is padded out with heirloom antiques and frescoed ceilings; there’s a lush garden for relaxing hangouts after a long day.
If art is your thing, Dorsoduro is all about that artsy sophistication. Hop between Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Punta della Dogana’s ultra-contemporary collection, and the good ol’ Accademia gallery. Young adults gather around here too for cool bars and eateries than transform into nightlife stages.
- 4-star: Palazzo Veneziano – As expected of a lagoon hotel, this 4-star place to stay doles out fancy Jacuzzi suites and comfy double rooms. There’s a ferry stop right outside, making it super accessible.
- 4-star: Ca’ Pisani Hotel – Bye-bye chandeliers and fancy décor, it’s time for Art Deco styling. Period pieces balance out the lighter contemporary design of this hotel, while the Accademia gallery is close by.
Gorgeous churches, stunning Riva degli Schiavoni promenade, and humble, clustered residences make the bulk of Castello. History buffs will settle comfortably in echoing alleys and ‘local’ ambiance. It’s nostalgia-inducing for sure!
- Luxury, 5-star: Hotel Danieli – The neighborhood may be middle-class but luxurious Hotel Danieli is full of old-time glamor and cultural pomp. Even if you can’t afford to stay the night, visit the rooftop bar for drinks and Venice views.
- B&B: Residenza De L’Osmarin – For a more personal and authentic experience, book a stay at this three-room B&B. The simple but stylish interior matches don’t distract from nearby canal views and San Marco Campanile, instead of providing a place of comfort to retire to. There’s even a cute courtyard-facing terrace on the second floor.
- Luxury, 4-star: Hotel Bucintoro – You don’t have to drop quality views for cheaper prices thanks to Hotel Bucintoro. Perched along the Riva lagoon-side promenade, the nautical-themed rooms offer amazing water views.
Santa Croce & San Polo
Between the fish markets and foodie heaven of San Polo and the residential Santa Croce, you’ll have a range of smaller hotels to choose from. Instead of majestic monuments, you get the ‘real’ Venice – narrow alleys leading through sunny squares and along trickling waterways.
- Super Luxurious: Aman Venice – Among the most expensive Venice stays, Aman Venice has hosted A-list celebrities and those with money to spare. The 16th-century building is furnished with chandeliers and marbled flooring; even the reception hall is decorated with frescoes. This is where you live in luxury.
- Budget: Ca’ Angeli – Enjoy Grand Canal views without paying a fortune! This tiny hotel is delightfully traditional and easily accessible.
Avoid fellow tourists in Guidecca, a quietly trendy home to students and artists. Neighborhood cafés, lagoon views, and manicured gardens will treat you to local feels.
- Luxury 5-star: Belmond Hotel Cipriani – Classic and elegant Belmond Cipriani is the epitome of 5-star hotels. Think fine-dining, snazzy pool, luxury spas, and professional service.
- Luxury 5-star: San Clemente Palace Kempinski – 11th-century turned hotel, it offers 190 rooms and suites on a tree-filled island. It is a paradise away from the downtown hustle, pampering you with private grounds and luxurious settings.
- Budget Hostel: Generator Venice – The ultimate budget stay with dorm rooms or private doubles, it is nevertheless super cool with wood-beamed ceilings and industrial décor.
How to get to and around Venice
When the entire city is built around waterways and floating island clusters, it makes you wonder how to even get to Venice, not in the least how to get around. Here’s a quick guide to answer all your questions.
Getting to Venice
Fly into either one of Venice’s airports: Venice Marco Polo Airport or Treviso Airport. Most people land at Marco Polo (VCE) which is just 6 kilometers from the city center. While water taxis are the most convenient transport from the airport to the mainland, you’ll want to take the Alilaguna Blue and Orange Line airport boats instead. Alternatively, ATVO and ACTV airport buses are cheap and efficient but terminate at Piazzale Roma.
Getting around Venice
Car-free streets, leveled pavements and hundreds of footbridges make walking the best way to get around Venice. But what if you tire easily?
Public transport in Venice – Vaporetto – water bus
Venice’s main public transport is the Vaporetto, small passenger ferries run by the ACTV. Tickets and passes can be purchased at dockside ticket booths, vending machines, or from Tobacconists at €7.50 per single ride. You can also buy Vaporetto tickets in advance via the daAaB app. Simply scan your phone at the barriers instead of a ticket.
You can download the Vaporetto route map here.
While actual taxis do operate in Mestre and Lido, commuting across Venice requires water taxis. They’re handy but costly; fares start at €15 plus €2 per minute with surcharges for night trips.
Alternate transport options include gondola rides (mostly a tourist experience) and the sole train connection between Venice Santa Lucia and Mestre.
Save Money in Venice with ACTV Tourist Travel Card
If you’re planning on frequent Vaporetto travel, we recommend buying the ACTV Tourist Travel Card. It offers unlimited travel on Vaporetti and Lido buses within a set period (from your first ticket use):
1 day – €20
2 days – €30
3 days – €40
1 week – €60
As regular Vaporetto water taxi prices cost €7,50 per trip, you save money from the third trip up. To validate your ticket, simply tap it against the validator and choose your travel ticket type – press OK and voila! Do swipe your card every time you board. You can easily buy the travel card online.
It is definitely worth purchasing if you’re enthusiastic about exploring Venice. Access the surrounding islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello all in one day and at a budget price.
Those aged 6 to 29 can buy the cheaper Rolling Venice Card, available at most ACTV public transport ticketing machines and tourist offices. It’s a 72-hour public transport pass that offers discounts on airport transfers, admission to attractions and events.
Another money-saving travel option is the Venezia Unica City Pass.
If you’re planning on dropping by numerous paid attractions and cultural events, the Unica City Pass is your all-in-one card for public transport and attractions admission. We recommend this for those who might not rely on the Vaporetto but very much want to visit tourist sites. After purchasing online, an email voucher and PNR booking code will be sent for pass collection. More detailed explanations are included on the official website.
Read More in my journals about my experience in Venice.
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