Venice is the most unique city I’ve personally visited in Europe – consisting of 118 islands connected by bridges and separated by a network of canals. There are also no cars allowed on Venice Proper. Just imagine the freedom of exploring without stopping at crosswalks or looking out for cars – it’s a pretty great experience! To be honest, I liked Venice on my first visit but it wasn’t until my second that I really loved this city. My advice is to make sure you have enough time to both visit the main attractions (my favorites listed below) and wander aimlessly in the city. Venice is made up of 6 neighborhoods so there’s quite a lot of ground to cover! Though if you ask me, San Marco is still my favorite.
What to Do
Take a Tour of the Grand Canal
The best way to start your Venice trip is with Rick Steve’s Audio Tour of the Grand Canal – taking a ride on Vaparetto No. 1 from Saint Lucia Train Station to St. Mark’s Square. It’s very informative and will shed light on the island’s history. I would recommend doing this on day one to get an overview of the attractions. For an added bonus, go at sunset – you won’t regret it!
Take in the Grand Canal from the oldest bridge in Venice. It’s packed with tourists but the crowds tend to die down at the end of the night.
St. Mark’s Square
This public square is filled with tourists during the day – a perfect spot for people watching! For another perspective, admire the square late at night after the crowds have disappeared. You can find all the major tourist attractions here – Basilica, Campanile, and Doge’s Palace. Keep in mind that visitors are no longer allowed to sit on the steps of the portico surrounding the square. #enjoyrespectvenezia
Saint Mark’s Basilica
You can’t visit Venice without seeing the gold mosaics in the basilica. How anyone designed and implemented mosaics this beautiful is beyond me! Make sure to visit the museum upstairs for €5. This will allow for a closer look of the mosaics and allow access to the balcony for an open view of St. Mark’s Square. If you want background on the basilica during your visit, download the Rick Steve’s Audio Tour.
TIP: The entrance is free but the line is really long. Get the Skip the Line ticket for €3 – completely worth it!
St Mark’s Campanile
This bell tower offers the most beautiful views of the city and is a must do in Venice for me!
TIP: You can’t book tickets for the Campanile, so go when it opens at 9am to avoid long lines.
Riva degli Schiavoni
Take a walk along the waterfront right by St. Mark’s Square and enjoy the view. Make sure to take notice of the Bridge of Sighs, the spot where prisoners took one last look at Venice before imprisonment in Doge’s Palace.
Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
This church houses Titian’s masterpiece, Assumption of the Virgin. Unlike the other attractions, it’s not very crowded. And for €3, you can leisurely walk around and admire the architecture, art work, and statues within.
Ride a Gondola (Gondola Station Bacino Orseolo)
Is it even a trip to Venice without a gondola ride? I would recommend taking a gondola from Gondola Station Bacino Orseolo. The experience lasts around 30 minutes, with the gondola going on the Grand Canal and side canals. Don’t be afraid to haggle to get the price down (ours cost €80 during peak hours).
Calle Larga XXII Marzo
This is the Rodeo Drive of Venice! In order words, this street is home to luxury brands and boutiques (Chanel, Burberry, and Gucci to name a few). Who doesn’t want to take advantage of the VAT refund in Europe?!
Support by Lorenzo Quinn
The monumental hands emerging from the canal to support (or perhaps pull down) the historic Ca’ Sagredo Hotel is the artwork titled Support by Lorenzo Quinn. This masterpiece demonstrates how humans have both the power to destroy and save the world. It further emphasizes the environmental impact climate change has on the city of Venice – truly an alarming piece that you must see. Learn more about Support here.
Island Hopping to Burano
Chances are that you’ve seen Burano on Instagram! The colorful houses on the island are what draws visitors to Burano. You can easily spend 2 hours here walking around and taking pictures.
Another island favorite is Murano, famous for its long tradition of glass making. I personally wouldn’t recommend it because it felt like a tourist trap – a ton of shops and not enough (if any) demonstrations of glass making.
Where to Eat
This is my favorite spot to eat in Venice! People rave about the Burger and Squid Ink Pasta, but my personal favorite is the Clam Pasta (Pasta Alle Vongole). It was a life changing meal and the best clam pasta I have ever had in my life. The restaurant is small with only 6 tables so expect a wait during peak hours, but I promise that it’s worth the wait! (Cash Only)
This is another go-to of mine for delicious pasta at an affordable price. It is not a sit down restaurant, but it’s right around the corner from St. Mark’s Square, perfect spot to bring your takeout containers to enjoy the meal. I would recommend the Pomodoro (red sauce) and Amatriciana (red sauce).
Gelateria Ca’ D’oro
This is my favorite spot in Venice for gelato! Go-to flavors are Strawberry and Hazelnut Chocolate.
Where to Stay
Hotel Al Vagon
When I visit Venice, I prefer to stay in or near the San Marco neighborhood because that’s where the main tourist attractions are. Hotel Al Vagon is in the Cannaregio neighborhood but it’s only a 4 minute walk to the Rialto Bridge and a 10 minute walk to St. Mark’s Square. The rooms are fairly small but it’s a great place to stay for the price. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and come with both a private bathroom and air conditioning (which is key when you visit in summer). I enjoyed my stay and will again in the future.
Other Helpful Tips
- Cars are not allowed on Venice Proper so bring your best walking shoes.
- For transportation around Venice and between islands, you can purchase a tourist travel card. Venice transportation runs on a honor system and tickets are rarely checked (only place I ever got asked for my ticket was Burano).
- Coop is my go-to grocery store, perfect for grabbing water and snacks!
- Make sure to bring bug spray in the summer because the weather is very hot and humid.