Venice is one of our favorite spots in Italy. Why? Venice is romantic, historic, and gorgeous. It is also small and compact, perfect to be explored with just a few days time. The list of sites to visit in Venice is long. So long, in fact, that it would take days to see all of them. Most people have just a few days in this magical city. Here is a short list of the best things to do in Venice, a good starting point for having the best holiday here.
Overview of Venice
Venice is built on a group of 118 islands and these small islands are linked with 400 bridges. These islands are located in the Venetian Lagoon, which sits just off of the mainland of Italy.
With its Venetian Gothic architecture, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, wide piazzas, and narrow canals, Venice is often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Venice is made up of neighborhoods, also called sestieri (singular sestiere). Some sestieri contain Venice’s most popular sites while others are quieter, where the locals live.
San Marco is the touristy heart of Venice and home to Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Square, and the Rialto Bridge. Most tourists spend the majority of their time here, along with Dorsoduro (Pont dell’Accademia, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute), and San Polo.
Santa Croce, located on the western end of Venice, is the main transportation hub. The bus station, parking garages, and train station are located here.
Cannaregio, Castello, and Giudecca are where many local Venetians live, but these sestieri make great places to go for a stroll if you want to escape the tourist crowds in the heart of Venice.
Finally, Murano, Burano, and Lido make great day trips from Venice, but you need to have at least three days in Venice in order to have enough time to do this.
Best Things to Do in Venice
Just Wander…Get Lost in Venice
Put down your map and just wander. Forget the big, popular sites (we will get to those soon). The smaller canals off of the main tourist trail are perfect for wandering.
The main city of Venice is small enough that you can walk it in several hours. Explore the canals, sit and relax in the small squares that punctuate the city, go cafe-hopping for coffee or wine, and just enjoy this city without feeling like you have to check a bunch of sites off of your to-do list.
Venice canal | Best Things to Do in Venice
Dorsoduro, Venice | Best Things to Do in Venice
Venice canal | Best things to do in Venice
St. Mark’s Square
St. Mark’s Square is the heart of Venice. From here you can easily visit most of the other main sites. The best things to do here? Take a 360° panorama photo, feed (or run through) the pigeons, and go people watching.
Climb the Campanile di San Marco
The Campanile is the bell tower that dominates the skyline of Venice. The only way to the top is by elevator. From the top, your reward is one of the best views of the city.
The Campanile | Best things to do in Venice
View from the Campanile | Best things to do in Venice
Another view from the Campanile | Best things to do in Venice
Hours: Hours vary by season. April 16 to September 30: 8:30 am to 9:00 pm (last admission 8:45 pm). Reduced hours the remainder of the year. Get the full schedule here.
Important: During adverse weather conditions (high winds, cold temperatures) the campanile will close.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Lines can be long to enter the bell tower. Before your visit to Venice, book a time slot on the official St. Mark’s Basilica website. Only 30 tickets are available for each time slot so I recommend you make your reservation as soon as you know your dates of travel to Venice.
View Venice from the Rialto Bridge
Spanning the Grand Canal, the Ponte di Rialto is Venice’s most popular bridge. From the top of the bridge, enjoy another fantastic, iconic view of this city. See it at sunrise, see it at sunset, join the crowds of tourists in the middle of the day. Watching the gondolas, vaporettos, and ferries travel up and down the Grand Canal from this spot is mesmerizing.
Expect to share this space with a lot of other travelers. Find a spot, take lots of selfie photos, and smile because you are in Venice!
Rialto Bridge | Best things to do in Venice
View from the Rialto Bridge | Best Things to Do in Venice
Cruise the Canals on a Gondola…and is It Worth It?
Yes, it may be cliché and super-touristy, but in our opinion, a visit to Venice would not be complete without a gondola ride through the canals.
View from a gondola ride | Best things to do in Venice
The Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal | Best Things to Do in Venice
How Much Does a Gondola ride cost? That’s a good question. The city of Venice sets the rate at €80 per 40 minutes (€100 after 7 pm) but that doesn’t mean that’s the rate you will get. You will have to negotiate with your gondolier before you ride. Make sure you agree on the price and the length of time you will ride before you get in the gondola. And if you would like him to sing, that will cost extra. Here is a great article if you want to learn more.
Visit the Doges’ Palace
The Doges’ Palace is a palace built in Venetian Gothic styles. For centuries, this building served as the residence for the Doge, the seat of the government, and a palace of justice. Now, it is a museum. Without a doubt, a visit to the Doges’ Palace is a must-have experience in Venice. The history that took place here is incredible. Touring this palace is one of the best things to do in Venice.
You can tour the Palace on your own or book a guided tour. As you tour the Palace, you will have more fantastic views of Venice. Yes, we love great views of the cities we visit, especially those that are unique or from a high vantage point. The Doges’ Palace has some great views of Venice.
View from the Doge’s Palace | Best Things to Do in Venice
One of the most unique views of Venice is from the Bridge of Sighs. From this window, prisoners on their way to execution would have this final view of the city.
View from the Bridge of Sighs | Best things to do in Venice
Hours: 10 am to 6 pm, last admission at 5 pm
Cost: €25, audio guide €5
Website: Get updated pricing, learn about the Secret Itineraries tour, and book your tickets in advance on the official website.
You can also join one of these highly rated skip-the-line tours of the Doges Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica.
The Bridge of Sighs
So, you walked across the Bridge of Sighs from the Doges’ Palace. Now it is time to view the Bridge of Sighs from outside the Doges’ Palace.
Go for a stroll along Riva degli Schiavoni, which is a wide promenade that runs along the Venetian Lagoon near Doge’s Palace. As you cross Ponte della Paglia look down the canal for the iconic view of the Bridge of Sighs.
Bridge of Sighs | Best things to do in Venice
Saint Mark’s Basilica
This is another landmark of Venice that is not to be missed.
St. Mark’s Basilica dates back to the 9th century AD. Over the course of eight centuries, mosaics were added to the interior of the cathedral, as well as treasures from the Crusades. The Pala d’Oro is a Byzantine alter piece that is covered in gold and studded with almost 2,000 gems.
St. Mark’s Basilica | Best things to do in Venice
How to Visit St. Mark’s Basilica
This cathedral is one of Venice’s top attractions. Lines to get in are legendary and the best time to visit is first thing in the morning, at opening time.
At the time that I am writing this, St. Mark’s Basilica opens at 9:30 am (on Sundays, it opens at 2 pm). I recommend getting in line at 9 am, or even earlier, to minimize your wait. Before you go, get updates on hours of operation here.
Fast-track or skip-the-line tickets are not available on the official website, but GetYourGuide offers a number of skip-the-line tickets for St. Mark’s Basilica. Some of these also include Doge’s Palace, the next stop on today’s itinerary.
So, if you don’t want to line up early, you can visit St. Mark’s Basilica later in the morning if you book a skip-the-line tour in advance. However, there is even a skip-the-line line, and the later you go in the day, the longer this line becomes. So, try to go as early as possible.
Hours: 9:30 am to 5:15 Monday to Saturday; Sunday 2 pm to 5:15 pm; last admission at 4:45 pm
Cost: 3€; Pala d’Oro is an additional 5€
Get updated hours and pricing on the official website
Skip-the-Line: This tour has skip-the-line access and includes a visit to the St. Mark’s terrace for great views of the city.
Nighttime Tour of St. Mark’s Basilica: If you like the idea of visiting the Basilica with low crowds, consider taking a nighttime tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. Offered after closing time, this small group tour allows you to visit the Basilica without the crowds and you get to see the Basilica illuminated at night. We will be taking this tour on our upcoming trip to Venice.
Skip-the-line at St. Mark’s Basilica plus Doge’s Palace: This 3-hour skip-the-line tour includes both St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. This is a great tour to consider since it includes both of these sights and you get to tour them with a knowledgeable guide.
Venice’s Best Bargain: The Vaporetto
What is a vaporetto? Basically, it is a water bus that takes passengers from point to point. Most people use the vaporetto as a way to travel between the main sites. For a cheap but fantastic way to tour the Grand Canal, ride the vaporetto from the lagoon through the Grand Canal, past the Rialto Bridge, all the way to the train station.
Take the No. 1 vaporetto (ACTV) Linea 1 from Piazzale Roma to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). If you want, this vaporetto travels all of the way to Lido Island. It also runs in both directions, so if you are coming from Lido Island, you can ride the vaporetto across the lagoon and down the entire Grand Canal.
Avoid the Crowds: In the late afternoon, start at Piazzale Roma and journey down the Grand Canal towards St. Mark’s Square. At this time of day, most people will be traveling in the other direction.
Learn more about the vaporetto here.
Take a Walking Tour of Venice
If you prefer to walk the canals with a guide, here a few great options to consider.
On this 2 to 3-hour walking tour, walk from St. Mark’s Square up to the Rialto Bridge with a guide. It also includes a gondola ride, making this tour a great deal for the price.
This Venice Highlights walking tour gets near perfect reviews and it covers the major highlights of the city.
Enjoy the View from Ponte dell’Accademia
From Ponte dell’Accademia, you have one of the best views of the Grand Canal. This old, wooden bridge is not one of prettier bridges in town but the view from here is stunning.
Look east along the Grand Canal. You will be able to see the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, a 400-year-old church that is a famous Venetian landmark. This bridge also a great spot to watch as gondolas, water buses, and taxis drift up and down the Grand Canal.
View from Ponte dell’Accademia | Best things to do in Venice
t fondaco Rooftop Terrace
This rooftop terrace is located on the top of a building that sits very close to the Rialto Bridge. From here, you get an amazing view over the Grand Canal. It is free to visit the terrace but you need to make a reservation in advance. We plan to do this on our upcoming trip to Venice.
With More Time in Venice
So, that’s a quick run down of what to do in Venice, a good starting point if you only have one to two days in the city. With more time, consider adding on these attractions and activities:
- Take a day trip to Murano and Burano
- Explore the quieter, less touristy neighborhoods in Venice (Castello and Cannaregio)
- Visit Gallerie dell’Accademia
- Visit Libreria Acqua Alta
- Take a tour of La Fenice Opera House
VENICE TOURIST TAX: At the time that I am updating this, a new Venice tourist tax is being proposed. It is proposed to begin in January 2023. The fee will range from €3 to €10, depending on visitation numbers. If you will be staying in a hotel in Venice, you will be exempt from this fee. For more information, read this article.
Tours of Venice
Joining a tour can help save you time waiting in line, allow you to learn more about Venice from a knowledgeable guide, and introduce you to sights that you may not be able to do on your own. Here are some of the best tours in Venice.
For one of the best experiences in Venice, visit St. Mark’s Basilica after hours. You get to tour the Basilica with an expert guide and visit it without the crowds. We are taking this tour on our upcoming visit to Venice.
This combination tour includes both St. Mark’s Basilica and a tour of Doge’s Palace. The tour lasts 2.5 to 3 hours and is one of the best things to do if this is your first visit to Venice.
Take a private evening tour of Cannaregio. With a guide, you will explore Cannaregio, dine on local food, and enjoy wine, beer, and cocktails.
On this 2.5 hour food tour, explore the Rialto Market with a guide and sample local foods.
Finally, go on a candlelight dinner cruise on the Venetian Lagoon.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Venice?
Ideally, plan on spending two or more days in Venice.
With 2 days in Venice, you have just enough time to visit the highlights of Venice and stroll the canals. It will be a busy but wonderful 2 days in Venice.
With 3 days in Venice, spend two days visiting the highlights in Venice and on the third day, day trip to Murano and Burano and/or Lido. Even more time allows you to slow down and explore the quieter neighborhoods of Venice.
If you only have one day in Venice, it will be a whirlwind, but you can visit a few of the more popular sites in the morning (such as Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica) and explore the canals in the afternoon.
Gondolas on the lagoon | Best Things to Do in Venice
Best Time to Visit Venice
In general, spring and fall are the best times of the year to visit Venice. During this time, the weather is great for sightseeing and crowds tend to be lower than the busy summer months. But here is a breakdown by season of what you can expect in Venice:
WINTER: It’s cold in Venice during the winter months. Daytime high’s average around 7°C (in the mid-40’s) and it can get down to freezing at night. However, this is the driest time of the year. Crowds are also at their lowest, so if you want to visit Venice without the crowds, this is the time to go…just pack your winter coat. Carnavale is one of Venice’s biggest festivals and takes place at the end of February, ending on Mardi Gras.
SPRING: As the weather warms up in the spring, rain chances also go up. Spring is one of the wettest seasons to visit Venice, but not quite as rainy as the fall months. In early spring, the high temperature is 13°C (55°F) and it continues to get warmer week by week, reaching an average high of 21°C (70°F) by June.
SUMMER: Expect big crowds and warm weather during the summer months. Daily high temperatures average 28°C (82°F) and rainfall is low, making this a great time to visit Venice, as far as weather is concerned. But summer is also the most popular time to visit Venice, so crowds will be at their highest. If you plan to visit in the summer months, make your hotel reservations far in advance and purchase skip-the-line tickets if possible.
FALL: In early fall, crowds can still be high, not really quieting down until the end of October. Daytime high’s range from 21°C (70°F) in early fall and cooling off to 13°C (55°F) by late fall. Autumn is the wettest time to visit Venice (late September through early November), so bring an umbrella if you plan to be here at this time.
VERDICT: I think the best time to visit Venice is from late-April through May. The weather is nice, spring break is over, and crowds are manageable. If you don’t mind chilly weather, March into April would also be a nice time to visit Venice, just try to avoid the Easter holiday.
We have visited Venice twice: in mid-July and mid-September. Crowd levels were about the same for both visits and may have actually been a little bit higher on our September visit. We are planning a return visit for July 2022, not an ideal time of year to visit Venice, but it works well with the remainder of our summer plans (we plan to hike in the Dolomites and hike the Haute Route from France to Switzerland).
VENICE FLOODS: Between the months of October and January, water levels in the Venetian Lagoon can rise, flooding St. Mark’s Square. This is called acqua alta, or “high water” and typically lasts a few days each year.
How to Get to Venice
Venice is a cluster of small islands located just off of the mainland. To get from the airport or the Venezia-Mestre train station, you can either take the bus, the train, or a water taxi. If you have a car, you can drive onto the island and park at one of several parking lots and parking garages near Piazzale Roma.
If you are arriving into Marco Polo Airport, here are bus and water taxi options for getting to Venice.
Where to Stay in Venice
Staying in the heart of Venice, in San Marco and around the Grand Canal, can cost a small fortune for a decent place. Consider staying just outside of the center of Venice to save money.
When picking your accommodation, also consider how you are going to get to your hotel. From the airport, you will have to take a taxi (usually a water taxi) to get into Venice. Staying right on the Grand Canal is very convenient, but you will pay more for this convenience. Think about what it will be like to carry your luggage from the canal to your hotel when making your booking.
Luxury: If money is no object, take a look at the Gritti Palace. This hotel has a prime location, centrally located in San Marco. From your luxurious room, enjoy views of the Grand Canal.
Mid-Range: Hotel Olimpia Venezia. This is where we stayed on our most recent visit to Venice. This hotel is located in Santa Croce, so it’s not in the heart of Venice, but that does have its advantages. In just a few minutes you can walk to the train station, the bus station, and the parking garages, which makes getting in and out of Venice a breeze. To get to St. Mark’s Square you can walk (about 20 minutes) or take the vaporetto from Santa Croce. The rooms are quiet and comfortable and breakfast was delicious. We would stay here again.
Budget (outside of Venice): Villa Antica Graziela. This small, budget hotel is located in Marghera, on the “mainland” of Italy. To get into Venice, you have to take a bus, which takes approximately 30 minutes, once you account for the time waiting for the bus. We stayed here on our around the world trip. The place was great and taking the bus wasn’t too bad (it was worth it to save money). Our only complaint is the slow wifi, but maybe things have changed since our stay in 2014.
Planning Your Italy Itinerary
If you are still planning your Italy Itinerary, we have several great itineraries to share with you.
Our article 10 Days in Italy 3 Sample Itineraries has an overview of three different ways to plan a 10-day trip to Italy.
If you have 10 days in Italy and want to visit the top locations such as Rome, Florence, Venice and the Cinque Terre, you’ll love this 10 day Italy Itinerary.
Finally, if you have more time (lucky you!), check out our 14 Day Italy itinerary, which includes Rome, Florence, Venice, the Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast.
Going to Italy? Buy the Guide:
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Venice, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Italy:
FLORENCE & TUSCANY: If this is your first visit to Florence, read our guide to the Best Things to Do in Florence. If you plan to visit Tuscany, learn how to spend one day in Siena and the best things to do in San Gimignano.
BEST OF ITALY: In our Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Italy, we list 20 beautiful destinations to consider for your next trip to Italy.
NORTHERN ITALY: If you plan to visit the Dolomites, the Puez-Odle Altopiano is our favorite hike in the area (so far…you’ll see us here again this July). Verona is a beautiful city to add to your itinerary and we also have a detailed guide on how to day trip to Lake Como and Bellagio.
TRAVEL ITINERARIES: For more travel itineraries for destinations around the world, take a look at our Travel Itineraries page.
Planning a trip to Italy? We have LOTS more information about how to plan a trip to Italy in our Italy Travel Guide.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.
All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.