There’s really nowhere else in the world like Venice, Italy. It’s totally wild to see this floating city that was built on a bunch of islands and piles of wood in a lagoon of water around 402 AD.
Some people love Venice and think it’s magical and beautiful, and others think it’s a tourist trap to be avoided. I kind of agree with both—it is really beautiful, and there are a shit ton of tourists crammed into the small streets. And while I’m so glad I went and I really enjoyed visiting, I likely won’t feel the need to go back in my lifetime. Just being honest!
Today I’m sharing all my recs for what to see in Venice in a complete travel guide with all the top sights and restaurant picks. Two to three full days in Venice is perfect, as it’s very walkable and compact so you can cover a lot of ground in one day and do all the things that a trip to Venice wouldn’t be complete without!
Getting around in Venice: So fun fact, there aren’t any cars in Venice. I totally did not realize that before our trip.
I mean, I know that in the heart of Venice there were no cars because the streets are so small and it’s all canals, but I didn’t realize that the only way to get around is by private water taxi, Vaporetto (Venice’s ferry lines and public transportation), and good old fashioned walking. When we arrived at the train station, we were bombarded with guys trying to sell us a private water taxi. We asked if water taxi or regular taxi was faster, and he laughed at us and told us there are no cars in Venice. 😂
Btw, when you first arrive via the train station it can be a little overwhelming, but take your time to figure out the ferry if you don’t want to spend €65 on a water taxi. The ferry is pretty easy and convenient. It’s also great for getting around during your trip.
Restaurants in Venice: Venice is fairly small, and a lot of people visit it. Be sure to make restaurant reservations when possible.
If you aren’t able to get reservations, you can also try getting to the restaurant right around when it opens, and they’ll usually have a table or two available for early walk-ins. Be sure to also check beforehand for opening dates and hours—many restaurants will have random days of the week where they’re closed, like Sunday/Monday.
Where to stay in Venice: We stayed at the Hotel Danieli and it was absolutely perfect. The location is ridiculously central in the San Marco sestiere (neighborhoods that make up the main parts of Venice), and the hotel is literally steps away from San Marco Square and several of the main attractions that you’ll definitely want to visit.
The hotel itself is stunning. It used to be a palace, and our room’s felt like a bedroom in Versailles. I’ll be writing up a full hotel review about this place because it was just amazing and such a unique hotel experience.
Hotel Danieli is also part of Marriott, so it’s a great spot to spend those Marriott Bonvoy points. Any of the hotels in San Marco are going to be very centrally located for a trip to Venice.
What to See in Venice: A Complete Travel Guide
Day 1: What to see in Venice
- Start with a walking tour. I always love doing a walking tour in a new city to get acquainted with it, learn about its history and have more context, and get recommendations from our guide. But in Venice I feel like it’s especially helpful to start your trip with a walking tour. Everyone says to “get lost in Venice” and wander the small streets and oh isn’t it magical. And we did that the first day—and got truly lost and it got a bit frustrating. The scale of Google Maps takes some getting used to, and what looks like a regular block on your map might be just 10 feet in reality in Venice, so it’s very easy to miss streets. Venice can also feel a bit like Italian Disneyland at times, with long lines, hordes of tourists, and its miniature street scale. Going on a walking tour helped us learn more about Venice’s fascinating history, and that context really helped the city feel more interesting and less touristy for me.
- Lunch at Caffè Centrale. Grab lunch at Caffè Centrale, a modern and cool restaurant with doors that open up right to the water. They serve innovative dishes and are known for the quality of their meats and fresh seafood. Located just a couple minutes walk from Piazza San Marco.
- Doges Palace. The Doge’s Palace is a must-visit in Venice. This palace is where the Doge of Venice (the leader of the former Venetian Republic) lived and conducted business, and it’s now a museum. When you visit, you’ll be able to explore the courtyard, apartments, masterpieces in the museums, countless other grand rooms and chambers, and the prison. From the prison you’ll be able to walk across the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners took their last glance out at Venice before being interrogated and likely hung. After your visit to the Palace be sure to view the Bridge of Sighs from the outside too—it’s really very pretty even though it has a morbid history. Give yourself 2 – 3 hours to see the Doge’s Palace—it’s huge.
- Saint Mark’s Square. Head to St. Mark’s Square and grab a table at one of the many cafes. Settle in for some people watching, an espresso, or an aperitif. Some of the cafes have live music, which makes for a lovely atmosphere.
- Dinner at Ai Mercanti. Ai Mercanti was recommended to us by a colleague of Omied’s who grew up in Italy, and we had a lovely dinner here. The menu is very Venetian in nature—lots of fresh seafood and delicious pastas—and the restaurant is a very romantic setting. Their cod dish in a coconut lemongrass soup was absolutely delicious. Do try your best to call ahead and make reservations—we saw group after group turned away as the restaurant was full.
Day 2: What to See in Venice
- Murano, Burano, and Torcello Tour. There are several islands off the main island of Venice that are definitely worth visiting! Murano is known for all of its glass art, and you can visit the Murano Glass Factory, explore the cute island, and visit all the glass blowing shops there. Burano is another fun island to check out, and it’s basically and Instagrammer’s dream. All of the little houses and buildings are painted so cute and colorful, and it makes for such a fun backdrop. Grab lunch in Burano at the fritto misto place (fritto misto = fried mixed seafood) right by where the ferry pulls in. So good. Torcello is another island (next to Burano) that people visit for a bit to see its cathedral and Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge). You can either take the 12 ferry to visit all three of these islands, or book a tour for a half day of sightseeing.
- San Marco Basilica. Once you’re back to the heart of Venice, pay the San Marco Basilica a visit. It’s absolutely gorgeous and dripping with gold plated fixtures. While the dome and ceilings are stunning, I personally couldn’t stop staring at the floor—the tile mosaics are just out of this world.
- Campanile Bell Tower. The bell tower is right across from the San Marco Basilica, and it offers the best views of Venice. As an added bonus, you don’t even have to climb hundreds of stairs to go up the tower—there’s an elevator! Buy tickets ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about lines.
- Dinner at Ai Promessi Sposi. Ai Promessi Sposi was probably our favorite dinner spot in Venice. We loved their yummy pastas—try the squid ink pasta, it’s a Venetian favorite! There were also a ton of locals hanging out by the bar for cicchetti (Venetian-style tapas/small plates), so this would be a really fun spot to try that if you’re not able to make it for dinner.
Day 3: What to see in Venice:
- Rialto Bridge and Rialto Market. The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and most famous bridge in Venice. It’s really beautiful, and really crowded. But even so, definitely worth visiting. Afterwards, you can check out the Rialto Market, where you’ll find stalls selling lots of fresh foods, including seafood, meats, cheeses, and charcuterie, for cheap prices.
- Acqua Alta Book Shop: Swing by this adorable book shop to peruse its books and old magazines, and get a picture on its staircase made of books. Too fun.
- Grand Canal: Being out on the Grand Canal offers views of Venice from a different perspective. You can take the Vaporetto along the Grand Canal and soak up the views of beautiful Venice along the way to your next destination.
- Lunch at Estro – Vino e Cucina: Estro – Vino e Cucina is known for being one of Venice’s best wine bars. Stop by for lunch since you’ll be exploring the Dorsodouro neighborhood. You can do a sit down lunch or try their cicchetti—if you haven’t had cicchetti yet by this point in your trip, opt for this as you have to try it while in Venice. You’ll usually see little finger foods in a glass case or window, and you can just point to the ones you want to try. Just don’t call them tapas! 😉
- Basilica Santa Maria della Salute: Head down to the beautiful Basilica Santa Maria della Salute, right at the entrance of the Grand Canal. It’s really impressive from the outside and a major landmark in Venice, and the inside is just as stunning. Entrance inside the church is free, but you do have to pay if you want to view the art in the sacristy.
- Peggy Guggenheim Museum: Peggy Guggenheim dedicated her life to gathering 20th-century contemporary art. In her collection, you’ll see works by artists like Picasso, Pollock, and Dalí, and also learn more about Peggy Guggenheim’s life.
- Go on a Gondola Ride: You can’t visit Venice without going on a gondola ride, right? The only reason I agree with that line of thinking is because I learned of a much cheaper way to ride a gondola (it was a tip from our helpful walking tour guide!). The usual private one-hour gondola ride will cost you ~$90. Kinda ridiculous, but if you’re into it go for it—how many times are you in Venice? A much more reasonable option is to reserve a shared 30-minute gondola ride for $35, where you’ll be in a gondola with a total of six people. And then lastly, if you’re like you know what this whole gondola thing is a total rip off and I’m not giving them my money, but I also kinda do want that shot on a gondola…this last option is for you. There are a few places where you can get on a gondola for €2 just to cross the Grand Canal (which only takes a couple minutes). These are called traghettos, and you can find them in three locations: Campo Santa Sofia, Santa Maria del Giglio, and San Tomà. We went with the €2 option, because I really just wanted to get that shot for Insta of me on a gondola. I just made sure to hop on the gondola first to get the prime spot in front of the dude in the striped shirt, and Omied snapped away to get the shot!
- Hop over to San Giorgio Maggiore. Just over the lagoon, you’ll find San Giorgio Maggiore and the Giudecca sestiere. In San Giorgio, you can visit the Monastery, the Church, and also the bell tower, which gives you fantastic views of the main part of Venice just across the water.
- Cannaregio for dinner and drinks: To end your trip, explore one more Venice sestiere—Cannaregio. This neighborhood is known for its 16th-century Jewish ghetto, and is an area that more locals hang out in. Stroll around and grab drinks at a cafe. For dinner, a yummy option is Trattoria Dalla Marisa, where you’ll find good, down to earth food as well as outdoor seating with very charming views along the Canale di Canareggio.
We had a lot of fun in Venice and I’m glad that we got to visit. And while you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Venice is sinking!” the truth is it’s been sinking since the day it was built, when the weight of the city started pushing down on the mud and dirt it was built on. Over the last 100 years, Venice has sunk nine inches, and experts say that due to global warming, sea levels will rise and cover Venice by 2100. So while it’s not going to sink in our lifetime, it’s still a destination to add to your bucket list.