There is no better way to discover Venice than allowing yourself to get lost in its charming labyrinth of streets and waterways. However, a Venice itinerary can come in handy if you have limited time in the city or you want to make sure you don’t miss specific landmarks. We are just recently back from a very successful holiday there so I thought of putting together some pointers that I hope will help you enjoy this most unique and fabulous water city.
We have been to Venice many times, for work, holiday, with the kids and without, and during our last trip we explored the city with some wonderful local guides. They made sure to show us the real soul of the city, so these itineraries have been built following their advice and put to the test just last month, when we spend three days in Venice and managed to fully and properly fall in love with it.
In this post you will find:
- What to see in Venice in one day?
- What to see in Venice in two days?
- What to see in Venice in 3 days?
- Is Burano the best day trip from Venice?
- Recommended activities in Venice?
- Where to stay in Venice Italy?
- Practical tips for visiting Venice with kids (or without!)
- What’s the best time to visit Venice?
- What to pack for Venice Italy?
- How many days in Venice?
- Your perfect Venice Itinerary
- What to do in Venice in one day
- 2 days Venice itinerary
- Is Burano the best day trip from Venice?
- 3 days Venice itinerary
- Recommended activities in Venice
- Where to stay in Venice?
- Practical tips for visiting Venice with kids
Venice is located in the North East of Italy, in the Adriatic sea. The city is connected to the mainland by a bridge (arriving in the city by train makes quite an impression!) and literally sits on water: Venice’s foundations reach deep down under the sea and the houses spring up like waterborne flowers.
The water nature of this city has strong impacts on the daily life of inhabitants and has consequences on the Venice weather system.
Venice by season
What’s the best time to go to Venice: summary
- Go to Venice in winter if: you want to avoid the crowds and don’t mind layering up
- Go to Venice in February if: you want to experience the carnival
- Go to Venice in spring if: you want to see the city at its very best
- Go to Venice in summer if: you are in the nearby region and feel like a day of city exploration (aka: try not to go to Venice in summer!)
Winter in Venice, October to January: winter in Venice is cold and the humidity, especially in the evening, can make it bitter. Our last time in Venice was in December and we were grateful for our woolly hats, scarves and gloves – they may not have looked stylish, but they were a lifesaver!
We had some gorgeous sunny days in December when the air was clear and dry, but winter is a tricky season in Venice and you may get very grey days where the colours of the buildings just look subdued and washed out. If you can only visit in winter, however, don’t despair as there are good points about it too: first, you can be in luck and get some beautiful bright days, secondly the streets are much quieter and you can easily find yourself away from the crowds, something that gets increasingly difficult as the high season approaches.
Also Venice has rich and beautiful coffee culture and winter is the perfect season to enjoy the warm interiors of his cafes and ‘bacari’ (tapas bars): the food to order in this season is hot chocolate (a local specialty) and if you like wine there is no better time than this to enjoy some of the gorgeous reds that come from the local Veneto wineries.
A word about acqua alta. In winter Venice is subject to the peculiar event that is ‘high water‘. Depending on the sea movements and the wind, on some days Venice gets flooded and the roads get covered in water. When the high water hits you cannot ignore it: it raises up a good few centimetres (every few year, over 1 meter), floods streets and ground floors and affects all daily activities, especially if you are not used to it.
We didn’t experience acqua alta while there but chatted with the locals about it and discovered how they cope: when the high tide hits, the city lays out a series of boardwalks for people to walk on (water is so high you cannot just walk through it in normal shoes) and shoe covers and wellington boot sellers pop up at every corner so you can buy the necessary gear.
Locals see high water as a pain and indeed you need to adjust your plans should you be there when it happens, but they also said that tourists love the magical light and atmosphere that the high water brings. If you are prepared, this even can turn into a highlight of a winter trip to Venice!
Venice in February. February is the month of the carnival and Venice gets flooded (no pun intended) with tourists from all over the world. Prices soar and crowds feel the streets – only visit during the carnival to experience the carnival itself or you will get frustrated.
March to June: spring is a great time to visit Venice. The weather starts warming up, especially during the hours of sunshine and, outside of the Easter weekend, the crowds are usually manageable. Expect evenings to still get chilly at the start of the season and layer up.
July-September in Venice Summer is a tricky time in Venice. The humid heat can easily get overwhelming especially since Venice has few green spaces and this makes the perfect breeding environment for one of the most annoying pests: mosquitoes. They are fierce in Venice and while they do not carry diseases as such, it is awful to have them munching on you day and night.
If you visit Venice in summer, make sure you choose a hotel with air conditioning as this is the best weapon to keep them at bay at least while you sleep.
Venice is cold in the winter and hot in the summer so you will need to pack accordingly. Regardless of weather what you will need in Venice are good shoes: Venice can only be discovered on foot and good walking shoes are a must.
In summer, make sure you also pack a sun hat, sun cream and mosquito repellent.
If travelling to Venice with kids, make sure you keep offering them water as the humidity will make them sweat and overheat easily.
In winter: pack layers, warm jumpers, a winter jacket, scarf, hat and gloves.
In summer, pack light dresses and summer tops but do bring a shawl to wrap around your shoulders or bare legs if planning on visiting churches
There is really no right answer to how much time to spend in Venice. Personally, I feel that you need at least three days in the city for initial sightseeing and a week if you wish to visit some of Venice’s main museums and outer islands.
Your perfect Venice Itinerary
If you only have one day in Venice you probably want to see the main landmarks, have a taste of what going on a gondola is like and have some great photo ops: if this is the case, this is the itinerary for you. We arranged our stay in Venice following these directions and while you would need extra days to really see all we considered ‘essential’, we ended up with a great idea of the city.
What to see in Venice in one day overview
The best places to see in Venice in one day are: Sestiere Cannaregio, the Grand Canal, Rialto Market and bridge, St Mark’s square.
We started from the main train station, Santa Lucia. The station is located already on Venice island and it is a great starting place for a Venice walking itinerary. The station building opens up to a square overlooking the grand canal and you are immediately faced with a choice: cross the bridge bringing you to Sestiere San Polo (‘sestiere’ is a Venetian neighbourhood) or turn left into Strada Nova, towards Cannaregio.
Since out hotel was in Cannaregio this is the direction we took and it was a good one: Strada Nova is a long road that goes all the from for the station to Rialto and touches on some of Venice’s most beautiful corners along the way.
The Strada Nova itself is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes and in its first stretch, it is very busy. Don’t let the crowds discourage you: very soon you will find yourself crossing a canal and, on the left, the area of Cannaregio opens up. This sestiere has a gorgeous local feel to it and despite its proximity to the station is almost untouched by tourists.
All it takes it to wander a couple of minutes into any of the streets to the left of Strada Nova and you find yourself in a magical world of tranquil lanes and secluded squares. It is the ghetto, a beautiful area full of history dating back to the XVI century. Make sure you stop in one of its coffee places and to take your time to take some photos of the canals without the crowds.
Boarding a gondola
Rejoin strada nova and walk down until you see signs for the Ca D’oro (one of the most famous ‘palazzi’ in Venice, a gorgeous elaborate building over the Grand Canal) and the ‘traghetto’.
Traghetto in Italian means ‘ferry’ but the Venetian interpretation of a ferry crossing is way more charming that what the word suggests. ‘Traghetto’ in Venice is a shuttle service between one side of the grand canal to the other and the mean of transport of choice is a gondola! While the full gondola experience sets you back about 80 euro for 40 minutes, the traghetto experience is much shorter and cheaper: the gondola will carry you across water in less than 5 minutes for 2 euro per person (kids under 6 go free).
We can argue about the value for money of the deal, but it sure is a fun experience: without breaking the bank, you get to sit in a real gondola, marvel at the balance of the gondoliere and see from the water one of the Venice’s most famous buildings: la ca d’oro
The gondola leaves you at the Rialto market, where a busy fish market takes place in the morning (we were too late to see it) and from there you need to keep to your left to reach the famous Rialto Bridge.
Rialto is the most iconic bridge in the whole of Venice and one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks and, because of this, a bit of a nightmare to visit. While we were there, repair works were in progress so we had no chance of getting any decent shot of it, but the real problem was the crowd: the bridge is simply jam-packed and the fact that at its base you have a massive hard rock cafe shop doesn’t do much in making you connect with the real heart of the city.
Rialto is, to me, Venice at its best and its worse and all I can say about it is that I am glad I managed to see more than just the touristy spot as they really do not do to the city any justice.
Top tip. Once you cross the Rialto bridge, head left and be prepared for a bit of a treat. The expensive shopping centre opening in front of you holds a surprise: before becoming a chic retail space, the building was the old German free port and its incredible architecture mixes perfectly its old building charm with the modern needs of the shops it no hosts.
The building develops over several floors, each of them opening up to a main central courtyard and lit up by elegant and colourful lights. If the view over the inside wasn’t enough, the building also has a panoramic terrace that you can reach with a lift. Entry to the terrace is free but ticketed: go early to get your spot as you may be asked to come back in a few hours (we got a slot two hours later and refused, hence the lack of photos from the top – sorry!)
Once out of the building you find yourself in Rialto, the most central part of Venice: here crowds are intense and you start understanding why people go on about the fact that everyone gets lost in Venice, but do not fear. While the roads become smaller and the shops more crammed, here is also where the Venetians make an effort to make you find what you are looing for and the signs to St Mark’s square are everywhere and easy to spot.
Follow them and just when you think that you are surely going nowhere the maze that is Venice will release you onto the marvel that is St Mark’s square.
Top tip: if you like chocolate, stop at the chocolate maker Vizio Virtu, near Rialto. It’s a gorgeous chocolate shop where you ca taste chocolate in all forms, including one made following the traditional recipe
St Mark’s square
One of the most famous squares in the whole world, St Mark is nothing less than spectacular. We visited Venice in December and got to St Mark’s square at that special time of the day when the sky is a perfect tint of blue and the lights of the old lamps start to come on. No matter where you turn beauty is all around you.
Curiosity: did you know that St Mark’s is the only piazza in Venice? In venice, what other cities call piazza are called campi (campo san Polo for instance) and what other cities call ‘via’ (street) venetians call ‘calle’. St Mark’s square is the only excpetion to the rule and its name in Italian is ‘Piazza San Marco’
Since we were visiting Venice in winter, by the time we got to San Marco lights were fading and kids temper flaring, but depending on your pace you may still have time to stretch farther and see the Accademia, with its beautiful view over la salute.
To get back to the railway station, from here you can take the ‘vaporino’ which is the water bus – the vaporino is not very fast but it does go along the Grand Canal so it is a nice way to see Venice from the water. One word of warning: the vaporino is atmospheric but a form of public transport so if you get it at rush hour don’t expect many photo ops!
If you have 2 days in Venice you have a few options.
On your first day, I would follow the itinerary defined above and that will touch on main landmarks such as Rialto and San Marco. On your second day, I believe it is worth making a choice: museum or outer islands.
If you are interested in architecture and art, Venice is a treat: churches, museums and palazzi host a plethora of masterpieces and all you need to do is to pick the one that suits your interests. The Accademia gallery, Guggenheim collection and Scuola di San Rocco are just some of the names that you will come across and you will also find many temporary exhibitions. If art is your thing, I would schedule a least half a day for museums and spend the rest of the day wandering around the city and shopping: Venice has some gorgeous handicrafts and shops.
If you prefer to spend your day outside, I recommend devoting the morning to the area around Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Here you have a beautiful public library with an architecturally significant interior by Carlo Scarpa and the High Water Bookshop, a place worth snooping around if you like books, quirky spaces and bohemian atmosphere.
Is Burano the best day trip from Venice?
Murano or Burano? The Venetian lagoon counts several islands and among the most famous there are Murano, known for handmade glass, and Burano, knows for colourful houses and lace. They are both worth visiting but, personally, I recommend Burano: small, quaint and colourful, Burano is a photographer’s dream and can be easily visited in an afternoon. Take the boat out at about lunchtime (it takes about 45 minutes) and get the ferry back when the sun starts to set for a romantic view of the sunset over the lagoon.
Murano is bigger and closer to Venice (if you want to spend the full day on the lagoon, you can easily visit both) but what I feel is really worth it there are the glass making factory so unless you are interested in the craft, I believe Burano will be a more fulfilling experience
Top tip: as well as lace, Burano is famous for bisquits. THE place to get them is the patisserie Palmisano Carmelina, a local institution.
Tops places to see in Venice in two days: Grand Canal, Rialto, St Mark’s Square, Campo Santa Maria Formosa area, Burano (excursion) or a museum (Accademia, Peggy Guggenheim etc)
With 3 days in Venice you have some time to take it easy and unwind: not that 3 days are enough to see everything, but following the Venice itinerary in this post I do think 3 days will give you a good idea of what Venice has to offer and what are the main reasons to come back (yes, three days of less in Venice will leave you with a strong desire to stay longer or come back asap)!
With 3 days in Venice, I would follow the itinerary outlined above and will then spend the third day wandering around San Polo, getting lost and shopping. Venice has some absolutely fabulous shops ranging from fashion to leather bags, locally made lace and of course Murano glass: the price tag of the local artefacts is high but, if you can afford it, you can be sure to bring home something that is unique in the world.
If you prefer to give structure to your day, there are some activities that I highly recommend:
A Venice food tour
Venice has some of the most interesting and varied cuisines in the whole of Italy. Famous through history as an important port, Venetian food culture shaped by influences from all over the world and it shows! The food of choice here is ‘cicchetti’, small bites usually accompanied by a glass of wine of a spritz: they come in the form of tartine, fried fish, cheese bites, vegetable fritters and much more – the provider I recommend for a tour is Cook in Venice that offers a series of Venice food tours suitable for (most) ages
A treasure hunt for kids
If you have kids, a fantastic way to discover Venice is with the lovely people of Macaco tour: they organise scaveneger hunts for kids that are a great way to discover Venice engaging also little people. We had a gorgeous experience with them and I can’t recommend them highly enough
A guided tour
Last but not least, if you have three days in Venice and want to see it through the eyes of a local, get in touch with Wanderjack (here is our review). They are an Italian tour operator specialising in the Venetian region and they create multi day tours in the area catering for all ages and interests.
Where to stay in Venice?
Accommodation in Venice is abundant but often very expensive and of variable standards. Personally, I am fond of the following hotels.
Hotel Ca Due Leoni (mid range). The hotel is in Cannaregio, in a lovely private ‘campiello’ (square). The hotel is nicely decorated, clean, with friendly service and offers free wifi. Perfect choice for all types of travelers looking for a great location and a warm welcome without breaking the bank.
Hotel St Helena: a hotel that caters specifically for families with little extra touches such as hot chocolate for the kids and play area. A 4 star category hotel, a solid option for families with very young children or who enjoy the extra comforts.
Ca’ Maria Adele (Luxury): a treat, one of those hotels not everyone can afford but that are guaranteed to offer you an amazing stay. Think honeymoon in Venice, bubbles, jacuzzi and water taxi to go around. This is an adult only hotel.
The best way to get to Venice is by train. Venice is connected to Rome, Florence and Bologna by high-speed train and Venezia Santa Lucia station is right in the centre of Venice, a 30-minute walk from San Marco
The best way to visit Venice is on foot. While water taxis and water buses are available, the charm of Venice is in its small streets: I recommend you only take the ‘vaporino’ (water bus) to explore the lagoon islands or at the end of your walking tour (see itinerary)
Venice is very safe for kids and in most areas they can be left to run around without fear of cars (Venice is entirely car-free) or of them falling into the canals. However, some roads do indeed face open water so especially toddlers should be kept close and supervised at all times
Venice is overall accessible with buggies but many of the bridges have some steps. Many have been adapted to be accessible but they are a bit of a workout for parents and often there is no way around them
Restaurants in Venice are very expensive and we fell ourselves into a couple of tourist traps with excessive price tags (if travelling with kids, be aware that in Venice the don’t do half portions: we asked for the kids to share a plate, we got charged twice! beware of tourist traps!) If you can, have at least one of your meals in a bacaro (they are the most atmospheric, it is not just down to price) and select restaurants off the beaten track to maximise your chances of getting a properly priced, good quality meal.
What do you think of this Venice itinerary: does it sound like something you may like to follow?
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