One of my favourite cities in the world is Venice. I’ve been twice fairly recently and consequently have a good idea of the perfect itinerary for a city break to the city of love.
There’s so much charm to Venice that I think everyone should try and go at least once in their lives if they’re able to. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it, not even The Venetian in Vegas!
Where to Stay
As I’m sure you’re aware, Venice is an island. Due to being an incredibly popular tourist destination, prices on the island itself are expensive. For this reason I’ve always chosen to stay on the coastal mainland and taken the train to and from Venice. I’d really recommend taking this approach as mainland hotels are often half the price and trains in and out of the island are frequent and cheap. Just one thing to be wary of – make sure you ‘validate’ your train ticket at a machine (there are usually a few dotted around the train station) after you purchase it, or you could be fined. You basically purchase a blank journey ticket and need to validate it with a date and time yourself.
I’ve stayed at a hotel in Mogliano Veneto and a gorgeous Airbnb in Treviso and both were ideal for getting to and from Venice. For an additional 5 minutes on your morning train journey into Venice, there’s much more to see and do in Treviso. We actually wished we’d dedicated an extra day to spending some time exploring Treviso – there are lots of nice shops, restaurants and canals. It’s an attractive city made even more attractive by the fact you can fly into it direct for an affordable price.
Getting Around the City
If you do take a train into Venice, you’ll be amazed by the view that greets you as you walk out of the Santa Lucia station. There’s usually a hive of activity as well as your first glimpse of the Grand Canal. I like to head to the other side of the island, to St Mark’s Square, as soon as I can. You can either take a water taxi there, jump on a ‘Vaporetto’ (a sort of a public ferry that runs along the Grand Canal) or walk there.
The walk takes around half an hour but allows you to discover the city. Plus you can always catch a ferry on your way back to the station at the end of the day. All walks to St Mark’s Square begin with an ascent over the ‘Ponte deli Scalzi’ bridge which gives views either side of the Grand Canal.
Over the bridge you’ll find yourself in a maze of narrow streets; it’s a good idea to follow Google Maps on your phone as you walk. Now and then there’s a break in the street to cross a small bridge over the water and catch a glimpse of the smaller canals. You’ll come across quiet residential areas and souvenir shops on the way; most of the shops sell the famous Venetian masks used in the Carnival of Venice.
Halfway through your walk to St Mark’s Square you’ll cross over the Grand Canal via Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge that crosses the canal in Venice. The bridge is always packed full of tourists and street-sellers and there’s sometimes a bit of a queue for the best views.
Piazza San Marc (St Mark’s Square)
Take in the surrounding architecture or treat yourself to a bellini, St Mark’s is a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
Basilica di San Marco
One of the first landmarks you’ll see as you walk into St Mark’s is the Basilica di San Marco. It’s rated as one of the top attractions in Venice but be prepared to queue for a long time to see the incredibly golden and ornate interior. It’s probably worth buying tickets in advance.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)
Doge’s Palace is worth doing if you have some spare time. Follow the route through the palace and learn about the home of the Doge (the elected ruler of Venice), the administration rooms and the city prison. There are great views over St Mark’s Square and very grand rooms, such as the Sala del Collegio, to marvel at.
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs)
Part of the Doge’s Palace tour takes you through the Bridge of Sighs to access the old prison and torture chambers. You’re able to experience the same walk that prisoners would have taken before being sentenced – often to death. The famous last glimpses of Venice are very beautiful and bittersweet.
St Mark’s Campanile
My favourite thing to do in Venice is take the lift to the top of St Mark’s Campanile. It offers amazing 360 views of the city and when the bells ring out on the hour it creates an amazing atmosphere.
Santa Maria della Salute (Basilica of St. Mary of Health)
One of the most prominent features of the Venice skyline is the Santa Maria della Salute. After promising to honour Mary with a church if she freed the city of plague, the Venetian Senate built the Salute in the 17th century when the disease subsided.
The huge domed building draws the eye when approaching Venice by water or looking out across the city from St Mark’s Campanile. It’s probably worth getting a water taxi across to the church as it takes about half an hour to get there from St Mark’s Square on foot.
Three-Island Tours – Murano, Burano, Torcello
There are plenty of tour companies offering ‘three island’ tours when you’re in Venice. These tours take roughly 4-5 hours (depending on which you take) and offer whistle-stop tours of nearby islands Murano, Burano and Torcello. Be warned that with nearly every one of these tours the majority of your time on each island is at some kind of shop hoping to sell you things. In Murano it’s glass, in Burano it’s lace and in Torcello there isn’t a huge amount to do other than walk to the island’s cathedral.
I’d suggest doing one of these tours if you have a few days in Venice, otherwise there are much better things to do with your time. If you are able to make a swift getaway from the glass and lace workshops and showrooms, the islands are very quaint. Due to the brightly coloured houses in Murano and Burano you can take some lovely photos – unfortunately it was cloudy when I went!
If you’re in Venice for a romantic weekend getaway with your partner, a private gondola ride for the two of you is going to be expensive. It’s around €80 for a 45 minute ride, no matter where you get on along the Grand Canal. If you find a well-populated leaving point (usually at St Mark’s or around the Rialto Bridge) you can usually find another couple or group to share the ride with. It’s not as private or romantic to share a ride but it’s still a lovely insight into the lesser seen parts of the city. You’re only on the gondola for 5 minutes, down a couple of side canals, before you can no longer hear the hustle and bustle of the Grand Canal.
I hope you’ve found this brief intro to Venice useful! If you’re planning a trip to Venice, I’m happy to provide tailored advice in the comments section.