The very first thing to plan for a vacation in Venice is how to get into the car-free town. The train station Santa Lucia is at the edge of the historical center and you'll have no trouble getting anywhere you need. Should you arrive by plane, we recommend you book a practical and reliable Shuttle Service. Taxi service can be extremely expensive – don't start your vacation with a nasty surprise! If you arrive by car, note that parking lots are often crowded (and expensive) - an excellent option is to reserve a parking space in order to avoid long lines and to be sure your car is safe.
Once you have arrived at your hotel and dropped off your luggage, put on your walking shoes and step into the magic of the city – especially if it's your first time in Venice. Dedicate at least an hour to wandering aimlessly, and let yourself be surprised. Every corner, calle (street), building, and canal has an irresistible charm that will thrill you. Notice the rich decorations and the gamut of colors in the (often decaying) buildings, enjoy seeing your first gondola glide past you, or catching unexpected glimpses around every corner – you won't find this in any other city in the world! Arriving on Saint Mark's Square, dominated by the magnificent Saint Mark's Basilica and the Bell Tower (Campanile), and the splendidly restored Doge's Palace, the political and artistic heart of the city, will leave you literally breathless.
Exploring Venice's historical center on foot is ideal. Enjoy getting "lost“ in the labyrinth of magical calli and canals. You’ll be sure to discover the must-see destinations and hidden treasures, if you choose one of these walking tours, the Walking Tour of Venice, or the City Tour on Foot – Classic Venice (admission tickets included). If you prefer to discover Venice by yourself, a great option for a first encounter with the “Pearl on the Water” is to get on the vaporetto (water bus) number 1, which runs along the entire Grand Canal from Piazzale Roma to Piazza San Marco. We highly recommend you purchase a 72 hour ticket for your three-day stay (other ticket durations are also available) instead of the single ticket – you will save a lot of money, and enjoy riding the vaporetto during your entire time. The Grand Canal is the noblest “street” of the city, overlooked by the majority of the most beautiful palazzi, the Casino, and major museums, such as the Ca' Pesaro, Ca' d'Oro, Ca' Rezzonico, the Peggy Gugghenheim Collection, and especially the Accademia Galleries, one of the most important museums in the world, home to the famous Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci.
If you are on the vaporetto, make your first stop at the Rialto Bridge. It is the oldest and most famous of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. From the top of it, you'll have a great view, and you'll breathe the air and soul of Venice. Initially made of wood, it was rebuilt in stone in the 16th century and has ever since carried rows of shops on either side, shops that today sell jewelry and souvenirs. Be careful though and look out for quality, as many offer only souvenirs at low prices, made in China. If you love quality craftsmanship and want more than just a shopping experience, try the Artisans of Venice, Tour – a full immersion into the know-how and tradition handed down for centuries in Venice. You'll see astonishing handiwork and have the opportunity to buy real studio jewelry, carnival masks, textiles, and much more.
If you are in the Rialto neighborhood in the morning, cross the bridge in the opposite direction of Piazza San Marco. You'll come to the Campo San Giacomo, a square surrounded by arcades, with a beautiful clock (San Giacomo is probably the oldest church in Venice). Continue walking towards the right, leaving the church and Rialto Bridge at your back, and you'll reach the market. Fruit, vegetables, and fish are sold here in an explosion of colors, flavors, and folklore. It's an ideal area for lunch - for example at the historical Antica Trattoria Poste Vecie (San Polo 1608, a few steps from the fish market), an ancient locale frequented by Casanova.
Are you a gourmet and love expanding your food horizons? You'll enjoy the Flavors of Venice for tasting the best specialties of Italian and Venetian gastronomy. If, later on in the day, you want to transition into your evening as the locals do (sipping an aperitif or fine local wine accompanied by the traditional cicchetti, the small savory bites resembling Spanish tapas), join us on the unusual Venice Food and Wine Tour through the rustic and genuine wine bars and osterie of Venice!
DAY 2 – THE TREASURES OF ST. MARK'S SQUARE
After your first taste of Venice's historical center, dedicate your second day to discovering the jewels of Saint Mark's Square. Experiencing the richness and unique masterpieces around the Square will give you a full introduction to the history and splendor of Venice from the Middle Ages to the 18th century.
Next to the Basilica stands the Gothic facade of the Palazzo Ducale overlooking the lagoon. The Doge's Palace is an essential destination and the most beautiful "palace of power" in Italy. It was the ancient seat of the Doges, the rulers of the Republic of Venice. Built in several stages over the centuries (even Palladio contributed), it is now a museum of priceless historical and artistic value. Masterful paintings abound – by Titian, Bosch, Tintoretto, among others. Glorious rooms and halls await you, such as the breathtakingly big assembly hall of the Maggior Consiglio (Great Council, 53 by 25 meters). The impressive hall is adorned by Tintoretto's Paradise, the largest depiction ever painted on canvas. You'll also see the Hall of the Scrutiny, the Hall of the Council of Ten, and many others. You'll even pass through the inside of the Bridge of Sighs, which leads to the terrible Venetian prisons, where Casanova was one of the most illustrious prisoners. Given the importance of the site, the line at the entrance is a constant – make sure you book ahead! But to make the most of your Doge's Palace visit, we recommend the most comprehensive and interesting tour – the Doge's Palace – Secret Itineraries tour, which will allow you to see parts of the palace not accessible to regular visitors, so you'll leave knowing more about the history and the myth of Venice.
Once you leave the Doge's Palace and return to Piazza San Marco, and before the classical stroll under the arcades and maybe a stop at the historic Caffè Florian (pricey but wonderful!), do not miss an entertaining and unique visit (ideal for families) to the Clock Tower. The same ticket will open the doors to the Museo Correr, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana to you. As you step inside the secret life of the Astronomical Clock on Saint Mark's Square, you'll discover an ancient masterpiece of technology and engineering. You'll see the complex network of pulleys, weights, and counterweights as they silently rise and fall at regular intervals. Climb the beautiful wrought iron spiral staircase towards the complex workings of the clock proper. Your visit culminates on the very top of the tower, where you'll see the two giant bronze statues, known as the “Moors” because of the patina on the metal. And you'll enjoy the best view of Saint Mark’s Square and the labyrinth of little streets of Venice's ancient center of trade.
A great option for visiting the other interesting museums in Piazza San Marco, in addition to ticket to the Clock Tower, is to get a Museum Pass Card. The Museum Pass gives you access to all the eleven Civic Museums (6 months validity). With it, you can enjoy a visit to the Correr Museum, located in the Napoleonic wing on the Piazza San Marco. The Correr Museums displays objects, furniture, and paintings depicting the evolution of Venice over the centuries, while providing great views of Piazza San Marco.
For a small break after so much art and culture, walk towards the lagoon, then turn right – you'll find a small garden overlooking the water at the beginning of the Riva degli Schiavoni. You may prefer a nice walk along the Riva degli Schiavoni, passing in front of the Bridge of Sighs and continuing until the Arsenale of Venice, once the industrial and military heart of the Venetian Republic. From there you can enjoy a beautiful view over the lagoon. If you still want more art and culture, take a vaporetto on the Grand Canal to the Rialto or the Ca' d'Oro stop, and enter the sestiere (neighborhood) Cannaregio. The extraordinary Ca' d'Oro, a magnificent residence of the 15th century, overlooks the Canal Grande and the Rialto market on the other side of the water. The name itself (“House of Gold”) recalls the ancient gold ornamentation. It houses the Franchetti Gallery, with masterpieces by Titian, Mantegna, Giorgione, in addition to the original furniture, architecture, and the magnificent views.
To conclude your second day, here are some unusual suggestions. Venice built its power on the trade with the East, becoming cosmopolitan and open to different cultures and exotic flavors early on. Discover them with Spices & Coffee: Venice and the Orient Walking Tour, which will take you to unusual places for a genuine meeting with the mix of races, cultures, and religions that have coexisted for centuries in Venice preserving their customs, tastes, and traditions. And for an evening experience, why not join the Shadows of Venice Walking Tour? You will be guided to the most beautiful places in Venice while hearing stories and strange anecdotes, legends, and mysteries. Looking for something truly out of the ordinary? On Wednesdays, you can end your day with a spectacular Galleon Dinner Cruise in Venice – lit by candles, starlight, and the beauty of Venice. You'll be served a gourmet dinner as you sail around Venice and into the northern lagoon, past smaller islands and fishing villages... magical!
DAY 3 – ART AND TRADITIONS IN DORSODURO
A visit to Venice is not complete without exploring the beauty, art, and traditions of Dorsoduro, the sestiere south of the Grand Canal. Significantly less crowded, this neighborhood offers an intimate atmosphere while containing some of the most notable attractions. You'll find many art dealers and artisans, antique bookstores, cafes, and restaurants frequented by the Venetians. Near San Trovaso, you'll find one of the old Squeri, one of the workshops specialized in building only gondolas.
Your itinerary starts from the Accademia Bridge, from which you'll enjoy one of the best-loved views of Venice. It is especially beautiful in the morning with light fog rolling in from the lagoon. Next to the bridge is the entrance to the Accademia Galleries, the historic seat of the Academy of Fine Arts and one of the major Italian museums. The Accademia Galleries exhibit the most important collection of Venetian and Veneto art, with masterpieces by Tintoretto and Bellini, among others. The collection includes famous works of art such as Titian's Presentation of Mary in the Temple, the Tempest (Giorgione's most well-known painting), and the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (for conservation reasons, this drawing is not always displayed). Given the importance of the collection, it is essential to book your admission in advance, so you can skip the line at the entrance. It's a major Venice experience, not to be missed!
A few minutes from the Accademia Galleries, a strong contrast awaits you. After the best of late Renaissance and Baroque painting, art of the twentieth century awaits you at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Opened in 1980, it houses the personal collection of Peggy Guggenheim, the American art collector, bohemian, and socialite. Niece of Solomon Guggenheim, she collected art from a young age. In 1949, she established herself and her art collection at the beautiful Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, directly overlooking the Grand Canal. It is one of the most important museums in Italy for modern art, exhibiting works by Picasso, Braque, Klee, Brancusi (among many others), as well as fundamental works by Gianni Mattioli, the Nasher Sculpture Garden, and hosting remarkable temporary exhibits.
Thanks to the artistic ferment of these two museums, the whole neighborhood is a triumph of private art galleries and antique shops, and breathes culture and dedication to beauty at every turn!
Another close-by museum is waiting to tell you much of the glories of the Venetian 18th century – the splendid Ca' Rezzonico (which you can visit with the Museum Pass). The stately palazzo on the Grand Canal now houses the Museum of 18th Century Venice. In addition to the interesting museum, the grand hall dedicated to masquerade balls (the most impressive of entire Venice) will catapult you into the atmosphere of a movie! And if you are intrigued by the charm of Venice of the 18th century, immortalized in many films and works, try a fun and fascinating Mask-Making Course. You'll make your own mask while discovering all the secrets and techniques of one of the oldest and most loved traditions of Venice.
In the Dorsoduro sestiere, you'll find some important, yet less visited churches - such as the Gesuati church overlooking the Giudecca island, or San Nicolò dei Mendicoli. And above all, the extraordinary Santa Maria della Salute, built at the tip of the Customs island (Punta della Dogana) in devotion to the Virgin Mary for deliverance from the plague that decimated Venetians between 1630 and 1631. Built on an octagonal plan, it is very rich and original, and offers one of the best views onto the Doge's Palace and the area of San Marco.
Venice has always had an important relationship with faith, and is home to many dozens of churches, all of them rich in history and artistic beauty. If you are interested in the subject, discover more than San Marco and the Salute! The best way to discover some churches of Venice is with the Chorus Pass. The Chorus Pass will open the doors of 16 magnificent churches to you – including jewels such as Santa Maria dei Miracoli with its polychrome marble, the spaces of Santo Stefano and Santa Maria Formosa with their works by Bellini and Tiepolo, or Santa Maria del Giglio and its spectacular Baroque facade.
If you want to know the charm of the whole lagoon of Venice and the secrets of glass making, devote the last half day of your Venetian vacation to an Excursion to the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. After admiring the island of San Giorgio, you'll reach Murano, famous for glass processing. You'll discover the world of glass blowing and glass sculpting as you enter into traditional glass workshop. Your second stop will be Burano, famous for its lace and the brightly colored fishermen's houses. Your last stop will be bucolic Torcello, powerful political and economic epicenter of the Venetian lagoon during the 10th century. There, you’ll visit the magnificent mosaics of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, and the church of Santa Fosca.
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