Planning a trip to Italy’s floating city? Check out my top things to do in Venice, and my top picks on where to stay, from pretty pensiones to five-star luxury hotels.
There has never been a better time to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Having just woken from almost two years with limited tourism, Venice is back with a bang. Fellow travel addict Christine Callinan visited this summer, and reports on the top things to do in Venice.
Cruise ships have been banned from entering the basin, and thankfully the huge crowds were not there. Venice was a treat to behold. When we arrived into the city of Venice, it looked like a Canaletto painting. Venice was pure magic.
The best time to travel to Venice is from March-May or September-November. We travelled in August, and it was very hot, but we did manage to get shade while exploring its narrow streets and beautiful canals.
Venice is not one island, but a combination of over 200 small islands connected by bridges and canals. There are no roads in Venice, just canals, making it a unique place to visit. You can walk everywhere, or take the Vaporetto (water bus), for short trips.
The Vaporetto is a wonderful way to travel the Grand Canal and the islands of Venice. Tickets can be purchased for a single trip, or you can book a Venice Tourist Card valid for one, two or three days. A 24-hour ticket currently costs €20.
How to get to Venice from the Airport
When planning a trip to Venice, something worth considering is how to get to your hotel. There are various options, depending on whether you fly into Marco Polo Airport, or to Venice Treviso.
A private water taxi from Marco Polo Airport is the most desired way, but also the most expensive – the minimum cost is €120 and is best pre-booked with your hotel. A shared water taxi may not leave you outside your hotel – a short walk with luggage is almost certain.
Alternatively there is a bus which brings you to the bus station, where you transfer to the Vaporetto (water bus) – see more here. The shared water taxi, Vaporetto and bus can be booked in the airport upon arrival.
If flying with Ryanair into Treviso Airport, there is a shuttle bus that leaves from outside the terminal building to Piazzale Roma and Mestre Railway Station. The cost is €22 for a return trip and the journey time is approximately 70 minutes. See more here.
Top things to do in Venice – St Mark’s Square
St Mark’s Square is the beating heart of Venice, and it is from here that you can travel to all the other areas of Venice, as well as the Islands. St Mark’s Basilica presides over the end of St Mark’s Square, and a visit here is a must. The queues can be long, so get there early, before the cruise ships disembark.
Although the cruise ships can not enter the Venice basin, they will be anchored nearby, so you may still have lots of day trippers visiting the city centre.
The Basilica is a stunning piece of architecture and it is covered in mosaics and statues. It is important to bear in mind that there is no photography allowed inside the Basilica, and your knees and shoulders must be covered – it is a Catholic church above all else.
After leaving the Basilica, I recommend you climb the steps in the Campanile – the bell tower that you can’t miss in St Mark’s Square. From here you can get stunning views over the city and the lagoon.
Follow that with a walk around St. Mark’s Square and make sure to stop for a coffee. Ignore the negative comments about the prices of coffee in St Mark’s Square! Yes they are true, it is expensive, but it is a life experience, and one of the things you simply must do in Venice.
Doge Palace is right next to the Basilica so it makes sense to go there next. Queues can be long here too, so its best to go early or late. This is Venice’s most important building, as it housed Venice’s most important head of state – The Doge.
Top things to see in Venice – The Bridges of Venice and the Grand Canal
Venice has almost over 400 bridges – remember it is a city built on water! Don’t worry you don’t have to see them all, but there are a few that shouldn’t be missed, particularly the four that cross the Grand Canal. If you wish to cross them like locals, take a gondola ferry, which costs just €2 euros per crossing. Look out for signs for ‘Traghetto’ – there are seven of them dotted along the Grand Canal.
Just around the corner from Doge Palace is one of Venice’s most interesting bridges – the Bridge of Sighs. This enclosed bridge is made of white limestone and connects the Doge Palace to Venice’s Jail. You will likely hear many times that this was the last place condemned prisoners tasted fresh air, or let out a ‘Sigh’ before entering the jail.
There are so many things to do in Venice, but many are within a pleasant stroll from the Bridge of Sighs. I recommend wandering the alleyways here that house many designer shops and boutiques, and plenty of window shopping can be enjoyed on the way to another bridge that you have to see in Venice – Rialto Bridge.
Rialto Bridge is the most famous bridge in Venice. It startles you when you first see it. A walk over the 16th century bridge is a must, if only to see the shops selling jewellery, clothing and souvenirs.
Don’t miss the T Fondaco De Tedeschi Shopping Mall beside Rialto Bridge, it has the most incredible rooftop terrace. It can be booked in advance, and the best part – its free! You are guaranteed stunning photographs from here.
The fish and food markets are located across the road from Rialto Bridge. They don’t operate all day, so make sure you get there early if you want to visit them.
TOP TIP: If you are a keen photographer or Instagrammer, and are looking for the iconic places to view Venice, there is nowhere better than on top of the wooden Accademia Bridge, this is the nearest crossing from St Mark’s Square.
Top things to do in Venice – Boat trips
When you think about a trip to Venice, there is no doubt a gondola ride springs to mind. It’s kind of like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower! However, be aware – that they are expensive, costing upwards of €80.00 for a 30-minute trip.
A more economical way to travel the Grand Canal is to book a Cigarette Boat water taxi. These are highly polished beautiful boats that will collect you from your hotel, and for a pre-arranged fee, will give you a tour of the canal. This works out extremely well if there is a group of people travelling together.
If you have time take a Vaporetto over to Burrano, to see its wonderful colourful houses. This is a quieter and more laid back island than Venice, and is ideal for a quick visit, as well as being a photographer’s dream.
Top Tips: Murano is home to the glass factories. Most hotels in Venice will offer you a free tour of the factories, hoping you will buy something! Be warned it’s not a particularly pretty island, and you will probably buy something you will find elsewhere for considerably cheaper.
Other things to do, and where to eat in Venice
The Peggy Guffenheim Collection is one of Venice’s top attractions. and is one of the most important museums of European and American Art in Italy. Although you literally could spend weeks visiting every museum, art gallery and island in Venice and still need to come back for more.
You will be spoilt for choice when deciding where to eat in Venice. Two restaurants that I can recommend are Trattoria Al Gazzettino for authentic Italian food, and L’Alcova in the Ca’Sagredo Hotel – this is a small restaurant in a beautiful setting, so booking is essential.
Where to stay in Venice
Venice offers a huge variety of places to stay from five-star luxury hotels, to quintessential Italian pensiones. If you want to wake up to a magnificent view of the Grand Canal or Lagoon, be prepared to pay for the pleasure. The same applies for restaurants, the closer to the water the higher the price.
Most hotel rates include buffet breakfast and many of the top hotels have their own restaurant onsite, but beware, they can be expensive and must be booked in advance.
Venice 5-Star Hotels
I was lucky to stay in the Ca’ Sagredo, which is superbly located midway along the Grand Canal. It is a magnificent old Palazzo (palace) and is within easy walking distance from all the major sights. Rooms come in all shapes and sizes, and it is not expensive as some of the other 5-star hotels in similar locations. I suggest you book well in advance if you want a view, and wow, what a view it is!
The legendary Danieli Hotel is surprisingly reasonably priced for such a luxurious five-star hotel. Its three buildings date back to the 14th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and are connected by covered bridges. If you can’t afford to stay here, maybe you could try its panoramic restaurant Terrazza Danieli, or Bar Terrazza Danieli, both offer stunning views over the lagoon.
The Cipriani, Gritti Palace and St Regis are also superb five-star hotels, but have price tags to match.
Venice 4-star hotels
The Hotel Saturnia and International is located 200 metres from St Mark’s Square but is good value for a 4-star hotel. You can enjoy a pre-dinner drink on its terrace which offers views across the Venetian rooftops. It also boasts a small wellness area with jacuzzi and Turkish bath.
Canal Grande Hotel is a small boutique hotel set in a historic building in the centre of Venice. The hotel has a small terrace, which offers gorgeous views of the Grand Canal, and boasts its own private dock if you want to arrive by private water taxi or gondola.
The Sina Palazzo Sant’Angelo is a luxury boutique hotel that boasts its own private pier, so you can arrive by private taxi. Located between Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square, the location couldn’t be better. Standard rooms overlook the courtyard but breakfast is served overlooking a Venetian canal. This was voted the best luxury boutique hotel in Italy at the 2019 World Travel Awards.
Venice 3-star hotels
I stayed in the Hotel Antiche previously and couldn’t fault its location or service. Located on the Grand Canal, just 20 minutes walk from St Mark’s Square, this small hotel boasts a Garden Café, with a canal-view terrace. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor, and the second best place to stay in Venice, make sure you book in advance.
The Mercurio is located just five-minutes walk to St. Mark’s Square had offers views over the Barcaroli Canal. The Giglio Vaporetto water bus stop is a 5-minute walk from the hotel and this is one of the best hotels in Venice for value.
If you are looking for a beautiful great value hotel close to St Mark’s Square, look no further than the Novecento Boutique Hotel. Each room is unique, and the hotel has a small courtyard. There is no canal view, but it is located just a stone’s throw from the heart of Venice.
All of the above hotels are within easy reach and walking distance to restaurants, shops and bars of Venice. There is a host of luxury hotels on their own islands, but if this is your first time to visit Venice, I recommend you stay in the heart of the city.
Note some of the links in this post are affiliate links, where I receive a commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you.
I hope this Venice travel guide will help you plan a trip to this magical city soon!