City guide to Venice, best things to do, and where to stay
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Top Things to do in Venice and Where to Stay – Venice Travel Guide

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.

I have just returned from a flying visit to Venice, and fellow travel addict Christine Callinan visited during the summer, so between us we have compiled the top things to do in Venice to help you make the most of this great city.

The Travel Expert's recommendations on the top things to do in Venice

Venice is not just one island, but a combination of over 200 small islands connected by bridges and canals. There are no roads in Venice, just canals and pathways, making it a unique and stunning place to visit. You will swap the hop on hop off bus tour for a Vaporetto (water bus) and marvel at the many great things to see in Venice.

Venice is a city like no other, and a place I everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

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.

How to get to Venice from the Airport

water taxi transfers from Venice airport

When planning a trip to Venice, something you need to consider is how to get to your hotel. There are various options, depending on whether you fly into Marco Polo Airport, or Venice Treviso.

A private water taxi from Marco Polo Airport is the most desired way, but also the most expensive – the minimum cost is €200 and is best pre-booked.

Book here
A vaporetto is the best way to get to Venice from the airport

Alternatively there is a water bus (Vaporetto) which brings you from Marco Polo airport (its about a 10 minute walk from the terminal building, but well signposted), to St Mark’s Square. This can be booked at the airport upon arrival, and is €15 one way or €27 return.

If you prefer to pre book a shared water taxi transfer, you can do so here:

Book here

If flying 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 – Visit St Mark’s Square

A visit to St Mark's Square is one of the top things to do in Venice

St Mark’s Square is the beating heart of Venice, and it is from here that all the other areas of Venice are accessible, including 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, particularly during the summer months.

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.

Venice Grand Canal

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. You can book guided tours of most of Venice’s top attractions – see more here:


Top things to see in Venice – The Bridges of Venice and the Grand Canal

Bridges in Venice

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.

The Bridge of Sighs

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.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice

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

Rialto Bridge is one of the top attractions in Venice

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.

If your time is limited and want to see all of the top attractions in one day, then this is small group tour of Venice is hard to beat. It includes skip the line access to St Doge’s Palace and a must-do gondola ride:

Book here

TOP TIP: If you are a keen photographer or looking for one of the top Instagram locations in 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

To take a Gondola ride is one of the top things to do in Venice

Book a Gonola ride

When you think about the top things to do in Venice, there is no doubt a gondola ride has to be done. It’s kind of like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower! However, a private ride will cost you about €100 for a 30 minute trip, a shared gondola ride on the other hand is just €36.

Book here

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.

Visit Burrano

The colourful streets of Burano, Venice
Image of Burano by Gabmarjan from Pixabay

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 Tip: 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.

View tour here

Visit one of Venice’s many museums

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.

Where to eat in Venice

L'Alcova restaurant, Venice (1)
L’Alcova restaurant, Venice

You will be spoilt for choice when deciding where to eat in Venice. Two restaurants that Christine recommends 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.

I can highly recommend Ristorante Riviera – the seafood pasta (Paccheri allo scoglio) was sublime and although we dined inside, it is located on the lagoon and would be a great location for al fresco dining during the summer.

Bakaro Restaurant on Campo Santa Margherita is another good choice. This lively restaurant is popular with locals and has an extensive menu.

Where to stay in Venice

Many five star hotels in Venice have their own private water entrance
Private water entrance, Danieli Hotel, Venice (1)

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 they must be booked in advance during the summer months.

Venice 5-Star Hotels

View from Ca' Sagredo Hotel, Venice
View from Ca’ Sagredo Hotel

Christine stayed in the fabulious Ca’ Sagredo Hotel, 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!

Check prices here

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.

Check prices here
The Cipriani, Gritti Palace and St Regis are also superb five-star hotels, but have price tags to match.

Venice 4-star hotels

Boutique 4-star hotel in Venice - Sina Palazzo Sant’Angelo
Sina Palazzo Sant’Angelo

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.

Check prices here

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.

Check prices here

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.

Check prices here

I stayed in the Palazzo Veneziano recently and loved its stylish interiors and lagoon views. The bar on site serves up delicious cocktails ( try the Aperol Sour and thank me later ), and there is a gorgeous interior courtyard that I imagine would be fabulous during mild weather.

There are some great restaurants and bars nearby but note it is located about 20 minutes walk from St Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge.

Check prices here

Venice 3-star hotels

Where to stay in Venice - Antiche Figure is a centrally located 3-star Hotel
Antiche Figure Hotel

Christine 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.

Check prices here

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.

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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.

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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.

The best time to visit Venice

St Mark's Square, Venice in the winter time

Despite the recent decision to ban large cruise ships from Venice, and the introduction of a €5 entry fee for day trippers to Venice from Spring 2024, peak summer months will be hot and crowded, and are best avoided.

Most people will say that the best time to travel to Venice is from March-May or September-November, however, after my recent December visit I am inclined to think winter is a great time to visit too! There were no crowds, even on St Mark’s Square, and the crisp cold days are ideal for sightseeing. There are no Christmas markets in Venice, so December is particularly quiet for people looking for a European city break without the crowds.

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!

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