Venice is on nearly everyone’s wish list for good reason. It is unique, romantic, historic and truly one of the world’s most amazing cities. It also seems to be a stop on every cruise line in the Adriatic. Because of this it can be quite crowded and busy. But if you plan well, you can spend a couple days in this dream city and have a wonderful experience.
Plan to Explore Venice on your Feet
We love exploring this city by foot, taking the little side streets and getting lost along the smaller canals. If you want to stay in a less crowded, less touristy area, look into the sestieri (districts or neighborhoods) of Cannaregio, Santa Croce, or San Polo. Not only are accommodations and restaurants more affordable, you’ll stay away from the crowds even in the middle of the day.
Get to Know Venice
Venice is divided into six sestieri with the Grand Canal snaking its way through the middle. The winding of the canal makes keeping your sense of direction a challenge at times. Get a map from your hotel or at a Tourist Information Center (TI) and get a good feel for the city and what you might want to see. Cannaregio is home to the Jewish Ghetto and Museum and some of the most characteristic streets for wandering. In Castello you will find the old shipyard of Arsenal and the Naval History Museum. San Marco is full of tourists during the day who are trying to see Piazza San Marco, the Bridge of Sighs, Doge’s Palace, Campanile, and Rialto Bridge. Cross the Rialto Bridge into San Polo to find the food and fish markets. Santa Croce is probably the oldest, least crowded part of Venice and a good choice for budget hotels and restaurants. Dosoduro is home to both the Guggenheim and Academia museums and also has lively nightlife.
Things to do in Venice in 2 Days
Start early! By 10:00 the crowds from the cruise ships have begun to flood the streets and the major sights are inundated with people. But if you get an early start it can be surprising how empty the city seems. Get up early and visit Piazza San Marco and the Bridge of Sighs, then make your way over to the Rialto Bridge to avoid the crowds that will fill these sites later in the day.
Explore the Rialto Food and Fish Markets
We love the open-air markets in Europe and the markets near the Rialto Bridge in the San Polo sestiere are some of the best. Coming from San Marco, cross the bridge and make your way along the Grand Canal to explore these markets and get some great views across the canal. The produce is lovely and the colors are a treat for the eyes. The fresh fish is brought in on boats and unloaded early in the morning. You can see chefs buying fish for their restaurants as well as locals looking for something for their table.
Cruise the Grand Canal
We love walking the streets and alleys of Venice but it is essential to see it from the water as well. You have several options with the most economical being a Vaporetto. Essentially a water bus, this is one of the main forms of public transportation in Venice. These big boats move up and down the Grand Canal, as well as out to some of the other islands, all day long. There are also companies that offer cruises for smaller groups. Check the TI for a company that best suits your needs. You can also book a private water taxi that can take you down some of the smaller canals that the bigger boats cannot.
Take a Gondola Ride
Our second visit to Venice was with our kids when they were 11 and 14. Our Gondola ride was one of the more memorable events during our 25 day European holiday. Avoid the busy stations on the Grand Canal and find a spot on one of the side streets. Also talk to your Gondolier to agree on a price, length of ride, and where the ride will take you. It will also help you know if his English is good enough to tell you about what you’re seeing. And find out if he’ll sing if that is important to you. The boats are beautiful and well appointed. It also takes great skill to navigate the canals and watching the gondoliers work is part of the fun. You can even find boats with accordion players, but you’ll pay more.
Visit a Major Venetian Site
Enjoy some of the major sites in Venice. These include Basilica San Marco, Doge’s Palace, Campanile, Gallerie dell’accademia, Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and San Sebastiano. You really can not tour all of these in two days. Pick one or two that you most want to see. Consider booking a private guide. They can help you avoid the lines and give you a more immersive experience.
Visit Lesser-Known Churches
San Marco is spectacular but everyone wants to see it. Even if you “skip the line” it is often quite crowded. It’s nice to also see some less visited churches while you are in Venice. One of our favorite churches is the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa. It is a Franciscan church and also known simply as the Frari Church. It is also home to some incredible art by Donatello, Bellini, and Titian and well worth the 3€ entrance fee. Other churches worth a visit are San Giorgio Maggiore (with a great tower view back into the city), Santa Maria della Salute, and Santa Maria Assunta (I Gesuiti). Or simply wander into any of the numerous churches you will pass as you get lost along the canals!
Sample Some Cicchetti in Venice
As you explore the streets in some of the less touristy areas, look for the spots that have plates of food on the bar. These cicchetti are somewhat like Spanish tapas (don’t mention that to a Venetian!) and a fun, inexpensive way to have lunch or a light dinner. You can usually get a small glass of house wine for about 1€ and choose from a menu on a board for the daily snacks. Get a couple that look good and move down the street to try another location. It’s a fun way to explore and meet some locals. For more about food in Venice read our recent Venetian Vongole e Cozze post.
Experience the Things To Do in Venice at Night
Stay late! Sometime near dinnertime the cruisers head back toward their ships and the streets begin to clear again. Nighttime in Venice can be magical. Do at least one Vaporetto ride in the evening. Or save your cruise or Gondola ride for the evening, but be warned, prices rise considerably at night. Many of the major buildings are lit up and the city is beautiful. The cafes on Piazza San Marco spill out onto the square and musicians serenade the clientele. If you don’t want to overpay for a coffee or cocktail, stroll slowly by and enjoy the vibe, then cut down one of the side streets for a more affordable nightcap. If you’d like something more upscale, that can easily be accommodated too!
Visit One of the Neighboring Islands
If you are staying more than two days you might consider a day trip to one of the other islands in the lagoon. Murano is a mecca for glass blowing while Burano is famous for its colorful houses and lace. Lido features long sandy beaches while San Giorgio Maggiore has a beautiful church and a tower that rivals the Campanile with better views of the city. Pick one and enjoy a day with fewer tourists and an alternative to the Venetian lifestyle.
Are you ready to visit this amazing city? We can help with that! We can find you a hotel, restaurants, and guides that will make your visit to Venice one you will never forget. Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips in Europe. You can always reach Betsy at email@example.com. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
Greg Ball – Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine, craft beer, and single malt whisky and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
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