Known as “The City of Water”, Venice is a city consisting of 118 small islands separated by canals and connected by bridges. The city and its lagoon was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. For years, it has been a popular tourist destination. Celebrated for its art and architecture, Venice is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. If you find yourself in Venice just for a short weekend getaway or as a pit-stop in a grand tour of Italy, here are some suggestions for things to do in 2 days:
1. 1. Take a trip down the Grand Canal on a vaporetto
Whenever you picture Venice, chances are that an image of the Grand Canal comes to mind. As the major water-traffic corridor for the city, it is one of Venice’s most iconic landmarks. It runs for 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles), and its width ranges from 30 to 90 meters (98 to 295 feet), varying at different sections. The best way to experience the canal is to cruise down on a vaporetto, which is simply a water taxi or waterbus service that runs throughout most of the city. Standard one-way adult fares are 7.50 EUR (8.40 USD). However, if you’re going to be taking more rides during your time there, you may want to consider getting a travel card, which ranges from 20 EUR (22.40 USD) for a 1-day pass, and 60 EUR (67 USD) for 7 days.
2. 2. Ride a gondola
Taking a gondola ride is easily the most popular activity for any visitor in Venice. While it is a romantic and unique experience, it can also be very costly. The official price set by the government is 80 EUR (89.40 USD) for a 40-minute ride, with each additional 20 minutes costing 40 EUR (44.70 USD). Prices typically increase at night. Each ride can seat up to 6 people, so it will be cheaper if you can share the cost with more people. Even though all of Venice’s gondolas are managed by Ente Gondola, note that every gondolier sets his own prices and rules. While many claim that this is a major tourist trap, it is still worth experiencing once if you are willing to bear the cost. You may want to consider pre-booking your gondola ride (e.g. with Viator), which offers shared gondola rides and will save you money. Alternatively, you may be able to negotiate with the gondolier for a cheaper price and shorter ride. But the most important thing is to make sure the price and duration of the ride is all agreed upon before the ride starts.
3. 3. Visit St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
St Mark’s Square is the main public square of Venice and is commonly known as just ‘the Piazza’. It is surrounded by several major sights — St Mark’s Basilica (see #4), St Mark’s Campanile (see #5), Doge’s Palace (see #6), St Mark’s Clock Tower, and Correr Museum (see #9). It also faces the Molo, a historic quayside that serves as the water entrance to the Piazza. While it is typically crowded and packed with people, the Piazza is a sight that can’t be missed. As the social, political, and religious center of Venice, it was supposedly regarded as “the drawing room of Europe” by Napoleon.
4. 4. Admire St Mark's Basilica
Considered a must-see of the city, St Mark’s Basilica is the official church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. It is an example of Byzantine architecture, decorated with luminous mosaics fused with 24-carat gold leaf that reflects in the sun, and served as a symbol for wealth and power. The church is open both for prayer and for visitors to admire its architecture. The average waiting time is 45 minutes. So, if you are only there for a weekend and are short on time, it is recommended to pre-book your admission tickets online to skip the long lines. A standard adult entrance fee is 2 EUR (2.20 USD).
St Mark's Basilica (Basilica San Marco)
Address: San Marco, 328, 30124 Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: 9:45am - 5pm all year *Apart for Sundays: 2pm - 4pm (November to March/April), 2pm - 5pm (March/April to November)
Duration: Around 30-minutes (depending on wait time)
Official Website: Basilica San Marco
5. 5. Get the best view of Venice from St Mark’s Campanile
One of the most recognizable symbols of Venice, St Mark’s Campanile is the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica. It stands at 98.6 meters (323 feet) tall, making it one of the tallest structures and giving you the best view of the island. If you are planning to visit both the basilica and the campanile, note that there are separate entrance fees. Admission for the campanile is 8 EUR (8.90 USD), which gives you an elevator ride to the top for a bird’s eye view of Venice.
6. 6. Tour Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
Gothic-style Doge’s Palace is another main Venetian landmark located in St Mark’s Square. It was formerly the residence of the Doge, who was the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice. Because of this, the palace’s rich history began in 1340, and was once the heart of political life and public administration for the Venetian Republic. The entrance ticket costs 19 EUR (21.20 USD). But if you plan to visit other museums on the island during the weekend, you can also purchase a Museum Pass for 24 EUR (26.80 USD).
Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
Address: San Marco,1, 30135 Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: 8:30am - 7pm (March to October), 8:30am - 5:30pm (November to March)
Duration: Around 1-2 hours
Price: 19 EUR (21.60 USD) for all St Mark’s Square Museums
Official Website: Palazzo Ducale
7. 7. Take a moment of silence at the Bridge of Sighs
Venice is a city connected by over 400 bridges, but the Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous in the world. Made of white limestone, this enclosed bridge crosses over Rio di Palazzo, and connects the New Prison to the halls of Doge’s Palace (see #6). Its significance lies in the fact that the bridge was the last view prisoners could see before being locked up in a cell. The name of the bridge reflects this history; it commemorates prisoners sighing at their final view of Venice. Today, it stands as a symbol of romance. Rumor has it that if a couple passes under the bridge, their love will be eternal — something you may want to do if you are traveling with a significant other.
8. 8. Grab a cup of coffee at Caffe Florian
Italy is known for its prominent coffee culture, which explains why they have some of the best coffee in the world. Located in the heart of St Mark’s Square, Caffe Florian was established in 1720 and is known as the world’s oldest coffee house in continuous operation. While it is an expensive place for a short coffee break, it is worth visiting for the experience. Expect to pay a 6 EUR (6.70 USD) per person cover charge for live music entertainment. And their coffee prices range from 6.50 EUR to 18 EUR (7.30 – 20.10 USD), where coffee infused with liquor is the higher end of the price scale.
Address: Castello 5453, 30122 Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: 9am - 12am
Price: At least 10 EUR (11.40 USD) per person
Official Website: Caffe Florian
9. 9. Appreciate Venetian art at Correr Museum or Gallerie dell’Accademia
Venice only began thriving in the art scene towards the end of the 15th century. It was largely influenced by the Byzantine Empire during its early days. The Correr Museum (located by St Mark’s Square) and Gallerie dell’Accademia are the city’s two biggest museums for one to view traditional Venetian art. The Correr Museum is split into 3 main collections: Napoleonic Wing, Procuratie Nuove, and Pinacoteca. Each collection features different artists and themes from various periods of history. It also houses temporary exhibitions featuring specific Venetian artists. Meanwhile, Gallerie dell’Accademia primarily holds pre-19th-century Venetian paintings. It features many of Venice’s most famous painters, such as Canaletto, Titnoretto, and Giovanni Bellini.
Correr Museum (Museo Correr)
Address: San Marco, 52 30124 Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: 10am - 7pm (March to October), 10am - 5pm (November to March)
Duration: Around 1-2 hours
Price: 19 EUR (21.60 USD) for all St Mark’s Square Museums
Official Website: Museo Correr
Address: Campo della Carità, Dorsoduro n. 1050, 30100 Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: 8:15am - 2pm (Monday), 8:15am - 7:15pm (Tuesday to Sunday)
Duration: Around 1-2 hours
Price: 15 EUR (17 USD)
Official Website: Gallerie dell'Accademia
10. 10. Embrace modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
If renaissance Venetian art doesn’t interest you and modern art sounds more appealing, you should check out the Peggy Guggenheim Collection instead. It is a museum that houses the personal modern art collection of American heiress Peggy Guggenheim in her former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. It features works of prominent Italian futurists and American modernists — most pieces fall under the genres of Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Address: 704 Dorsoduro, 30123 Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: 10am - 6pm. Closed on Tuesdays
Duration: Around 1-2 hours
Price: 15 EUR (17 USD)
Official Website: Peggy Guggenheim Collection
11. 11. Taste authentic Venetian cuisine
Everyone knows some Italian food, namely pasta and pizza. But not many people realize that Venice has its own food culture that predominantly consists of seafood, due to the city’s proximity to water. Unfortunately, Venice has a reputation as one of the only Italian cities that regularly serves bad food due to tourist traps and expectations. With that being said, it doesn’t mean that there is no good food in Venice. Some of the top traditional Venetian dishes are baccala mantecata (creamed dried codfish), sarde in saor (marinated sardines), polenta (creamy cornmeal), risi i bisi (rice and fresh peas), risotto nero (squid ink risotto), and bigoli (signature Venetian pasta that is similar to spaghetti, but made from whole wheat).
If you would like to try some authentic Venetian cuisine, Antiche Carampane or Osteria alle Testiere are recommended. The former is one of the oldest trattorias, serving traditional Venetian fresh fish dishes in a quiet, calm atmosphere. The latter is a pricier option, but with high-quality, fresh, and authentic Venetian seafood dishes.
Trattoria Antiche Carampane
Address: Rio Terà de le Carampane, 1911, 30125 Sestiere San Polo, Venezia VE, Italy
Website: Trattoria Antiche Carampane
Contact: +39 041 524 0165
Osteria alle Testiere
Address: Calle del Mondo Novo, 5801, 30122 Venezia, Italy
Website: Osteria alle Testiere
Contact: +39 041 522 7220
12. 12. Enjoy delicious Italian gelato
You can’t go to Italy without having gelato at least once, if not every day. There is an abundance of gelato places in Venice, but don’t expect every place to serve the same quality. Depending on what you are seeking in your gelato experience, here are some recommendations: Gelateria Alaska for their unique flavors (e.g. ginger, artichoke, basil), La Mela Verde for their reasonable prices and wide variety, and Suso Gelatoteca for their good service and fresh, creamy gelato.
13. 13. Don't miss aperitivo time
Aperitivo is a large part of Italian culture; in essence, it is a pre-dinner drink that gives people a chance to socialize and relax with friends or family. Popular drink choices for aperitivo include Aperol (liquor made with bitter orange and rhubarb), Campari (liquor infused with herbs and fruit), cocktail variations using those liquors (e.g. Spritz, Negroni), and wines (e.g. Prosecco, fragolino). Stop by any bar between 6:30 – 8:30 pm, which is usually when aperitivo occurs. You may want to check out Harry’s Bar, one of Venice’s most famous bars located by the Grand Canal, and also home of bellinis and carpaccio.
14. 14. Kick back at a waterside bar
Venice is made up of 150 canals; in other words, it is surrounded by water. Getting a drink at a waterside bar is the best way to relax with an amazing view of the canals of Venice. While there are many options to choose from, El Chioschetto and Taverna del Campiello Remer are recommended. Despite its small kiosk-style appearance, El Chioschetto has a nice waterfront location by the Zattere Promenade with a large variety of drinks and food. Meanwhile, Taverna del Campiello Remer faces the famous Grand Canal, and serves inexpensive but good quality food and drinks.
15. 15. Join a local wine tasting and winery tour
Located in the Veneto region, Venice is part of an important area for wine production in Italy. Even though Venice itself doesn’t produce wine, most of its local wine is brought in from neighboring towns. The signature Veneto wine is Prosecco; but they are also known for Soave, Valpolicell, and Amarone. Wine in Venice is often serve with cicchetto, which is basically the Venetian version of tapas. If you are a wine-lover, join a wine tour (e.g. through Urban Adventures) for the full experience. If you would simply like to get a taste of local wine, visit Cantine del Vino Gia Schiavi, one of the most popular wine bars in Venice that is known for its Pinot Grigio Ramato.
Urban Adventures: Cicchetti & Wine Tour of Venice
Address: Campo della Maddalena, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: Starting times at 11:30am and 5:15pm
Duration: 2.5 hours
Price: 80 EUR
Contact: + 39-348-9808566
Official Website: Urban Adventures - Cicchetti & Wine Tour of Venice
16. 16. Explore a traditional Venetian mask store
The tradition of Venetian masks began centuries ago. They used to be worn during the Carnival to hide one’s identity and social status, which allowed one to act more freely. These masks are characterized by their ornate designs and complex baroque-style decorations. The best place for traditional masks is Ca’Macana, the most famous mask shop in Venice. It has several locations around the island, and sells good quality masks for a reasonable price. You can even decorate your own mask for 30 – 50 EUR (33.50 – 55.90 USD), depending on the size of your group.
Address: Dorsoduro 3215 (mask-making and courses), Dorsoduro 3172 (showroom), Venice, Italy
Opening Hours: 10am - 7:30pm (Sunday to Friday), 10am - 8pm (Saturday)
Duration: 15 minutes for visiting; 2 hours for mask-making
Official Website: Ca' Macana
17. 17. Shop for Murano glass
Murano glass is a specific type of glass from the Venetian island of Murano. What makes Murano glass unique is its infinite combinations of transparent colors, created through a specific process known as glass-blowing. If you can find time in your weekend, you may want to visit Murano for a glass-blowing demonstration. However, many stores right on the main island sell jewelry, glass figurines, and other items made from Murano glass that you can purchase as a souvenir.
18. 18. Walk through the Jewish Ghetto of Venice
The Venetian Ghetto was created over 500 years ago, making it the first ghetto in the world where Jewish people were forced to live within its boundaries. Even though walking through it may not seem different from the rest of the island, it is significant to understand how Venetian relationship with the Jewish community fluctuated over the years between acceptance and tolerance. Until today, the ghetto remains the center of the Jewish community in Venice. It still has a yeshiva (an institution for studying different religious texts), Jewish shops, and a Chabad synagogue in the area.
19. 19. Experience Venetian life at the Rialto Market
The Rialto Market is the historical marketplace that used to supply fish and fresh produce (for example fruits and vegetables) to the locals. It is best visited in the morning when the market hits full swing at around 8:00 am. Most shops close by midday or around 1:00 pm. The market is separated into several sections, with the two biggest being Erberia (produce market) and Pescheria (fish market). Even if you don’t buy anything, the market is an attraction worth visiting to observe how Venetians get their main source of food. If you’re planning to visit, make sure you are there on Saturday because the market does not open on Sundays.
20. 20. Cross the Rialto Bridge
Along with the Bridge of Sighs, as mentioned above, the Rialto Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in Venice. It is the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal, and serves as a divider between the districts of San Marco and San Polo. Built as a stone arch, the Rialto Bridge is one of the most visited attractions in the city. Whether you walk over it or ride a vaporetto / gondola under it, you should definitely see it at least once.
21. 21. Visit the Venetian Arsenal (Arsenale di Venezia)
The Venetian Arsenal is a cluster of former shipyards that was responsible for the former Venetian Republic’s naval power. As one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises, it helped the Republic generate economic wealth and power. Unlike the rest of Venice, the canals here are unused, making it less-densely populated by tourists but equally as picturesque. For the most part, entrance is limited, and visitors can only see the outer walls. But it holds a lot of history and the atmosphere is different from the rest of the city; it is a perfect reminder that Venice was not always just known for its beauty. If you want to learn more about the arsenal and its role in Venetian history, you can also stop by the Naval History Museum located right beside the Venetian Arsenal.
22. 22. Watch a performance at Teatro La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice is an opera house that is one of the most famous landmarks of Italian theater and opera. In the 19th century, it was the site of many opera premieres. Until today, it features the works of four major Italian opera composers, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. The opera performances today pay homage to some of these great composers and will be like nothing you have seen before.
Teatro La Fenice
Address: San Marco 1965, 30124 Venice, Italy
Duration: Around 2+ hours (depending on length of show)
Contact: +39 -041-786511
Official Website: Teatro La Fenice
23. 23. Take a half-day trip to a nearby island by boat
Venice is situated in the Venetian Lagoon, which is home to countless islands. While a weekend may be hardly enough time to explore the main island alone, you may want to take half a day out of your weekend to visit another island (especially if this isn’t your first time in Venice). Some popular island destinations include: Murano (see #17), Torcello (see #24), Burano for its brightly painted houses and lacemaking, and San Giorgio Maggiore for its famous 16th-century Benedictine church design in the renaissance style. These islands are all a short vaporetto ride away and will only take up a couple hours from your weekend.
24. 24. Hike on Torcello island
Of the three mains islands in the lagoon (Murano, Burano, Torcello), Torcello is the furthest from Venice but also the quietest. Even though it once held the largest population in the Venetian Republic, it is now sparsely populated and has primarily become a nature reserve. Its main attraction is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a church that contained some of the earliest mosaics in Venice. While there isn’t much to do there, it is an ideal destination if you wish to get away from the hectic tourist areas and relax amongst lush greenery.
25. 25. Spend an afternoon on the beach at The Lido
The Lido is a skinny 11-kilometer-long (7-mile-long) island located between the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. It is a popular beach resort destination because it is less touristy, inexpensive, and calmer compared to the main island of Venice. Because the island is covered by beaches, it is an especially good place to relax and tan. But keep in mind that most of the beaches are owned privately by hotels on the island; so unless you are staying at one of them, you will only have access to the public areas. You can even rent a bike to explore the island if you desire. A round-trip vaporetto ride to / from Lido only costs 13 EUR (14.50 USD).
Exploring the Floating City
Venice is not a huge place, so it is definitely possible to explore most of it in one weekend. Of course, this means having to prioritize and doing the things you want to do most first. While visiting other islands is different and walking around museums is eye-opening, bear in mind that these activities will take at least half a day, perhaps more. So unless they are important to you, or if this is not your first time in Venice, you may want to leave those activities until the end when you have done everything else on the main island. Even though 25 things to do in one weekend sounds chaotic, don’t forget that it is ultimately your choice to complete as many or as few of these activities as you wish. And, even more importantly, remember to stop and appreciate the beauty of Venice — it’s not every day you get to explore a canal city.
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