While I always think more time in a city is better, I do think you can get a lot out of a 2 days in Venice itinerary.
This two-day itinerary covers all of the essential sights and experiences for first-time visitors, from strolling through the beautiful streets of Venice’s historic center to riding a gondola. You’ll take a tour of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace after hours when the hordes of people are gone, and get a better understanding of local culture on a food tour – both with Venetian locals on curated walking tours.
This 2-day Venice itinerary includes the highlights you simply can’t miss on your first trip to Venice (Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), Doge’s Palace, gondola rides) and how to see them in a more intimate way. Plus, there is plenty of time to wander and soak in “la dolce vita,” which Italy is famous for.
If you have three days, keep reading because I’ve added a bonus day for those for whom
What You Need to Know About Venice, Italy
Venice is fairly small as far as cities go. Yes, it is expensive, it is crowded, and it is extremely touristy, but I still think it’s worth a visit.
Venice is made up of 117 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by bridges. These are located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon which stretches along the shoreline, between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers.
Every time you cross a bridge, you are going to another island. Each island had its own church facing the water since that’s how people would originally arrive there – via boat.
Fun fact: there are only two roads in Venice – the Strada Serenissima and the Romea. The rest are just alleyways or canals. They don’t call it the “City of Canals” for nothing.
How to Get to Venice, Italy
The best way to get to Venice is by flying into Marco Polo Airport (VCE), which is located on the mainland about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the city center. From there, you can take a water taxi or private water shuttle directly to your hotel, or take a public water bus (vaporetto) into Venice.
We were coming to Venice for Ortisei in the Dolomites, so we took a train right onto the island, emerging at Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia.
How to Get Around Venice, Italy
The best way to get around Venice is on foot or by boat. There are well over 400 bridges linking the islands, so you can easily walk from one to the other.
If you get tired, there is a public transportation water bus system (vaporetti) that runs regularly and covers most of the major routes. A single ride costs €9, but if you’re going to be taking multiple rides, it’s worth getting a day pass for €20.
Just be warned that the water buses can get very crowded, especially during peak tourist season. But, they run pretty regularly so you can always catch the next one.
Most vaporetto stations have a ticket machine or ticket office, but not all of them do. In theory, you can buy a ticket from the boat pilot, but if they are out of tickets, you are out of luck. The station near our apartment did not have a ticket machine, so Henry went to another station the day before we left to make sure we had tickets.
When to Visit Venice, Italy
The best time to visit Venice is in the shoulder seasons – either April to early June or September to October. The weather is still nice at this time, but there are fewer tourists. We were there in October and it was packed with tourists, so I can only imagine how crowded it is in summer.
If you visit during the summer months, it will be very hot and humid. And while winter can be magical with the Christmas markets and all, keep in mind that it does rain a lot during this time of year.
Where to Stay in Venice
Stay on the island of Venice if at all possible. It might be slightly less expensive to stay outside the city in the Mestre, but being on the island is a whole experience in itself and lends to the magic of visiting the Floating City. Plus, you’ll be closer to the major sites.
We rented this apartment in the Castello neighborhood, a very quiet part of Venice. From the train station, it was an easy vaporetto ride followed by a five-minute walk. By staying in an apartment, we cut our food costs a bit and could have leisurely mornings in a “normal” neighborhood. And it was super affordable for Venice.
Since you are only staying a couple of nights, a hotel could be easier and get you right into the center of things.
Venice Itinerary Day 1
Jump right in with a food tour in Venice, Italy. I recommend doing this the first day so you know where to eat the rest of the time you are in Venice. We took a delicious and educational food tour with Devour Tours.
Venice Food Tour
We took the Venice Gondola, Market & Food Tour. It meets near the Rialto Bridge so we got to see that sight on our way to the food tour. Our local Venetian guide obviously loved Venice and Venetian food. Not only did we eat and drink a lot of scrumptious food and beverages, we learned a lot about the culture of Venice. I think this is one of the best Venice tours you can take. And you won’t have to eat for the rest of the day!
Wander Around Venice
Everyone says the best way to see Venice is to wander among the streets and alleys and let yourself get lost. You won’t get lost, but it is a nice way to find some quieter streets and see iconic Venetian sights like baskets of flowers and laundry beneath windows.
We found that Google Maps worked almost everywhere in Venice. If we couldn’t get a signal, we walked to a more open place and had no issue navigating Venice with our phones.
We picked a couple of places we wanted to see and then wandered between them:
Libreria Acqua Alta
This is a lovely bookstore located that backs up to a canal. The main room is packed with books from floor to ceiling, which makes for interesting browsing. But the coolest part of this bookstore is that it floods during high tide (Acqua Alta) and they have elevated bookcases, bathtubs, and even a gondola to protect the books.
Tip: “Acqua Alta” or “High Water” usually occurs in the fall and winter. If you are visiting Venice at this time, it’s a good idea to check the tide schedule to see when high tide will be during your trip. You don’t want to be caught unaware and have to wade through water in your good shoes. It’s just a normal thing and locals roll up their pants or slip into boots and just keep on trekking.
Arsenale di Venezia / Venetian Arsenal
The Venetian Arsenal was the shipyard of Venice and, at one time, the largest industrial complex in Europe. It is now a military museum with some interesting exhibits on the maritime history of Venice.
There are also some outdoor sculptures by contemporary artists like Mimmo Paladino and Arnaldo Pomodoro.
Since we knew we’d be visiting the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica in the evening, we walked through St. Mark’s Square to get to the waterfront but didn’t spend any time there.
Our apartment host said the best place to get gelato in Venice is Gelati Nico. He would take a boat across the canal each day to go to school and stop at Gelateria Nico on his way home. I had a classic Venetian cocktail – a bellini – and the kids and Henry enjoyed the best gelato in Venice.
A bonus to visiting Gelati Nico is that we crossed the Ponte dell’Accademia (Accademia Bridge) over the Grand Canal to get there. The Ponte dell’Accademia is one of only four bridges to span the Grand Canal in Venice. The other well known bridge is the Rialto Bridge.
St. Mark’s and Doge’s Palace Tour
We really wanted to see St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace, but couldn’t stomach the crowds, so instead we took the Exclusive Alone In St. Mark’s & Doge’s Palace Tour with Walks. Again, we had a local guide who loved Venice and its history. Our tours were some of the best things we did in Venice. Plus, we got to see these places with just our small guided tour after they were closed to the public. There were a couple of other small groups in both places, but we all had our own space.
The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is a beautiful building filled with art. It was the home of the Doge (ruler) of Venice and now houses several museums. It was interesting to learn about the history of Venice, the separation of church and state, and the different measures they took to maintain balance and fairness. We walked across the Bridge of Sighs (Prisoner’s Bridge) and peeked into the jail cells.
Between the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s visits, we had a little time to grab something to eat and wander around St. Mark’s Square listening to a band and watching people enjoy the evening.
St. Mark’s Basilica is an ornate Byzantine-style cathedral with gold mosaics everywhere you look. Since it was dark outside, they lit up the mosaics and they really shimmered. We also went into the crypt.
The Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Cathedral are must-see places on your first trip to Venice, in my opinion, and this tour is the best way to visit them without the crowds.
The one thing we didn’t do was go up in the bell tower. St Mark’s Campanile is the bell tower of the Basilica di San Marco. The current campanile is a reconstruction completed in 1912, the previous tower having collapsed in 1902. At 98.6 meters high, it is the tallest structure in Venice and nicknamed “el paròn de casa” or “the master of the house.” If you want to do this, I recommend you get skip-the-line tickets as it is quite popular.
Venice Itinerary Day 2
Start your first day in Venice with coffee or tea and a pastry canal-side to start the day. Since we travel with teens, we had first breakfast in the apartment and were ready for a snack after about five minutes of walking.
Best Coffee in Venice
There are a lot of cafés to choose from. We like Zanzibar as it is right on a canal with gondoliers, ready to take visitors onto the water, in a quiet(ish) piazza (Campo Santa Maria Formosa) with a lovely church (Chiesa Parrocchiale di Santa Maria Formosa), and between our apartment and St. Mark’s Square.
Tip: In Venice, the town squares or piazzas are called “campi.” The campo was a “field” or a small far outside a church. Every island had its own church and campo.
Again, spend the morning and early afternoon wandering about. If there was something you didn’t get to yesterday, do it today.
Ride in a Gondola in Venice
Take a gondola ride. This is such an iconic thing to do in Venice and you’ll see gondola stations all over the place. Not surprisingly, the canals are crowded with gondolas. You won’t have that quiet, alone-in-a-canal experience you see in movies.
However, the farther you go from St. Mark’s Square, the quieter and more private your experience will be. People will be taking pictures and videos of you from the canal and bridges. If you are on the run, don’t take a gondola ride. A great place to get a gondola ride is right next to Zanzibar where we had breakfast.
A private gondola ride with just you and your family/friends has a set price. Right now, the price for a gondola ride in Venice, which is set by an official association and is the same all over the city, is 80 Euros for a 40-minute ride during the day, and 100 Euros at night. Simply walk up to one, pay, and get in the boat.
We had considered a splurge gondola ride, but I was under the weather while we were there and couldn’t muster the energy.
SUP in Venice
What we did do to get on the canals was go paddleboarding in Venice. This was so much fun and very relaxing. Anders and I took a tour around the Cannaregio neighborhood learning about Venice from a different perspective.
We went with SUP in Venice and it was lovely, but a little bit of a claptrap operation. We weren’t given lifejackets and the equipment was kind of banged up, but we did have a cool experience.
There was another family with us and the kids were given life jackets to sit in (one rode on each of their parents’ boards) so I think you could ask for a life jacket if you wanted one. The canals are not super clean, so you don’t want to fall in for that reason.
SUP is new to Venice and not everyone loves seeing paddleboarders on the canals, so it was nice to have our guide navigate for us. For the record, we didn’t see anyone who seemed upset, that’s what we were told by our guide. I think people just need to get used to it and paddleboarders need to be aware of boats and stay out of the way. Fortunately, it was very quiet on our tour and we didn’t have any issues with boats.
All ages are welcome on the tour. Little children can sit on their parents’ boards. There is a tour just for beginners as well as the standard tour. The guides are local Venetians and it’s nice to hear their insight and experience in the Floating City.
Overall, Anders and I felt like it was a great way to get off the beaten track in Venice and have an unusual experience.
What to Eat in Venice
If possible, avoid restaurants in the most popular areas, like St. Mark’s Square. They are expensive and not even that good.
We like little places where the locals eat. Try cicchetti, which are essentially (delicious) Venetian tapas. You can get them in almost any bar that serves drinks and they are usually displayed on the counter or bar. You point to what you want and the bartender will tell you how much it costs. They are typically 2-3 Euros each. Cicchetti are meant to be eaten standing up at the bar with a glass of wine or spritz.
3 Days in Venice
If you have another day, consider taking the water bus to Murano and Burano islands.
Murano Island is most famous for glassmaking. You can visit a glass factory and see how the artisans make their wares.
Burano Island is an adorable fishing village known for its brightly colored houses. Legend has it that fishermen painted their houses bright colors so they could find their way home in a fog.
Both islands make for a pleasant day trip from Venice.
There are obviously so many more things to do in Venice, but we were so pleased with this 2 day itinerary. We saw the highlights that we didn’t want to miss, found ways to enjoy a quieter side of Venice, and felt like we had the full experience.
Do you have any other tips for spending 2 days in Venice? Let us know in the comments!
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