Many would describe Venice as a beautiful but small city – that you could cover quite easily within one or two day itinerary. Venice is also known as the ‘City of Water’ and ‘City of Bridges’ – for obvious reasons – there are more than 400 bridges connecting the 100 over islands in Venice.
I went to Venice during the low season, so the tourist crowd was not too bad. And if you start your walk early in the morning, it’s quite quiet.
Hotels in Venice
There are many accommodation to choose from in the centre – so it all depends on what you are looking for and how long you plan to stay. If you are pressed for time like me, book a hotel really central to the attractions and close to the main transport stop – so that you can take full advantage of your short stay in Venice. I just needed one night stay in Venice so I booked a single room at the 3 star Hotel Commercio & Pellegrino which is close to the waterbus stop (about 2 minutes walk). It is also close to Piazza San Marco – about 5 mins or so walk. Most tours start from this square.
Venice Top Things To Do and See
#1- The Water Bus
I will start with that because that itself is something unique to the city and a beautiful way to get around Venice. If you can, take a ride on the vaporetto (water bus) or at least use the Alilaguna service on one your leg going to or coming from the airport. I arrived in Venice by train from Florence. I took the waterbus from Santa Lucia Train Station directly to San Zaccaria stop which you can see in the picture below. San Zaccaria is great in that it has both vaporetto and Alilaguna stops – the picture below was taken from the Alilaguna boat leaving for the airport. If you can afford to splurge or travel in a group, then taking the water taxi may also be a good alternative.
#2- Piazza San Marco
For more details on Piazza San Marco – click here to read my post ‘Must-See Places at Piazza San Marco, Venice’.
This is the main square – with key attractions like the St Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. Since I stayed near the square, I got up bright and early and was at the square when there were very few people around. There were also professional photographers taking pictures of models (or maybe just tourists who looked really fancy – who knows these days) with the beautiful Doge’s palace background etc. I guess best to come out early to get crowd free photos. Sights that you cannot miss around the square…
Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
This was the central government building and the official residence of the Doges, the appointed ruler of the former Venetian Republic. Beautiful architecture – make sure you get tickets to see the interiors and access to the Bridge of Sighs, or better still join a tour to learn more about its history.
The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
You probably have seen the Bridge portrayed as a romantic backdrop in movies, magazines, postcards etc. Actually the bridge has a darker history – it linked the Doge’s Palace to the prison; prisoners passed through the bridge catching glimpses of the city before setting foot in the prison where they will serve their sentences.
St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
Beautiful church; entrance to the church is free, there tends to be long queues during peak seasons.
St Mark’s Bell Tower (the Campanile)
You can go up the Tower (there is a lift), to get beautiful shots of the city.
The Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio)
There is a tour that you can join that will bring you up the clock tower where you can see in the inside mechanics of the clock and also check out the former living quarters of its caretakers and families.
You can’t really miss the three connected buildings at the square. There are shops and cafes on the ground floor where you can have coffee and do people watching.
#3- Walk Around The City
Venice is a small city – and you can easily walk along the alleyways (calle) and bridges and cover most of the key sights. Even the alleyways themselves are interesting – they come in different widths. The narrowest calletta is Calle Varisco which is 53cm wide.
Uncover the following sights as you walk from Piazza San Marco to Rialto Bridge:
- Chiesa S. Maria Formosa
- Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo – St Giovanni Church is one of the biggest church in Venice
- Chiesa di San Salvador
Museum and Other Attractions
- Querini Stampalia Museum – this is a mansion/house belonging to Count Giovanni converted into a museum
- Marco Polo’s Home – or the location that used to be his home rather; the actual house was destroyed and replaced with a theatre
- Ponte de Rialto – this is the oldest bridge in Venice. There are shops on both sides of the bridge. It tends to be a bit crowded with tourists (as you can see from the picture below).
#4- Take a Gondola Ride
Taking a gondola ride is a must if you are a first timer in Venice. But make sure you take the right kind of rides for you or you may just go home with an awful experience. I recommend taking the private gondola rather than a shared one – it is of course a bit more expensive.
There are many gondola stations – standard ride is about 30minutes – so make sure you choose the right station if you want to see certain sights. If you have only one day in Venice, to make the most of it – you may want to do walking tour on one side of the city and a gondola ride on the other side which is what I did.
Usually there are no commentary given by the gondolier – but you can look out for tour rides with commentary on the web if you prefer that.
#5- San Giorgio Maggiore
If you have some time, take the vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore island. Go up the bell tower of the San Giorgio Maggiore church to get a beautiful view of the main island. If you find that St Marks Bell Tower queue is unbearable – try this tower instead which relatively has less visitors.
#6- Food & Shopping
Venice has all the big brands Chanel, Balenciaga, Tiffany and so on – all within walking distance from Piazza San Marco. Or if you want bargains, you can check out the nearby factory outlet – Noventa Di Piave Designer Village. Brands you can expect to see at the outlet include Prada, Gucci, Armani etc.
There is a shuttle that you can take from the city to the outlet and back. The shuttle departs from Piazzale Tronchetto; you can take a water bus from San Marco or Rialto station to get there.
But what can you buy that is truly Venice? Murano glass for one. If you have a bit of time – you could do a short tour to the Murano Island where you learn how the glass is made, watch a glass blowing demonstration and get some souvenirs from there. Or if you are pressed for time (like me) – there are many shops selling murano glass on the main island itself. I bought some beautiful earrings from one of the shops near St Mark’s Square. I also got a few jewelry sets from the airport – not as many selections at the airport but good enough and very good price. And of course – you can buy bigger pieces – decorative glasses, vases etc. They are gorgeous.
Murano glass is only made in Murano Island, in Venice. Be careful of fakes – I bought mine from a big boutique shop selling exclusive pieces so I doubt they carry fakes. But if you buy these at smaller shops and the prices are too good to be true – they may not be the real deal.
Check out this site for some good tips so that you don’t get cheated: https://www.glassofvenice.com/blog/tag/how-to-identify-murano-glass
I simply love the mask designs. Venetian masks are usually worn during the Carnivals or other celebratory occasions – a tradition that started way back in the 13th century. It was meant to conceal the wearers identity and allowed the upper and lower class to mingle – and engaged in other kind of ‘activities’ such as gambling, partying, having romantic affairs and so on.
When in Venice or any parts of Italy – pizza, pastas are must-haves! I had a lovely seafood lunch at Trattoria al Gazzettino, not far from Piazza San Marco. Click here to read my review on the restaurant.
Italy is also famous for yummy desserts – cannoli, panna cotta and so on. Grab a cannoli from the many street stores near the Rialto bridge…
I had a nice time in this city. A bit too short I feel. Even leaving the city felt grand as I board the Alilaguna airport boat transfer from San Zaccaria to Marco Polo airport. I highly recommend that you take the transfer – beautiful views as you leave the city and throughout the journey. And it is quite cheap too – about EUR15 one way. But ensure that you build in sufficient time for the boat ride before your flight departure as the boat ride takes a bit longer (approximately 75 minutes) than taking the 20 minute airport bus transfer from Piazzale Roma.
And of course – Can’t leave Venice without my very own Pandora charms. See below – the beautiful Gondola charm – a Venetian icon. And an Italian flag charm to complete the set!