Nothing looks like Venice. It may be familiar from countless movies and documentaries, and mobbed by tourists—visitors often outnumber the locals by a huge margin—but this majestic, floating city remains one of the world’s great spectacles, with glittering domes, Renaissance palaces, and medieval bell towers seemingly rising straight from the Adriatic.
Today its traditions are maintained at the month-long Carnevale (usually February/March). Modern Italy is showcased at the Venice International Film Festival (late August and early September), and at the Biennale d’Arte (May to November every odd-numbered year).
Planning Your Trip
Crafting Your Venice Itinerary
On the tightest schedule, most travelers opt for two or three days of wandering the main city, while one week will allow an exploration of the outer islands. If you only have two or three days in Venice, focus on the highlights. Start by riding the no.1 vaporetto (water bus/ferry) along the Grand Canal, before visiting St Mark’s Square, the Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace. On day two, tour the Accademia then explore one of the less crowded siesteri (districts).
Day three begins at the fish market; cross the Rialto Bridge to check out the posh shops (and the rooftop view) at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi. From here, the grand Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, artwork of Ca’ d’Oro, and high-tech exhibits at the Casanova Museum are short strolls away.
With a week or more, you can truly get under the skin of Venice. You might want to head to the island of Torcello, or the lace-working hub of Burano and glass workshops of Murano. On the main islands, you’ll be able to visit the city’s grand palazzos (such as Robert Browning’s beloved Ca' Rezzonico), smaller gems like the Museo Ebraico (Jewish museum), and churches stuffed with art (like Veronese’s San Sebastiano). Or just wander the outer districts: the romantic streets of San Pietro di Castello or Giudecca are rarely visited by tourists. Check out more itinerary ideas here.
When to Go
Venice is easily accessible year-round, with a “high season” that begins at Easter and doesn’t really die down until November. May, June, and September are the best months weather-wise and are therefore usually the most crowded. July and August can be very hot, and very busy. Hotel rates tend to be high throughout the summer and spring.
Significant acqua alta (flooding) can begin as early as late September or October, but usually takes place November to March. Note that the waters usually recede after just a few hours and the city never shuts down when it happens. Weather from December to March is generally cool, and can be rainy, but there are plenty of sunny days in between – and the crowds (and hotel rates) either side of Carnevale are the lowest of the year. For more info, read on about the Best Time of Year to Visit Italy.
Getting There and Around
Venice is linked to numerous cities by air, Marco Polo Airport serving as a hub for low-cost airlines such as Volotea and easyJet (many Ryanair flights are routed through nearby Treviso, a one-hour bus ride from Venice). As of 2019, North American travelers can fly non-stop, but only in the summer (Delta from Atlanta and New York-JFK; United from Newark; and American from Chicago and Philadelphia).
Trains from Rome, Milan, Florence, and all over Europe arrive at Venezia Santa Lucia right on the Grand Canal. Once across the causeway connecting Venice with the mainland, drivers must park their cars in the garages around Piazzale Roma or on the adjacent island of Tronchetto (buses also drop off here). The only way to get around Venice is by boat or on foot. The city is served by expensive water taxis, plus a comprehensive vaporetto system.
The Museum Pass grants admission to all city-run museums over a six-month period—it also lets you skip ticket lines. The Chorus Pass offers free admission to almost every major church in Venice. Venezia Unica combines the above passes, transport, discounts, and even Internet access on one card via a “made-to-order” online system. The Rolling Venice card provides discounts at museums, stores, language courses, hotels, and bars for visitors between the ages of 6 and 29. ACTV travel cards are also available for unlimited boat rides (24hr, 48hr, and 72hr).
Highlights & Activities
Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square)
The spiritual and historical heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco is one of Europe’s most iconic spaces. Soak up the atmosphere at its historic cafes; elegant Caffè Florian dates back to 1720, while Caffè Lavena was composer Richard Wagner’s favorite in the 19th century.
Dominating the whole plaza, the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Cathedral) is an incredibly opulent pile, dripping in gold, intricate mosaics, and gorgeous frescoes. Ascend the basilica’s 318-foot bell tower, the Campanile di San Marco, for mesmerizing views of the city. Nearby, the grand Palazzo Ducale was once the residence of the rulers of Venice. Today its halls and corridors are crammed with world-class art, including Veronese’s “Rape of Europa”. The infamous Bridge of Sighs connects the palace to the old prisons (Lord Byron popularized the name).
A leisurely ride on the no. 1 vaporetto along the Grand Canal (try to get an outdoor seat in the bow) is the only way to see the city’s most extravagant palazzos up close. The gracefully arching Rialto Bridge links San Marco with the Mercato Rialto, Venice’s principal open-air market. On the south side of the bridge lies the medieval T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, converted in 2016 by Rem Koolhaas into a posh department store. Its Rooftop Terrace offers the best view of Venice.
To the east of Piazza San Marco, Castello features the tony Riva degli Schiavoni waterside esplanade, lined with five-star hotels such as the Danieli. Head farther east towards the Arsenale, or inland, and the crowds thin out. Here you’ll find the Basilica SS. Giovanni e Paolo (known as “Zanipolo”), a massive Gothic church containing the tombs of the doges and brilliant works by Bellini and Veronese.
The Accademia contains a magnificent collection of European art, especially Venetian painting from the 14th to the 18th centuries (featuring heavyweights Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Titian, and Veronese). In contrast, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection exhibits primarily American and European art of the 20th century in Guggenheim’s former home, the 18th-century Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, right on the Grand Canal.
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (“i Frari,”) is the largest church in Venice after San Marco and harbors two Titian masterpieces. Nearby, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is adorned by more than 50 works by Tintoretto (including “Flight into Egypt”, one of his greatest).
Cannaregio stretches north and east from the train station—it’s a rewarding, far less crowded area to explore. On a quiet canal, the Casanova Museum & Experience pays homage to notorious Venetian libertine Giacomo Casanova. The Ca’ d’Oro, the “golden house,” overlooking the Grand Canal, is an excellent art gallery of mostly early Renaissance Italian and Flemish paintings, including a “St. Sebastian” by Andrea Mantegna. To learn about the long history of the Jews in Venice visit the Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum), which also provides tours of the area’s five historic synagogues.
A short boat ride from central Venice, the island of Murano has long been famous for its glass. The illuminating Museo del Vetro (Museum of Glass) provides context, while dozens of workshops offer free demonstrations of glassblowing. Lace is the claim to fame of tiny Burano, highlighted at the Museo del Merletto (Museum of Lace Making). Bucolic Torcello is far quieter, containing the huge Basilica di Santa Maria dell’Assunta, justly celebrated for its stellar 11th- to 12th-century Byzantine mosaics. See more in our guide to island-hopping in Venice.
Venice by gondola
Yes, it is expensive, and yes, it’s very, very touristy—but taking a trip on a gondola really can be as romantic as it looks. Prices are fixed, but before setting off establish with the gondolier the route (back canals are preferable to the Grand Canal). Do not ask the gondolier to sing. You’ll find gondola stations throughout the city, including at Piazzale Roma, the train station, the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco. If you just want a quick taster, you can take a cheap traghetto across the Grand Canal.
Where to Stay
Reserve accommodation in Venice as far in advance as possible, even in the off-season. Hotels are generally more expensive here than elsewhere in Italy, but rates vary wildly over the year, so it pays to do some advance research.
If you are looking for posh, Venice won’t disappoint. The city’s grand dames include the legendary Belmond Hotel Cipriani, founded in 1958 by Giuseppe Cipriani, the 16th-century Gritti Palace, and the Hotel Danieli, another former palace and sumptuous hotel since 1822. Budget and independent-minded travelers are best served by Airbnb, VRBO.com, and Homeaway.com, or by staying at the (generally) cheaper hotels across the causeway in Mestre (10 minutes by frequent train). Good deals in Venice proper can be had at Locanda Fiorita, set on a charming campiello, cozy B&B San Marco, and Al Ponte Mocenigo, an 18th-century gem steps away from the Grand Canal. Learn more in our roundup of the Best Boutique Hotels in Venice.
Where to Eat
While it’s true that Venice has a mediocre culinary reputation compared to the rest of Italy, there are plenty of good restaurants here. At the top-end Bistrot de Venise offers an old-school Venetian experience, specializing in rare wines and historical recipes, while Alle Corone and Alle Testiere (an alleged favorite of actress Emily Blunt) are places to splurge on Adriatic seafood. Eating at Gritti Terrace on the Grand Canal is still one of Venice’s most magical experiences, despite the high prices.
Venice is not known for pizza, but the tasty pies at Antico Forno are the best in the city. To save money, trawl the neighborhood bars known as bàcari, where you can sample tramezzini (small sandwiches), and cicchetti (tapas-like snacks) washed down with wine or prosecco. Do Mori has been in business since 1462, while La Bottiglia is a more contemporary bàcari featuring wonderful cheese and meat boards. Tiny Bacareto Da Lele offers incredibly cheap drinks and snacks, while Pasticceria Tonolo is a bakery with a cult following since the 1880s thanks to its sweet treats. See more ideas on where to eat in this guide.
Venice by night
Venice is not a big party town, though it’s hard to beat nursing an Aperol spritz on one of its gorgeous campos on a summer evening. Popular local bar Al Prosecco specializes in Veneto prosecco, while upscale Bar Dandolo serves everything from deluxe cappuccinos to artful martinis. You can also enjoy rooftop drinks at its sister Bar Terrazza Danieli.
Historic Caffè dei Frari morphs into Il Mercante Cocktail Bar in the evenings, while live rock and folk bands play amidst the scribble-smothered walls of Osteria all’Alba. Good (Italian!) craft beers are served at Il Santo Bevitore, a tiny bar overlooking a canal.
For classical concerts check out Santa Maria della Pietà, the “Vivaldi Church”, while the opera season runs from late November through June at Teatro La Fenice. For more on the best ways to spend your time in this city, see 24 Hours in Venice.