Venice is easily one of the most romantic cities in Europe. The city makes you want to share a bottle of wine on the Rialto Bridge, take a gondola ride for two, and watch the sunset on St. Mark’s Square. But you’ve got it wrong if you think Venice is only for lovers! This floating city is the perfect city for a weekend getaway with friends or for a solo trip. Here are some ideas for how to spend a weekend in Venice.
What to See in Venice
It’s no surprise that Venice is full of tourists. When cruise ships dock in Venice, it gets even more crowded, so be prepared to queue up for a long time. On my repeat visit to this floating city, I was able to relax and enjoy my time rather than rushing off to see the main attractions. Spending 2 to 3 days in Venice is just the right amount of time to see all the major sights.
Here are some interesting things to see in Venice. The city is small enough to see 5-6 attractions a day without feeling rushed. Create your own weekend itinerary by choosing some of the attractions below and note the suggested time to spend at each.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Hands down, this is my favorite place in Venice. The modern art museum on the south side of the Grand Canal offers a welcome respite from the crowds.
There’s a certain calm when you’re sitting in the sculpture garden surrounded by perfectly manicured hedges and sculptures.
I just LOVE this place! My favorite pieces are by Braque, Kandinsky, and Max Ernst. It’s also nice to stand on the terrace watching gondolas pass by. Admission is 15€.
Suggested time to spend: At least 1.5 Hours
Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) & Rialto Market (Rialto Mercato Market)
One of the most famous bridges in the world, Rialto Bridge is made up of mostly steps. You can walk across the bridge along the outer railing or through the middle walkway. Flanking the middle walkway on the bridge are 2 rows of shops selling jewelry, souvenirs, leather, linens and Murano glass.
Rialto Market is on the other side of the bridge. It’s frequented by locals and tourists alike. You can find a fish section, flowers, vegetables, and fruits. It’s the perfect spot to find a snack.
Suggested time to spend: 1.5 Hours
St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
This beautiful square is full of pigeons! St. Mark’s Basilica, known as the greatest symbol of Byzantine Venetian history is the crowning jewel. The Bell Tower is also here and you can get a panoramic view of Venice from above.
Try to revisit the square throughout the day to see how the vibe changes. In the morning, the square was just getting ready for the day as people were setting up cafe tables and chairs. We had a stand-up breakfast of croissants and Americanos at one of the cafes. We went back to St. Mark’s Square after midnight to people-watch and though many of the cafe tables and chairs had been put away, one of the cafes still had live music and people dancing.
Suggested time to spend: 4 Hours (to see the Square, the Basilica, and the Bell Tower)
Doges Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
This was once the residence of the Doge of Venice and the center of the Venetian Republic.
Today, it’s a museum where you can see the Doge’s apartments, the armory, the infamous Bridge of Sighs, and the prisons. The Venetian Gothic style is so ornate and beautiful. Admission is 20€.
Suggested time to spend: 3 Hours
Unlike the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, this gallery has a rich collection of paintings from the Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance periods. Gallerie dell’Accademia was a must-visit gallery for me since I’m an art geek and had to see Paolo Veronese’s painting, Feast in the House of Levi. This was an art bucket list check 🙂 Admission is 12€.
Suggested time to spend: 1.5 Hours
Gondola rides are no doubt touristy, but you MUST do it once! You can board the gondolas at different places along the Grand Canal. Prices are set by the city officials so you can’t negotiate. As of 2015, a daytime ride is 80€ per gondola for 40 minutes. Evening rates climb to 100€. There’s no better way to see the moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie, right?!
When I backpacked through Europe in 2004, my friends and I split the ride with other solo travelers bringing the cost down to 20€ a person. I still remember our gondolier was named Luciano and he refused to sing for us!
Suggested time to spend: 40 minutes
Ride a Traghetto
Don’t feel like paying 80€ for a gondola ride? Ride a traghetto for 4€ instead! This is Venice’s best-kept secret. The 5-minute ride is much shorter, but it’s how the locals get around. Find any street labeled, “Calle del Traghetto” and that’s where you can board the poor man’s gondola!
Suggested time to spend: 5 minutes
Get Completely Lost
It’s an adventure in itself to wander the narrow streets. The streets form a complex maze so there’s really no point in following a map. The best part of the streets is that they’re free of cars, buses, and scooters!
We walked around all day without a map and were pleasantly surprised by cute little hideaways and shops we stumbled upon, including a cool Venetian mask shop. If you do get lost, there are always signs pointing you in the direction of major landmarks.
Suggested time to spend: 3-4 hours
Burano and Murano
Take some time to explore the islands in the Venetian Lagoon. Murano is known for its glass, and Burano is known for its delicate lace. The boat ride to Murano takes roughly 20 minutes and Burano is 20 minutes further. Read about Visiting Burano in the Venetian Lagoon here. Read my blog post on Visiting Burano in the Venetian Lagoon here.
Suggested time to spend: 4 Hours (to visit one island)
What to Eat
Try the squid ink pasta in Venice! It’s sublime. Avoid restaurants along the Grand Canal near Rialto – many of those are tourist traps. Find a restaurant inside the little streets and if it looks busy, it’s a good sign that it’s good! We had dinner at Antico Gatoleto (Cannaregio 6055, Campo Santa Maria Nova). One place I really wanted to try was Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to Go, but the lineup was insane!
Getting Around Venice
There are three easy ways to get around Venice: on foot, by Vaporetto, and by Traghetto. There are water taxis as well, but they’re expensive.
Although you can pretty much get anywhere on foot, the most convenient transportation around Venice is the water bus called the Vaporetto. Purchase single ride tickets at the stations or you can get a day pass with unlimited rides (20€). Take Line 1 for about 45 minutes for a tour of the Grand Canal.
How to Get to Venice
When I traveled to Italy, Milan was our home base so we took the train from Milano Centrale. A one-way fare cost 37.50€ on a class 2 ticket. The train made stops along the way and took about 3 hours to get there. It was really easy to buy tickets from the self-serve ticket kiosk. No pre-booking was necessary.
From Venice Marco Polo Airport, take the Line 5 bus or take the Line A or B ferry. Those are the most budget friendly options. Taking a taxi would run you close to 50€.