Venice is one of the most popular tourist spots in Italy, and since it’s only a few hours away via train, we decided we couldn’t miss it. Even though we spent the night in Venice, we really didn’t end up with much more than 24 hours so I decided it still fit in the One Short Day series, because there is a ton to do in Venice, and we had to make the most of our time there.
We arrived at the Santa Lucia train station in Venice and quickly realized that our hotel, near San Marco Square, was on the exact opposite side of town. We couldn’t use GPS on our phones, so we bought a paper map and used it to navigate the tiny little streets of the city. It was only about a mile and a half walk, but the streets that wind through the canals are more like small alleyways, and full of bridges, so keep that in mind if you plan on visiting with anybody who has trouble walking or if you’re bringing a stroller or rolling luggage. You can also get a water taxi or use the water bus, which we didn’t really know at the time, and I would recommend stopping at any of the little booths to book a taxi or buy a bus ticket. There are no cars in Venice, so the only transportation other than walking is all done on the canals.
We spent the first part of the afternoon admiring San Marco’s (St. Mark’s) Square. St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and the rest of the square is surrounded by architecture from various periods in time such as the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge’s Palace, former residence of the ruler of the former Republic of Venice) in the Venetian Gothic style from 1340 and the Museo Correr (Correr Museum) housed in the building that Napolean had built in the early 1800s.
We had arrived kind of late in the day and were exhausted from some mishaps we had while traveling to Venice, so we decided to just do a walking tour at our own pace. There are plenty of tours with various prices and modes of transportation available, but we did the self-guided tour using the Sightseeing Experience app. They have tours for lots of cities in Italy that you can download and play offline as you walk around the city. We got a City Sightseeing map from the currency exchange booth under the clock tower at St. Mark’s Square that correlated to the guide. It was a good way to explore the city at our own pace and see some lesser-known spots that are just as interesting and have just as much history as the high traffic tourist spots.
It is a pretty long tour. The distance is only around two miles, but we spent about two hours on the tour, between stopping for pictures and listening to the guide at each of the
stops. Lots of the locations are churches or museums that you can enter, which we weren’t able to do because they were all closed, but that would also significantly add to your time if you did that. If you decide to go to Venice for a longer time, it might be a good idea to break it up over a couple of days.
We got dinner at one of the many cafes that was along the walking tour and it was getting dark by the time we finished. But, like most of Italy’s major cities, Venice has a thriving nightlife. We wandered around the shops and restaurants that were still open, snacking and eating dessert. The restaurants located directly on St. Mark’s Square are exorbitantly expensive, so instead we got drinks at the to-go cafe and bar (yes, that’s a thing) and walked back to the square to enjoy the music. If you’re trying to decide on a drink in Venice, don’t skip the Venetian cocktail. It combines white wine, Aperol, and soda water, and it’s pretty tasty. We enjoyed the live bands playing in the square until about midnight before calling it a night.
The next morning we got up early enough to wait in line to enter St. Mark’s Basilica, which opens at 8:45. It’s free to enter, and audioguides are €5. If you use the Sightseeing Experience app, there’s a short section that describes the interior, which I listened to, but the audioguide included a lot more. While the general admission is free, you can pay a few euros to get into other parts of the church to see relics and to go behind the altar where the body of St. Mark is. You can also visit the museum located on the upper levels of the church, which, if we had had time, I think we definitely would have done. Even if you don’t pay for anything, I absolutely encourage you to go in. There are no pictures allowed inside, but it is gorgeous.
As with most churches in Italy, your shoulders and knees need to be covered. If you have anything larger than a purse, you’ll have to check your bag, but you need to do it before you get in line. To the left of the church is the bag check (there are signs and also attendants you can ask), and if you get to the front of the line with a bag, they will make you get out, check your bag, and wait in line all over again.
We spent about an hour and half in the basilica before heading across the square to the Museo Correr. It is one of eleven state museums and covers a wide range of the art and history of Venice. The building, the Procuratorie, was built by Napoleon when he extended his empire to Italy, but didn’t want to stay in the Doge’s Palace because of the message it might send. The museum was moved in to the building in 1922, and the first part of it was recently redone to reflect the extravagant rooms that originally occupied the building.
The collection boasts several sculptures by Antonio Canova as well as other items illustrating the life and culture of the Venetians. The building, and admission to the Correr, includes the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, which were also fascinating.
Ticketing for the museum can be tricky. For €20 you can get a St. Mark’s Square Museums ticket that includes the Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, and the Doge’s Palace. For €24 you can get a Museum Pass that grants entrance to the eleven civic museums in Venice. These would probably be great deals if you had several days in Venice to explore all the museums, but since we had just one afternoon, we went for a third option: paying €12 to get entrance to the Museo Correr, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, plus a tour of the famous clock tower of Venice.
I absolutely recommend the clock tower. It was probably my favorite part of our time in Venice. It is a lot of stairs up a narrow staircase, but we had a great tour guide who taught us so much about the city, and the tower gives you an amazing view of Venice.
The tour lasts about an hour, and after that we decided to grab lunch. We got some delicious-looking cheese gondolas, but before I took even one bite a SEAGULL swooped down and STOLE MINE. It’s fine. I’m not still bitter.
Anyways, with the last few hours in Venice, we decided to get a water bus ticket up the Grand Canal that winds its way through the center of the city. The No. 1 line is considered the “tourist” line, as it stops at lots of major attractions. We bought a 24-hour pass and rode the water bus up the canal, choosing a few destinations to stop at. We spent time at the Basilica de Salute, the Accademia Gallery (we decided not to go in, but we enjoyed the building and surrounding area), the courtyard and neighboring streets of the Palazzo Ca’ Rezzonico. The final stop we took it to was the famous Rialto bridge, where we got off, took some pictures, and got dinner.
Of course, the big thing to do in Venice is ride a gondola. If you want to have a really authentic, get-sung-to-on-the-water gondola ride, you need to plan ahead. We did not plan. All the gondoliers are a part of a guild, so they all pretty much cost around €80 for a ride. If you plan a few days ahead, you can buy a ride for €30-€50 that you split with six people (a Google search will provide you with a variety of options). If you don’t plan ahead or just don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a cheesy tourist attraction, there is a cheaper, easier way to ride a gondola on the canal: find a traghetto.
There are only 4 bridges that cross the Grand Canal, so for better ease of access, traghetti (the plural of traghetto) are basically ferries that cross from one side to the other. It only costs about €2 for tourists and is a good solution to be able to say you rode a gondola in Venice without the high price tag. For us, it was even useful as we took it from where we ate dinner near the Rialto fish market across the canal to the next bus stop. This post has a great explanation of how to ride a traghetto without looking like too much of a tourist, and where to find them.
We caught the water bus back to the train station and took our train back to Florence. It was a long two days, but absolutely worth it.
There’s always more to do in a city like Venice, but do you agree these are the highlights? Would you add anything to our list? Let me know in the comments below!