Romantic gondolas bobbing gently in the water. The Grand Canal, lined with elegant pastel palazzos. The pigeons of St. Mark’s Square. These iconic Venetian scenes are etched into our minds. It’s no wonder Venice is a bucket-list travel destination for many travelers! So it was for me, and I was thrilled when I finally got to visit. Read on to get the scoop on how to make the most of two days in Venice!
Venice spells mystery, romance, and old world charm. Magically rising out of the sea on an archipelago of dozens of islands, the city defies naysayers that point to unmanageable tourist crowds, decaying buildings, and a tourism-centric mindset that has residents leaving or resentful. Once you set foot on Venice, you cannot help but be beguiled by the city.
THE PERFECT ITINERARY FOR YOUR TWO DAYS IN VENICE
You could spend much longer than two days in Venice, of course. But in two days, you can explore many of the major sights, take part-day trips to a few outlying islands, and do a food tour or a cicchetti crawl to sample small plates.
So here’s what to do in Venice on a two-day visit:
Day One: Take in the views from the top of the Campanile
Start your two days in Venice by heading to the iconic Piazza San Marco. At the Piazza, walk over to the Campanile, the bell tower of the Basilica. At 325 feet tall, the graceful red brick tower is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
Originally built in the 9th century, the Campanile functioned as a lighthouse in early years. The structure was damaged by lightning numerous times and had to be restored over and over. The Campanile di San Marco is one of the few towers you will come across in Italy that has an elevator! That’s because the current version of the Campanile was built in 1912, after the prior structure cracked and collapsed in 1902.
Get whisked up the 300+ feet to the observation deck, where you will have expansive 360-degree views of Venice and the outlying islands. Move around and take photos from different sides, and savor the views of the red rooftops of Venice and the mighty domes of the Basilica di San Marco.
Day 1: Gaze at the Bridge of Sighs
Next, make your way to the edge of the Piazzetta (the portion of the square that leads to the water), to a little bridge on the left. If you stand on that bridge and look away from the Grand Canal, you can see the Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs). Where you’re standing is a great spot from which to photograph the famous white limestone bridge that connects the Doge’s Palace to the dungeons.
If you’re curious about the name, the story goes that prisoners being led to the dungeons sighed in sadness as they got their last look at Venice through the little view holes in this bridge. Hence the name, the Bridge of Sighs.
Whatever the reason behind the name, the bridge is beautiful. I was so excited it see in person after poring over tons of pictures of it on Instagram.
Day 1: Marvel at the Basilica di San Marco
Now it’s time to explore the magnificent Basilica di San Marco, with its lovely onion domes and mix of Italian and Byzantine architecture. Sadly, many of the mosaics you see both inside and outside are not originals: they had to be replaced in post-Renaissance times when the originals got damaged or destroyed.
Look up and admire the replicas of the Horses of St. Mark. The originals are in the museum inside the Basilica. Also look up and find the winged golden lion, the symbol of Venice.
Walk around to the back of the Basilica as well and wander around the beautiful courtyard. Admire the architectural detail that includes columns and sculptures.
Then step inside, into the cool interior. The gold frescoes, which cover the upper walls and ceilings, shimmer in the light, making you understand why this basilica is called the Church of Gold. You can’t take photographs inside.
Pro Tip: Pay to access the Treasury with its beautiful old relics, and the upstairs balcony. You’ll be able to get fabulous photos of the square from the balcony, as well as a closer look at the mosaics overhead.
Day One: Tour the Doge’s Palace
You can tour the Doge’s Palace on your own. There are information boards in each room. But this is one of the places where a guided tour or at least a self-guided audio tour would make the most sense in Venice.
The Palace has been damaged and destroyed several times by fires, most recently in the late 1500s. It is gorgeous inside. Walk through the opulent halls and grand rooms. Admire the works by many Venetian masters, including Titian and Tintoretto. Apart from being the Doge’s residence, this Palace was also used for government.
From the Palace, walk through the inside of the Bridge of Sighs, to peer out at Venice, just like the prisoners of yore! Then tour the dungeons on the other side.
Day 1: Walk over the Rialto Bridge
Following your tour of the Doge’s Palace, leave St. Mark’s Square and walk to another famous Venice landmark: the Rialto Bridge. The Rialto Bridge, made of stone, is the oldest of four bridges that span the Grand Canal. After lunch (pick a non-touristy place frequented by locals, do your research in advance!) near the Bridge, walk over the bridge, stopping at the top to take photos of beautiful views of the Grand Canal.
There are loads of shops here, and the area is always crowded, except for possibly at dawn. So when we visited, we didn’t linger too long.
Day 1: Enjoy the treasures at the Galleria dell’Accademia
With just two days in Venice, you don’t have the time to visit many museums, so you have to pick one or two that appeal to you the most. We chose the Accademia and loved it.
At the Accademia, the focus is pre-19th century art, with many masters represented. You’ll see many gorgeous works by Tintoretto and Titian, Giovanni Bellini, Hieronymus Bosch, and Paulo Veronese. Don’t miss the drawing of the Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci. Also don’t miss the works that show life in Venice in medieval times.
If the Accademia doesn’t appeal, consider the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of 20th century art. The building and garden are stunning as well. Or Ca’ Rezzonico, a beautiful Baroque palace with paintings and sculptures from the 18th century.
Day 1: Get lost in Venice!
Now it’s time for an activity you will love, getting lost in Venice! From the Accademia, walk towards Dorsoduro, one of the less commercial districts of Venice. Stay with directions until you hit Grom at Campo San Barnaba for gelato. Grom is a gelato chain, with numerous outlets across Italy. They serve gelato artigianale, the real stuff that tastes so delicious that once having tasted it, you’ll never settle for the puffy brightly-colored gelato clouds in touristy shops again.
Gelato in hand, roam the streets in Dorsoduro and further out in Canareggio for delightful glimpses into a quieter, more authentic Venice. This was one of the most fun parts of our two days in Venice, so the oft-repeated recommendation to “get lost in Venice” on purpose is right on the mark.
Walk along quiet side canals. See laundry hung out to dry on balconies, just like in the Instagram pictures! Take a break to have a drink or sample cicchetti in Dorsoduro or Canareggio.
On our wander, we saw off-duty gondoliers shooting the breeze at a little bridge, an old gentleman sitting outside a cafe contemplating the sunlight on the water, women passing by with shopping baskets and sometimes nodding “Buon giorno,” and gondolas lazily skimming the water. It was a wonderful walk
End your wander at a restaurant where you can either feast on cicchetti or have a regular meal.
Day 1: Enjoy a vaporetto cruise along the Grand Canal
As the first of your two days in Venice draws to a close, walk to the vaporetto stop at the Santa Lucia station and enjoy a ride along the Grand Canal all the way to St. Mark’s Square.
Admire the palazzos along the Grand Canal in the mellow light of late evening. If the day is shorter when you visit, enjoy them lit up. Either way, the ride is magical. Enhance your enjoyment with the free Rick Steves podcast.
Day 2: Enjoy St. Mark’s Square at sunrise
On day two, wake up early enough to be at the Piazza San Marco at around sunrise. If you take an early vaporetto, you’ll see the very first rays of the sun casting a beautiful glow over the buildings along the Grand Canal as you approach St. Mark’s Square.
The silhouette of Santa Maria della Salute framed by the Ponte dell’Accademia at sunrise is one of my most cherished memories of Venice.
At the Piazza San Marco, you will find it quiet and peaceful, with just a few early risers wandering around. Walk to the water’s edge at the Piazzetta. You’ll see empty blue gondolas bobbing in the San Marco Canal, and a golden glow illuminating the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore across the water.
This was the iconic image of Venice that I had carried with me through the years. It was an emotional moment, experiencing the scene in person.
Without crowds of people, you can appreciate at length the beauty of the architectural elements at various structures around the Piazza and the Piazzetta.
Day 2: Visit the island of San Giorgio Maggiore
After wandering your fill, take a vaporetto to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, the little island you see from the Piazza San Marco.
At San Giorgio Maggiore, take the elevator to the top of the Campanile for gorgeous views of Venice and other outlying islands. Explore the white marble church on San Giorgio Maggiore. It houses several large canvases by Tintoretto.
Take a vaporetto back to San Marco and head to Dorsoduro or Canareggio for lunch.
Day 2: Do a part-day trip to Murano and Burano
Next, it’s time to explore some of the outlying islands, for a taste of other parts of the Venetian archipelago. There are many options that make for a fun day trip or part-day trip from Venice. We chose Murano and Burano. But there are other equally wonderful options, such as exploring Sant’Erasmo on a Venice Food Tour or taking a vaporetto to Giudecca to explore its architecture.
Walk to the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop to take a vaporetto to visit Murano and Burano.
Murano is a group of little islands just north of Venice, famous for its glass. In the late 1200s, all the glassblowers on Venice were expelled to Murano because of the risk of fires. Murano became famous for its glass production techniques, and today, glass made in Murano using traditional techniques developed over the course of centuries is protected with a trademark.
Wander around and browse the glass shops. You’ll love the huge gorgeous chandeliers, lovely vases, and beautiful jewelry in different colors. We declined offers to view the glass production since we were short on time, but if you have the time, I’d suggest viewing a demo.
Walk to the Campo San Stefano near the clock tower, where a huge blue glass sculpture is on display. It is called “Comet Glass Star” and is reported to be made with several hundred blown glass pieces in multiple colors. It looks stunning.
Hop onto another vaporetto to visit Burano, also a collection of small islands linked by bridges. It is known for lace-making, but what makes Burano a magnet for visitors is the in-your-face colors of the little homes on both sides of the canals.
The colors are controlled by a governmental authority and they give you the color you must paint your home when you apply to paint the exterior. Apparently, the houses were painted bright in times past so that fisherfolk returning home could see them through fog.
Whatever the reason, they make for beautiful photos that will make your Instagram account pop.
Take a vaporetto back to Venice around sunset…it’s a magical time to return, with the rays of the setting sun casting a golden sheen over Venice.
Day 2: Do a bacaro tour
Instead of a sit down meal, experience the Venetian tradition of aperitivo and cicchetti at a variety of bacari (pubs) around the city. Try Prosecco, or a Spritzer. And taste bite-sized morsels of the specialties of the region: calamari, fried mozzarella, prosciutto with melon, a variety of olives, or crostini with toppings. You generally eat standing up at the bar, or even on the street just outside.
Move out of the main tourist drags and find places where you see lots of locals. That’s where the food will be delicious and the prices reasonable. Or join a good guided tour, for a hassle free evening of tasting.
Day 2: Enjoy a gondola ride
What better way to cap your visit to Venice than with a romantic gondola ride? Gondolas started out as regular means of transport, ferrying people around. At one time, there were thousands of gondolas in Venice. Today, only a few hundred gondolas are left. And they cater mainly to visitors.
Although it’s a touristy thing to do, and expensive as well, it still seems like something you must experience when you visit Venice. And the experience is lovely, especially if you pony up the additional fee for a night ride. For a more peaceful, more enjoyable experience, pick a route that’s mainly on the smaller side canals rather than the Grand Canal.
Pro Tip: Negotiate the price and the duration of the ride you’ll receive for the price, before you step into the gondola. Although there is supposed to be a set rate, it’s better to know the specifics for your ride ahead of time.
Where to stay
We stayed at the NH Collection Venezia Palazzo Barocci, a lovely hotel on the Grand Canal between the Rialto Bridge and the Piazza San Marco. A vaporetto stop was just steps away. The room was a little on the smaller side (to be expected in Venice) but very well appointed. We had booked the breakfast option, and the breakfast was awesome.
Stay in Venice, rather than on the mainland. That way, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the city late in the evening and early in the morning, when it’s less crowded. Venice at dawn and at night is magical.
Where to eat
Venice has both great food and terrible food. We experienced some of both in our two days there. I suggest doing research in advance to figure out a least a couple of meals at non-touristy places.
For a sit down meal near the Rialto Bridge, try Osteria di Santa Marina. You’ll enjoy great seafood-centric main courses here. In Canareggio, Anice Stellato offers both seafood and meat options. As a vegetarian, I had some yum potato gnocchi here, and my husband loved his fish dish.
You may be flying into Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport from overseas. The airport is located on the mainland. The water bus from the airport is a special service and the tickets have to be purchased separate from ticket or pass for the vaporetto, the water bus used for commuting within the city. You can also take the bus from the airport, or a taxi. We just had a carry-on each so the Alilaguna water bus made the most sense for us.
If you are traveling to Venice by car, you’ll have to find a parking lot outside the city to leave your vehicle. Paid parking lots are available near Piazzale Roma. If you are traveling to Venice by bus, you will alight at the Piazzale Roma bus terminal and then take a vaporetto to your hotel.
You can also travel to Venice by train from within Europe. You will alight at Venice’s train station, Santa Lucia, from where you can take a vaporetto to your hotel.
Pro Tip: It’s difficult to lug large suitcases on vaporetti, so a taxi might be a better option if you have lots of luggage.
The vaporetto or water bus is the most convenient way to get around, other than walking. We bought a two-day pass for the vaporetto, knowing that we would be using the service extensively.
When to visit
The best times to visit are April-May and September-October, but expect to deal with crowds. We visited in late September and Venice was very crowded. From November until March, the low season, you may encounter occasional flooding, and shorter hours for sights and services.
Where to Next?
On our three-week trip through Italy, we headed southwest to the Ligurian Coast from Venice. You could also go south to Florence, or perhaps the Emilia-Romagna region. Or head west to Milan and the Lake District.
So there you have it…my itinerary and suggestions for making the most of two days in Venice! Have you visited Venice? What was your favorite experience? If you haven’t visited yet, is it on your bucket list?
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO ITALY
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UNESCO SITES: 20 Stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy You Must Visit!
TUSCANY: Driving the Scenic Val d’Orcia in Tuscany
ROME: 25 Things to Do in Rome for First-Timers!
SIENA: One Day in he Stunning Tuscan Town of Siena
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