Venice Travel Guide

Venice has been depicted and described so often that on arriving in the city you might have the slightly anticlimactic feeling that everything looks exactly as expected. The Canal Grande’s water-lapped palaces are indeed as picturesque as the coffee-table books made them out to be, Piazza San Marco is as perfect as a film set, and the panorama from the Palazzo Ducale is more or less as Canaletto painted it. Any sense of familiarity quickly fades, however, as you start to look around: seeing a stack of furniture being hoisted from a barge up to a top-floor window, or someone fishing knee- deep in the lagoon a hundred metres from dry land, you understand that life here is not like life anywhere else. And the more closely you look, the more fascinating Venice becomes.

Venice: a city shaped by history and water

Founded on a cluster of mudflats in the heart of the lagoon 1,500 years ago, Venice emerged as Europe's principal exchange between the West and the East. At its zenith, it commanded an empire stretching north to the Dolomites and across the sea to Cyprus. The city's wealth and population swelled, densifying its urban fabric amidst a unique blend of nature and man-made marvels. 

Today, the historical centre, comprising roughly a hundred islets, leaves no space undeveloped, no street or square without a trace of Venice's illustrious past. It's common to stumble upon medieval remnants in even the most hidden alleyways, embedding the city's rich lineage into its very walls.

Yet, Venice's melancholic charm partly stems from the contrast between its historic grandeur and its current state. Once home to 200,000 residents during the Venetian Republic's golden age, the city's population has significantly dwindled. It was a bustling metropolis, attracting merchants from across the globe, its economy setting continental benchmarks from the Rialto's banks and bazaars. 

The Arsenale's vast workforce could construct a warship in a day, and Piazza San Marco was a perpetual hub of commerce and governance. Now, Venice stands as a testament to its spectacular heritage, its survival heavily reliant on those drawn to its enduring legacy.

 San Marco square from the water © Shutterstock

 San Marco square from the water © Shutterstock

10x the best things to do in Venice

Venice, a city spread across 118 islands, is interlinked by 435 bridges into six districts known as sestieri. The city's cultural richness extends to over fifty churches and revered institutions like the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, showcasing masterpieces by Tintoretto and Carpaccio.

You can't see everything, and we don't suggest you try, so here's a list of things we think, you need to visit!

Editors tip: make sure to read the 20 best things to do in Venice.

#1 Admire the Basilica di San Marco

San Marco is the most exotic of Europe’s cathedrals, and it has always provoked strong reactions. To Herman Melville, it was beautiful and insubstantial – as though “the Grand Turk had pitched his pavilion here for a summer’s day”. Mark Twain adored it for its “entrancing, tranquillizing, soul-satisfying ugliness”.

Herbert Spencer found it “a fine sample of barbaric architecture”; and to John Ruskin, it was the most gorgeous of holy places, a “treasure-heap…a confusion of delight”.

The Basilica di San Marco is certainly confusing, increasingly so as you come nearer and the details emerge, but some knowledge of the building’s background helps bring a little order out of the chaos.


Tips from Martina

Italy Travel Expert


"Don't just visit our famed canals, but also visit the cities less trodden paths. Delve into the serene atmosphere of the Cannaregio district, a treasure trove of local life, far from the crowd. Here, the authentic Venetian lifestyle unfolds in quiet squares and along peaceful canals".

St. Mark's Basilica and St.Mark's Campanile above the San Marco square in Venice © Shutterstock

St. Mark's Basilica and St.Mark's Campanile above the San Marco Square in Venice © Shutterstock

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy © Apple Kullathida/Shutterstock

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy © Apple Kullathida/Shutterstock

#2 Embrace the art in Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

Venice has two brilliant cycles of pictures by Vittore Carpaccio – one is in the Accademia, and the other is in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, which sits beside a canal to the south of San Francesco.

By the mid-fifteenth century, though, Venice’s Slavic inhabitants were sufficiently established for a scuola to be set up to protect their interests. After several years of meeting in the church of San Giovanni di Malta, the scuola built itself a new headquarters on the church’s doorstep at the start of the sixteenth century and summoned Carpaccio to brighten up the first-storey hall.

Painted from 1502 to 1508, after the Accademia’s St Ursula cycle, Carpaccio’s pictures were moved downstairs when the building was rearranged in 1551, and the interior has scarcely changed since.

#3 Stroll through the lively Rialto market

It was through the markets of the Rialto that Venice earned its reputation as the bazaar of Europe. Virtually anything could be bought or sold here: fabrics, precious stones, silver plate and gold jewellery, spices and dyes from the Orient. Trading had been going on here for over four hundred years when, in the winter of 1514, a fire destroyed everything in the area except the church.

The possibility of relocating the business centre was discussed but found little favour, so reconstruction began almost straight away: the Fabbriche Vecchie was finished eight years after the fire, and Sansovino’s Fabbriche Nuove followed about thirty years later.

Today’s Rialto market is much more modest than that of Venice at its peak, but it’s still one of the liveliest spots in the city and one of the few places where it’s possible to stand in a crowd and hear nothing but Italian-spoken.

#4 Take a tour of San Giorgio Maggiore

Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore, facing the Palazzo Ducale across the Bacino di San Marco is one of the most prominent and familiar of all Venetian landmarks. It is a startling building, with an impact that’s enhanced by its isolation on an island of its own.

Ruskin didn’t much care for it: “It is impossible to conceive a design grosser, more barbarous, more childish in conception, more servile in plagiarism, more insipid in result, more contemptible under every point of rational regard.”

Goethe, on the other hand, was sick of the Gothic art that was to Ruskin the touchstone of spiritual health and gave thanks to Palladio for purging his mind of medieval clutter.

#5 Enjoy the spectacle of the Regata Storica

Held on the first Sunday in September, the Regata Storica is the annual trial of strength and skill for the city’s gondoliers and other expert rowers. It starts with a procession of historic craft along the Canal Grande course, their crews all decked out in a period dress, followed by a series of races right up the canal.

Re-enacting the return of Caterina Cornaro to her native city in 1489, the opening parade is a spectacular affair and is followed by a race for young rowers in two-oared pupparini. The women come next (in boats called mascarete), followed by a race for canoe-like caorline; and then it’s the men’s race, in specialized two-man racing gondolas called gondolini.

Gondolas in Venice © Shutterstock

Gondolas in Venice © Shutterstock

#6 Go on a day trip to Torcello

“Mother and daughter, you behold them both in their widowhood – Torcello and Venice.” So wrote John Ruskin, and it’s almost impossible to visit Torcello without similarly sensing an atmosphere of bereavement. This outlying island has now come almost full circle.

Settled by the very first refugees from the mainland in the fifth century, it became the seat of the bishop of Altinum in 638 and in the following year its cathedral – the oldest building in the lagoon – was founded.

By the fourteenth century, its population had peaked at around twenty thousand, but Torcello’s canals were now silting up and malaria was rife. By the end of the fifteenth century, Torcello was largely deserted – even the bishop lived in Murano – and today fewer than a dozen people remain in residence.

Read more about the best day trips from Venice.

#7 Explore Burano and Murano islands

Take a fascinating day trip to the Venetian islands of Burano and Murano, each with a special charm that complements the glamour of Venice.

A short vaporetto ride from the main island takes you to the vibrant realm of Burano, known for its rainbow-coloured houses and intricate lacework. Wander through narrow streets decorated with colourful linens and observe the artistry of local lacemakers, whose tradition dates back several centuries. The island's serene canals and warm, welcoming atmosphere make it the perfect place for a leisurely lunch by the water's edge.

Then head to the island of Murano, considered the birthplace of Venetian glassmaking. Explore its rich history and modern innovations by visiting the glass factories, where master craftsmen skilfully mould molten glass into intricate shapes. Discover a fascinating variety of glassware, from exquisite jewellery to ornate chandeliers. See ancient techniques passed down through generations and learn about this age-old craft.

Venice landmark, Burano island canal, colorful houses and boats, Italy © StevanZZ/Shutterstock

Venice landmark, Burano island, Italy © StevanZZ/Shutterstock

#8 Attend Venice Biennale

If you have a keen interest in contemporary art and international culture, timing your visit to coincide with the Venice Biennale can be a fantastic idea. The Venice Biennale, Europe’s most glamorous international forum for contemporary art, was first held in 1895 as the city’s contribution to the celebrations for the silver wedding anniversary of King Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy.

The main site is by the Giardini Pubblici, with permanent pavilions for about forty countries plus space for a thematic international exhibition. This core part of the Biennale is supplemented by exhibitions in parts of the Arsenale that are otherwise closed to the public, such as the colossal Corderie or Tana and the Artiglierie.

In addition, various palaces and other sites throughout the city are used as national pavilions and as venues for fringe exhibitions, installations and performances.

Biennale, Venice ©  avphotosales/Shutterstock

Biennale, Venice © avphotosales/Shutterstock

#9 Make a pilgrimage to Santa Maria della Salute

In 1630–31 Venice was devastated by a plague that exterminated nearly 95,000 of the lagoon’s population – one person in three. In October 1630 the Senate decreed that a new church would be dedicated to the Virgin Mary if the city were saved. The result was the Salute – salute meaning “health” and “salvation” – or Santa Maria della Salute, to use its full title.

Resting on a platform of more than 100,000 wooden piles, the Salute took half a century to build; its architect, Baldassare Longhena, was only 26 years old when his proposal was accepted. He lived just long enough to see it finished – he died in 1682, one year after completion.

Each year on November 21 (the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin) the Signoria is processed from San Marco to the Salute for a service of thanksgiving. The Festa della Madonna della Salute is still a major event in the Venetian calendar, with thousands of people making their way here to pray for or give thanks for good health.

#10 Discover the hidden gem of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

Located in a charming labyrinth of Venetian alleyways, Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is an amazing hidden gem waiting to be discovered. This architectural gem, often unnoticed by the crowd, charms those who dare to discover it. The main feature of the palace is the "Scala Contarini del Bovolo", a spiral staircase that rises gracefully upwards and is decorated with elegant arches that create a complex play of light and shadow.

As you ascend this spiral staircase, you are transported to another era where the artistic vision of the Contarini family is brought to life with breathtaking detail. As you climb up, the panorama of red-tiled roofs and Venetian vistas opens up, giving you a glimpse of a timeless city.

Food and drink in Venice

There’s more than an element of truth to Venice’s reputation as a place where mass tourism has produced monotonous menus, cynical service and slapdash standards in the kitchen. Venice has fewer good, moderately priced restaurants than any other major Italian city, it has more really bad restaurants than any other, and in some of the expensive establishments you’re paying not for a fine culinary creation but for the experience of dining in an expensive Venetian restaurant. 

However, things have been getting better in recent years, and in the less overrun parts of Venice there are now several good places where you can get a decent two-course meal, plus house wine, for €35–40 per person – which, in this city, is reasonable.

Eating out in San Marco

  • Ai Mercanti: Revamped in 2013, Ai Mercanti in San Marco offers imaginative dishes like pumpkin and coffee bean risotto, starting at €13. Its dark wood and golden décor create a unique atmosphere. Open Mon 7–10:30pm, Tues–Sat 12:30–3pm & 7–10:30pm.
  • Al Bacareto: A local favorite for over forty years, Al Bacareto offers genuine Venetian cuisine with main courses ranging from €15–20. Opt for cicheti at the bar for a taste of Venice on a budget.

Eating out in San Polo and Santa Croce

  • Al Nono Risorto: Nestled off Campo San Cassiano, Al Nono Risorto attracts a young crowd with its pizzeria-restaurant vibe, live jazz and blues, and a charming small garden. Note: No credit cards accepted. Open Mon & Tues–Sun noon–2:30pm & 7–11pm.
  • Alla Madonna: For over sixty years, Alla Madonna has served seafood in a lively, old-style setting, now managed by the founder's son. The ambiance is bustling, and the service quick. Despite recent price hikes, it offers relatively good value at about €45/person. Open Mon, Tues & Thurs–Sun noon–3pm & 7–10pm.

Venice ©Shutterstock

Best areas to stay in Venice

Insatiable demand makes Venice’s hotels the most expensive in Western Europe. What’s more, the high season here is longer than anywhere else in the country, but many places don’t recognize the existence of a low season any more.

There are, though, a few good-value hotels to be found in the city, and an ever-increasing number of bed and breakfast places, as well as a plethora of apartments for rent.

San Marco

If you want to spend time surrounded by luxury, San Marco is the most suitable neighbourhood to do so. San Marco is the heart of Venice, home to the famous St Mark's Square, the magnificent St Mark's Basilica and the majestic Doge's Palace.

This neighbourhood offers exclusive shopping opportunities, high-end restaurants and breathtaking views of the canals. Treat yourself to luxurious accommodation options, including five-star hotels that offer stunning views of the city's landmarks. However, be prepared for higher prices as San Marco is a premium neighbourhood.


Dorsoduro is a neighbourhood worth staying in Venice for its artistic heritage and lively cultural life. Home to the prestigious Accademia Gallery and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, this neighbourhood attracts art lovers from all over the world.

Dorsoduro is also home to the University of Ca' Foscari, giving the neighbourhood a lively and youthful energy.

San Polo and Santa Croce

If you are looking for a place to stay in Venice to experience local Venetian life, the ideal neighbourhoods are San Polo and Santa Croce. These neighbourhoods exude genuine charm with their narrow streets, small squares and bustling markets.

Also, a must-see in these neighbourhoods are the Rialto Bridge, the lively Rialto Market and the historic church of San Giacomo di Rialto. Accommodation options, from cosy guesthouses to charming boutique hotels, provide an authentic Venetian experience.


The Cannaregio neighbourhood may not have any major attractions, but it is a place to stay to experience the atmosphere of Venice. Cannaregio is a less crowded residential neighbourhood that offers a more local and authentic experience. It is known for its picturesque canals, historic synagogues and lively Jewish ghetto.

Central Castello

Castello, located east of San Marco, is Venice's largest and most traditional neighbourhood. With winding streets, small squares and local shops, this neighbourhood has a more relaxed atmosphere.

Castello is home to the impressive Arsenale and the Biennale Gardens, where the prestigious Venice Biennale art exhibition takes place. Castello offers a wide range of accommodation options, from budget guesthouses to elegant boutique hotels.

Browse the best hotels in Venice.

The Canals of Venice, in Italy © Shutterstock

The Canals of Venice, in Italy © Shutterstock

Best time to visit Venice

Choosing the right time to visit Venice can greatly influence the experience one gains from this enchanting city. Spring (April, May and June) and early autumn (September to October) are often considered the best seasons to explore Venice.

During these periods, the weather is pleasantly mild, and the city is less crowded than in the peak summer months (July and August). Strolling through the labyrinthine streets, gliding along the serene canals, and marvelling at the architecture under the warm sunlight becomes an immersive experience.

The winter months (November and January) can be cold. Venice's renowned events like the Carnival in February and the Venice Biennale in odd-numbered years draw a diverse array of international visitors, adding a unique cultural dimension to the visit. December is usually busy with locals but a fun time to visit.

Find out more about the best time to visit Italy.

How to get around

The topography of Venice is uniquely complicated, and at first glance its public transport looks as convoluted as a wiring diagram. But the situation isn’t as daunting as it first appears: there are clear main routes through the warren of Venice’s alleyways, and you’ll need to get to grips with only a few of the water-bus routes.

Venice Water-Bus fares and tickets explained

Single journey & special ticket:

  • Standard Ticket: €7, valid for 60 minutes with unlimited changes, not usable for return trips.
  • One-Stop Ticket: €4, ideal for short crossings like San Zaccaria to San Giorgio Maggiore.
  • Luggage Fee: €7 for each piece of large luggage beyond the first.
  • Concessions: Children under 4 travel free. Wheelchair users pay €1.30; their companion travels free.

Save with Travel Cards

To avoid high single-ticket costs, consider ACTV Tourist Travel Cards

  • 24 hours: €20
  • 48 hours: €30
  • 72 hours: €40
  • 7 days: €60
  • Rolling Venice Cardholders: Special 72-hour card for €20
  • Airport Bus Supplement: €4 per journey with any ACTV pass.

Where to buy

  • Tickets: Landing stages, shops with the ACTV sign, tourist offices.
  • ravel Cards: Tourist offices, Piazzale Roma, train station, airport, and selected vaporetto stops like Ca’ d’Oro and San Marco Vallaresso.

Gondola rides in Venice

Gondola Navigation

Thanks to their design, gondolas can navigate Venice's narrow and shallow canals effortlessly, a testament to the gondoliers' skill. Previously a hereditary job, now anyone can become a gondolier after completing 400 hours of rigorous training, which covers manual skills, canal navigation, and the history of the profession. In 2010, Venice celebrated its first female gondolier, Giorgia Boscolo.

Costs & Hours

  • Standard Fare: €80 for a 40-minute ride for up to six passengers. After 7pm until 8am, the rate increases to €100.
  • Extended rides:Additional 20 minutes cost €40, or €50 after 7pm.
  • Extras: Expect surcharges for an accordionist or tenor. Note that there's a debate on banning "O Sole Mio" to avoid stereotypical Italian experiences.

Avoiding overcharges 

Although fares are regulated, some gondoliers might charge more. Always confirm the price before departure. For a reliable service, use official gondola stands located at key points throughout the city, including Calle Vallaresso, Campo San Moisè, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, Bacino Orseolo, in front of the Palazzo Ducale, Riva degli Schiavoni near the Danieli hotel, the train station, Piazzale Roma, Campo Santa Sofia near Ca’ d’Oro, San Tomà, and Rialto Bridge on Riva Carbon.

Venice Water Taxis

Venice's water taxis are stylish, fast, and can navigate most canals, accommodating up to 10 passengers. However, they're known for being one of the priciest taxi services in Western Europe.


  • Base Rate: Starts at €15, with €2 added every minute.
  • Surcharges: €10 per extra passenger beyond five. €5 for each luggage piece over five. €10 for rides between 10pm and 7am.

Booking tips

  • Direct booking from stands or catching an available taxi can save surcharges.
  • Phone bookings and concierge-arranged rides include additional fees.
Epiphany Regatta in Venice © Shutterstock

Epiphany Regatta in Venice © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Venice?

The ideal number of days to spend in Venice depends on your interests, the pace of your trip and what you want to see. Here are general guidelines to help you plan your visit:

If your schedule is tight, you can manage to experience the main attractions of Venice in one or two days. Focus on the main sights such as St Mark's Square, St Mark's Basilica, Doge's Palace, take a gondola ride and perhaps stroll the streets. However, this will not allow you to explore more than the iconic sites.

3-4 days will give you a better chance of experiencing the essence of Venice. You'll be able to see the main sights, take a day trip to nearby islands such as Burano and Murano, and in your free time wander off the beaten track, discover local restaurants and soak up the unique atmosphere.

If you have more time, you can truly immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of Venice. In addition to the above, you can visit less crowded areas, art galleries and museums, attend cultural events or festivals, and take day trips to neighbouring cities such as Padua or Verona.

Venice, Canal, Italy

Venice, Canal, Italy @ Shutterstock

How to get here

Before you can lose yourself in its winding waterways and historic charm, you'll need to figure out the best way to get there. Whether you're flying in from across the globe or making your way from a nearby European city, various options are available to suit every budget and travel style.

    By plane

  • Flights from the UK and Ireland: Direct flights take around two hours from London. EasyJet flies between two and four times daily, while its chief rival, Ryanair, has one or two flights each day from London and less frequent services to Treviso from Bristol, East Midlands, Manchester and Edinburgh. Aer Lingus (Dublin) flies to Marco Polo up to five times per week, while Ryanair flies three or four times a week to Treviso in high season.
  • Flights from the US and Canada: The only direct service to Venice from the US is with Delta, who fly from New York to Marco Polo up to six times a week in summer. Air Canada has direct flights from Montréal to Venice, and various indirect flights from Toronto and Montréal, usually via Frankfurt or New York.

By train

The choice of rail routes and fares is hugely complex, but the cheapest route is to take the Eurostar from London to Paris, then change to the high-speed TGV from Paris to Milan, and change there for the “Frecciarossa” to Florence. The total journey time is 14–18 hours, and with some online research, you can put together a one-way ticket for a little over the cost of a return flight, though peak prices are considerably higher.

If you take a couchette, using the “Thello” sleeper for the stage from Paris to Milan doesn’t add much to the cost. Booking for these continental routes usually opens three months before the day of travel. Discounts for under-26s are sometimes available and advance booking is essential. If you’re planning to include Italy as part of a longer European trip you could choose to invest in an InterRail pass.

Find out the best ways to get to Italy.

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 11.04.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

Ready to travel and discover

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍