A city like no other, Venice seems like a destination that better belongs in fantasy than in northeast Italy. And yet, Venice is very real and manages to be just as spectacular as the hype surrounding it. A floating city of islands in a lagoon off the Adriatic Sea, La Serenissima as it’s called, is flooded with grand history and a wholly unique way of life. No wonder then that it is an essential stop on anyone’s first trip to Italy.
Traveling to this magical destination, it’s important to plan out your Venice itinerary in advance so as to not get too overwhelmed. There’s an awful lot of things to do in Venice and even just getting through the best places to visit in Venice will take you at least 2 days. To help you plan a trip here, we’ve put together this itinerary so that you can comfortably navigate what to do in Venice in 2 days. You likely won’t want to leave but when you do, you’ll leave knowing that it really is as magical as it seems.
Best Time to Visit Venice
With just 48 hours in Venice , a lot is riding on picking the right time to visit. Not only do you have to take into consideration the weather, but also the crowds. Venice has regularly popped up in conversations on over tourism as the city struggles to deal with the volume of visitors coming in on cruise ships throughout the summer. In fact, overcrowding, raised prices, and stifling heat make summer, and especially August the least ideal time to visit.
Instead, the best time to visit Venice are the months on either side of summer, namely April, May, and late September. During these months, the crowds of tourists are a little lighter and the weather is more comfortably mild.
Alternatively, the winter low season is when visitors are greeted with cold, wet weather and a greater chance of flooding. A bright spot, despite the cooler weather however is February, when Venice holds its world famous Carnevale festival. There’s nothing quite like seeing this gorgeous city full of merrymakers adorned in elaborate costumes and carnival masks.
How to Get Around Venice
A city of canals, getting around during your weekend in Venice is a little different than your average destination. With no cars and no roads, your options change drastically. For general sightseeing and exploring through the central districts, you can get around by walking pretty comfortably. The layout of the street in Venice is quite a maze though, so don’t be surprised if you get lost along the way.
One of the most popular activities while visiting Venice is of course to go on a gondola ride. While a gentle and truly Venetian way of seeing the city, gondolas are a special experience rather than a regular means of transport.
No, to get around Venice’s waterways you want to make use of the city’s vaporettos. These vaporettos not only run along from Venezia Santa Lucia down the Grand Canal, but also out to Venice’s many islands. Tickets, which also work for public transport in Mestre, start at €7.50 for a single trip ticket, with 24 hour and 48 hour tickets offering much better value. You can buy your tickets in advance here.
If you’ve driven to Venice, you’re going to need to park your rental car for the duration of your visit. You have the choice of parking back on the mainland at Mestre, on the island of Tronchetto, or at Piazzale Roma. The first two are cheaper options but will require some form of public transport to help you get into Venice proper. Piazzale Roma is a square in Venice, at the entrance of the city, so parking is a lot more expensive there.
To get from the airport to Venice you can either take the Express Airport Bus or a shared water taxi. The water taxi is more expensive but it gives you an amazing first look at Venice as you arrive at your hotel in comfort and style.
Accommodation in Venice
Venice has long drawn visitors and as such the city has plenty of accommodation on offer. Of course, given its popularity, Venice is definitely a place where you want to book accommodation well in advance. What’s more, knowing where to stay in Venice can have a big impact on your time in the city enjoying the sights.
To understand the layout of the city, you need to know that Venice is divided into six districts, or sestiere. Ultimately, the best places to stay in Venice are those in the two central sestieri of San Marco and San Polo. Because Venice is a labyrinth of canals and small streets, you’re not going to want to stay far from the main sights or a vaporetto stop, which these two neighborhoods provide. Budget travelers planning a trip to Venice sometimes consider the city of Mestre over on the mainland as rooms are cheaper there and they can commute over for the day, but it doesn’t provide quite the same experience.
To give your time in Venice a touch of class, stay at the 4-star Splendid Venice hotel just a stone’s throw from Piazza San Marco. With lavish decor and extreme comfort, this hotel not only has a rooftop terrace but also a private pier.
Balancing comfort and cost, Hotel Serenissima is ideal for those looking to stay squarely in the center of Venice. This traditional 2-star hotel is particularly welcoming thanks to the warm and friendly staff who run it.
Budget accommodation isn’t easy to come by on the islands of Venice, but A&O Hotel Venezia Mestre helps with that. Situated on the mainland, this hotel has some of the cheapest and cleanest dorms and rooms around and puts you right by the train station which will take you into Venice each day. For more hostel recommendations, see our Venice hostel guide.
For more accommodation options in Venice check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Venice Itinerary
Venice has no shortage of sights and places to visit, so filling two or more days here is not difficult at all. Even just wandering from one canal to the next, marveling that this place exists, could fill a day if you let it. Still, if you’re only staying for a short time, you’re going to want to ensure you cover all of the best things to do in Venice while you’re there. To do so means starting with the central district of San Marco and then venturing out to the neighboring districts and islands that take your fancy.
However, before we get to our Venice itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $40 a month, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick quote below:
Getting back to our Venice travel itinerary, it’s time to dive in and uncover all the wonderful places that are in store for you while exploring Venice in 2 days.
Day 1 in Venice
Arriving in the city, the obvious choice is to head straight for the highlights and best of Venice. There’s no sense waiting when you have this floating city in front of you.
One feature of Venice that is impossible to miss is the mighty Grand Canal, the major waterway that carves through the heart of the city. Curving a backwards “S” through Venice, the waterfront of the Grand Canal is where you’ll find many of the city’s most beautiful palaces and buildings. One way to see the waterfront is to hop aboard a vaporetto and take it along the canal. Alternatively, you can try to find your way walking through the maze of Venice and pop out by the canal at different spots to see different sections.
Surely the most popular spot along the Grand Canal is the exquisite Ponte Rialto bridge. Joining the sestieri of San Polo and San Marco, the Rialto Bridge is an important crossing for those walking around Venice. But with its arched design and portico, the bridge is also a splendid sight and rightfully an icon of the city. It also makes another great viewpoint for looking out along the Grand Canal, which means it tends to be busy with tourists snapping photos.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Deep in the backstreets of San Marco, lies a great underrated attraction, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. A 15th century palace built for Venice’s founding families, the sight that most people come to see is the stunning “scala” or spiral staircase that runs up the side of the palace. From the top most terrace you’re treated to a nice view across the city’s rooftops, but the real draw is seeing this brick and marble spiral staircase up close.
Piazza San Marco
Venice’s largest and most famous square, the Piazza San Marco is a must on any visit to Venice. On three sides of this rectangular square, grand arcades overlook visitors as they take in the many landmarks found here. In fact, many of Venice’s most famous sights are located around St Mark’s Square, each of which we’ll look at in detail. It’s incredible that even landmarks like the Torre dell’ Orologio clock tower and the Museo Correr art museum get barely a mention among such esteemed company.
Connecting off the piazza is the Piazzetta which sits in front of the Doge’s Palace and by the waterfront. It’s from the Piazzetta that you can enjoy views out to other sestieri and islands of Venice, many of which we’ll get to later.
Saint Mark’s Basilica
You’d have a hard time counting all of Venice’s churches, let alone visiting them, but one you certainly have to see is St Mark’s Basilica at one end of the Piazza San Marco. Once the private chapel for the Doge, the leader of Venice, this basilica has been the city cathedral since 1807.
What makes St Mark’s so enticing to visitors is the basilica’s unusual style of architecture and interior decor. As it was first built around the 11th century, the church bears many interesting characteristics from that time period. The most obvious features to visitors are the elaborate Byzantine-style architecture which looks like it belongs much farther east, and the mass of gold and mosaic tiles which cover the building inside and out. You really need to head inside the basilica so that you can fully appreciate just how much gold there is and how detailed some of the mosaics are.
St. Mark’s Campanile
Although it stands apart from the basilica, the Campanile di San Marco nearby in Piazza San Marco is the bell tower of the church. Among the buildings of Piazza San Marco the Campanile stands out, not only because of its height but also because of the red brick used to build it. Originally, the Campanile functioned both as a lighthouse and belltower which makes sense in a place like Venice, especially when the tower is visible across much of the city.
Frequently damaged over the centuries since it was first completed in the 16th century, the tower completely collapsed in 1902 but has now been rebuilt. These days you can climb the tower stairs to enjoy the spectacular views of Venice from the top. It’s hard to find another view like it in Venice, given that you’re 98 meters up from the square below.
Next to St Mark’s Basilica on the Piazzetta sits one last major attraction in this part of the city, the Doge’s Palace. Back when Venice was a republic and major European player, its leader who resided here was the Doge. Built on the remains of old fortifications, the Doge’s Palace dates from the 14th and 15th century. It is this longevity that has allowed the palace to keep its Gothic and Renaissance features from back then.
On a visit to the Doge’s Palace, you’re able to see much of this exceptional place. As you go through the palace, you’ll take in plenty of museum exhibits, the former prisons, the armories and the Doge’s Apartments. One particularly special spot is the inner courtyard of the palace, where you’ll see grandiose staircases, ornate wells, and even a side of the neighboring basilica. Once you start taking into account the three levels of the palace, plus works of art from names like Titian and Bellini, it’s easy to see how you could spend a long time here.
Recommendation: Ticket lines for the Doge’s Palace can get super long, so we highly recommend that you either purchase a skip-the-line ticket in advance or join a guided tour. This 2-hour guided tour comes highly recommended as it not only includes a tour of the Doge’s Palace but also the St. Mark’s Basilica.
Bridge of Sighs
Tucked around behind the Doge’s Palace near the waterfront, the Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful sight and yet is as sad as its name suggests. This covered bridge carved from limestone connected the New Prison with cells in the palace, meaning it was mostly used to move prisoners around. And yet, looking at this exquisite bridge crossing this scenic canal you’d never imagine that was its purpose.
Day 2 in Venice
The best way to make the most of your second day in Venice is by heading out to explore other islands and districts of Venice. You won’t be able to visit all of them in a single day but you can take your pick of a few.
For example, Burano and Murano can both be visited in half a day, if you join a guided tour like this one. Leaving you with enough time to check out some of the other Venetian neighborhoods mentioned below afterwards.
San Giorgio Maggiore
Standing on the waterfront of Piazza San Marco, it’s hard to miss the sight across the water of San Giorgio Maggiore. Really the only reason this small island is able to be spotted from afar is the large Church of San Giorgio Maggiore which dominates the island. Besides a visit to the church, visitors can walk out to the island’s lighthouse and admire the various and ever-changing art installations which liven up the gardens behind the church.
Just across from San Giorgio Maggiore lies the large, laidback island of Giudecca. Once an industrial area full of factories, warehouses, and shipyards, Giudecca has morphed into an intriguing mix of old and new. With a visit to the Casa dei Tre Oci you’re able to admire the inventive Neo-gothic architecture of this house, which is now an art gallery. Visit the former industrial area around the Junghans Theatre though and you’ll see a decidedly modern neighborhood in both look and feel.
The skyline of the island is defined by two important historic churches, Le Zittele, a church and convent for young women, and the marbled-domed Il Redentore built in thanks to God for ending the plague.
Sitting across the Grand Canal from San Marco, the sestiere of Dorsoduro is considered one of the quieter, more genuine parts of Venice. And yet, there’s no shortage of things to do in Dorsoduro if you’re seeking sights and culture. It all starts with the incredibly striking Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and the Punta della Dogana art museum at its very eastern point.
From there, you have your pick of vast, world-class museums like the Gallerie dell’Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim Collection. There are also countless gorgeous waterfront palaces and churches, including the tiny Chapel of San Vio, magnificent Palazzo Cini, and museum Ca’ Rezzonico. In fact, there’s so much more to Dorsoduro that you could easily spend the day there without issue.
This large sestiere at the eastern end of Venice offers up quite an interesting mix of places to visit. While the district stretches almost to Piazza San Marco, you need to journey quite a ways in to Castello to reach its best known spots. A great place to start is with the Venetian Arsenal, a medieval shipyard with exquisite architecture and the massive, ancient Piraeus Lion statue.
Besides beautiful architecture, Castello is a center of art thanks to the Venice Biennale. Now a world-wide arts organization, the Biennale started here in Venice. Held every two years and running for about six months at a time, you can explore exhibits of the Art Biennale at the Giardini Della Biennale and Arsenal.
Far from the city center among the islands of the Venetian Lagoon rests the fishing island of Burano. A humble village, tourists are drawn to the island by its famed rows of brightly colored houses. For photographers and Instagrammers, Burano is a dream come true and best appreciated by exploring its back streets. Other staples of the island you can enjoy include the fresh seafood caught by local fisherman and the delicate lace fabrics that formed the other side of Burano’s trade.
Similar in some ways to Burano, Murano is another joined group of islands known for its colorful traditional waterfront houses. But unlike Burano, Murano is much larger and much closer to Venice, making it a much easier place to explore. You’ll also see that Murano has a few more landmarks to it, such as the Murano Lighthouse and Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato. Murano may be best known however for its local glassmakers, their workshops, and creations like the Cometa di Vetro.
It’s interesting that in some ways, Lido may be the most unlikely of all of Venice’s islands. That’s because on Lido you’ll find a great long beach, as well as roads and cars! Yes, counter to popular opinion, there are cars in some parts of Venice. But you don’t visit Lido to see cars, you come for its beaches, nature reserves, and in September, the Venice Film Festival. The public and private beaches on Lido are the common draw for many day trippers. A solid choice if you’re after some sun and a break from sightseeing.
And with that, you’re now ready to make your friends and family totally jealous while you spend 2 days in Venice. Once they see photos of all the awesome places you got to visit, they’ll no doubt be planning their own trip.