A city like no other, Venice seems like it belongs more in fantasy than in Northeast Italy. But Venice is very real, of course, and lives up to its spectacular hype. Nicknamed “La Serenissima,” this floating city of islands in a lagoon off the Adriatic Sea is flooded with grand history and a wholly unique way of life. No wonder it’s an essential stop on anyone’s first trip to Italy!
If you’re traveling to this magical destination, it’s important to plan out your Venice itinerary in advance to avoid getting overwhelmed. There’s an awful lot to do in the city; even just the very best places to visit in Venice will take you at least two days to see. 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 two days. You likely won’t want to leave, but by the time you do, you’ll know that Venice really is as magical as it seems.
Best Time to Visit Venice
When you have just 48 hours in Venice, a lot is riding on the timing of your visit. You have to consider not only the weather, but also the crowds. Venice regularly pops up in conversations about overtourism, as the city struggles to deal with the volume of visitors coming in on cruise ships throughout the summer. Overcrowding, raised prices, and stifling heat make summer – especially August – the least desirable time to visit.
The best time to visit Venice is either side of summer – April and May or late September. During these months, the crowds are a little lighter and the weather is more comfortably mild.
Winter visitors to Venice face cold, wet weather and a greater chance of flooding. However, one bright spot in this low season is the world-famous Carnival of Venice in February. There’s nothing like seeing this gorgeous city full of merrymakers adorned in elaborate costumes and carnival masks.
How to Get Around Venice
Getting around during your weekend in Venice is quite different from navigating your average destination. With no cars or roads in this city of canals, your options change drastically. For general sightseeing and exploring the central districts, you can get around pretty comfortably on foot. The street layout is quite a maze, though, so you can expect to get lost a few times.
Of course, one of the most popular activities while visiting Venice is to take a gondola ride. While this is a gentle and truly Venetian way of seeing the city, it’s more of a special experience than a regular means of transport.
To get around Venice’s waterways, use the vaporettos. These canal boats run from Venezia Santa Lucia (the central station) down the Grand Canal and even to Venice’s many islands. Vaporetto passes, which also work for public transport in Mestre, start at €7.50 (about $8.41) 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 drive to Venice, you’ll need to park your rental car for the duration of your visit. You can park back on the mainland in Mestre, on the island of Tronchetto, or at Piazzale Roma. The first two options are cheaper but require you to take some form of public transport into Venice proper. Piazzale Roma is a square at the entrance of the city, so parking is a lot more expensive there.
To get from Venice Marco Polo Airport to the city, you can take the airport express 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.
Where to Stay in Venice
With its long history as a tourist draw, Venice has plenty of accommodations on offer. That popularity also means you should book accommodation well in advance. Don’t choose hastily, though – your decision of where to stay in Venice can have a big impact on your time in the city.
Venice is divided into six districts (sestieri). Ultimately, the best places to stay in Venice are the two central districts, San Marco and San Polo. Because Venice is a labyrinth of canals and small streets, you don’t want a hotel far from the main sights or a vaporetto stop. Budget travelers planning a trip to Venice sometimes consider staying in the mainland borough of Mestre, where rooms are cheaper. You can commute from Mestre to Venice proper for the day, but it doesn’t provide quite the same experience.
For lavish decor and extreme comfort, stay at Splendid Venice. This four-star hotel is just a stone’s throw from Piazza San Marco, and it features a rooftop terrace and even a private pier.
Balancing comfort and cost, Hotel Serenissima puts you squarely in the center of Venice. This traditional two-star hotel’s warm and friendly staff makes it particularly welcoming.
Budget accommodation isn’t easy to come by on the islands of Venice, but A&O Hotel Venezia Mestre helps with that. This mainland hotel has some of the cheapest and cleanest dorms and rooms around, and it puts you right by the train station that will take you into Venice each day. For more budget recommendations, see our Venice hostel guide.
For more accommodation options in Venice, check out Booking.com. This site consistently offers the best rates, and its customer 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 easy. 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’ll want to cover all the best things to do in Venice first. This means starting with the central district of San Marco and then venturing out to the neighboring districts and islands that strike 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.
SafetyWing offers travel insurance for only about $10 a week, making it a no-brainer to get. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Now, let’s get back to our Venice travel itinerary! It’s time to dive in and uncover all the wonderful places in store for you while exploring Venice in two days.
Venice Itinerary: Day 1
When you arrive in the city, the obvious choice is to head straight for the highlights and best of Venice. There’s no sense in waiting when you have this floating city in front of you!
One feature of Venice that’s impossible to miss is the mighty Grand Canal, the major waterway that carves through the heart of the city. Curving a backward “S” through Venice, the waterfront of the Grand Canal is where you’ll find many of the city’s most beautiful buildings. One way to see the waterfront is to take a vaporetto along the canal. Alternatively, you can try to find your way through the maze of Venice on foot and pop out by the canal at various spots to see different sections.
Surely the most popular spot along the Grand Canal is the exquisite Ponte di Rialto. Connecting the districts of San Polo and San Marco, this bridge is an important crossing point when you’re walking around Venice. With its arched design and portico, it’s a splendid sight and rightful icon of the city. It’s also a great viewpoint for the Grand Canal, so it tends to be full of tourists snapping photos.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Deep in the backstreets of San Marco stands an underrated attraction – the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, a 15th-century palace built for Venice’s founding families. The sight most people come for is the stunning spiral staircase (scala) that runs up the side of the palace. You can enjoy a nice view across the city’s rooftops from the top terrace, but the real draw is seeing this brick-and-marble staircase up close.
Piazza San Marco
As Venice’s largest and most famous square, Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) is an essential stop on any visit to the city. On three sides of this rectangular plaza are grand arcades looming over you as you take in the many landmarks. In fact, many of Venice’s most famous sights are around Piazza San Marco, and we’ll look at each in detail. Incredibly, even landmarks like St. Mark’s Clock Tower and the artistic Correr Museum get barely a mention among such esteemed company.
Connected just off the square is the Piazzetta, which sits in front of the Doge’s Palace and by the waterfront. It’s from here that you can enjoy views out to other districts and islands of Venice, many of which we’ll get to later.
St. 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 the east end of 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 its unusual architecture and interior decor. As it was first built around the 11th century, the church bears many interesting characteristics from that time period – most obviously the elaborate Byzantine architecture, which looks like it belongs much farther east, and the mass of gold and mosaic tiles that cover the building inside and out. Head inside the basilica to 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, St. Mark’s Campanile is the bell tower of the church. It stands out among the buildings of Piazza San Marco with its height and red bricks. The campanile originally functioned as both a lighthouse and a bell tower – 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 since been rebuilt. You can climb its stairs to enjoy 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 sits one last major attraction in this part of the city – the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale). Back when Venice was a republic and a major European player, this palace was the residence of its leader. Built on the remains of old fortifications, the Doge’s Palace dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries, from which it retains its Gothic and Renaissance features.
You can see much of this exceptional palace on a visit, taking in museum exhibits, the former prisons, the armories, and the Doge’s Apartments. One special spot is the inner courtyard, where you’ll see grandiose staircases, ornate wells, and even a side of the neighboring basilica. With the palace’s three levels, not to mention works of art from masters like Titian and Bellini, 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 two-hour guided tour includes both the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. For more information, check out our guide on how to buy tickets to the Doge’s Palace.
Bridge of Sighs
Tucked behind the Doge’s Palace near the waterfront, the Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful sight but as sad as its name suggests. This covered limestone bridge connects the New Prison to interrogation cells in the palace, meaning it was mostly used to move prisoners around. Looking at this exquisite bridge crossing the scenic canal, though, you’d never imagine that was its purpose.
Venice Itinerary: Day 2
The best way to make the most of your second day in Venice is to explore other islands and districts. You can’t visit all of them in a single day, but you can pick a few.
For example, you can visit both Burano and Murano in half a day on a guided tour like this one. This leaves you with enough time to check out some of the Venetian neighborhoods we’ve covered below.
San Giorgio Maggiore
When you stand on the waterfront of Piazza San Marco, it’s hard to miss the sight of San Giorgio Maggiore across the water. The main reason this small island is visible from afar is its large church of the same name. Besides visiting the church, you can walk out to the island’s lighthouse and admire the ever-changing art installations that liven up the gardens behind the church.
Just across from San Giorgio Maggiore lies the large, laid-back island of Giudecca. Once an industrial area full of factories, warehouses, and shipyards, Giudecca has morphed into an intriguing mix of old and new. You can admire the inventive neo-Gothic architecture of the Casa dei Tre Oci, which is now an art gallery, then visit the former industrial area around the Junghans Theater to see a decidedly modern neighborhood in both look and feel.
The skyline of the island is defined by two historic churches – Le Zitelle, a former convent and shelter for young women, and the marble-domed Il Redentore, built in thanks to God for ending the plague.
Dorsoduro, the district across the Grand Canal from San Marco, is one of the quieter, more genuine parts of Venice but still offers plenty of 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 easternmost point.
From there, you have your pick of world-class museums, including the Gallerie dell’Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim Collection. There are also gorgeous waterfront palaces and churches, such as the tiny Church of San Vio, magnificent Palazzo Loredan Cini, and Ca’ Rezzonico, a palace and art museum. There’s so much to Dorsoduro that you could easily spend the day there.
The large district at the east end of Venice offers up an interesting mix of places to visit. Castello stretches almost to Piazza San Marco, and you need to go quite far in to reach its best-known spots. A great place to start is the Venetian Arsenal, a medieval shipyard with exquisite architecture and the massive, ancient Piraeus Lion statue.
Along with its beautiful architecture, Castello is a hub of artwork thanks to the Art Biennale. Now a worldwide arts organization, the Biennale Foundation started this cultural exhibition here in 1895. It hosts multiple annual events, but the Art Biennale (International Art Exhibition) runs every two years for about six months at a time, during which you can explore its exhibits at the Giardini della Biennale and the Venetian Arsenal.
Far from the city center, among the islands of the Venetian Lagoon, rests the fishing island of Burano. This humble village draws tourists with its famous rows of brightly colored houses. For photographers and Instagrammers, Burano is a dream come true and best appreciated by exploring its backstreets. Other features of the island include the freshly caught seafood and the delicate lace fabrics that historically 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 waterfront houses. However, Murano is much larger and closer to Venice, making it a much easier place to explore. You’ll also see that it has a few more landmarks, such as Murano Lighthouse and the Church of Santa Maria and San Donato. Murano is probably best known for its local glassmakers, their workshops, and sculptures like the Comet Glass Star.
In some ways, Lido is Venice’s most surprising island. You’ll find not only a long beach here, but also roads and cars! Yes, counter to popular belief, there are cars in some parts of Venice. But you don’t visit Lido to see cars – you come for the beaches, the nature reserves, and (if you visit in September) the Venice Film Festival. Lido’s public and private beaches are the biggest draw if you’re after some sun and a break from sightseeing.
With that, you’re ready to make your friends and family totally jealous while you spend two days in Venice. Once they see photos of all the awesome places you visited, they’ll certainly be planning their own trips.