“To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.” – Alexander Herzen
Walking through the maze of streets, over intricate bridges, and into one jaw-dropping piazza after the next, it’s impossible to not be absolutely taken by both the beauty of Venice and the madness of it. It’s a city unlike any other, and I can’t help but wonder how any human being wouldn’t be absolutely stunned and amazed by the beauty of the architecture and artistry of this city.
Venice is a city that constantly gets mixed feedback. People who have sub-par experiences minimize it by referring to it as chaotic, dirty, overwhelmingly touristy. Often those people have visited for a few hours off of a cruise, which I can understand may in fact be a really chaotic few hours exploring a city that perhaps takes a lifetime to uncover. Even during our trip at the end of September, the city was overloaded with tourists during the days; surprisingly so (I had naively thought that by the end of September the crowds would thin substantially). In terms of the chaos and the grittiness, I think seeing those attributes as wholly negative downplays some of the draw of historic cities. Venice is a city with a rich history that dates back to the 5th century – would you expect something pristine from a place with roots that deep? Before our trip, I spoke with a woman who had spent three days in Venice; two days too many as far as she was concerned. Was it really that hyped? And was it really small enough to see in a day?
Going in, my emotions were mixed. I was over-the-moon excited to finally get to visit Venice, but also wanted to temper that with some realism after hearing other visitors’ less than favorable feedback on the city. I’m not sure if I experienced a different city from the nay sayers, but my emotions weren’t mixed in the slightest. I loved Venice.
We had three nights and a full two days in Venice (two and a half days, actually), and it was hard having to say goodbye to the city. I could have stayed a week there, uncovering new squares and new streets, and chowing down at restaurants and cicchetti bars. To be fair, mental preparation is important. The city sees something like 30,000 tourists per day off of cruise ships (though the city is putting the kibosh on that soon) and that’s easily felt when you’re walking through the city’s main piazzas. To get a good photo in St. Mark’s Square or at the Rialto Bridge is tantamount to climbing Everest but it’s part of the deal. I can see how that would frustrate people, but let’s all remember for a moment that we are tourists, too. We are amongst this group that’s come to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this city. Veteran visitors to Venice will share great advice about choosing a hotel off the main tourist drag (e.g. don’t book a place right near St. Mark’s Square), visiting some of the areas further afield in Canareggio for dinner and drinks, and uncovering the nearby gems of Burano, Murano and Torcello.
I’m not going to share any of that with you because I’m far from a veteran visitor to Venice (though I hope to be part of that group at some point in my life). For now, I’m going to share my experience as a first-time visitor with three nights and a little more than two days in Venice. Scott had visited twice before with his family, and we were fortunate to have great insight from friends and guests who’ve spent their fair share of time in the city. For those preparing for a first time visit to the city, here’s my take on how to spend two days in Venice:
Day 1 ✧ Explore Venice on Foot
10AM – NOON ✧ Get lost! If you have two full days in Venice and are waking up in the city, go for a stroll. Tuck a map into your bag so you can reference it when you get really turned around, but head out with the intention of just taking in Venice’s beauty. The facades are stunning and detailed, and you’ll be amazed that Venetians somehow actually know how to get around without getting lost beyond comprehension. A map will detail the names of the piazzas, which is very helpful when you’re trying to find your way to a particular place – after a few wrong turns, you can identify the right direction by knowing where a given piazza is in relation to your destination. I was astounded by the majesty of Venice; each square gives way to a number of arteries that each lead to another square with its own arteries, and so on and so forth. Each of these little squares that are seemingly unimportant are spectacularly beautiful, with clock towers or churches as an anchor point; many have restaurants with people spilling out into the courtyard. If you’re looking for a place to start, head to the Rialto Bridge, one of Venice’s most famous landmarks and let yourself get lost along the way.
NOON: LUNCH WITH A VIEW ✧ If you’re arriving day one (not waking up in Venice), hit the ground running. You’ll hopefully be in with enough time to enjoy lunch with a view after stumbling through the never-ending maze of streets that make up Venice. There are a number of options for dining with a view, and we loved Osteria Bancogiro, set in a historic square overlooking a scenic waterway with gonodolas skirting by. In true Venetian fashion, my go-to was the ever-present Aperol Spritz which Italians do particularly well (garnished with an olive, naturally). Anytime you dine, be prepared to see a cover charge between €1 and €3 per person on top of your bill. Venice isn’t particularly known for its food scene, but there is a seafaring tradition which means that seafood is heavily present in many dishes. Venice has their equivalent to tapas called cicchetti, which are small bites great for sharing; they’re great as a main or as a starter. At Osteria Bancogiro start with a round of cicchetti (they’ll bring you a plate with a half dozen) to sample some great bite-sized local specialties.
1:45PM – 5:30PM: EXPLORE LEGENDARY VENICE WITH WALKS OF ITALY ✧ Spend your first afternoon with a guide and get to know Venice’s key landmarks: St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace, all major sites with incredible history. To lump Venice in with Italy discounts the city’s unique history and evolution. The former Venetian Empire has its own rich history, legends and power structures so take the afternoon to refresh your memory on the city’s history.
Read about our tour of Venice with Walks of Italy.
6PM: ROOFTOP DRINKS AT DANIELI ✧ Make the most of your night and start early by enjoying a drink with a view! One of Venice’s most famous establishments, Hotel Danieli, has a rooftop bar that offers unsurpassed views of the Grand Canal, Doge’s Palace, and barrier island (‘lido’) in the distance. We stayed at Hotel Danieli during our time in Venice and while my reviews are mixed as far as our guest experience goes, the rooftop bar is a stunner. Give yourself time to revel in it though – at €25 per drink (that’s not an exaggeration), you need to enjoy it! We limited ourselves to one drink each, sipped slowly and watched the sunset over the Grand Canal.
7:30PM: DINNER OR SELF-GUIDED CICCHETTI CRAWL ✧ With just two nights in Venice, there are too many restaurants to choose from! Do some research and find a place that really piques your interest or instead do what we did, and head out on a self-guided cicchetti crawl through San Marco, San Polo, Dorsoduro or even further afield to Canareggio. There are a range of fantastic cicchetti places, and while we originally drew out a plan to hit a number of hot spots, we ended up following the crowds, which is always a helpful indicator of which places are really the go-tos! One of our favorites was Osteria Sacro e Profano, not far from the Rialto Bridge. They were great about accommodating dietary restrictions in crafting a cicchetti platter (6 pieces were about €15) and paired it with a perfect Aperol Spritz! Keep in mind that if you sit down at a table, you’re going to incur that cover charge I mentioned earlier. If you stand to sip and nibble, you’ll escape that fee and be out the door for just a few euros in many instances.
Read Courtney’s post on a Venetian bar crawl for inspiration – she shares great tips and insider knowledge on how to craft a cicchetti crawl of your own!
AFTER DINNER: DUELING ORCHESTRAS IN PIAZZA SAN MARCO ✧ One of the beauties of being in Venice for more than just a day is getting to enjoy the city after the crowds thin in the evening. After 6PM, daytrippers are gone and the city quiets noticeably. Piazza San Marco becomes a different place, and the dueling orchestras in the main piazza are a major draw. Feel free to stand in the square and take it in, or pick a place to sit for a while to soak it all in. Be prepared to fork over some serious cash for the opportunity to sit, though. We paid €11 for an espresso (€15 for a double) when we opted to take a seat at a restaurant.
Day 2 ✧ Explore Venice by Water
10AM: EXPLORE VENICE + ENJOY A GONDOLA RIDE ✧ If your first day in Venice didn’t afford you a morning for getting lost in the labyrinth of streets, make sure to enjoy an hour just taking in the alleyways, bridges, and shops around the city. The city is home to some incredible shops, and while some are doling out tourist-priced Murano glass and kitschy souvenirs, there are many tucked away shops that have some really cool finds so keep your eyes peeled and go in the shop if it piques your interest. The chance that you’ll be able to find it again is fairly slim.
If you’re so inclined, go for a ride on a gondola. It’s an overpriced experience and I’m not sure if I’d do it again on a future trip (for me it was a one time thing), but it’s part of the Venetian scene. Each gondola is a bit different, and rides are available for 25 minutes, 40 minutes, or more, with traditional circuits that the gondolier can share with you. The shortest ride is €80 (eek), but involves working your way through the canals, and out to the Grand Canal briefly before heading under the Bridge of Sighs.
NOON: RIDE ALONG THE GRAND CANAL ✧ For my value-seeking counterparts out there, here’s a tip: don’t do the gondola tour that takes you down the Grand Canal. You’ll spend a fortune when there’s a much less expensive (albeit, less romantic) alternative. Hop on the vaporetto, Venice’s water-based public transportation system, for about €7 a pop. From Piazza San Marco, hop aboard Line 1 towards the Rialto Bridge. You’ll journey down the Grand Canal and get to see the major sites that line the waterway. The line gets busy, and if you do get a primo standing spot near the edge of the boat be prepared to make way for the mass exodus (followed by influx) at each vaporetto stop. Have your camera ready and take the line all the way to the Rialto Market or further if you’re so inclined.
AFTERNOON: MARKET EXPLORATION + STROLL BACK ON FOOT ✧ If you’re in the market for edible souvenirs, the Rialto Market has some fun finds to take home with you. Look for bags of local spices, risottos, and pastas to put together a fun foodie package for friends at home. Make your way back on foot in whichever direction you choose, and enjoy some beautiful stops for photo ops. The view of the Grand Canal is an iconic one so be sure to stop to take in the views of imposing Venetian facades plus water taxis and vaporettos zipping across the water. Let yourself enjoy the art of strolling with no rush to get to your final destination. Enjoy lunch with a view somewhere or enjoy a little cicchetti crawl while you meander back to your home base.
8PM: ‘EATWITH’ A LOCAL ✧ Up for a really interesting dining experience? Try EatWith, an online booking site that connects travelers with unique in-home dining experiences with locals. In Venice, we opted for The Secret Cuisine of Venice with host Massimo, which ended up being a memorable night and fun way to meet new people and try some great local fare! If the thought of dining with strangers weirds you out, make your last night in Venice a beautiful drawn-out event with pre-dinner drinks and dinner. The dueling orchestras aren’t the only music in the city – you’ll stumble into gorgeous squares where up-and-coming musicians are playing awe-inspiring tunes for tips.
Check out this video from our week in Italy, including our time in Venice, Verona, Erbusco + Lake Iseo:
Tips + Takeaways from Two Days in Venice
Where to Stay
We opted to stay at Hotel Danieli during our time in Venice, and were drawn in by its reputation, beauty, and location. Friends of ours who are frequent visitors to Venice advised us to steer clear of hotels near Piazza San Marco and look at places in Dorsoduro or further afield. After having visited, my take is this: I wouldn’t stay at Danieli again based on our experience and the hefty price tag of the property (great service, but a few maintenance related things that left us wishing we’d booked elsewhere), but we liked our location near St. Mark’s Square as first timers. We were close to the major sites and more importantly could easily find our hotel (follow signs to Piazza San Marco, easy enough!). We walked by charming hotels tucked along waterways and wondered to ourselves how ever in the world you’d find the property if it were your first time in the city. I mean, how?! And even if they were kind enough to meet you and escort you when you arrived, finding the hotel at the end of the night would be a serious challenge (once you’ve wandered through Venice you’ll understand the true mystery of the maze of this city).
How to Get to Your Hotel/Destination
In terms of getting to your hotel, you can hop aboard the vaporetto like we did or you can go the water taxi route. We took a water taxi on our way out of Venice so got to experience both forms of transport. The vaporetto will run you about €7.50 for the one way ticket to get to your destination but it stops at specific points along its route, which means you need to know where you’re going when you exit the boat. For this reason, Hotel Danieli was a breeze. We exited at Piazza San Marco and were face-to-face with our hotel. Like I mentioned above, if your hotel is tucked away, you’ll have to know where to go or have an escort from there. Also keep in mind that you’re toting your luggage with you, and this can be an absolutely daunting task when you’re hopping aboard a jam-packed vaporetto with checked bags. It’s stressful and you’ll feel like an absolute nuisance, but it’s what you’ll likely have to deal with if you go this route.
The other option is a water taxi. Ours was €70 for a 20-minute ride from Danieli to Piazzale Roma, where we got our rental car upon leaving Venice. That fare is valid for up to 4 people so if you’re splitting it, it’s actually a great value. This is a door-to-door service so may make sense when it comes to transporting luggage. For us, the convenience was incredible and if your budget allows, I’d recommend it as your way in and out of the city to reduce stress and maximize your time on the water in an enjoyable way.
Budgeting for Venice
I’ll be scorned for saying as much, but if you’re looking to have the postcard Venetian experience: long lunches with a cocktail or bottle of wine, gondola rides, pre-dinner drinks, and dinners in stunning squares, be prepared to pay for it. There’s no two ways about it, Venice is an expensive destination, especially as a first-time visitor looking to take in the hot spots and create a quintessential Venetian getaway. I can see how it could be far more affordable on future visits; maybe an Airbnb over a 5* hotel, dining far from the tourist zones, and skipping out on spendy tourist experiences like a gondola ride or tour, but if you’re looking at budgeting for a first visit to the city, plan accordingly so you can enjoy what the city has to offer. Coming from Croatia and Slovenia in particular where we often had glasses of wine for €3 or €4, the €15 – €20 (or more!) glasses of wine and cocktails were a bit of a slap. The €11 espresso while we watched the dueling orchestras was downright nauseating but it was part of the learning process being a first timer with two days in Venice.
Dining in Venice (+ When to Dine)
While many Italian cities have world-famous food scenes, Venice isn’t really one of them. Truth be told, in my opinion, Venice actually has a unique food scene that fits my style more than most other Italian cities: you can enjoy fabulous cicchetti (Italian tapas) that can act as an appetizer or as a full dinner when you string a number of bars together. The menus also tend to be more seafood heavy since there is such a strong seafaring tradition, with locals really working symbiotically with their environment. Now, the next question we always ask when going into a trip: when do people eat in Venice? We had heard that the dining culture was a far cry from that of the late-night Mediterranean dining, and that dinners at 7PM or 7:30PM were generally the end of dinner service. Not the case! With our EatWith experience, we met at 8PM for dinner, and with our self-guided cicchetti crawl, we saw people out until well into the evening (we dined from about 7PM – 9:30PM on our crawl but people were out dining beyond that). There are plenty of tourists in the city with their own ideas of a normal dining schedule so dine whenever it feels right for you. We tend to dine around 8PM in many cities, to give us time to enjoy an aperitif somewhere before the main event. One thing Venice is famous for is prosecco so sparkling lovers, get your fix in one of the cities that’s the true home of the affordable bubbly!
Visiting Burano, Murano + Torcello
I had grandiose dreams of strolling through the candy-colored alleyways of Burano. It’s stunning and it’s tempting to want to add it to your itinerary on a quick trip to the city, but it’s not really all that feasible if you only have two days in Venice. Even with three days it’s a stretch, especially if you’re planning on taking public transportation. Taking the vaporetto is actually a much more cumbersome process than it seems from the outset and is a very time-consuming endeavor. If you did want to get to Murano or Burano, you’d be best to hire a water taxi (about €130 an hour) so you don’t waste precious time. If you’re going to Murano to visit the glass factory, you can hop aboard a complimentary boat that will shuttle you out there relatively quickly (talk to your hotel about this). We would have likely taken public transportation out there given the cost of a water taxi, but this would have required a full day to get out there, enjoy it and make it back, so plan accordingly.
Our time in Venice was nothing short of spectacular. We loved every moment, and it was truly hard for me to say goodbye when it was time to move on. Two days in Venice was the perfect taster for us, but I could have easily spent far more time there. Going in, I thought of it as an add-on destination; you know, those places that you add into a broader itinerary since they’re likely not worthy of their own trip. In hindsight, I think Venice is actually worth far more than most people give it credit for in terms of time allocation. I could have easily spent another one or two full days just taking in the streets and squares, including exploring beyond the main tourist zone. With additional time, those day trips to places like Burano, Murano or Torcello also become much more feasible. If you’re looking at making Venice part of a broader itinerary exploring Northern Italy, head to Piazzale Roma where you can either jump on a train or hire a rental car (like we did!) to zip further afield to places like Verona, Bergamo, Lake Garda or out to Milan.
Whether you’ve been or are dreaming of going, how would you spend two days in Venice?