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Venice Travel Guide: Best Things to Do in ‘The City of Canals’

Venice, Italy is considered one of the most romantic cities in Europe. Even if you’re not travelling to the famous floating city with your love, chances are, you’ll fall in love with the place. Read on for the top things to do in Venice.

Intro to Venice, Italy

If you’re looking for the best places to travel in Europe, be sure to add Venice to your hit list. Venice is spread over 118 small islands sitting in the Adriatic Sea in Northern Italy. It has many nicknames: City of Canals, Floating City, City of Water, City of Bridges, City of Masks… Whatever name you choose to call it, one thing is for sure, it has a lot of charm and character.

With a population of about 270,000 people, 400 bridges, 170 canals, picturesque public plazas and squares, and countless points of interest, there’s no shortage of things to do in Venice. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating Italian city.

masks displayed near the canal in Venice, Italy during the day
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Top Things to Do in Venice, Italy

1. Get on a gondola

The top of the top thing to do in Venice is of course, a gondola ride through the canals. This bucket list item is at the top of many ‘what to do in Italy’ experiences and activities. Seeing the Grand Canal is a must, but it’s jam-packed during the day. Consider an evening gondola ride and trip on the Grand Canal for a quieter and more romantic float if you’re travelling as a couple. As you tour the canals by gondola, your gondolier, dressed in black and white stripes, might even point out some interesting spots along the way, like the former residence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

2. Photograph Saint Mark’s Basilica

Located at the far end of Piazza San Marco (San Marco Square) is the beautiful Basilica of San Marco or St Mark’s Basilica to English speakers. The Roman Catholic church is a prime example of Italo-Byzantine design and architecture.   Once you take some photographs of the church’s exterior, you can attend mass, or have a guided tour.

You’ll find countless travel photography ops in Venice but if you’re after something a little unusual for this region, take a water bus or a day tour from Venice to Burano Island for a peek at the rows of vibrantly coloured houses along the canals. It’s also where Ernest Hemingway once lived.

3. Doge’s Palace

Doge’s Palace frequently tops the lists of what to do in Venice for its spectacular display of Venetian Gothic architecture. Locally called Palazzo Ducale, the elaborate estate was once home to the Doge of Venice, the most potent local authority back in the day. Inside, you’ll see golden fixtures, painted ceilings, and essential artefacts and pieces of history, as it’s also a museum.

Gondolier in red and white striped shirt in Venice, Italy
Venice Travel Guide | Skyscanner Canada

4. Kiss under the Bridge of Sighs

If you’re travelling as a couple in Italy, legend has it that if you kiss under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, your love will last forever. Of course, you’ll have to be on a boat or gondola to be under the bridge, so this is a good one to mix and match with a romantic gondola ride.

5. Shop across the Rialto Bridge

One of only four bridges in Venice to cross the Grand Canal, Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) is one of several iconic symbols of Venice. Each year, more than 20 million tourists buy souvenirs at the many shops that line the arched walkway. Be sure stop at the top of the bridge for a photo of the canal dotted with gondolas and boats.

More unmissable Venice attractions and events

  • Leonardo Di Vinci Museum
  • St Mark’s Square
  • Museum of Glass
  • Venice Lido
  • Venice Film Festival – annually August/September
  • Carnival of Venice – held every February. This is when you’ll see those fantastic painted masks worn.

Best Sightseeing Tours in Venice

1. City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour

Get around to all the hot spots with a hop-on-hop-off boat day tour of Venice. Get a 24 or 48-hour pass to see all the top spots around the City of Canals at an affordable rate. Tours even include trips to Burano Island. Prices from C$30.

2. Walking tour and Gondola Ride

Budget-conscious travellers can take a free walking tour to get the low-down on the history of Venice. But if you want to combine a history lesson walking tour and a gondola ride on one ticket, opt for a paid excursion that will include hidden spots, as well as, all the favourites. Prices from C$107.

3. Eat like a local

If you’re a food lover, you’ll be in your element in Italy. The perfect way to make the most of Venice’s culinary scene is with a food tour. Savour Italy hosts a three-hour Eat Like A Venetian food crawl that lets you taste up to 13 local specialities while hearing stories about the ingredients and the venues visited. Expect prices from C$120 per person.

glass of wine overlooking a cafe by the canal in Venice, Italy
Venice Travel Guide | Skyscanner Canada

Where to Eat in Venice

Caffé Florian in San Marco Square opened in 1720 and it’s said to be the oldest café in the world! Today it’s a very popular eatery for its food and ancient decor. Another must-eat-at in Venice icon is All’Arco, a hole in the wall that sells out of food, so get there early. Be prepared to stand as there are few tables. The cichetti (tapas or finger food) is rated very highly.

Also, don’t miss your chance to try authentic tiramisu when in Italy! Go to Tre Mercanti for a delicious serve of this internationally famous Italian dessert. For drinks, go to Harry’s Bar (once frequented by Hemingway) or Al Prosecco for some Italian bubbles.

Italian Coffee tip: Italians drink cappuccino (and milky coffee, in general) in the morning only. If you order one after 12 noon, expect some judgement. Want to do what the locals do? Order cappuccino at breakfast, and espresso in the afternoon.

Getting There

Located in the north of Italy, the famous island city of Venice is accessible by ferry, shuttle bus, train and car, although getting around the island by car is not an option – there are no roads. People arriving by road vehicle will be dropped off or required to park at the entrance to Venice. Parking is expensive, so it’s not advisable to drive yourself. Two airports service this region: Venice Marco Polo and Treviso but neither are actually on the islands.

Major airlines such as British Airways, Aer Lingus, Easy Jet and Monarch fly into Marco Polo, the closest airport to Venice. From there, take a shuttle bus or water bus, which is the traditional way. Alilaguna, the original public transportation service offers water transport from Marco Polo. It might not be the fastest or cheapest way, but it is a great way to see Venice from the open water.

Once you’re there, you can get around on foot, water taxi, water buses called vaporetti, or gondola. There are 170 canals throughout the city so chances are, you’ll be in a boat at some point during your stay.

colourful houses in Burano neighbourhood in Venice, Italy.
Venice Travel Guide | Skyscanner Canada

Where to Stay in Venice

When planning an overseas trip to a foreign country, it’s always hard to know where to stay. When looking for a hotel in Venice, choose one that’s on one of the islands, not the mainland, for an authentic Venice vacation. San Marco is one of the best areas to stay in Venice for its central location and home to attractions such St Mark’s Basilica, Piazza San Marco, and tons of cafés and restaurants.

The good news is that there are hotels in Venice for every budget. The Albergo San Marco has a lot of old world charm and character, as does the Bridge Hotel and many of the hotels located on the main island. If you’re looking for something modern, try Axel Hotel Venezia or stay on the mainland where you’ll find big chain hotels like the Sheraton and Hilton.

Learn Basic Italian Phrases

Brush up on your Italian before your Venice vacation! You don’t have to be fluent in Italian but it does help to know a few key words and phrases before you go. If you can speak French and/or Spanish, you’re already at an advantage.

  • Ciao = Hi and goodbye
  • Buon giorno = Good morning/good day
  • Buon sera = Good evening
  • Per favore = Please
  • Grazie = Thank you
  • Prego = You’re welcome
  • Venezia = Venice
  • Ponte = Bridge
  • Gondola = Gondola

Want to Book Your Trip to Venice, Italy?

Now that you’re armed with this awesome Venice Italy Travel Guide, start planning your trip with Skyscanner. Our travel app and search engines will help you find cheap flights to Europe, hotels, and car rentals for getting around Venice and the rest of Italy.