Venice Your Exclusive Luxury Guide
Gritti Palace is at the top of pretty much every Venice Luxury hotel guide. We chose it for all of the reasons I’m sharing here plus my sister recommended it as it’s where they normally stay. Venice is one of the most romantic cities we’ve been too but it can be overwhelming to know where to eat and what to do. These are our favorite ways to experience authentic Venice. Including the best hotels, restaurants, bars, tours, things to see and do and why we chose The Gritti Palace to stay.
4 Days and 3 Nights in Venice
Luxury Venice Travel Guide. If you’ve ever wanted to go on a romantic luxury trip to Venice, these are my top recommendations on the best luxury hotels in Venice, restaurants, things to see, places to drink with a view and how to get around and navigate the Venice canals.
My husband and I spent a long time planning our trip to Italy and to Venice! We rarely return to the same place, except to see family, as there are so many places to see. I have fear of missing out and want to explore everything. So this post is packed full of things to see, do, shops, food, bars, and best place to take pics.
So how do you cram it all in and still make it relaxing and romantic? It’s going to sound like a lot when I write it below but I promise there was a lot of sitting, eating, drinking, and relaxing. Especially as dinners are so late, which means that you have more time in the day.
An unbiased couples travel guide to Venice
Here’s my authentic and unbiased guide for a luxury 5*, memorable, romantic, get away. The best luxury hotels, restaurants, things to see and do, rooftop bars with views, opera, and getting around the Italian city of canals.
How did I do my research on Venice? I started by asking my sister for her recommendations as she’s been to Venice 30+ times and we’re on the same wave length. As well as trawling Forbes Luxury Travel, Trip Advisor, travel/usnews.com, Viator Venice, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc. I wanted to make sure we’d done all of the must-have experiences and done Venice right. The chances are we won’t get to go back, as there are too many other places to see.
Arriving in Venice
We arrived by train as we were coming from Florence (Best of Florence in 1 Day). The trains are super quick and easy in Italy and tend to run on time. Book in advance and do 1st class as the tickets are super cheap anyway.
You can also drink on trains. So if you picked up wine in Tuscany, you can always crack it open to make the time go quicker and have less to carry! If you’re planning on driving, be warned that Waze and google maps can be hit and miss as cell reception isn’t always the best.
Train from Firenze-Venezia
Arrive in Style: Book a Vaporetto to get to your hotel
TIP: My sister said the only way to arrive is by private vaporetto, so we followed her advice and we’re so glad we did. If it’s daylight, ask them to take you to your hotel via Grand Canal. As you turn in, the view is breathtaking & just like Canalleto paintings from the 1700’s.
It’s super easy to find the Ferrovia vaporetto stop at the train station, as it’s is right in front (slightly to the left when you exit and go down the steps). You don’t need to make reservations except for your return journey which your hotel can do for you.
Yes, you can try and navigate the public water taxi or walk. We wouldn’t recommend walking with your luggage as we saw so many tourists try. They were so miserable trekking up and down the steps of all of the bridges over the canals, trying to find their way).
Plus, on the vaporetto, you get some romantic alone time together away from the Venice crowds. As well as some great photo opportunities, all while feeling like you’re in a James Bond movie.
Where to Stay: Venice Luxury 5* Hotels on The Grand Canal
We were going back and forward choosing between The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice or Hotel Daniele but went with The Gritti Palace which was totally worth the splurge.
The Gritti Palace has a great location on the Grand Canal which means stunning views for all of your meals and cocktails. It’s just a quick 5 minute walk to the all of the luxury stores (for your tax-free shopping) and Piazza San Marco. It’s also known as one of the most romantic hotels in Venice.
Most of my travel guide/blog posts are more on the luxury travel and hotel side as my husband and I work hard to play hard. We don’t have children and we really enjoy traveling and romantic escapes together. It’s all about creating memories for us.
Gritti Palace breakfast on the Grand Canal
Don’t skip breakfast at the Gritti Palace! Normally breakfast for me back home is while working at my computer. So it was so great to get onto Italian speed and have a leisurely Breakfast on the terrace which has the best views and plentiful, fresh food.
As you’d expect from any of the luxury hotels in Venice, the Gritti Palace breakfast is exceptional. Order the Eggs Benedict and select one of the decadent pastries from the elegant breakfast buffet. Their chocolate croissants are buttery heaven. I promise you’ll thank me for this tip, even if your waist line doesn’t).
We did quite a lot of drinking on this trip including pre dinner drinks and night caps at the glamorous The Riva Lounge and Club del Doge. This thoroughly Venetian establishment also serves lunch and dinner.
Marriott Bonvoy Luxury Collection Hotels
For my Marriott Bonvoy rewards program members, the Gritti Palace is part of Marriotts luxury collection. This intimate, elegant, opulent and historic building was built in 1525 and converted to a hotel in the 19th century.
If you like modern hotels, this isn’t the place for you. If you like luxury hotels steeped in history that focus on service and quality, the Gritti Palace Venice is for you.
7 things to know about The Gritti Palace
- Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterneao Spa. When you book a luxury hotel in Venice, like anywhere, you expect the most luxurious facilities. The Gritti Palace spa is known for its treatments that blend the healing powers of the Mediterranean with anti-aging and anti-stress properties. Perfect for a long day on your feet.
- Fitness Center: Complimentary 24 hours a day for guests only. With cardio equipment and free weights. I’m embarrassed to say we didn’t set foot in as we got all of our exercise from walking exploring the city.
- You can take a private water taxi directly to the Gritti Palace hotel’s jetty. Giglio vaporetto (water bus) stop is also next to the hotel.
- The Gritti Palace hotel concierge offers curated luxury Venice experiences, such as cocktail tasting or cooking classes.
- I felt like a queen sleeping in our room and luxuriating in the marble bathrooms and heavy robes. Tip: The best light for makeup is in your rooms entry hall full length mirror while sipping on vino of course!
- Which room at the Gritti Palace has the best view? Their 9 Landmark Grand Canal rooms with a bird’s-eye view to iconic sights like Santa Maria della Salute Basilica, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and various historic palazzos. If you really want to go all out, book the 990 sq foot Hemingway Suite. This suite also has stand-up balconies overlooking the Grand Canal, four-poster beds, and a grand chandelier in the living room. No, we didn’t stay in this room!
- European rooms are much smaller than in the US so don’t expect thousands of square feet in your suite, it’s not Vegas!
More Luxury Hotels Venice
If you’re looking for a luxury Venice vacation, either the Gritti Palace, Hotel Danieli, or Palazzo Bauer are the 3 best luxury hotels in Venice. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice 5* is another Venetian style hotel on the Grand Canal, close to Saint Marks Square.
Palazzo Bauer | Hotel Bauer 5* Hotel, Venice is situated in between The Gritti Palace and Hotel Danieli and has the most fantastic Roof Top Bar with sweeping views over the city. Get there early to get a seat!
Venice Romantic Things to do at Night
Start with Aperitivo and watch sunset from any of the bars that offer spectacular views. Such as the The Riva Lounge, Settimo Cielo Rooftop Bar at the Hotel Bauer which is the highest rooftop bar in Venice on the 7th floor. It’s open from 6:00pm to 12:00am – S. Marco, 1459, 30124 Venice), or Hotel Danieli Bar on the other side of the river.
Walk, walk and walk some more, you have to burn off some of those carbs somehow. Get lost down all of the little streets, find a hidden gem of a restaurant, and explore the city at night when it’s much cooler. Make sure your walk includes going across the iconic Rialto Bridge.
If you’ve never been to an opera, this is a great introduction to it and walking distance from the Gritti Palace. We’d booked to see La Traviatta at Musica Palazzo at 8:30pm.
Although we aren’t opera fans by any means, we weren’t even sure if we liked it, we’d always wanted to at least experience it. Where better to see opera than in Venice? In Musica Palazzo, each scene takes place in a different room of the Palazzo. Which makes it an interactive and immersive experience.
Musica Palazzo is less of a palace and more of an old stately home that is so old the floors are at an angle but that gives it character. It feels very authentic and like you’re being transported back in time. Each act is set in a different room of the palazzo with Prosecco served between the 1st and 2nd act. Tip: this is a good time to use the powder room if you need it. The singers were incredibly talented and the 4 of them managed to hold a full length opera along with the orchestra.
My husband and I both went in not sure what we’d think as neither of us like opera but wanted to give it a go. Where better to see your first opera than in Venice? It was such a unique venue, as opposed to being stuck in a theatre seat. Even my husband said it was “awesome” at the end! I never thought either of us would say that about an opera.
Pro Tip: You do need to book in advance and get membership. You also need to dress appropriately for the opera so pack accordingly.
Where to Eat in Venice
We didn’t get to try all of these but I’ve included all of the ones recommended by my sister as well as the ones we found.
The distance in minutes is how long it takes to walk from The Gritti Palace (unless you stop to shop or drink).
Tip: Looks for places where the menus is only in Italian for a more authentic meal; the more languages it’s in, the more geared towards tourists it is.
Club Doge– if you’re looking for romantic fine dining in Venice on the Grand Canal this is where to go. We didn’t eat dinner here as we were staying at the hotel, and having breakfast and drinks here, so we wanted to try other places as well. What I can say from having breakfast here is that the views, ambience, and service are hard to beat. The feel is very historical, comfortable luxury, rather than modern chic.
Antico Forno – Ruga Rialto 973, 30135 venice. +39 041 520 4110 Quick pizza. 16 min N/NW from hotel Gritti Palace
Moro Frari -Sestiere San Polo , 2604, 30125 Venezia +39 041 524 5310 (21 min, close to above)
Antica Birraria La Corte -campo San Polo 2168,30125 +39 041 275 0570 (21 min hotel, close to above)
Trattoria Antiche Carampane -Sestiere San Polo, 1911, 30125 + 39 041 524 01 (19 min walk)
Harry’s Dolci Cipriani for a Bellini or 2 without the hordes as Harry’s is always packed (on Giudecca) . We actually walked out of the original Harry’s as it felt like a cheap diner and was actually empty when we went late at night with no atmosphere.
Ostaria Antico Dolo, San Polo– we stopped at this quaint, historic restaurant for lunch and you’ll probably wonder why I have this place listed, question my judgement and think “why am I here” but it’s small, authentic, the foods good & it has an old world charm. There are lots of locals and it’s off of the touristy river front in this neighborhood. You can find lots of authentic places in this area to eat, many of which serve Cicchetti which you have to try! More about that below.
Trattoria alla Madonna – famous old trattoria (15 min)
Ristorante da Raffaele – we found this one on a small canal right by Gritti Palace. We ate here the night we went to the opera at Musica Palazzo as it was convenient, it’s also convenient if you’re going to Harry’s or staying at Hotel Bauer. We love the summer Black truffle pasta & sea bass (if you don’t mind your fish having it’s head on as that’s how they tend to serve it in Italy but if you remember you can ask for it to be served minus the head and tail/ to be fillet it for you).
Trattoria Da Giorgio – I’m so glad we we stumbled across this on our first night and were drawn in by the views and the menu. Reasonably priced, romantic, and off of the main touristy paths. It’s not completely authentic as they have the menu in more than 1 language but the food tasted authentic.
More places to eat in Venice
La Corte Sconta– seafood, you need a reservation, located behind the Danielle hotel (near Castello district)
Vino vino – a cozy wine bar near Fenice (4 mins from hotel)
The remaining night, we found a little pizzeria down a side street which wasn’t anything special but we were hungry, hot and tired. There’s nothing worse than a hangry couple on a romantic holiday!
Venice Tours and Adventurous Things to do
We don’t like to be on too much of a schedule on vacation and tend to like to move around faster than most tours but we do like half day tours or shorter tours to see city highlights or things we wouldn’t normally find ourselves. We booked a super traditional tour and a more adventurous tour.
Viator Eat Drink Repeat Tour – This was one of the highlights of our time in Venice. My husband’s even more of a foodie than I am but we both loved this tour. Normally the groups are around 13 people plus the guide but we got lucky and were only with one other couple.
During the tour, you get to experience 6 authentic cafes in San Paulo with food and wine pairings at each. They were super generous with their pours! Our guide was so much fun and we definitely tried food and drink that we wouldn’t normally eat (and probably won’t again-like the vinegary pilchards) but we are always up for trying something new. Remember to save room for dessert at the last stop and you probably won’t want to schedule a heavy dinner that night!
Viator Legendary Venice St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace . We aren’t really the type of couple that goes cathedral hopping but you can’t not come to Venice and visit St. Marks Basilica or Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale). This tour gives you an overview of Venetian history and skip-the-line access to both. It started at St. Mark’s Basilica (TIP: make sure your legs and shoulders are covered girls otherwise they’ll make you buy one of their coverups).
The tour moves pretty slowly and there’s only 1 steepish staircase so pretty accessible for most. This cathedral is a work of art and you can see why crowds come. The highlight was being outside on the terrace which few get to see for the 5 pm bells. There’s a great photo opp here, so bring your selfie stick if you’re not to embarrassed to whip it out (I finally convinced Mr. Dawes that getting one was a good idea. I think he gave in more just to shut me up).
Following St. Marks Basilica, you’ll then head over to Doge’s Palace / Palazzo Ducale which is the former political heart of Venice where you visit the opulent apartments (another great photo spot is on the staircase to the apartments if you hang to the back of your tour group) and the Hall of the Great Council at Doge’s Palace. One other place to snap a pic is inside the Bridge of Sighs looking out, which is the same view the prisoners would have has as their last view of the outside world.
Need to know: Viator lists the meeting point as San Marco 52, that’s the police station! It actually meets at Museo Correr in corner of St Marks Square closest to the Gritti Palace.
Take a Romantic Gondola Ride along the Venice Canals
These can be a little pricey and I would definitely stay away from tours and instead do a private tour from any of the little piers, especially if you’re there to enjoy romantic Venice.
We picked up our gondola from Bar Foscarini and it was definitely one of the nicer and less worn in gondolas we saw. Expect to pay a fixed cost of 80 Euros for standard gondola rides (2019) for a private 25-30 minutes tour. At night, the cost of a gondola ride goes up to 120 euros for a private 25-30 minutes tour (Summer 2019).
Main Venice Neighborhoods
Venice is broken down into neighborhoods, each with their own distinct character. The main ones are San Marco, San Polo, Cannaregio, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, Castello, & the island of Giudecca.
San Marco, Venice
We got lucky the first night as it was raining, which might sound odd but it meant the square was empty and the reflections of the basilica in the puddles were beautiful and romantic.
Most of Venice’s important historical sights are all in the very center in Piazza San Marco with Basilica di San Marco, Campanile di San Marco (Bell Tower of St. Mark) and Palazzo Ducale di Venezia (Doges Palace).
However, we found St. Mark’s Square dirty and touristy, and late at night instead of being an elegant square, it was tacky with bands playing YMCA! We were going to stop for a drink but decided to pass.
Tips to avoid the lines at Campanile di San Marco
If you want to avoid the lines at Campanile di San Marco, go to San Giorgio Maggiore for the views instead. There’s a lift instead of stairs and you can see all of Venice. If you go on the hour beware of the loud bells! We didn’t go here as we went to the top of San Marco Basilica instead for the 5 pm bells.
San Polo & Santa Croce Venice
We spent a decent amount of time in San Polo between our own exploring and the Viator foodie tour. You step off the Rialto Bridge straight into Rialto Market and as you explore further in you’ll find all of the authentic cafes, Santa Maria dei Frari 14th century cathedral and Campo San Polo piazza which is the heart of district. As well as lots of touristy shops which you can’t seem to avoid everywhere. As you walk further away from Grand Canal you’ll end up in Santa Croce which is slower with fewer tourists and beautiful old buildings.
San Giacomo dell’Orio -ancient church
Trattoria al Ponte – in Santa Croce between the Rialto and the train station
San Giacomo di Rialto – possibly oldest church in Venice built around 421.
Campo San Polo – 2nd largest square in Venice, comes alive at night: w/city’s outdoor cinema.
We didn’t get this far (as we got too into our tax free shopping, walking, and bar hopping) but this district borders San Marco & Cannaregio, East of Piazza San Marco.
Then, for art lovers there’s the Venetian Biennale-cultural institute with art and architecture exhibitions. This is also the place to get one of the many ferries to the nearby islands like Murano & Burano. It’s also home to 2 spectacular churches: Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo and Church of San Zaccaria. Other sights in Castello include:
Arsenale naval base & tech center, it was the largest shipyard in the world.
Santi Giovanni e Paolo-a fine, huge Dominican church with tombs of many Doges. It shares its piazza with Renaissance façade of Scuola San Marco & equestrian statue of mercenary Bartolomeo Colleoni.
San Zaccaria – artwork by some of Italy’s best artists
Santa Maria Formosa
Islands of Venice
Unfortunately, we didn’t go as our hotel concierge made it sound like it was really hard to get to the islands unless you did a private VIP tour through them. It’s not! You just need to go to the North part of Venice and catch a ferry to Murano, Burano, Torcello, or Pellestrina. We were given 2 lunch recommendations on Torcello, Locanda Cipriani an old-fashioned inn run by Cipriani family, or Pellestrina for vongole at Agriturismo Le Valli.
Giudecca: Is a collection of 4 islands with beautiful views & waterfront strolls. You get beautiful views of San Marco and vistas over Venice’s most iconic buildings. Here you’ll get to “experience real side of city few tourists ever get to see”.
San Giorgio Maggiore – 16th-century Benedictine church with 1 of best views of Venice.
LIDO: if the weathers nice take a vaporetto and wander around as it’s cooler on the beach than in Venice.
Dorsoduro: The artsy boho area. With the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Gallerie Dell’ Accademia di Venezia, and Church of San Sebastiano. If you’re looking for a younger crowd, late-night drinking, and laid-back bars head to Campo Margherita at night.
Santa Maria della Salute – magnificent church
Schola Grande Dei Carmini in Dorsoduro – TIP (from my sister): grab a mirror to view the ceiling to save your neck.
Get More Venice Travel Inspiration
Our Venice Itinerary
We didn’t have an itinerary for Venice when we arrived, we only had the opera booked. The reason being that we didn’t want to make dinner reservations or to be tied to a schedule and to enjoy the luxury hotel and time with each other. The tours we did, we booked once we arrived and had walked around the first afternoon.
Arrival via pre-booked Vaporetto
Explore the city by foot
Bar Foscarini for afternoon Aperol Spritz where we got our gondola ride from (the photo above is proof he got into the selfie stick!).
Gondola ride: It may be a super touristy thing to do but you have to check a private gondola ride in Venice off your bucket list!
Romantic, quiet dinner on a small canal at Trattoria Da Giorgio.
Post dinner drinks back at The Gritti Palace Riva Lounge. It’s such a beautiful, serene spot on. the Grand Canal to watch the world go by and relax.
Eat Drink Repeat Viator Tour.
St Marks Basilica and Doge Palace Tour.
Shopping in San Marco. We tend to do a lot of our luxury shopping abroad to be able to do it tax free (shop Duty-Free). It’s also better than a tacky souvenir as a memory of the trip. One of my favorite women’s shoe shops in Venice is Rene Caovilla in San Marco, especially when they’re running their Summer sale.
I’d seen the prettiest black lace peep toe heels with silver sparkly soles in the window each day we walked past. Finally, on day 3 I gave in and I have no regrets about it.
Lots more walking and exploring
Hotel Bauer Sunset Cocktails
Musica Palazzo to see La Traviata
Post opera drinks in San Marco by our hotel.
Final breakfast al fresco at Gritti Palace (If you’re looking for luxury hotels in Venice, this is hard to beat).
Train to Lake Garda
Shop my Fashion Looks For Venice Italy
I definitely recommend sensible shoes for walking and in general as the paving isn’t very heel friendly. You can always crop your feet out of photos and your feet and husband will thank you for not breaking your ankles!
From Venice to Lake Garda
From Venice we took the train to Lake Garda which takes around 90 minutes and is super easy. Venice Venezia San Lucia to Lake Garda (Peschiera Del Garda which is at the Southern Point): 11:50 am arrives 1:16 pm (1hr 26 minutes).
I’ve been to Lake Como before so chose Garda as we always try and go somewhere different. After going to Garda I definitely prefer Como as it’s more scenic and upscale. I was expecting Lake Garda to be more authentic and relaxing but felt more touristy and had a lot more kids. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still stunning and worth visiting, I just had different expectations and the hotel felt overpriced in comparison to the other hotels on our trip. If you’re planning on going, have a look at the Lake Garda travel guide for couples.
Eve Dawes is a Blogger, Podcaster, Mrs. England World 2020, a WBFF Pro Diva, SAG-AFTRA actress, NASM certified Personal Trainer, Founder of Dawes Custom Cosmetics and GlamourandGains.com. Eve's also the host of BFF (beauty, fitness & fashion) segment on Spill The Tea Live! The show for British Expats. Eve has over 15 years experience in the fashion world, is an avid traveller and cruelty-free beauty advocate.