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Best Things to do in Venice Italy & My Favorite Attractions

Best Things to do in Venice Italy & My Favorite Attractions

best things to Venice attractions Italy Eve Dawes steps

If you’re visiting Venice, you can’t miss these Venice attractions

Things to do in Venice Italy from day to night, for all budgets and ages. Venice is one of the most romantic cities we’ve been to and Venice travel guides can be overwhelming to know where to eat and what to do. If you’re looking for a luxury holiday in Venice, these are our favorite things to do and Venice attractions to experience a luxurious but authentic Venice. Including the best hotels, restaurants, bars, tours, things to see and do.

4 Days and 3 Nights in Venice | Luxury Holidays 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 restaurants in Venice Italy, luxury hotels in Venice, things to see, places to drink with a view and can’t miss Venice attractions. As well as 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 things to do in Venice guide is packed full of places to visit, tours, 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 in Italy 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 in Venice, restaurants, things to see and do, rooftop bars with views, Venice 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 over 30 times and we’re on the same wave length. As well as trawling Venice travel guides on 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 | How to get to Venice from the Train Station

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.

How to take the Train from Firenze to Venezia

Simply book the direct train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Venezia Santa Lucia Station. This train station in Venice is at the west end of the Cannaregio neighborhood.

Arrive in Venice in Style: Book a Vaporetto to get to your Venice hotel

My sister said the only way to arrive is by private vaporetto. Save your walking for when you don’t have suitcases to visit the Venice attractions and explore. 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 stunning & like an Italian painting from the 1700’s.

It’s super easy to find the Ferrovia vaporetto stop at the train station. It’s right in front of the station, just 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. However, 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 in Venice: Luxury 5* Hotels on The Grand Canal

The Gritti Palace, Hotel Bauer and Hotel Daniele, Venice Italy

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 and located really centrally by many of the main things to do in Venice. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

We stayed at the Gritti Palace which is hard to beat for it’s fantastic canal front views, food, and service. It’s easy to see how it’s ranked as one of the top Venice 5* Luxury Hotels on the Grand Canal in Venice.

However, there are other luxury hotel options besides The Gritti Palace, such as Hotel Daniele which we were also looking at and Hotel Bauer. Both have bars with amazing views and great locations on the Grand Canal.

Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice 5* is a 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. It has the most fantastic Roof Top Bar with sweeping views over the city. Get there early to get a seat!

Things to do Venice Hotel Bauer Rooftop Bar Sunset cocktails romantic breathtaking views

Unmissable Venice attractions

Romantic Things to Do in Venice Italy

If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Venice, 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.

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.

Venice attractions Piazza San Marco Italy in the rain

Unique Things to do in Venice | Venice Opera at Musica Palazzo

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. It’s one of those fully immersive, authentic Venice things to do that really feels like you’re stepping back in time.

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. It’s 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.

Authentic things to do Venicce Musica Palazzo Opera Italy Eve husband prosecco romantic evening

The Best Places to Eat in Venice Italy

We didn’t get to try all of these restaurants in Venice but I’ve included all of the ones recommended by my sister as well as the ones we found. Some are on various best restaurants in Venice Italy guides, others are hidden gems. The distance in minutes is how long it takes to walk from The Gritti Palace.

Try to look 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 del Doge Restaurant– romantic fine dining in Venice on the Grand Canal. We didn’t eat dinner here as we were staying at the hotel, having breakfast and drinks here and wanted to try other places as well. The views, ambience, and service are hard to beat and it definitely deserves to be on the best restaurants in Venice list. 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)

Birraria La Corte -campo San Polo 2168,30125 +39 041 275 0570 (21 min hotel, close to above). Pizza, Italian and Mediterranean food with vegan and gluten free options.

Trattoria Antiche Carampane -This Michelin restaurant is in Sestiere San Polo. So definitely make a reservation. 1911, 30125 + 39 041 524 01 (19 min walk)

Harry’s Dolci Cipriani, this is a bar not a restaurant but pop in for a Bellini or 2 without the hordes as the original Harry’s on Giudecca is always packed. 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.   

Osteria Antico Dolo, San Polo– we stopped at this quaint, historic restaurant in the Rialto for lunch. If you go 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) known for its seafood and bustling atmosphere. Pay attention to prices as some are per gram not the total so the prices can get expensive.

Ristorante da Raffaele – we found this one on a small canal right by Gritti Palace and ate here the night we went to the opera at Musica Palazzo. It’s also close to Harry’s and Hotel Bauer. We love the summer Black truffle pasta & sea bass (if you don’t like fish with its head on can ask for it to be served minus the head and tail).

Trattoria Da Giorgio – we stumbled across this on our first night and were drawn in by the views and the menu. You’ll want to sit outside here. It’s 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 to me anyway and the service was great.

best restaurants Venice Italy Trattoria Da Giorgio ristorante canal view

More best restaurants in Venice

La Corte Sconta– is another restaurant on the Michelin guide specializing in seafood that you’ll need a reservation for. Its located behind the Danielle hotel (near Castello district)

Vino vino – it’s not necessarily known for it’s food so slip eating here and go to this cozy wine bar near Fenice (4 mins from hotel) to share a romantic bottle.

For our last night in Venice Italy, we found a little pizzeria down a side street. It wasn’t anything special but we were hungry, hot and tired. There’s nothing worse than a hangry couple on a romantic holiday!

Best Venice Tours and Adventurous Things to do

top Venice attractions Terrace Basilica San Marco Italy bronze horses

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. However, 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 St Marks and Doge Palace tour to understand what we were looking at as well as a more adventurous foodie tour.

Venice Food Tour

Viator Eat Drink Repeat Tour If you’re looking for something less historical and a more fun thing to do in Venice, 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 this Venice food tour, you get to experience 6 authentic cafes in San Paulo with food and wine pairings at each. They’re not on the best restaurants in Venice Italy lists but they’re authentic and the most popular with Venetians who tend to prefer bacari like these to restaurants.

I’m so glad we got to experience them. They were also super generous with their pours! Our guide was so much fun and we definitely tried food and drink that we wouldn’t normally eat. As well as some we 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!

Venice authentic tour cicchetti

Venice authentic cicchetti

Traditional Bacari for Cicchetti in Venice

best restaurants bacari Venice tour viator Eat, Drink, Repeat

Venice Eat, Drink, Repeat Tour/ Comparing Campari Spritz and Aperol Spritz in Venice. Aperol Spritz for the win!

venice best food drink tour authentic prosciutto red wine

Best things to do in Piazza San Marco | St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace Tour

Probably one of the most popular Venice attractions is St Marks Square. We booked the Viator Legendary Venice St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace tour. We aren’t really the type of couple that goes cathedral hopping but you can’t come to Venice and not 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.

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View St Marks terrace San Marco piazza travel blogger Eve Dawes

Is the Doge Palace, Venice worth visiting?

Following St. Marks Basilica, you’ll then head over to another famous Venice attraction, the Doge’s Palace / Palazzo Ducale. Which is the former political heart of Venice where you’ll 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. This is the same view the prisoners would have has as their last view of the outside world.

If you like history, you’ll love the Doge Palace.

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.

View inside Bridge of Sighs Ducale Palace Tour Venice Italy travel guide best things to do

Take a Romantic Gondola Ride along the Venice Canals

Venice gondola rides can be a little pricey and I would definitely stay away from tours and instead do a private gondola 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).

Aperol Spritz Grand Canal Bar Foscarini Venice Italy

Main Venice Neighborhoods

Venice is broken down into neighborhoods, each with their own distinct character and own unique Venice attractions and charm. The main ones are San Marco, San Polo, Cannaregio, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, Castello, & the island of Giudecca.

San Marco, Venice

St Marks Square Venice Italy luxury travel blogger Eve dancing in the rain

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.

Where are Venice’s historical sights?

Most of Venice’s attractions and 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.

Inside Doges Palace Tour Venice Italy

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.

Things to do in 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.

  • Visit Venice attraction ‘San Giacomo dell’Orio’ – an 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.

Things to do in Castello

We didn’t get as far as Castello (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 

Venice Attractions | Explore the Islands of Venice

Unfortunately, we didn’t go to this Venice attraction 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 being the main Venice attractions here. 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

All attractions and tours

Our Venice Itinerary

Luxury travel guide Venice Italy Romantic couple gondola ride grand canal

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 ended up taking, we booked once we arrived and had walked around the first afternoon.

Venice Day 1:

  • Arrival via pre-booked Vaporetto.
  • Explore Venice by foot.
  • Bar Foscarini for afternoon Aperol Spritz on the Grand canal 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.

Venice Day 2:

This was our most touristy day visiting as many Venice attractions as possible on 2 different tours.

  • Eat Drink Repeat Venice Viator Tour visiting the best bacari in Rialto.
  • Duty free luxury shopping. My husband picked up his Omega watch on this trip. I had fun at Chanel and Rene Caovilla. This area, right off of St Marks Square has the best luxury shopping in Venice.
  • St Marks Basilica and Doge Palace Tour.

Venice Day 3:

  • 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 for sunset cocktails at the rooftop bar with views of the Grand canal and city.
  • Musica Palazzo to see La Traviata
  • Post opera drinks in San Marco by our hotel.

Venice Day 4:

  • Final breakfast al fresco at Gritti Palace, I’m going to miss their chocolate croissants. 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!

How to get 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.

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