Venice is one of those destinations that people either love or hate. I’ve heard friends say that it was beautiful, romantic, and a-trip-of-a-lifetime. I’ve also had friends who thought it was too crowded, smelled bad, and overpriced. My honest opinion is that Venice is all of the above. However, for me its romantic beauty far outweighed any negatives. Of course it is expensive. It’s an island! Of course it is crowded. The 20 million visitors a year come because it is an amazing destination! Yes, you can smell the water from your hotel room. There’s canals everywhere!
We hadn’t planned on seeing Venice anytime soon, but when my brother and sister-in-law invited us to join them on their 30th anniversary trip to Northern Italy, we ditched our other summer plans and booked a flight. We started our Northern Italy trip on the western side of Italy in Milan (read 5 Days in Northern Italy: Lombardy Region). Then traveled by train to spend the last half of our vacation in the Veneto Region (4 Days in Northeast Italy: Veneto Region)
Watch our 3-minute summary of our 4 travel in the Veneto Region!
How to Spend 2 Days in Venice, Italy
Lodging in Venice
You’ll want to be somewhat close to a public boat stop (called Vaporetti). Carrying your luggage more than a couple of blocks over the cobblestone streets and bridges can be quite the task. Porters are available at major docks and are more than willing to get your luggage to your destination!
Being located on the Grand Canal can be very expensive. Look a block away, and the price drops. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still very expensive to stay in Venice! We chose Ca’Foscolo Residence, an apartment-style hotel that was only a 3-minute walk from the large Rialto stop and and St. Mark’s Square. We arrived at Venice by train. From the train station, you can take a Vaporetti to the Rialto stop. We rented a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment which was perfect for the four of us. Our apartment also included a washer and dryer and full kitchen, stocked daily with breakfast amenities. No matter where you choose to stay, book early, especially if traveling during the peak season (April-June and September-October).
Transportation in Venice
You basically have 2 options to get around the island- by foot or by boat. No motorized vehicles or bicycles are allowed. Venice’s main transit system uses boats called vaporetto, which run similarly to city bus and subway systems. There are ticket kiosks at almost every dock. Major docks also have ticket windows if you need to ask questions. Boat crewman and ticket salesmen are accustomed to confused tourists so don’t be afraid to get route information.
You can buy a single ticket for €7.50 which is good for 75 minutes. Your ticket is refillable, which is cheaper (€5) for future uses. For us, buying a pass with unlimited rides was the way to go: €20/24 hours, €30/48 hours, €40/72 hours. There were some times, when we just got on a vaporetto to enjoy the scenery!
When it comes to navigating the city by foot, just accept the notion that you will get lost. Google maps worked most of the time, but even Google gets confused by the winding streets and canals. Getting lost is actually part of the romantic experience. Just remember you are on an island, eventually you will find yourself at one of the major tourist attractions where you can regain your bearings.
Venice 2-Day Itinerary
Day 1 in Venice
Basilica de Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica)
St. Mark’s is the treasure of Venice. It was first built in the 9th century to house St. Mark’s body that had been smuggled out of Egypt. After the basilica burned in 932, it was rebuilt in the Byzantine-style. The Byzantine influence can be seen in the domed architecture and the 8000 square meters of sparkling (mainly gold) mosaics inside. You won’t be able to help whispering a sigh of “Oh my,” when you first step inside!
There is no cost to enter the basilica, but be prepared for long lines (up to 45 minutes). For €3 you can buy a “skip the line” ticket. As in most basilicas and cathedrals, modest dress is required, with knees and shoulders covered. There are smalll additional costs to see the tomb of St. Mark, the treasury, and museum. All of which we’d recommend. No pictures are allowed inside St. Mark’s. However, it felt like I was the only visitor following the rules! From the upper-level museum, you can walk out on the huge balcony for some great views of the city.
Campanile (Bell Tower)
St. Mark’s Bell Tower is located right next to the basilica. At €8, it is well worth the views and historical significance. Galileo Galilei tested his telescope here! There is an elevator (thankfully) that takes you all the way to the top. From the top, visitors can get 360° views of the lagoon, St. Mark’s Square and Basilica, and the rest of the island. Time it right, and you get to hear the bells up close and personal!
Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)
Official residence of the duke (Doge), this gothic palace was built between the 10th and 11th century to show the rest of the known world the power of Venice. Located about as close to the waterfront as you can get, the complex includes a beautiful courtyard, the Doge’s private quarters, council chambers, courts, and prisons. My favorite part of the tour was crossing the Bridge of Sighs. The bridge was crossed by prisoners getting their last look of freedom before entering the prison. Give yourself at least an hour or two to tour. A standard ticket is €20. Add an additional €5 for the audio tour (dry but informative).
Wander Around at Night
There is nothing more romantic than light reflecting off of water at night. When you have a city that has canals for streets, with bridges traversing the maze of walkways, walking around at night is a must! We purposely didn’t plan a strict itinerary for our first night in Venice. We wanted to let our wandering take us to places not found on our map. To truly experience Venice, walking the streets is the biggest attraction of all. The best part is that it is absolutely free!
Day 2 in Venice
Mercati di Rialto & Rialto Bridge
Venetians and visitors alike have been purchasing fruit, vegetables, flowers, and fish from this public market since 1097. The barges start unloading at dawn and vendors start setting up and selling by 8am. Don’t wait until the afternoon to see this bustling marketplace. Everything shuts down by noon. The produce market is closed on Sundays. The fish market is closed Sunday & Monday.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the world’s most famous bridges, crossing the Grand Canal in a single swoop. The span of the bridge is lined with shops. During the day, the bridge is packed with tourists, shopping and taking millions of selfies. Go to this area in the morning (after visiting the market), and you’ll have the bridge all to yourself!
Galleria dell’Accademia (Accademia)
The Accademia is Venice’s most priced art museum. Housing prestigious Venetian Renaissance paintings, including works from the Bellini family, Titian, Giorgione, and Canaletto. Go in the morning to avoid a wait (only 400 are allowed in the museum at a time) or take a chance and go at midday to escape the heat. €12.
Grand Canal Tour
You can see the Grand Canal using your vaporetto pass (slow boat #1), but if you’re a history lover like me, have a guided tour makes a destination come alive. The canal is 150 feet wide, 15 feet deep, and more than 2 miles long. All along the Grand Canal are former palaces from when Renaissance Venice was the richest city in the world. City regulations prevent any change in architecture on these waterfront masterpieces.
Our hotel recommended an Alilaguna Grand Canal Tour (€30 for an hour tour). Their ticket office is on the San Marco Square waterfront.
Yes, you have to have a gondola ride at least once if you visit Venice. Is it worth the cost? Not really, but you’re in Venice. RIDE A GONDOLA! There are gondoliers awaiting riders all over Venice. The standard rate is around €80 for a 35-minute ride. So if there are 4 of you, then the €80 is spread out among all the passengers, making the cost per person cheaper. After 7pm, the price goes up to €100.
I wanted a sunset gondola ride, and spotted a gondola serenade for only €41 person. So I thought that sounded better than a plain old ride without music. When we were told we would be sharing the ride with 2 other couples that didn’t bother me. However, learn from our mistake and get details. We didn’t realize that the musician wouldn’t be riding on our gondola! His serenade would be shared by 5 other gondolas! So my idyllic expectations of a romantic ride were dashed. Luckily, we were sharing our ride with other couples that felt the same, and we all chalked it up to a lesson learned in the most beauty city in the world. If life gives you lemons, at least you have a breathtakingly beautiful backdrop to make lemonade!
So ride a gondola, but if it seems like a good deal, you’re probably on the wrong boat!
Have you been to Venice, Italy before? We’d love for you to add your thoughts and recommendations. Have any questions? Please ask by commenting below! Keep up with all of our travel, camping, and cycling tips by following us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Leave us your email (blue box at the bottom of the post) to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and never miss a post!