Venice is one of the most romantic cities not only in Italy but in the whole world. With easy access to the Mediterranean Sea, but securely hidden in a harbor and spread across several islands, the "floating" city had been at the crossroads of the European trade for centuries. Its clever geographical positioning attracted wealthy merchants and other prominent figures who brought in enough money to build a unique and awe-inspiring city despite the challenging location. The result is a stunning and one-of-a-kind city that is a must for every romantic Italian itinerary.
This three-day itinerary will give a detailed overview of this amazing destination with a focus on romantic couple-centric experiences.
When to Go
Venice is located in northern Italy so the best time to go would be between the months of May and September. However, this is when everyone visits so expect significant crowds. Fall is a lovely time to go given there are fewer tourists, but it is also when the acqua alta (flooding, or literally "high water") is more likely to occur. Flooding makes it hard to navigate the city because most of the sightseeing opportunities, as well as restaurants and vendors, will be flooded to the point where they have to close down.
By Airplane: the Marco Polo airport is located on the mainland and has multiple connections to Venice. Taking a boat ride is a nice way to start your Venice adventure: upon exiting the Arrivals hall, look for the covered walkway on the left and follow the walkway for 7 minutes until you reach the dock. The water bus stops in Venice at San Marco, Rialto, Fondamenta Nuove and Le Guglie. A trip to Piazza San Marco takes approximately 1 hour 12 minutes. You can also travel by land on a shuttle bus that will take you to Piazzale Roma (next to the Santa Lucia train station) in 23 minutes, which may be more convenient if you are lodging in that area.
By Train: the city of Venice is well connected to the rest of Italy by trains with a handy train station Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia delivering passengers straight to the main island. From there, private water taxis and public water buses, the vaporetti, will take you anywhere within the island.
By Car: this is a rather expensive option, but very convenient if you have a car and are continuing to other destinations after visiting Venice. Follow the signs to Venice and then to Tronchetto Parking. After crossing the long bridge, enter the Tronchetto parking lot and park in lot E on any floor (this will be closest to the exit to the ferry terminal). Buy a water bus ticket and take the #1 or #2 vaporetto to the stop closest to your hotel.
Traveler's Tip: if traveling by car, we suggest you pack a small bag with necessities for your Venice trip if you are combining it with any other Italian cities since hauling giant luggage bags in and out of water taxis and then through narrow Venetian streets overrun by tourists is no fun. Make sure to not leave any valuables in your car and secure the luggage that you are leaving behind in a trunk so that it is not visible from the outside of the car.
Where to Stay
Venice's islands when combined on a map look like a giant fish with its head pointing to the entrance to Venice from the mainland. The train station is also right there in the "head" part. There are four main neighborhoods: Santa Croce (convenient to the transportation off the island), Cannaregio (hip and fun), San Marco (the most touristy), Dorsoduro (sleepy and quiet) and Castello (all the way by the tail).
Considering that Venice is not that big, it really does not matter where you stay. If it's cheaper in Santa Croce around Piazzale Roma, it is just as acceptable as anything by Piazza San Marco. We suggest checking Tripadvisor to find the best hotel for your budget, but we can also recommend three hotels that we personally like:
- Hotel Canal Grande (4*) is conveniently located across the canal from Santa Lucia train station and Piazzale Roma where the shuttles from the airport arrive. Its opulent 18th century decor will give you that old Venice feel that you are probably looking for. Most rooms have Canal views and there is a waterside terrace for the guests' enjoyment. Free Wi-Fi and breakfast are a nice perk.
- Hotel Palazzo Paruta (4*) is located in the heart of Venice, a 5-minute walk from Piazza San Marco. The price point is just right for this hotel and because of its location on a quiet square, it is not noisy at night so perfect for light sleepers. It is a little tricky to find, but the closest vaporetto stop is S. Samuele.
- The Gritti Palace (5*) is a swanky trendy hotel located across the Canal from Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute providing gorgeous views from most of its rooms and all of the waterside dining options. This hotel is also home to one of the most romantic restaurants in Venice - Club del Doge (more about it later).
Traveler's Tip: Venice is a tricky city to navigate - with narrow lanes, tons of dead-ends and streets literally ending in the water, it is lots of fun to get lost in. Additionally, Google maps navigation is not very reliable here, which makes it even more fun. So we suggest you don't rely entirely on the Google maps and carry an old-school paper map with you to help you navigate.
Highlights of the day:
- San Marco Square
- The Doge's Palace
- Rialto Bridge
- Early cicchetti dinner
- Best panoramic view of Venice
After arrival, put on your best walking shoes and let's begin! Navigate yourself to Piazza San Marco. All vaporetti stop there and being the main Venetian hub this place is definitely happening at all hours. As you travel on a vaporetto, snag a good viewing spot and admire the intricate architectural details of the beautiful buildings along the Grand Canal. Back in the day Venice was not pedestrian-friendly with limited access to the buildings from other sides but the Grand Canal. Since no one but the servants would see the structures from inside the city, only the facades facing the Grand Canal were built with the signature Venetian architectural details combining gothic lancet arch with Byzantine and Ottoman influences.
As you enter the Piazza San Marco the sheer amount of people around you will be overwhelming. Please be aware of your surroundings since tons of pickpockets easily blend in with gawking tourists. The eastern part of the Piazza is dominated by the St. Mark's Basilica with its famous Campanile clock tower. The church dates back to 1156 and the clock tower has a history of very unfortunate events happening to it since the early days: it suffered damage by lightning on many occasions, it was severely damaged in 1388, set on fire and destroyed in 1417 and then seriously damaged again by a fire in 1489 that destroyed the wooden spire. In July of 1902 the Campanile cracked and completely collapsed. It took 10 years and plenty of lires to re-build it. Personally, I just try to stay away from the Campanile just in case history decides to repeat itself one of these days.
As you stand in the middle of Piazza San Marco, glance beyond the arched awnings of the buildings surrounding the square. I bet you didn't know that Venice is the birthplace of the Italian tradition of coffee. Due to its position and its trade relations with the Arab world, coffee was first introduced here and then spread to the rest of Italy. Take a moment and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the square while sipping an espresso at the oldest Venetian coffee house, the Florian which dates back to 1720. Plenty of instagrammers fight for their chance to snap a pic sitting at one of the signature sidewalk tables under the antique name sign so be patient.
You may also remember those iconic pictures of Venice being overrun by pigeons. It was Piazza San Marco that was ruled by the birds that were sustained by unsuspecting tourists feeding them seeds for a chance to get pooped on. Facing a sanitary crisis, Venice banned pigeon feeding in 2008 and the pigeons gradually left the square in search of a new toilet opportunities.
After your historic espresso break (pronounced es-presso, not ex-presso), pop into the St. Mark's Basilica. Entrance to the church is free, unless you want to skip the line with a €2 online reservation. Give the beautiful church a quick 10-15 minute look and navigate back to the Piazza San Marco. You can also pay €8 to climb the Campanile tower for a panoramic pigeon's eye view (skip this activity and save money with a free overlook of Venice that you can do later in the day).
Your next destination is the Doge's Palace. Because the ticket line at the entrance is much longer than the line for those with tickets in hand, stop by Museo Correr located in the western corner of Piazza San Marco first. There is no line at the museum's ticket booth so you can pick up your Doge's Palace ticket (which includes Museo Correr in its admission price as well) relatively hassle-free. Come back to the Doge's Palace line a winner and move quickly through the metal detectors into one of the most beautiful buildings in Venice.
Traveler's Tip: before entering Doge's Palace walk 200 feet up to the bridge that looks like it is about to collapse from all the people on top of it. This bridge overlooks one of the most famous (and photogenic) places in Venice - the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). While pictures of floating gondolas with hand-holding couples make this view seem very romantic, the Bridge of Sighs has a bit of a sinister history: it was through this covered bridge that the convicted felons were led to their prison cells and the legend has it that as they walked along the bridge and saw the beautiful Venice through the small intricate windows they would sigh knowing that there was a very high chance that they would never see it again. Sigh, indeed!
Doge's Palace is a fantastic representative of Venetian history, art and architecture. Unlike most modern museums located in historic buildings, all the wall art in the Palace is original. This was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. It also served as the Venetian parliament and a court house, which means that its interior consists of a multitude of enormous airy rooms that give the palace a distinctly regal feeling. Admire the intricately decorated ceilings as you walk through the halls.
The tour of the Palace ends in the dingy prison cells. The prison of Venice was notorious for being a literal hell hole. Small cells in many of which one could not even stand up, as well as cells with scorching stone that served as the ceiling, were common and many a prisoner has perished here.
After you are done with the Palace, navigate yourself across Piazza San Marco and head west through the entrance to Museo Correr (stop by if you feel like it since you already have a ticket). Then head north toward the Rialto Bridge. Since Venice's streets are extremely confusing there are handy yellow signs posted everywhere indicating directions to the most famous sights.
Shortly after you make the turn north, you will reach Basino Orseolo - basically a parking lot for all gondoliers awaiting to take tourists on a ride. The place is crowded as most tour and cruise ship passengers come here to experience this distinct Venetian activity. You will be riding a gondola tomorrow from a much less crowded place so you can pass this bustling hub of gawking tourists.
Traveler's Tip: this one is for the ladies! If you are looking to get a nice blow out, tucked inside a courtyard in this area is Carol's hair salon (Calle Larga XXII Marzo, 2422). The owner really knows what she is doing. The cost of 45 Euros is a bit steep but if you will be taking our advice and fine dining at Club Del Doge, she will make you look your best.
Once you navigate to the famous Rialto Bridge through the narrow lanes lined with cafes, Venetian mask shops and hordes of tourists, pause for a minute before the bridge and admire its beauty from down below standing on one of the docks.
It is now time for an early bird dinner! You should be getting here around 6pm and if you are early, do the next activity first, and then return for dinner since all of the places we mention below generally re-open for dinner at 6pm.
On the north side of the Rialto Bridge you will find the Rialto Market - a great area for bar-hopping, drinks and typical Venetian snacks. There are many hole-in-the-wall establishments here that will deliver a true celebration to your taste buds. We are getting here in the late afternoon / early evening because this is the least crowded time. The cicchetti row is located right here. Traditional Venetian answer to Spanish tapas, cicchetti are finger foods that typically cost €1.5-2 each and are eaten accompanied by house wine, beer or the traditional refreshing Venetian cocktail known as Aperol spritz (you can easily make this delicious and light drink at home: 1 part Aperol liquor, 1 part prosecco wine and 1 part seltzer, garnish of an orange slice).
Many cincchetti eateries are located along Sotoportego dei Do More and Calle de le Do Spade. Our favorites in the area are Bar all'Arco, Cantina Do Mori (locals have been loving it since 1462), Osteria ai Storti and Cantina Do Spade. Have a couple or a dozen cicchetti, and you will taste a piece of Venetian culinary history.
You can also opt for a sit-down dinner featuring cicchetti at one of these restaurants that feature some of the best canal-side seating in Venice: Caffe Vergnano, Osteria al Pesador, and the affordable but romantic Bar Ancora where live piano music is featured during dinner time.
Next up - THE best (and free) bird-eye view of Venice. Pop into Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a large department store on the north side of the Rialto Bridge and climb up to its panoramic rooftop terrace. The 360-degree view of Venice is breathtaking from here. But be prepared, this place gets crowded especially around sundown time - you are definitely not the only ones on a romantic trip here!
Your feet must be really hurting now, so it is time to rest! Tomorrow, more Venetian adventures await.
Highlights of the day:
- Grand Canal Cruise
- Sunset gondola ride
- Romantic fine dining dinner
- Classical music performance
You already know that the best way to explore Venice is by boat - the Grand Canal presents a plethora of sightseeing opportunities and is a very budget-friendly alternative to gondola rides or private taxis. We are going to take a relaxing ride with a couple of stops to round off your Venetian experience.
Navigate to Piazalle Roma. Since this is the first stop, it is where you are the most likely to get a good seat or standing spot. Take the local #1 vaporetto, which will make all the stops on its way down to San Marco Square. First stop is the train station - Ferrovia. More than 20,000 people commute to Venice via this train station from the mainland, making it a humming beehive of people during rush hours. The modern-looking bridge across the Canal in front of the station was built in 2008 to ease up the human traffic in this hub. Watch out for all kinds of boat activity at Riva de Biasio - you can spot almost any boat here: taxi boats, police boats, garbage boats and of course UPS boats - Amazon packages need to make their way to Venice as well.
At San Marcuola, stands an unfinished church of San Marcuola, one of the only five Venetian churches facing the Grand Canal. Further down, the tallest building with the red awning, is Venice's casino housed in the palace where German composer Richard Wagner died in 1883. The casino is run by the state and you can see the red carpet rolled out to welcome fancy guests arriving by taxi boats. San Stae is another church facing the Canal. Peek inside the canal openings to see how outside of the Grand Canal the ornate buildings are plain brick structures. Wealthy merchants only showed off their houses' architectural opulence where everyone could admire it.
Ca' d'Oro or "House of Gold" looks like it is made out of intricate lace. Each of the three stories showcases a different balcony design and the roof is topped with a spiny white roofline. Today, this building is an art gallery. A bit further down you can see the traghetto gondolas that transport people across the Canal (stops are marked by green and black signs). Today, there are only three traghetto crossings remaining in Venice. The gondoliers on these boats are not employed here full-time. All gondoliers are required to row a traghetto a few days a month. At €2 a ride, traghetti offer the cheapest gondola rides in Venice, but at this price the gondoliers are definitely not singing for you.
Rialto Mercato and Rialto bridge stops are already familiar to you from yesterday. Tons of your fellow riders are likely to step off the boat at one of these. San Silvestro just before the Rialto Bridge marks a stretch of important merchant palaces. Since ships could not navigate beyond the Rialto Bridge, the biggest palaces had to be built in the navigable area of the Canal. In these palaces the bottom floors were warehouses and offices, the middle floors were the living quarter of the rich owners, and interestingly, the servants lived and worked on the very top floors (I guess nobles refused to climb that many stairs) with the kitchens also located there for safety reasons. Get off at San Toma stop which follows the Sant 'Angelo stop. We are stopping by the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church to see Venetian art in its original setting. This church features work of three great Renaissance artists: Donatello, Giovanni Bellini and Titian. The entrance cost is €3 and the church is open Monday through Saturday 9am - 6pm and 1pm - 6pm on Sunday.
Traveler's Tip: public bathrooms are hard to come by in crowded Venice. A local guide gave us a brilliant tip - most cafes and restaurants in Venice sell €1 espresso shots. Buy a shot of espresso, enjoy it at the counter and use the bathroom for free.
If you enjoyed the Frafi church, you can continue to the Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice's top art museum (it is an 11-minute walk, or 2 more stops on the vaporetto from San Toma stop). The museum houses an impressive collection of Venetian Renaissance art. The cost is a bit steep at €12 per person but if you are an art aficionado, it is definitely worth it. Since there is a limit on how many people can enter the gallery at once, it may be wise to pre-book tickets online for a surcharge to avoid the lines.
After the museum, walk over to Squero di San Trovaso to see gondolier makers in action. One of the oldest gondola shops, the craftsmen show off their skills to the passing tourists. Gondolas are an expensive investment - they cost anywhere between 40 and 45 thousand Euros because they require a lot of hours of hand craftsmanship. Notice the fish looking decorations on the fronts of the gondolas representing Venice's shape.
Just above Squero di San Trovaso is our favorite cicchetti bar - Cantine del Vino già Schiavi. Beloved by the locals it features dozens of fresh cicchetti and a full bar.
If you are looking for a sit-down lunch, Bar Foscarini right outside of the Accademia Gallery has decent pizzas and paninis and a great Grand Canal setting. Chances are you won't remember this meal, but the view will stay with you for a while.
You cannot leave Venice without trying Italian gelato ice cream. Small gelato shops are everywhere and the vast majority of them sell amazing offerings of gelato. Just pop into any one of these street-side shops for a perfect dessert.
Now that you are half-way through your day, you may want to take a bit of a rest in your hotel and prepare for an evening of action. Get you best outfits on because it is time to be glamorous.
Experience a gondola ride before dinner. We suggest getting on a gondola at Campo Sant'Angelo. This quiet square is a great starting point for a no frills gondola ride. There is rarely a line and this starting point makes for a great narrow canals' ride. Try to get there by 6:15pm as after 7pm prices go up from €80 to €100 for a 35-minute ride.
Gondola Ride Tips: gondoliering is an art in Venice. There is a limit on how many gondoliers can be simultaneously employed and it is a sought out profession that provides good income. However, the gondoliers vary in their skill and attitude. Choose your gondolier wisely. First, pay attention to the shirt they are wearing: a shirt with black and white stripes indicates that their mood is foul, usually due to some heavy drinking the night before, blue-striped shirt is better, but the best one is the red stripes, which means that the gondolier is in a cheerful mood. When you hire a gondolier, confirm the price, the length of the ride (if he says anything less than 35 min, walk away), then discuss the route and ask the gondolier not to smoke during your ride. Gondoliers are generally open to taking pictures of you and will happily pose for selfies.
Sit back and enjoy your ride while watching the gondolier navigate the narrow canals with the help of wooden poles and skillful leg tricks. Good gondoliers will tell you stories and sing in the streets with especially good acoustics. Watch the clock: if your ride was under 35 minutes, do not give a tip, but if your gondolier went above and beyond with a guided tour, a song or two and an extra couple of minutes on the water, spare a couple of Euros for a tip.
Traveler's Tip: if you are looking for a variety of decorated gondolas (some are fancier than others) and / or a musical accompaniment, head over to Basino Orseolo. lt will be crowded and you may have to wait in line, but this station does have the largest selection of gondolas.
A note on Venetian canal water: while the pollution in the canals of Venice has been somewhat rectified in recent years and the water does not have a lingering putrid smell any longer, it remains quite dangerous for skin contact. There are issues with sewage containment due to the aging infrastructure of the city, as well as presence of known harmful chemicals from household waste. Some people report getting infections after contact with canal waters so it would be wise to avoid touching the water and to wear protective gear during high tides and flood season.
It is time for dinner. There is no more romantic restaurant in Venice than Club del Doge at the Gritti Palace Hotel (you will need to pass through the hotel to get to the restaurant). Featured in so many movies set in Venice, the Grand Canal-side location opposite the beautiful Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute cannot be beat especially at sundown. The menu is pricey but the food is good so you are not just paying for the setting. You have to reserve way in advance and make a note that you want first line water seating to get the best romantic sunset view.
Traveler's Tip: if you opt out of splurging on dinner at this restaurant, stop by for drinks at the Gritti Palace's Bar Longhi which has outside seating as well and enjoy a similar view of the Basilica and the Grand Canal.
For your after-dinner entertainment, we have a very Venetian experience reserved for you. Head over to San Marco's Square after dark for a live orchestra performance. Several cafes in San Marco's Square have full orchestras playing at night. The most notable ones are Caffe Florian, Gran Caffe Quadri and Gran Caffe Lavena. Each cafe adds on a cover charge to your drink order and rotates the music they play so check the program before you settle down. It is also perfectly acceptable to watch the orchestra from the sidelines along with other tourist without sitting down.
Traveler's Tip: when you sit down at one of the cafes in San Marco Square, make sure you are not sitting next to water collection holes. At night, when the tide is high, water rises up and starts flooding the Square and the areas next to those holes get flooded first. Not that you are totally safe on the pavement, as the water sips up through the stones as well, but it won't get as wet.
And now your second romantic day in Venice is over. It is time for the well-deserved rest.
Since Venice is rather small and can be walked in 1-2 days, if you followed our days 1 and 2 you have now seen most of this beautiful city. For Day 3, we are giving you options on some of the things that you may consider to round up your romantic Venetian adventure:
- Tour of the Dorsoduro District - known as the "forgotten district," Dorsoduro is charming and quiet, yet filled with history and some of the best examples of Venetian architecture. The best way to tour it is with a guide. La Bussola offers free tours of Dorsoduro and other districts of Venice - the tours are led by local art and history students and are very informative and fun. You can book the tours on their website: https://www.venicefreetours.com. Just make sure you have cash to tip your guide - they are volunteering their time and will appreciate your contribution.
- Cannaregio District - the top part of the "fish" that is Venice and flanked by the Cannaregio Canal is a district where locals escape the tourists. According to local guides, this is THE place to go if one wants to see how real Venetians live and dine. This area is also what used to be a Jewish ghetto. Densely populated and set aside as the local Jewish quarter in 1516, it used to be extremely crowded. It was actually this community that originated the word "ghetto" from the Italian word geto, the copper foundry located here.
- Venetian Lagoon Day Trip - there are four islands tucked into Venice's quiet lagoon: San Michele, Murano, Burano and Torcello. You can combine a boat trip to these with Lido Beach for a nice relaxing end to your trip if the weather cooperates. If you only had to pick two islands, Murano with its lace-making specialty and Murano, with its glass-blowing trade are the most popular. You can take a vaporetto to these islands: start at the Fondamente Move stop on the north shore of Venice and then hop on and off to see each of the islands and the beach.