Best Things to Do in Venice
A few travel destinations are known to be romantic: Paris, Santorini, the Maldives, and Venice, to name a few. As someone who is in a relationship but also loves traveling alone, I often wonder if I’d still enjoy a romantic destination by myself.
When a weeklong work trip to Venice came up for my partner, I thought it would make for the perfect opportunity to experience the floating city both as a couple and a solo traveler. I am happy to report that I find Venice to be equally fabulous for a couple or as a solo trip!
Since I had a week, I took my time to check out various tour options, indulged at several restaurants, and took day trips to the surrounding islands before seeing some sights with my partner.
If you are visiting Venice and want to make the best of your time, here are the very best things to do in and around the city of water, with insider tips:
1. Visit the Doge’s Palace (early in the morning)
You will pass by St.Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) — where three of the most iconic buildings in Venice are located: the Doge’s Palace, Torre dell’Orlogio, and St.Mark Basilica — several times during your trip. Tourists from all around the world fill the square throughout the day, so expect to be stuck in human traffic! With that said, it is absolutely worth it to come to the square in the early hours (I am talking sunrise) to have a quiet and peaceful experience. You will be in a calmer state of mind to enjoy the architecture — and get photos without anyone in them!
I decided to take an early-morning skip-the-line guided tour to the Doge’s Palace and St.Mark’s Basilica, with terrace access. It started at 8am, which means I was one of the first visitors of the day. This gave me some breathing space in the palace, which I appreciated, though by the time we made our way to the basilica, the other tour groups — as well as other tourists who had been lining up outside — had already taken over. (I was able to have an exclusive experience at the basilica later — more on that below!)
Although you can purchase tickets directly from the official sites, I recommend taking a guided tour, because there were so many details I would’ve missed otherwise. Learning about Venice’s glorious trading past was really interesting, and having an experienced guide to show us around the basilica was a wonderful experience.
2. …or join an exclusive after-hours tour
Everyone who went on the after-dark tour raved about it, so naturally, I had to try it out myself! The St Mark’s Basilica After-Hours Small Group Tour is available to very limited groups, so you pretty much have the entire church all to yourselves. It was such a magical moment when the security personnel turned off all of the lights, leaving the entire cathedral in darkness, and then turned on lights that highlight the frescos, just for us. Having been to both the day and after-hours tours, what I recommend is to join the Doge’s Palace tour (without basilica) in the morning and the after-hours basilica tour at night. This means forgoing the opportunity to see Venice from the cathedral’s rooftop, but there’s another (free) spot for that, which I will share below.
3. Admire Florian Café
The oldest coffeehouse in Italy (est. 1720) deserves a peek! Frequent patrons included Casanova and Charles Dickens. While I appreciate its history and beautiful interior, I didn’t feel like overspending on coffee (it’s 3x the price of a regular cafe), so a quick look was sufficient for me. It is one of the few cafés located on the main square, so at night, you may pay extra for a table outside to enjoy live performances.
4. Eat at Osteria La Carla
Out of all of the restaurants I’ve tried out in Venice, Osteria La Carla, a recommendation by a local, was among my favorites! It is tucked away behind the main square — always a good sign. The prices are on the steep side, but it was worth it. The woman behind the place, a graphic designer turned chef, has such an innovative way with food presentation. The ambience was also just right, and the waiters were friendly and fun to chat with — an ideal setup for solo diners.
5. … or join a local food tour
I have to admit, I did not expect to be blown away by food in Venice, given that it is not exactly known for its gastronomy. That being said, I was curious about the best spots, so I decided to join a food tour. It turned out to be a lot of fun! We were taken along side streets that we would have otherwise walked right past, and learned the history of some family-run bars and bakeries that have been around for centuries. We were also served wine generously, and by the end of the tour, everyone was red and giddy, which was a lot of fun. If you are a solo traveler, this is also a great chance to meet others.
6. Take a day trip to Murano and Burano
Going to Murano and Burano is the most popular day trip from Venice. While both island towns are accessible via the vaporetto (water bus), which costs 20 euros for a day pass, the 45-minute, one-way journey can be long, crowded, and hot. On the other hand, private water taxis are ridiculously expensive and I do not recommend using them at all.
Having been to these island towns twice, once on my own and another time with a small group tour, I have differing recommendations depending on what you are interested in. If your time is limited, I definitely recommend joining a small group tour, as the private fast boat takes much less time to get to the islands and you will have a more comprehensive experience, complete with a glass-making demonstration on Murano and an hour of free time on Burano to explore, take photos, and do some shopping. However, if you are happy to dedicate an entire day to this, doing it on your own will give you more flexibility.
7. Watch a violin concert
I know what you might be thinking: “Isn’t this boring?” I had the same thought and didn’t know what to expect, since it was my very first classical violin concert experience. There are a few such concerts available in Venice, but I opted for the Interpreti Veneziani Concert at Church of San Vidal for an intimate experience. In the end, I was impressed and entertained! Several iconic pieces were played, including Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” The 17th-century church provided fantastic acoustics, and it felt like a step back into history. The concert was 90 minutes long, nice for after dinner and before dolci, a great way to wrap up a long day of walking.
Perhaps a classier option would be La Fenice, but there are fairly limited number of concerts held per month, and tickets range from 57 to 303 euros.
8. Eat gelato
I am not exaggerating when I said I had a gelato every day in Italy! Out of the few popular gelato places in Venice, Gelatoteca Suso was my favorite, though Gelato di Natura also came close. If you intend to try out a few places to determine your own favorite, just make sure to avoid ones with gelato that looks very fluffy and has toppings on them — these places use a lot of stabilizer, and authentic gelato should not come with toppings!
9. Get lost
There are worse places in this world to get lost. Venice truly is so beautiful and romantic, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed getting lost this much. Just turn onto smaller streets and wander, and you will find quiet alleys, couples sitting by the canal sharing a moment, and rare sightings of locals (there are only 670,000 residents as of 2022 — to give you some perspective, Venice received 4,776,000 tourists in 2019).
I am also happy to report that I felt completely safe walking alone in Venice. Just make sure you have comfortable shoes!
Since everything has to be transported to Venice by boat, I found shopping to be on the expensive side, so leave that for when you are in cities such as Milan.
10. Enjoy Venice after dark
There’s something so magical about Venice’s evening light. The sun’s rays are softened by the mist above the canal. The buildings reflect a warm orange light. The chatting tourists are replaced by birds singing on their way home. Whether you pack some snacks and find a corner to sit at by the water, or have an aperitivo and some snacks at one of the canal-front bars, take a minute to soak in the Venetian evening.
Another option is to book a spot online for 15-minute rooftop access at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS, a historic building that has been renovated as a department store. Since booking is required and entrance is limited, you will have a more organized experience without other people shoving their cameras your way (I am looking at you, Ponte di Rialto crowd).
And when night falls, one of my favorite things to do is to take a vaporetto ride (7 euros), a nice way to see Venice from a distance. It does get a bit chilly, so bring a big scarf or a light jacket with you.
Bonus: gondola ride — or not?
It was my first time visiting Venice, and taking a gondola ride just seemed like a no-brainer. However, after observing others for a couple days, I decided not to do it. It’s pretty expensive, and since I was there in the middle of summer, when tourism peaks, there were sometimes 2-3 gondolas going through the same, narrow canal, creating a traffic jam on the water. For these reasons, I opted not to take it — and I don’t regret it!
If you choose to do it, know that there’s no need to book in advance, unless you are extremely short on time and want to make sure you can take a ride at a specific time. Otherwise, there are clear “gondola service” signs around, and it’s hard to cross a bridge without seeing a gondolier. The standard fee for a 20+-minute ride is 80 euros (100 euros after 7pm). Have cash on hand, as it is the only accepted form of payment. And ask about the route before you get in! A combination of the classic Grand Canal and a few smaller, quieter spots seems ideal.
Things I wish I knew before visiting Venice:
The location of your accommodation matters.
If your time in Venice is short, pick a strategic, central location for your accommodation! There are absolutely no vehicles allowed on the islands, so the only way to get around is by foot. If you are not staying on the main island, you will be relying on the vaporetto (which comes fairly on time, but at intervals that are not very frequent, especially after dark) or expensive water taxis. We had to stay on Giudecca Island, and it was sometimes quite inconvenient having to wait for the vaporetto to get to the main island. I’d choose to stay in San Polo or Santa Croce the next time.
On that note, I also highly recommend using a backpack over a suitcase. It’s no joke crossing bridges, getting through the crowds and rolling your suitcase on uneven cobblestone roads!
It gets chilly at night and in early morning.
I visited Venice in the middle of summer and did not expect it to get chilly at night! Definitely pack a scarf or a light jacket. Click here to see the rest of a minimalist European summer packing list.
This should not come as a surprise, but I was still quite taken aback by Venice’s prices. While it can be done on a budget, it’s not exactly a backpacking destination where you can rough it out. For instance, it’s difficult finding a private accommodation under $50, a meal at a restaurant will set you back at least 15 euros, and the only public transportation available, the vaporetto, costs 7 euros for a single trip. Other than strolling the streets on foot, almost all other activities cost money. That being said, it’s truly one of the most unique travel destinations in the world, and is absolutely worth the splurge.
One tip I have for you on saving money is to bring a reusable water bottle. You will find drinkable water fountains all over Venice to refill it, so you don’t have to keep buying bottled water. If you need to buy bottled water, get them from a supermarket instead of a café, where it’s three times the price. That adds up quickly!
You could get a little bit seasick if you are prone to it.
Since I had to take the vaporetto everyday, I was mildly seasick the entire time in Venice. If you are very prone to seasickness, pack some medications with you.
There are mosquitoes!
Pack bug spray if you are visiting Venice in the summer. The mosquitoes are not as notorious as the ones in Southeast Asia, but you will definitely feel their presence.
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