A weekend in Venice: travel guide, things to do, food and drink

Everything you need to know for a break in Italy’s iconic ‘floating city’ 

Gondolas and boats on Venice’s Grand Canal
Gondolas and boats on Venice’s Grand Canal
(Image credit: Sergey Borisov/Alamy Stock Photo )

Why you should visit Venice

Venice, the “floating city” in northeast Italy, has an intangible magic. The canals coursing between the 118 islands on which it is built, and under the almost 400 bridges connecting them, are alive with boats and gondolas, which remain the lifeblood of Veneto’s regional capital. Its architecture defies gravity, and its vibrant traditions continue to inspire artists, playwrights, poets and musicians, as it has done since the days of Shakespeare and Voltaire.

By day, Venice is a city of museums and churches, “packed with great art”, said American travel writer and TV personality Rick Steves. At night, when the “hordes of day-trippers” have departed, “another Venice appears”. Dance across a “floodlit square” or “glide in a gondola through quiet canals while music echoes across the water”. Pretend it’s Carnevale time, “don a mask – or just a fresh shirt – and become someone else for a night”.

“No words can do justice” to Venice, said Italy Magazine, it’s a “must-see” for any young traveller exploring Europe. Simply “getting lost” in the (car-free) streets is a “transcendent experience”, you’ll be “engulfed in alleyways adjacent to majestic canals”, smelling the fresh seawater. “It’s simply wonderful.”

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St Mark’s Square and Basilica

St Mark’s Square and Basilica
(Image credit: rudi1976/Alamy Stock Photo )

Things to do and top attractions

Venice’s six ‘sestieri’

“Shaped like a snail”, Venice is divided into six “sestieri”, said Louise Roddon in The Times, with the Grand Canal “slicing through the middle”. Each district – Cannaregio, Santa Croce, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Castello, and San Marco – has its “own special character”.

St Mark’s Square and Basilica

Most visitors to Venice “come for one thing only”, said Julia Buckley on Travel + Leisure, the “breathtaking” Piazza San Marco. Here you can enjoy a coffee outside in one of the “chi-chi” cafes and visit the Basilica di San Marco, the church “covered head-to-toe in glittering gold mosaics”. Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, is located right across from St Mark’s Basilica.

Go on a gondola ride

Taking a ride in a sleek black gondola is “a must-do”, said Gillian Price on National Geographic, and a nighttime ride is “especially romantic”. Gondolas, which are a “surprising” 11m long, have been on Venice’s waterways since the 11th century. If you’re not sure about gondola rides, for just €2 you can “traverse the Grand Canal” on one of the “traghetto” gondolas, said Louise Roddon in The Times. Carrying up to ten passengers, the trick is to “remain standing for the short, wobbly journey”.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice

Bridge of Sighs
(Image credit: avphotosales/Alamy Stock Photo )

Iconic bridges

It’s often called the “City of Canals” and “Floating City”, said Melanie Renzulli on TripSavvy, but Venice is also known as the “City of Bridges”. While many of Venice’s 400-plus bridges are “nondescript and practical”, many “embody the beauty and history of this fascinating photographic city”. Iconic bridges include the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the Doge’s Palace with the Prigioni (prisons), and Rialto Bridge, the main pedestrian crossing over the Grand Canal. “Rows of shops line this wide, arched bridge and the famous Rialto fish and food market is nearby.”

Museums and galleries

Beyond the waterways and façades are some of Venice’s “best-kept treasures” – its museums, said Jenna Scatena in Condé Nast Traveler. “Must-hit” museums for a “deeper look” at this classic city include Doge’s Palace, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Museo Della Musica, Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art.

Carnevale is one of Venice’s biggest events

Carnevale is one of Venice’s biggest events
(Image credit: Matthias Scholz/Alamy Stock Photo)

Major events and festivals

Though “small in size”, Venice’s reputation as a centre of art history is “hard to beat”, said Hotels.com, and the locals “certainly know how to honour their proud cultural heritage”. Held 40 days before Easter, Carnevale is world famous for its elaborate costumes and masks. It’s one of the biggest annual events on the calendar along with the Venice Film Festival, Veneto Jazz, Venice Boat Show and Venice Fashion Week. A “jewel in the crown” of the international art scene, the Venice Biennale takes place every two years and has been running since as far back as 1895.

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice lagoon

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice lagoon
(Image credit: funkyfood London/Paul Williams/ Alamy Stock Photo )

Take a ‘vaporetto’ to the islands

As one of the “most memorable vacation destinations on Earth”, said Julia Buckley on Travel + Leisure, Venice offers an “unforgettable adventure”. But don’t just stick to the city though, that “getting lost” vibe should also be done in the lagoon. Take the “vaporetto” (public waterbus) to the “beach-filled” Lido, “island of glass” Murano, and, further out, to Torcello and Burano. Out in sunlit St Mark’s Bay, the island of San Giorgio Maggiore is a “magical and silent place”, said Veneto Inside. Far from the tourist routes, it has “a charm that has been untouched since it was founded in the 10th century”.

Ca’ Select: a new home of the Venetian Spritz

Select Aperitivo, the core ingredient for the “original Venetian Spritz” cocktail, has recently opened its stylish new visitors’ centre, distillery and bar in the city. Named “Ca’ Select”, this multi-use space is a great excuse to “book a trip to Venice ASAP”, said Brad Japhe on Food & Wine. Set alongside a small canal in the Cannaregio district, Italian design studio Marcante-Testa led the conversion of the former metal workshop, blending “unique characteristics of Venetian identity”, said Tom Ravenscroft on Dezeen. Ca’ Select has four distinct areas for bar-mixology, events, production, and exhibitions.

Baglioni Hotel Luna in Venice, Italy

Baglioni Hotel Luna
(Image credit: Baglioni Hotels)

Best hotels and places to stay

From plush palazzos to b&bs, there’s plenty of accommodation options in Venice. At the top end of the scale, The Gritti Palace, “a favourite with top-tier travellers”, and the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, “the definition of luxurious perfection”, both received 10/10 ratings in The Telegraph. Properties to get a 9/10 rating include Palazzo Ca’Nova, an “exclusive pied-à-terre” on the Grand Canal, and Palazzo Morosini degli Spezieri, which has “chic and modern” apartments in the San Polo district.

“Right at the heart of the action”, Hotel Londra Palace has hosted “illustrious guests” in “traditional Venetian style” since it first opened in 1853, said Orla Thomas in The Times. And designed by French “starchitect” Philippe Starck, Palazzina Grassi has 22 “gleamingly white” and “mirror-filled” bedrooms hidden behind its traditional 16th-century façade. Its roof terrace has “a canal view that’s made for alfresco aperitivi”.

Baglioni Hotel Luna has a superb location next to Piazza San Marco, said Sofia Gymer on TheWeek.co.uk. Dating back to the 12th century, Venice’s oldest hotel reopened in 2021 following a redesign by Italian studio Spagnulo & Partners, complete with a new spa and restaurant. If you’re seeking something “extra special”, enquire about the San Giorgio Terrace Suite. This two-bedroom apartment has its own 100 sqm terrace and some of the best views over the piazza and the San Giorgio Maggiore island.

Cicchetti and aperitivi

Cicchetti and aperitivi
(Image credit: Christoph Haid/Alamy Stock Photo )

Eating and drinking: best restaurants and bars

The best way to eat if you are devoting all of the day time hours to architecture and art, is to eat “cicchetti”, the bar food served in the local “bacari”, said Bruce Palling on TheWeek.co.uk. Dating from 1462, Cantina do Mori is tucked away down an alley behind the Rialto Bridge. The bar snacks are skewered with toothpicks placed in glass cases giving them the appearance of a miniature edible yacht marina.

If you’re hungry for Michelin-starred dining, top of the list should be Glam Enrico Bartolini, located within the luxury hotel Palazzo Venart. This two-star restaurant offers guests a fine dining experience with tasting menus featuring “memorable dishes of extraordinary quality”, said the Michelin Guide. It’s “a must” not only for Venetians, but also for visitors “from far and wide”.

Venice is “not your typical night out”, said Jess Simpson in Time Out. The “pace of life” is different and the bars here “tell you a story”. The best way to experience it is by “hopping from one to the next” and going on a “wine stroll”. Top bars to visit include Birreria Zanon, Il Santo Bevitore, Venice Jazz Club, and Vino-Vero.

Transport: how to get to Venice

There are direct flights from various UK airports to Venice Marco Polo, located 4.3 miles to the north of the city. Visitors arriving at Venice’s international airport have various ways of getting to the centre, said Civitatis. Bus no.5 and the ATVO blue bus go to Piazzale Roma, while Alilaguna’s water buses (vaporettos) connect Marco Polo Airport with Piazza San Marco. Other transportation options include water taxis and land taxis.

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