You don't have to spend a fortune to make the most of the romantic city in the world, as our recommendations for things to do in Venice will show. We give you our perfect plan for where to eat, shop and what to make sure you experience during a three-hour visit. Follow the order below, or reverse it to suit your day.
You haven’t really had the full Venice experience unless you’ve reclined in the back of a gondola and glided through its narrow canals, admiring the pretty, colourful houses that line them. But if you’re keen to remain on foot, or have done this in the morning, here’s our guide to exploring on land.
St Mark’s Square is of course a must, but walk through it rather than eating and drinking there, as being charged through the nose may leave a bad taste in the mouth. Instead, allow yourself to be drawn to the allure of the Doge’s Palace (below, left) on Palazzo Ducale, where the rulers of Venice lived it up in – oh and drowned their prisoners in the dungeons when the tide came in. Start your day here to beat the crowds (it opens at 8.30am) and don’t miss its Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners were said to glimpse their last view of Venice before their execution.
When you’ve had your fill of secular beauty, it’s a ten-minute walk north – via Piazza San Marco to get a passing look at the Basilica di San Marco and its gilded domes – to the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo on Castello. Bulging with breath-taking ceiling paintings (below, right), sculptures and carvings in the Italian Gothic style, it’s a quieter, light-filled tonic to the buzz of St Mark’s. There’s also space outside to rest your legs and enjoy the handsome exterior.
There are many glass shops in Venice, but only a handful where you can see the craftsmen working and still afford their creations. Vittorio Costantini, a five-minute walk away on Calle del Fumo, creates breathtakingly realistic depictions of bird, fish, insects and plants here, but an exquisite ladybird will only cost you around €10. Then start making your way south across beautiful Ponte di Rialto bridge (below) to one of the best mask shops in the city, Alberto Sarria. It's a grotto of artfully designed, traditionally styled papier mâché masks, and you can pick up a precious souvenir, handmade in Venice, from just €35.
By now your pockets may feel a little lighter, but there’s no need to miss out on top-quality, authentic food – simply walk round the corner to local favourite Cantina Do Spade on Calle del Scaleter. Here for five centuries, this atmospheric osteria specialises in simple, authentic and affordable Venetian cuisine, with chichetti from €1. The city’s answer to tapas, small plates include a delicious stuffed squid and mozzarella in carrozza – or you could fill up on one of the traditional main courses that include Venetian liver and, for the fearless, eel stew. Whatever you go for, do leave space for a glass of the local tipple, Aper spritz (below, left). Pronounced ‘spriss’ by the Venetians, it’s a refreshing mix of prosecco and Aperol. It happens to be available in every café and bar throughout the city – perfect if you need a break during sightseeing and want to enjoy a little people-watching before dinner.
Find inspiration for your perfect Italy tour in our travel guides
Wanting to travel comfortably without missing anything?
Make your next trip unforgettable with these top 8 things to do in Italy
Take a north to south journey of epicurean greatness
Make this northern Italy gem your own with our guide to things to do in Turin
The four rules you need to know, by our award-winning winemaker
Make the most of your free time in the most romantic city in the world
Blend in with the locals and get your espresso fix with flair
Spend a perfect afternoon off with our guide to things to do in Florence