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the grand canal of venice at evening
Travel tips

Venice Travel Guide: What to do, see & more

Mar 04, 2021 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Have you ever dreamt of riding through the Venetian canals in a gondola boat with the song “That’s Amore” conveniently playing in the background? We have too. The Queen of the Adriatic is one Italian city you can’t miss. A city where boats and gondolas are the primary form of transportation, where seafood dishes stand out in the restaurant scene, and hand-blown glass is a unique souvenir—you’ll quickly fall in “amore” with this city on our tours to Venice.

Our guide to Venice is filled with recommendations of some of the best things to do in Venice, what to see in Venice, and tips for Venice that you’ll want to reference when planning your trip to Italy. Keep reading to discover all there is to love about the Queen of the Adriatic.

Travel tips for Venice

Currency: Euro

Languages: Italian, but you’ll find that in a popular destination like this, many locals also speak English.

Best way to get around: By foot or by boat! There are no roadways in Venice—one of the reasons it’s such an iconic city. One of our best Venice travel tips is to make sure you bring your best walking shoes (and your sea legs!).

Phrases to know: Many locals will happily greet you with buongiorno which means “good morning” or “good day.” The gondoliers may be impressed if you greet them in Italian before your ride through Venice’s canals.

Tourists taking pictures on a bridge in Venice, Italy

Best time to visit Venice

Anytime is a good time to travel to Venice, but there are benefits to traveling during the off-season: cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, and more time to check off some of the best things to do in Venice.

  • Go in the fall when there’s fewer crowds. In the fall, the summer travelers start to disappear and you’re left with pleasant temperatures to enjoy this walkable city. Some of the best things to see in Venice are housed in the world-class museums. Entrance prices to the museums and main sites are cheaper during this time of year, so many art and culture aficionados find fall to be a great time of year to travel to Venice.
  • Visit in the winter if you want to take part in Carnival. The winter may not be the first season that comes to mind when planning your trip to Venice, but it’s a unique and idyllic time to visit the City of Canals. You may even have some of the city’s main sites all to yourself. You’ll also save quite a bit of money traveling during the off-season. If you go during the winter holidays, the city will be covered in beautiful lights and decorations. And if you arrive in late January, you’ll experience one of the most famous attractions in Venice: The Carnival of Venice. It celebrates a 1162 battle victory. Locals and visitors dress up and design their own elaborate masks, and strolling the streets alongside the elaborately costumed Carnival celebrants is one of the top things to do in Venice.
  • Come in the spring to take part in local festivities. For Venetians, spring starts March 1 and runs through May. Springtime is when Venice experiences a phenomenon known as aqua alta, meaning “high water.” The high tides may flood the streets of Venice, giving some of the main sites a unique look with the water’s reflection below. If you go to Venice in the spring, be sure to pack waterproof boots with you in case you need to walk on water. The spring is also a time when some exciting annual events take place, like the Vogalonga, a non-competitive boating event where rowing enthusiasts from around the world gather to row in the Grand Canal. The annual Feast of Saint Mark gets going on April 25. Keep an eye out for locals presenting a single rosebud to the person they love, on this joyous occasion.

A couple riding in a gondola with a Dalmatian in Venice, Italy

What to pack for Venice

We want to make sure you’re fully prepared before you arrive in Venice. Plus, no Venice travel guide is complete without giving you a list of what to bring in your luggage. We know these essentials to pack for your trip will come in handy during your stay.

  • Comfortable walking shoes. There are no roadways in Venice, so if you’re not going to hop on a boat, the most reliable way to get around is on your own two feet! Make sure to break in a comfortable pair of walking shoes before arriving in Venice. Your feet will thank you.
  • Sun protection. You’ll likely experience some hot, sunny days if you travel to Venice in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from those strong rays. Venice is quite humid as well, so you may want to carry a mini fan with you in your daypack in case you need to cool off.
  • Layers. In the winter and spring, Venice has a cold wind called the bora that blows over from Eastern Europe. One of our tips for Venice travel is to bring layers, like a sweater and windbreaker, and raincoat in your daypack.
  • Rain boots. Remember that phenomenon called aqua alta? If you are traveling during Venice’s high-tide season, it would be wise to bring a pair of rain boots along for your trip. The streets can flood during the fall and spring, so it’s best to be prepared with proper footwear during those months.

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The ceiling of Saint Peter's Basilica in Venice, Italy

What to do in Venice during your tour

There is no shortage of beautiful sites to see when you visit Venice. The city is a sight in itself. Watching gondolas sail past the colorful apartment buildings that line the canals makes a visit here all the more special. Here are some of the best things to see in Venice during your trip.

  • Step inside St. Mark’s Basilica. This ornate cathedral is found in St. Mark’s Square and is an example of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It was originally the private chapel of the Doge, the leader of Venice between 726 and 1797. “It’s definitely worth entering the inside. I was so impressed by the beautiful tile work and ornate decorations—no expense was spared during the construction. Visiting the basilica is one of the best things to do in Venice,” said traveler Glenn.
  • Enter the Doge’s Palace. This site is connected to St. Mark’s Basilica, so make sure to also take a walk around the palace grounds, if you’re in the area. Doge’s Palace was the former residence of the Doge of Venice. Today, it functions as a museum. The inside is just as impressive as the outside, with beautiful, gold-paneled ceilings and elaborate architecture.
  • St. Mark’s Square functions as the main (and biggest) square in the city and often the meeting place for locals and visitors alike. Some of the best things to do in Venice are located in this piazza—looking at you St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace! We recommend taking a stroll or having a delicious cup of coffee at one of the nearby cafes as you admire the view.
  • Bridge of Sighs. This white limestone bridge that connects Doge’s Palace and the New Prison is one of the best things to see in Venice. Legend has it that prisoners would sigh at their final view of Venice before walking the length of bridge to their cold, dark prison cell. You'll get a great vantage point of the bridge from the water, if the bridge is too crowded to walk.
  • The Grand Canal is the main s-shaped canal that cuts through the middle of the city of Venice. Visitors can take the public waterbus, the vaporetto, through the Grand Canal. Other vaporetto lines will take you to the nearby islands of Murano, Burano, and Lido. Traveling the Grand Canal on a vaporetto is a cheap way to check out the colorful buildings that line the waterway.

Point of view from riding in gondola through the canals of Venice, Italy

What to do in Venice during your free time

In Venice, all of the top locations are a short walk or boat ride away. You’ll want to make sure you explore every corner of this aquatic gem. Be sure to check out these exciting sites if you have some spare time during your trip.

  • Take a gondola ride. Gondolas are a symbol of Venice, and riding in one is a bucket list item for many visitors. A gondola ride is one of the best ways to admire the city, and you can hop aboard one in the city’s main tourist areas. If you travel on one of our Venice tours, we’ll organize your gondola ride experience for you!
  • Visit an island to get off the beaten path and away from the busier parts of the city center. We recommend checking out one of the islands in the Venetian Lagoon. There are 120 islands surrounding Venice, so we’ve narrowed the list down to a few special island destinations. Burano and Torcello are two islands you can check out on tour, and each have their own charms. Burano is known for its brightly colored houses and Torcello is where visitors like to learn about the history of Venice. Or, if you’re in a beachy mood, Lido may be the island for you!
  • Stroll across Rialto Bridge. This bridge is the oldest of the four bridges on the Grand Canal, and it’s a symbol of Venice. Reconstructed quite a few times, this bridge has two ramps leading up to a central portico. If you get a chance to walk this bridge, take some time to check out the shops that line the inside.
  • Check out the local markets. They’re one of the best attractions in Venice, and they’re totally worth a visit. If you’re near Rialto Bridge, we recommend taking some time to stroll through the 1,000 year-old Rialto Market as well. The fisherman at this seafood market sell their daily catch from the Venetian Lagoon. It’s fun to browse the market stalls and see the locals interact with the vendors—a true Venetian experience!
  • Visit the Glass Museum. Venice is known for its history of glass-making. If you’re on the island of Murano and have some time to spare, check out the Glass Museum. Admire beautiful local designs while learning about the history of glass-making in this region.

squid ink risotto in a restaurant in Venice, Italy

What to eat in Venice

A lot of the traditional cuisine consists of delicious fresh seafood, and eating is one of the top things to do in Venice! “Take advantage of being on an island and try the delicious seafood dishes. The freshest food in Venice will always come from the daily catch,” said traveler Donna. Make sure to try these dishes in Venice.

  • Cicchetti. Our Venice Travel Guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this traditional finger food. If you’re busy touring the city, cicchetti are the perfect quick snack to pick up as you stroll around. Cicchetti comes in many forms but, in essence, it’s a tiny open-faced sandwich on a slice of fresh baguette. Our favorite types of cicchetti are those topped with vinegar-marinated anchovies (called acciughe marinate) and grilled squid (called seppioline alla griglia). If you’d rather sit down and take time to enjoy your cicchetti, we recommend checking out the restaurant Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi.
  • Sarde in saor. Sweet and sour, anyone? If you’re a fan of this flavor combination, then you’re in luck! This common Venetian appetizer dates back to the Middle Ages when Venetian sailors and fishermen came up with a method to preserve their daily catch. This dish features sardines marinated in vinegar, onions, raisins, and pine nuts.
  • Risotto al nero di seppia. This dish’s jet black color surprises plenty of tourists, but don't fret, that's just the squid ink! This traditional risotto dish is full of the flavors of the sea, thanks to the star ingredient: fresh squid. It’s also made with white wine, onion, and tomatoes. If you’d rather start with a simpler risotto, we recommend trying risi e bisi, another traditional Venetian dish consisting of rice and peas.
  • Baccalà mantecato is made from salted cod boiled in a mixture of water and milk, creating a creamy consistency. It’s typical to also add olive oil, garlic, and parsley to the cod when it’s ready to eat. Looking for the best restaurant to try this dish? We recommend El Sbarlefo or All’Arco.
  • Moleche If you’re lucky enough to be in Venice during the spring, don’t leave without tasting this fresh, seasonal crab dish that comes straight from the Venetian lagoon once the crabs have shed their shells. These small green sea critters are fried to perfection for you to enjoy. You can find this Venetian fast food at Rialto Market.


What to drink in Venice

In Italy, you can always find a great drink to go along with your heavenly plate of food. There are a few drinks that we recommend trying in our Venice Travel Guide, that especially go well with cicchetti (Italian tapas)!

  • Spritz. This is the most traditional drink served in Venice, and you can’t miss out on it. There are three different types of spritz to choose from: Aperol (sweet), Campari (bitter), or Select (halfway between the two). Make sure to specify which type you’d prefer when the waiter comes to take your order. A spritz consists of Prosecco or another sparkling white wine, sparkling water, and a red Venetian liquor to give it some color.
  • Prosecco. Did you know Prosecco is produced only 15 miles outside of Venice? No wonder it’s so popular in the city. This sparkling wine is comparable to Champagne, but you’ll have to try it for yourself to find out which you like better.
  • Soave. Like Prosecco, Soave is a wine produced in Veneto, the primary wine region in northeastern Italy. If you prefer a dry white wine, Soave may be for you.

Murano golden glass vase in Venice, Italy

The best souvenirs to buy in Venice

Looking for something that will always remind you of your trip to Venice? The Queen of the Adriatic is a unique place, and the souvenirs we recommend picking up are just as unique. The best part? Once you display them in your home, they’re sure to spark conversations with friends and family about your travels.

  • Murano Glass. Venice is known around the world for its handmade glass products. You can buy these products at the Glass Museum and other shops on the island of Murano, or you can find glass products scattered throughout the souvenir shops on the main island. Staffer Lara said, “I had no idea Venice was known for its long history of blown glass. You can find hand-blown Venetian glass figures at every store, and they make the perfect keepsake to remember your trip. They also make wonderful gifts, just be careful when packing them to take home!”
  • Venetian masks come from the celebratory Carnival tradition that occurs every winter. If you’re not in Venice for the celebration itself, you can still find masks of all sizes sold around the city.
  • Lace is a popular product made on the nearby island of Burano. Just as the island of Murano is known for its glass products, the same is true for lace on Burano. The lace produced here traces back to the 1500s and it’s often considered the first lace stitched alone, not onto another piece of fabric. There is even a School of Lace (“La Scuola dei Merletti”) on Burano. This art form is becoming rarer and rarer, so be sure to pick up your hand-stitched souvenir while you can!
  • Stationary isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when considering a Venetian souvenir. But you can find some of the most beautiful artisan-made stationary in the dozens of specialty shops that exist on the main island. If you’re a fan of journaling your travel experiences, look no further than Venice to pick up your handmade diary. Be sure to ask the shopkeeper if you can get your name engraved, so it’s extra special.

Have you traveled in Venice? Share your favorite things to do in Venice on our Facebook page!

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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