Venice Travel Guide: Top 10 Things To Do In Italy’s Spectacular Floating City

In this Venice travel guide we give you our edit of what to see and do first in Italy’s extraordinary City of Water, plus! the best hotels-with-a-view and how to eat, and drink, like a local.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Venice, Italy / Photo by Twell Magazine

Venice Travel Guide: the Best of Italy’s Spectacular Floating City

Last updated: January 2023

Romantic, legendary, decadent. Just a few words that come to mind when thinking of water immersed Venice, “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man” as heralded by The New York Times in 1982. Its own kingdom for over a millennium (697 – 1797 to be exact), the former Republic of Venice has been welcoming, and enchanting, tourists since the 17th century.

Now the capital of Italy’s northeast Veneto region and a UNESO World Heritage site, Venice continues to dazzle visitors with its fascinating history, Venetian Gothic architecture, storied arts and theatre scene, romantic campos (squares) and winding streets and canals – not to mention fabled gondolas at every turn.

With so much to explore, you might be wondering where to start? Here, we have your self-attested Venice travel guide streamlining what to see and do first in Italy’s extraordinary floating city, plus! Venice’s best boutique hotels and how to eat (and drink) like a local.

Related: These Are the Best Rolling Carry-On Bags You Can Buy Right Now, According to Amazon Reviews

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Venice, Italy / Photo by Twell Magazine

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But first – travel insurance:

Whenever, and wherever, you might be traveling, travel insurance is always a good idea. We personally love SafetyWing for their transparent, easy to understand and thorough coverage starting at just $45.00 USD/month. Their two-tier coverage offers medical benefits in the event of an accident or illness while abroad, in addition to travel benefits such as compensation for delayed trips and lost luggage. Find out everything you need to know about SafetyWing travel insurance, here!


Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Venice, Italy / Photo by Twell Magazine

Related: 17 Travel-Friendly Loungewear Sets That Are Stylish, Cozy and Perfect For Your Long-Haul Flight


Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Learn about how the winged lion came to symbolize the city of Venice, and much more, in an immersive free walking tour. / Photo by Twell Magazine

Top 10 Things to Do in Venice, Italy

1) Free walking tour

Get your Venice crash course via a 2 1/2 hour free walking tour through the city’s historic center. *Almost* free, you’ll need to make a reservation online to secure your spot at $3 EUR per person, and you’ll also have the option to leave a tip at the end of the tour.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Venice, Italy / Photo by Twell Magazine

2) Gondolas

Take a romantic gondola ride through the winding canals. The 30-minute ride will set you back $80.00 EUR per gondola (not per person), and it’s a fixed price amongst all of the gondoliers – an ancient, noble profession stretching back centuries. Don’t even try to haggle.

Related: Your Best 3 Days in Rome: Where to Eat, Stay & Play in Italy’s Eternal City

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Venice, Italy / Photo by Twell Magazine

3) Rialto Bridge

Stroll across the arched, 12th-century Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge, also known as “Lover’s Bridge”) the oldest of four bridges connecting the San Marco and San Polo neighborhoods over the bustling Grand Canal. Lined with shops, vendors and magnificent views on either side, be sure to stop and soak in the surroundings from one of Venice’s most iconic viewpoints.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Venice’s iconic, 12th-century Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) / Photo by Twell Magazine

4) Teatro La Fenice

Get tickets to see basically anything at Venice’s historic opera house. Dating to the 18th century, Teatro La Fenice is “one of the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre.” Destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice (in 1836 and again in 1996) the opera house’s name is fitting: “La Fenice” meaning “The Phoenix,” a mythical bird that rises from the ashes.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Your private box at Teatro La Fenice awaits. / Photo by Twell Magazine

If you don’t have time to see a show, you can also tour the storied theatre with an audio guide. Get your skip-the-line ticket here.

Related: Matera Travel Guide: How to Spend a Magical Weekend in Italy’s Rediscovered Stone City

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
A Venetian Spritz (or Spritz Select) in the foreground; an Aperol Spritz in background. Complimented with cicchetti. / Photo by Twell Magazine

5) Spritz o’clock

Swap your Aperol Spritz for the local Venetian Spritz. Also known as the “Spritz Select”, the popular apértif is made with Venice-born Select: a ruby red amaro liqueur that’s more bitter vs. the sweeter, lighter Aperol – typically garnished with an olive. 

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
A selection of “cicchetti,” Venetian snacks or finger foods similar to tapas, at A La Vecia Papussa. / Photo by Twell Magazine

6) Cicchetti

Eat “cicchetti,” Venetian snacks or finger foods similar to tapas (…that they really don’t want you to call tapas!), at any of these authentic local “bacaros” (bars): Cantina Do Spade, Cantina Do Mori, Al Mercá, Bar All’Arco, Bacaro Al Ravano, Bacaro e Trattoria da Fiore, Bacaro Risorto Castello, A La Vecia Papuss.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Legendary cicchetti bar Cantina Do Mori, dating to 1462. / Photo by Twell Magazine

Grab a table if available or do as the locals do and eat at the counter with an “ombra” (glass of house wine), standing up.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
A view of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). / Photo by Twell Magazine

7) St. Mark’s Square

Head to iconic Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) to visit a number of spectacular sights, including Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica) and it’s soaring Campanile di San Marco (Bell Tower). While at the Basilica, don’t skip going up to the Loggia dei Cavalli (balcony) for breathtaking views of the square and Grand Canal.

Related: Istanbul Travel Guide: Top 12 Things to Do in Turkey’s Electrifying Metropolis

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Views of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), including the Campanile di San Marco (Bell Tower) and a glimpse of the Venetian Lagoon from the Loggia dei Cavalli (balcony). / Photo by Twell Magazine

You can also visit the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower), Museo Correr (Venetian art & history museum) and the sprawling Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace, the former residence of the leader of the Republic of Venice) – plus its somber Bridge of Sighs: where condemned prisoners would take their final walk from the Palace, and last glimpse of Venice through the bridge’s tiny windows, before reaching their windowless prison cell…or executioner.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
The Bridge of Sighs at night. / Photo by Twell Magazine

TIP: When planning your trip to Palazzo Ducale, keep your eyes peeled for special after hours tickets on the palace’s official website. Normal visiting hours are usually 10am – 6pm, but every once in a while they’ll offer extended hours through midnight. We happened to get lucky with after hours tickets during our visit and highly recommend scooping them up if you can! The palace is stunning at night – if not eerie while crossing the Bridge of Sighs to the connected prison cells on the other side – and you’ll have the place nearly to yourself.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Inside a near-empty Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) during a special after-hours visit. / Photo by Twell Magazine

If you’re looking for a guided tour of the square’s top sights, this 3-hour option takes you to St. Mark’s Basilica (including the Loggia) and Doge’s Palace, all with skip-the-line, priority access.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
The looming, Gothic-Byzantine facade of Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica). / Photo by Twell Magazine

When you need to take a break from sightseeing, people watch over an espresso at any of the cafés that line St. Mark’s Square. Fair warning: they’re all VERY expensive, and the only one worth it in our opinion is the lavish, 18th century Caffé Florian.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Romantic orchestral tunes wafting from historic Caffé Florian in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). / Photo by Twell Magazine

8) Libreria Acqua Alta

Wander through Libreria Acqua Alta, a quirky bookstore filled with unique finds and vintage titles, resident cats and a climbable staircase (head to the back) made with stacks of repurposed, water-damaged books from Venice’s infamous seasonal flooding. PLUS: a floating gondola you can jump into for a quick photo op. 

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Water-damaged books from Venice’s infamous seasonal flooding have been repurposed into a staircase at Libreria Acqua Alta. / Photo by Twell Magazine

9) Venetian masks

Buy an authentic, handmade Venetian mask from a generational artisan like at Paper Maché Venezia (located right next to the above mentioned bookstore). Here you can witness the owner in action, who will even tell you the story and meaning behind each mask to help you decide on one.

History lesson: Venetian masks stretch all the way back to the 13th century. Notorious revelers, Venetians would hold lavish parties starting December 26th through the start of Lent – all while wearing elaborate, handmade masks to conceal their identity. These masks became a social equalizer and allowed aristocrats and peasants alike to seamlessly mingle together, all while indulging in illicit affairs such as gambling, romantic rendezvous and even political assassination.

Related: Where to Stay in Magical Cappadocia, Turkey: The Best & Most Beautiful Cave Hotels

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
The owner and artisan of Paper Maché Venezia, home to a wonderland of authentic Venetian masks. / Photo by Twell Magazine

10) Murano Island and Burano Island

Did you know? Venice is built upon 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. Outside of the primary few that make up the city’s historic center, you can (and should!) also visit Murano Island of glass-blowing fame and/or Burano Island: a picturesque fishing town known for its rows of colorful houses and history of lacemaking.

You can island hop DIY-style by taking the “vaporetto” (water bus) OR, visit both of the above plus Torcello Island, the first settlement in the Venetian lagoon, by embarking on this guided day trip in a comfortable motorboat.

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Rows of colorful houses on Burano Island. / Photo by Twell Magazine
Bonus: Venice’s Best Boutique Hotels

Catch up on some R&R in between Venetian adventures at any of these exceptional boutique hotels, all boasting rooms with beautiful canal views: The Gritti Palace ($$$$), Aman Venice ($$$$), Al Ponte Antico ($$$), Palazzo Stern ($$), Hotel L’Orologio Venice ($$)

Venice Travel Guide: Best Things To Do, Best Restaurants and Best Hotels in Italy's Floating City / TwellMagazine.com / Photo by Twell Magazine
Venice, Italy / Photo by Twell Magazine