Boasts in the Rio di San Cassiano Canal, Venice.
itinerary

3 days in Venice: an itinerary for first-time visitors

Planning a trip to Venice? Here are our top picks...

Stay: Rosa Salva

Walking tour: Real Hidden Venice

Visit: Da Vinci Museum, St Mark's Basilica and Doge’s Palace

Food tour: Rialto Market food and wine tour

Day trip: Murano, Burano and Torcello

While Venice might be renowned for its picturesque gondola rides, the city's true appeal extends far beyond its canals. Venice’s rich historical narratives are imprinted in its architecture, and the city’s unique culture is visible in the simple practices of everyday life.

You can experience Venice’s diversity as you navigate its narrow alleyways, appreciate local wines in traditional bacari and observe the city's life from a waterfront café. The city encourages exploration – just take a turn and find yourself lost in the twisting streets - with each bridge leading to a new discovery.

Half of Venice’s visitors only spend a day in the city, but staying overnight allows you to see the city at its best. Venice seems to take a breath when the crowds start to thin, and the evening light on the lagoon gives the city a magical hue.

This three-day itinerary is designed to help you navigate Venice and its intriguing sites, taking you to major landmarks, local markets and artisan workshops.

Colourful buildings and restaurants line the Canal Cannaregio from Guglie bridge in Venice, Italy

How long should I spend in Venice?

You'll need at least two nights in Venice to get your bearings in the city and see the main attractions; however, we recommend staying a bit longer.

Three days in Venice will give you enough time to see the major sights like St. Mark’s Basilica, interesting neighbourhoods like Dorsoduro, and to extend your visit to the other islands like Murano and Burano.

The main island of Venice is divided into six districts or sestieri, but many visitors will leave without venturing out of San Marco. Go a little further with a Venice city pass, it will help you to get around Venice by vaporetto, and save money on entry to the major sights.

Houses on the banks of the canal Rio di San Polo

Day 1: San Polo and Dorsoduro

Start your trip in the heart of Venice. The San Polo district is right at the centre of the island, still mostly inhabited by locals, it holds a few unmissable treasures.

One of the main attractions is the largest church in Venice; the Basilica S.Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (commonly known as the Frari). It’s best known for its elaborate work by Titian and the unusual Venetian Gothic style.

Next door, curious minds will love the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, full of intricate replica models of the inventors' finest creations. Art lovers won’t want to miss the dramatic Scuola Grande di San Rocco which was entirely decorated by Renaissance artist Tintoretto to celebrate the end of the devastating 1576 plague.

Next head over to Dorsoduro, as the home to Ca’ Foscari university this district is full of students and is brimming with indy eateries. In Campo Santa Margherita there are plenty of options for lunch, try Osteria Alla Bifora for honestly priced Venetian cuisine. In the square you can also find Aqua Altra, an eco-store that focuses on organic foods.

Cross over Ponte dei Pugni as you make your way through the narrow streets to Ponte dell'Accademia. One of only four bridges in Venice to span the Grand Canal, this wooden arch was built in 1933 as a temporary replacement for an iron bridge, but it has become a local landmark loved by all.

The Ponte dell'Accademia crossing over the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.

In front of the bridge is the voluminous Galleria dell’Accademia, with a collection of 13th to 18th-century Venetian paintings by Titian, Canaletto & Tiepolo - if you only do one art museum, make it this one.

Afterwards, swing by one of the last remaining gondola builders of Venice; Squero di San Trovaso. You can do pre-arranged guided tours within the 17th-century boatyard building, or admire their creations from the fantastic Osteria Al Squero on the other side of the canal.

Visiting a bacaro (wine shop), is a quintessential Venetian experience, ask for an ombre (a small glass of wine), and you will get supplied with a selection of small snacks or cicchetti to go with it. There are plenty of places to try cicchetti in Venice, but for me, this rustic establishment,with more bottles of wine than seats, is the best there is.

From here, you can head along the Fondamenta Zattere and find a nice underrated spot for dinner with views over to Giudecca, or head over there by vaporetto to explore the quiet island. For a guaranteed good meal, Trattoria ai Cugnai dal 1911 is often full of the white and blue, or white and red, striped shirts of Gondoliers - so you know the food is good.

An aerial view of the famous St Mark's Square in Venice

Day 2: Grand buildings and local delights

There are three things to know about St. Mark’s Basilica: it's free, it's crowded, and it’s overwhelmingly impressive. Go early or late in the day to give yourself more room to breathe.

Out in St. Mark's Square you will find the Clock Tower, cracking views from the top of Campanile, and Palazzo Ducale, or the Doge’s Palace. The Doge’s residence is the seat of the Venetian government, and is home to ornate ceilings with gold-framed frescoes and the iconic Bridge of Sighs - it’s worth getting a ticket online a month in advance.

For a spot of souvenir shopping Venice Corner sells authentic Venetian glassware, owner Rosa outdoes herself with her intimate knowledge of the traditional craft.

Opposite Rossopomodoro is a safe bet for lunch, their giant Neapolitan pizzas are the stuff of legend. Or for lunch on-the-go, hole-in-the-wall Dal Moro's serves up unbeatable takeaway pasta. Try not to eat on the Grand Canal or in St Mark's Square as these restaurants are busy enough already and they will overcharge.

The entrance of the Libreria Acqua Alta bookstore in Venice, Italy.

From here, Libreria Acqua Alta is a short walk - as long as you don’t take too many wrong turns! This busy bookshop burgeons on a hoarder's paradise, but the literature-filled gondoliers and book staircase make for a nice photo stop.

Another foodie spot in Venice that you absolutely can’t miss is Suso’s, the queue will be long, but it will be worth it. There’s a lot to choose from with 30 flavours of award-winning ice cream, including vegan and dairy-free. If you're feeling overwhelmed, a good option is to go for the Crema del Doge - a melty-mix of amaretto, vanilla, and chocolate.

There’s a great free viewpoint over the Grand Canal at Fondaco dei Tedeschi (must be pre-booked online), but it’s become a victim of its own success lately. Another way to experience Venice from above is by taking a rooftop tour, seeing the sights with a knowledgeable local without any of the sardine-like lift rides.

Next, cross the 16th century Rialto Bridge. Made from pale Istrian stone, it's a sight in its own right, but we’re heading to the Mercato di Rialto (fresh food market). Unlike the busy leather and fine goods stalls along Ruga dei Oresi, this canal-side market is more for locals but is an interesting spot to experience Venice's food culture first-hand.

For an afternoon spritz, Al Mercà is one of the most popular bacaro’s in Rialto. Sit by the docked gondolas, glass in hand, and you could almost feel like you belonged here. Finally, for your evening meal, hunt for the family-owned Osteria Antico Giardinetto. With Mediterranean and Venetian dishes like black ink pasta, scallops, and free-flowing Soave house wine, dinner is an all-night affair.

Colourful houses along a canal in Burano, Venice.

Day 3: Burano and Torcello

Jump on the vaporetto for a scenic 40-minute cruise to the island of Burano. Often confused with one another, Burano was a lace-making island, while neighbouring Murano is more associated with glass-making.

I don’t think it’s possible to be sad in Burano. It’s a barrage of beauty, with colourfully painted houses, narrow canals, and friendly cafes around every corner. Get the best views from Tre Ponti (bridge), and Via Giudecca, as well as Terranova's marble bridge on the way down to the Church of Saint Martin Bishop.

After a quick stop at Bar Cicchetteria da Gigetto to refuel, drop in at the Lace Museum to learn a little about the island's history. Make a quick detour to see the rainbow-like designs of Bepi's House along one of the more quiet streets on the island.

From Burano you can head out on a birdwatching tour to the island of Torcello, the first island of the lagoon to be settled. Andrea Rossi, a 4th generation Venetian fisherman, decided to build a bird hide on his small patch of land in the northern lagoon of Venice.

The now sleepy Torcello was the first settlement of Venice more than 1,500 years ago, with over 20,000 Veneti residents. You can still visit Torcello Cathedral, dating back to the 7th century; its interiors are filled with glistening Byzantine-style mosaics.

For dinner, try fresh seafood and homemade pasta at Riva Rosa or for fine dining, there’s Venissa on the nearby Isola Mazzorbo (connected by a bridge).

Sculptures along river in Padua, Italy

If you have more time in Venice

It may come as no surprise that there is much more to the Veneto region of Italy than the small island of Venice. For nature lovers the vast Parco del Delta del Po is a cornucopia of bird and wildlife. Time here is spent hiking, cycling along the waterways, and boating.

You can also visit a kind of alternative Venice in Chioggia. It has the same colourful crumbling houses and interwoven canals, but the crowds are absent - and there is also an abundance of gelato available.

For more culture-based sightseeing head over to the little-visited ‘City of the Saint’; Padua. A city that is 430 years older than Rome, Padua has some stunning architecture and attractions like the Scrovegni Chapel, Palazzo Bo and Galileo Galilei’s podium. Experience a slice of real Italian culture while exploring the daily markets of Piazza dei Signori.

Further afield, the east coast of Italy is abundant with interesting nooks to explore. Taking a road trip or train journey in this part of the world is an unforgettable experience that will change the way you see Italy. From Venice, you can also easily take a ferry to Croatia.

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 15 August 2023

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