Venice was the only city I visited so far where I felt I wouldn’t even need a map. Because there’s simply beauty everywhere. In Venice, every little street, alley and bridge, every building, door and window looks like a work of art, where color, light and composition were put together in perfect harmony. You can wander for hours in the floating city without getting bored or finding an uninteresting corner.
But if you’re anything like me, you’d like to have a plan and check out at least the most famous landmarks and sights. After all there’s so much to see and do in Venice it would be a pity not to use your time wisely. Especially if all you have is two days to explore this unique city.
So look no further. Follow my ultimate guide to a weekend in Venice, and you’ll get to see and do the best the city has to offer in 48 hours.
Admire the view from Rialto Bridge
From Rialto Bridge, the oldest of the four bridges across the Grand Canal, you can admire one of the most iconic and beautiful views of Venice.
It was exactly here that my boyfriend and I started our weekend in Venice, after a week long cruise in the Mediterranean. We stayed in a B&B in the picturesque district of San Polo, right in the center of the city, so the Rialto Bridge, almost on our doorstep, was our first stop.
Be prepared for the crowds though. Venice is very busy with tourists during the weekends, even in late October when we visited, and the competition for the best picture spot is real, especially on the most famous landmarks. But don’t let this put you down of exploring this incredible city. Be patient, wait for your turn, and you’ll certainly have a great time.
Take a Gondola ride
From Rialto Bridge you can easily take a Gondola ride and admire Venice from its many canals. Venice was literally built over the water, so this is a great way to get to know the city. Plus it’s a very romantic experience, if you’re traveling with your significant other.
We decided not to do it though, since we found it very expensive – 80 Euros for half an hour to up to six people. We like to walk around in a new city, so we preferred to wander through the narrow streets and over the numberless bridges of Venice.
Whatever you choose, Venice will amaze you either way.
Soak up Venice life at St Mark’s square
St Mark’s square, Venice most famous landmark and one of the most beautiful squares in the world, has been the center of the social, religious and political Venetian life for centuries. The locals call it just la Piazza (the square), while all the other squares in Venice are called Campo (field).
La Piazza is dominated by:
The superb St Mark’s Basilica – Venice cathedral;
The Procuratie – the three connected buildings around the square, which were once the homes and offices of the Procurators of St. Mark in the former Republic of Venice, and house today the Correr Museum, the Museum of the Risorgimento, and the Archeological Museum;
The Campanile – the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica.
On the south side of St Mark’s square towards the Lagoon, you’ll find the Piazzetta (little square). Here the highlights are:
The stunning Doge’s Palace – once the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice, and now a museum and one of the symbols of the city;
The Bridge of Sighs – this famous bridge connected the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison;
The building of the Biblioteca Marciana – the library of St Mark;
The two columns representing the patron saints of Venice – St Mark and St Theodore, on the left and right respectively, if you’re facing the water.
You can visit one or all the attractions at St Mark’s square. Or simply sit in one of the many cafes and restaurants around the Piazza, and admire the city life.
Be aware of the prices though, especially if you are on a budget. Venice is not the cheapest Italian city, and in St Mark’s square prices can get even higher.
Stroll along St Mark’s Basin
From St Mark’s square, find your way to the water and stroll along St Mark’s Basin, where the Grand Canal meets the Giudecca Canal.
If I had to use only one word to describe the superb view across St Mark’s Basin to Punta della Dogana and the Giudecca Island on the other side, that word would be ‘perfection’.
Leave the bursting touristic sites behind for a moment, and delve into the narrow and shadowy streets of Castello district.
This quiet neighborhood on the east side of Venice has all the charm of a small Italian town: drying laundry hanging candidly on the facades, kids playing happily on the streets, and adults indulging themselves in the Italian art of dolce far niente or enjoying a loud conversation with a neighbor.
Castello is also home to the Arsenale, a former shipyard that was the heart of the Venetian naval industry, from the 13th century until the beginning of the First World War. Nowadays this historical complex is used as one of the venues of the Venice Biennale.
Have a pause in a canal-side cafe
Sitting on a canal-side cafe savoring an espresso and admiring your surroundings is mandatory in Venice. Venice is so magical and special that the most mundane things, like simply having a coffee, can make you feel like you’re part of an Italian art movie.
Buy a Venetian mask
This is one of my favorite memories of Venice.
While rambling through the labyrinth of Venice little streets my boyfriend and I stumbled upon the cutest mask shop – the laboratory Cà del Sol.
This place is completely lined with colorful Venetian masks, floor to ceiling, creating nothing less than a dreamy scenario. In a corner an artist draws and makes the masks by hand, seemingly oblivious to the movement of people coming and going, attracted by the beauty and music of the small shop.
If you’re planning to buy a genuine handmade Venetian mask, or simply admiring this old tradition of the world-famous Carnival of Venice, make sure to check Cà del Sol, in the Castello district.
Discover Santa Croce
We started our second day in Venice exploring Santa Croce district, on the northwest side of the city. Santa Croce is the smallest Venice neighborhood and the only one that can be reached by car.
Santa Croce houses the Port of Venice (the point of departure and arrival of our cruise), Venice mains bus station, and the Ponte della Libertà – a bridge connecting Venice to the mainland, with a beautiful view over the Venice Lagoon.
Santa Croce also hides a handful of attractions, like the Fondaco dei Turchi, the Church of San Simeon Piccolo, and the Cà Pesaro Palace.
We mostly just wandered around though, soaking up the Sunday sun and the magnificence of the architecture.
Visit Peggy Guggenheim Collection
From Santa Croce we headed to the Dorsoduro, the southern and one of the most interesting Venice districts.
Our first stop was the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where Peggy Guggenheim lived for three decades.
This modern art museum is one of Venice most visited attractions. It was open to the public in 1980 by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which also operates the Guggenheim museums of New York, Bilbao and Abu Dhabi.
Unfortunately we ended up not seeing the collection, since we were a little short on time, but this is certainly a must-see in our next visit to Venice.
Contemplate the views from Punta della Dogana
Just when we think Venice cannot amaze us more, there’s Punta della Dogana.
Punta della Dogana is the eastern tip of the Dorsoduro district, located right between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, from where you can contemplate stunning views over the Grand Canal and St Mark’s square, on the left, and the Giudecca Island, on the right.
Strolling along Punta della Dogana you’ll also find the church of Santa Maria della Salute, whose dome is visible from St Mark’s square and an emblematic image of Venice, the Patriarchal Seminary of Venice, and the Dogana da Mar Museum.
People watch at Campo Santo Stefano
If I had to choose a favorite Venice square my answer would definitely be Campo Santo Stefano.
On our way back from Punta della Dogana, we had a last glimpse over the Grand Canal from the Ponte dell’Accademia, and shortly thereafter found ourselves in Campo Santo Stefano, one of the largest and prettiest squares in Venice.
Located in the city’s most prestigious residential neighborhood, in the San Marco district but away from the St Mark’s square crowds, Campo Santo Stefano is beautifully surrounded by old palaces, modest houses, and bursting cafes frequented by both locals and tourists alike.
Enjoy a gelato
I don’t know about you, but when I think about Italy one of the first things that come to my mind is food. In particular, I think about pasta and gelato, which coincidentally (or not!) are two of the few Italian words I can pronounce.
So I couldn’t possible leave Italy without enjoying an authentic Italian ice cream.
After which I could truly say I had a perfect weekend in Venice.
Where to stay
As I mentioned before, Venice is not the cheapest Italian city, and that’s especially the case when we’re talking about accommodation.
Since we had only one weekend to see Venice, we wanted to stay in the city centre, but – and here’s the challenge – without paying a fortune. Angelo Venice B&B was the perfect solution for us: clean, friendly, comfortable enough for one night, and perfectly located in San Polo district, with all landmarks within walking distance.
We highly recommend staying here, if you’re planning a short stay in Venice and looking for good value for money.
Venice has so much to see and do that you can easily spend a whole week exploring its many museums and palaces, taking day trips to the closer islands, and savoring the food and the wine.
But it’s also possible to enjoy a great weekend or couple of days in Venice. If that’s how long you’re planning to stay, this guide has you covered and you’ll leave the city with an overview of all the main attractions and things to do in Venice.
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