It’s amazing how much you can see if you’re spending 3 days in Venice.
Many visitors spend a weekend there, which is enough time to cover the best things to do in Venice, and get a flavour of this magical floating city.
Venice in 3 days gives you a chance to really savour the city, giving you time to see it at its most beautiful, before the crowds arrive and after they’ve gone.
Our 3 day Venice itinerary gives you a real feel for one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and time to explore some of the lesser-known, yet best areas in Venice. You’ll also have time to branch out and see some of the lagoon islands, and appreciate its unique setting.
3 Day Venice Itinerary Highlights
See Piazza San Marco and San Giorgio Maggiore at their most beautiful before the crowds arrive – at dawn
Take the number 1 vaporetto, or waterbus, the length of the Grand Canal, one of the best public transport journeys in the world.
Get whisked across the shimmering still waters of the lagoon to picturesque Burano island
Take the most magical walk in Venice at dusk, the most atmospheric time of the day
Enjoy a long, slow bar crawl, forgoing dinner for plate after plate of cicchetti, the Venetian equivalent of tapas
- 1 Day One – Early Morning
- 2 9.00 onwards – Piazza San Marco
- 3 Afternoon – A break and a boat ride
- 4 Getting Lost in Dorsoduro
- 5 Towards Rialto
- 6 Dinner at Le Bistrot de Venise
- 7 DAY 2
- 8 Take a Traghetto
- 9 Get Lost Again – In Cannaregio and Castello
- 10 DINNER
- 11 San Marco to Accademia walk
- 12 Day 3 – Morning
- 13 The Rest of the Day
- 14 Murano, Burano and Torcello
- 15 Where to stay in Venice
- 16 Getting to Venice from the airport
Day One – Early Morning
You may be tired after a long flight or flights to Venice. But check the weather forecast: if it’s good, set your alarm, fight the fatigue and get to the waterfront next to Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) before sunrise.
Many of the best things to see in Venice are concentrated in a small area around the Piazza. It’s a short walk from there past the Doge’s Palace and along the Piazzetta to the Molo, the waterfront, with its rows of gondolas bobbing and rocking with the tide. Andrea Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore church sits serene on the horizon. A few hundred metres to the right, the graceful domes of the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute guard the entrance to the Grand Canal.
In a few hours’ time, this whole area will be swamped with people, as will the Piazza and the viewpoint for the Bridge of Sighs behind you. Now, whether it’s winter or summer, there will hardly be another soul around you. Take it all in, breathe it in and revel in it. You have one of the most beautiful places in the world almost to yourself.
If the weather’s good, you’ll hopefully have worked some sunrise magic, and can relive these moments in the back of your camera at one of the cafes in back streets near San Marco. A double espresso and cake at the Pasticceria Rosa Salva on Calle Fiubera is a suitable indulgence.
9.00 onwards – Piazza San Marco
By the time you return to the Piazza around 9.00, the crowds and queues that clog the area won’t have arrived, so you have the choice of visiting the soaring Campanile (bell tower) or the Doge’s Palace first.
Visiting the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale in Italian) is one of the top things to do in Venice, and we recommend heading there first. If you’re in Venice for 3 days you’ll have time to see some art in Venice, and the Doge’s Palace is one of the best places to start. We’d also be inclined to leave the Campanile until the afternoon, when the sun is in a better position for most photography.
The doge was the elected leader of Venice, a title that was normally held for life. His palace was the seat of power in the city, and the scene of political machinations.
It’s one of the world’s great Gothic buildings, a sumptuous palace filled with lavish decoration and artworks by Venetian greats including Tintoretto, Titian, Carpaccio and Veronese.
In contrast, part of it also served as the Venetian Republic’s jail, and prisoners crossed the famous Bridge of Sighs on their way to the cells.
11.30 – Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s Basilica)
San Marco should be on every Venice itinerary. It’s one of the most beautiful churches in Europe, an exotic Byzantine masterpiece and treasure trove.
We’ve specified a time for this because you can book a ‘skip the line’ ticket for only €3.00, and if you’re in a time slot between 11.30 and 12.45 you get to see it at its very best, with the exquisite ceiling mosaics fully lit. You can appreciate them so much more than in normal (rather gloomy) lighting conditions.
The Basilica website suggests that a visit should only take ten minutes. Many are indeed herded through with all the decorum of a wildebeest migration, but you can linger much longer if you so wish.
You also have the option of visiting the Pala d’Oro, an incredibly ornate altarpiece, and the Loggia, a walkway on the façade of the Basilica facing the Piazza. Here you can see replicas of the famous four bronze Horses of St Mark, as well as the great view of the Piazza.
IN summer, the Campanile opens at 8.30; at winter, it’s at 9.30.
Afternoon – A break and a boat ride
After all this sightseeing, you need a rest, and there’s no better way to do so while still enjoying Venice than taking a ride on a vaporetto.
Cross the Ponte della Paglia bridge for a view of the exterior of the Bridge of Sighs, before heading to the San Marco (San Zaccaria) vaporetto stop, where you will find the number 2 boat. This chugs across the lagoon on a mini-Palladian tour, taking you past three of the master architect’s churches – San Giorgio Maggiore, and the Zitelle and Redentore on the southern island of Giudecca.
There are plenty of trattorie and pizzerie, both on the Giudecca and Zattere (northern) side of the canal to stop for lunch. Otherwise, I’d recommend the Osteria Al Squero, opposite the Squero di San Trovaso boatyard, as one of the best places to eat in Venice.
Getting Lost in Dorsoduro
Dorsoduro is one of the most beautiful parts of Venice, its quiet canals as picturesque as any in the city, yet with a fraction of the footfall you get in the busy streets around San Marco in peak season. It’s one of the best areas to explore on foot, with only occasional reference to a map – after all, one of the most fun things to do in Venice is getting lost.
After watching the boatmen launch a gondola or two into the canal for a test row, head across the Rio San Trovaso and behind a building before turning right onto a bridge crossing the Rio degli Ognissanti. This is one of our favourite canals in Venice, especially with the view back to the Gesuati church. If you’re on the lookout for somewhere to enjoy a gondola ride in Venice, this canal is on a regular route around the area.
One of the best things you can do on your Venice 3 day itinerary is to slowly soak up the unique feel of the city, and Dorsoduro is one of the best places to do so. Wander down blind alleys and backstreets. You could emerge at a traghetto (gondola ferry) stop on the Grand Canal, or what looks like a watery dead end until a gondola fleetingly glides past.
Eventually aim for Campo Santa Margherita, the focal point of Venetian student life, with its many bars and pizzeria tempting you to stop by. On the way, pick up some fruit at the greengrocer boat on the Rio San Barnaba, one of the quirkiest, quintessentially Venetian sights in the city.
Just beyond Campo Santa Margherita you reach the smallest sestiere in Venice, San Polo. It’s a lovely area with some of the top things to see in Venice, including the iconic Rialto Bridge and the Basilica dei Frari, and we’ve also found it to be one of the best hunting grounds for bars and restaurants in Venice.
If you have time, it’s worth devoting an hour to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which you’ll probably pass on the way to the Frari. It’s full of masterpieces by Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Titian and the magnificent Grand Staircase, flanked by vast canvases by Antonio Zanchi and Pietro Negri depicting the Madonna saving Venice from the plague.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is a huge, cavernous, monumental church which dominates the area. It’s also full of amazing Venetian art, including works by Titian.
From here, wind your way to the right, where you’ll eventually reach the Riva del Vin which runs alongside the Grand Canal. The sun should, by now, be dipping towards the horizon, an ideal time to walk up to the arcaded Ponte di Rialto and pause for a while to watch the sunset. This is one of the absolute must do things in Venice. It’s one of the most beguiling views in Venice, as the sun sinks behind the palazzi along the Canal, and the mooring posts and gondolas are cast into silhouette.
An alternative Grand Canal viewpoint has recently opened just behind Rialto – the rooftop terrace of the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store. It’s on the San Marco (east) side of the Grand Canal, just behind the bridge, and gives a great view over the Grand Canal from the apex of the bend.
Dinner at Le Bistrot de Venise
After an early start and a busy day, it’s time for dinner. One of the best restaurants in Venice that we’ve come across is Le Bistrot de Venise, which has one of the best selections of Venetian dishes in the city. It’s on the busy Calle dei Fabbri, which is roughly halfway between Rialto and San Marco.
The menu is a mixture of historical, traditional and modern Venetian cuisine. Some of the recipes date back to the 14th century. I’ve been there twice, and loved the spaghetti with cuttlefish in black sauce and the bigoli, an 18th century Jewish recipe with caramelised onion and anchovies.
If you have any energy left after dinner, try to seek out the Scala Contarini del Bovolo, one of the most remarkable buildings in Venice. It’s hidden away in a courtyard, a palazzo with a gorgeous spiral staircase that, during the daytime, offers a great view over the rooftops of Venice to San Marco.
After the first day’s exertions, a little extra sleep may be in order. But only a little.
The Rialto markets are wonderful, one of the best food markets in Italy and one of the most atmospheric. They’re a great start to the day, partly because there are so many cafes catering to the customers – most of whom are locals – and traders.
There are two parts to the Rialto markets – the fresh food and produce section, and the Pescheria, the fish market. Both are open Tuesday to Saturday mornings, from 0700 to 1400; the fish market is closed Sundays and Mondays, while the food market is only closed Sundays.
The 700-year-old Pescheria is an amazing sight: this is the one place you can see what lives out there in the lagoon, with octopus, squid and all kinds of fish writhing their last before their final journey to the plate.
I also love seeking out the cafes and bars around the markets, where you don’t tend to pay the tourist premium you do elsewhere in the city. You could kick off the day with a traditional Italian sugar-kick, a cappuccino and a pastry, or a panino at one of the many wine bars around the markets.
Take a Traghetto
Taking a gondola ride is top of many visitors’ wish lists of what to do in Venice, though many are put off by the price (€80 for 40 minutes). However, you can take a ride in a gondola for just €2.
A traghetto is a gondola ferry that carries passengers across the Grand Canal. It has none of the finery or trimmings the tourist gondolas have, and it’s not somewhere to get romantic with your loved one. Most passengers stand up (which was surprisingly easy, I found), and they mainly seem to be used by locals.
The traghetto from Pescheria to Campo Santa Sofia on the Cannaregio side of the Canal is one of the most popular, and you shouldn’t have to wait more than 10-15 minutes for a ride. You’ll probably be sharing the space with trolleys full of vegetables and large bags of fish.
Get Lost Again – In Cannaregio and Castello
This walk could take you as little as two hours or as many as six, depending on how many stops you make.
Campo Santa Sofia leads onto Strada Nova, the busy street that connects the railway station with many of the main things in Venice to see. Turn right and continue past the Chiesa di Santi Apostoli and cross the canal (rio) named after it. If you didn’t have time to visit Venice’s newest tourist attraction, the rooftop terrace of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, now is a great time to do it – it’s only a few minutes’ walk from here.
Afterwards, retrace your steps and turn right, snaking your way across this particular island in the direction of the white marble church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, one of the most beautiful in the city. Cross the bridge at the end of the church and turn right, immediately crossing another bridge. Within a hundred metres you’ll be leaving Cannaregio and crossing into the sestiere of Castello, the largest in the city.
And what an introduction you get: the towering Basilica of San Zanipolo, with the ornate marble facade of what was the Scuola Grande di San Marco, now the city hospital, to its left. Not to mention one of the best two or three equestrian statues in Italy. San Zanipolo is one of the most impressive of Venice’s many churches, and is the last resting place of over twenty of the city’s doges.
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo is one of the most beautiful squares in Venice, but it’s relatively quiet compared with San Marco. If you haven’t stopped for a drink or something to eat, there are several places along here, and along Calle Barbaria delle Tole. Pause for a while before the junction with Calle de l’Ospealeto to admire the grotesques on the white building to your left. This is the church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti, work of the same architect, Baldassare Longhena, who built the graceful Santa Maria della Salute. The church is part of the recently-opened Ospedaletto complex.
Turn right down Calle de l’Ospealeto and cross the following two bridges, before turning right onto Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa. On the right, you’ll find one of the best shops in Venice, Libreria Acqua Alta. Its name translates as ‘High Water Bookshop’, and they are well prepared for the seasonal high tides and floods, with many books stored in boats and bathtubs.
It’s only a few minutes from here to Campo Santa Maria Formosa, another beautiful square and church with cafes and restaurants. Head left along the side of the square and down Ruga Giuffa, turning left along Salizada Zorzi. You then cross the next canal and turn right onto Calle dei Preti. This in turn leads you to another of Venice’s most beautiful canals, the Rio San Lorenzo, which becomes the Rio dei Greci. It’s dominated by the leaning tower of San Giorgio dei Greci, the city’s Greek Orthodox church.
Cross the next island, via Calle Lion, which leads you to one of the best art museums in Venice, the Scuola Grande di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. Venice’s scuole were religious and cultural confraternities, and this one was founded by residents originally from Dalmatia, in modern Croatia. Vittore Carpaccio, who was of Dalmatian origin, was commissioned to paint seven scenes, including three from the life of St George.
Only a few more backstreets to go now. It’s less than ten minutes’ walk from one of the most intriguing sights in Venice, the Arsenale. The history of this shipyard goes back to the 12th century, and you can still see the grand main gateway, which dates from the Renaissance period. It was a vast industrial production line, in full operation 300 years before the Industrial Revolution. More of the shipyard is open during the Biennale art festival. Otherwise, the excellent Museo Storico Navale di Venezia tells much of its amazing story.
Continue to the waterfront, where, to your right, you’re greeted by the sweep of the Riva degli Schiavoni, the Campanile of San Marco, the domes of Salute and the graceful tower of San Giorgio Maggiore. Claude Monet famously painted the latter from somewhere close to the Arsenale, and you may well get a similar view to the one he had if it’s close to the end of the day.
This one’s your call.
You may want to just sit down at one place and enjoy several courses, or just a pizza. We’ve found better value restaurants along the Zattere waterfront in Dorsoduro than around San Marco. The best things to eat in Venice are local Veneto dishes including seafood, and some of the delicious vegetable risottos. One of the best Venetian restaurants we’ve found is Osteria Ca’ del Vento, in a side street just back from San Basilio vaporetto stop. Otherwise there are pizzeria near the Zattere stop.
Otherwise, there’s the option of a Seville-style bar crawl, though you should bear in mind that most bars are shiut by 9pm, so you’d need to start early, ideally around 6pm.
For some of the best cicchetti in Venice, we’d head back to the San Polo and market side of Rialto, where there is an abundance of places to choose from. Most places serve wine (ask for un’ ombra, a glass) and a range of bar snacks, a Venetian version of tapas or pintxos. Expect to find seafood, meat, sandwiches, toasted crostini, pasta, cheeses and more – menus often vary daily.
Don’t get too confused by the terminology. If the place is a bar, bàcaro or cantina, they’ll serve cicchetti. If it’s an osteria it could be a bar or sit-down restaurant. If people are standing up at a bar, go on in.
San Marco to Accademia walk
For us, one of the best things to do in Venice at night is to wander the streets, often for a couple of hours or so. Sometimes we’ll seek out new places, and we’ll also head back to places we’ve been in the daytime to see what they look like at night. Although Venice is a small city, because it’s so tightly packed and the streets are so narrow, there are so many corners to explore. And with a 3 days in Venice itinerary, you have time to cover a lot of ground.
The one walk we suggest you do is from Piazza San Marco to Ponte dell’ Accademia, one of the best viewpoints over the Grand Canal in Venice. We’d recommend it whether you were spending just a day in Venice or two weeks. Many visitors opt for a gondola ride, which can be a great experience, but for me, this walk is one of the most romantic things to do in Venice.
You start at the west end of the Piazza, heading through the arcade, passing some of the most exclusive clothes shops in Venice before reaching the church of San Moisè and its heavy Baroque façade. This is also one of the most popular gondola stops in the centre of the city.
Continue past more high-end boutiques for the next couple of minutes, before they abruptly run out and things become much quieter. The Calle delle Ostreghe, the Street of Oysters, is much narrower, and it takes you past a bar and restaurant, Da Raffaele, with canalside tables in summer. A short walk along the passageway after the bridge takes you out onto a square where you’re greeted by one of the best hidden gems Venice has – the stunning Baroque façade of Santa Maria del Giglio church. This one of my favourite pieces of architecture in Venice, and the white marble stonework stands out beautifully against the deep blue twilight sky.
Beyond here, head over the right bridge of the two to Campo San Maurizio, home to a deconsecrated church that’s now a museum of Baroque music in Venice. Stay on the right-hand side of the square, turning left onto Calle dello Spezier, which takes you to the wide open space of Campo Santo Stefano, one of the larger squares in Venice, which has a couple of great gelaterie.
The Accademia Bridge is a short walk away to the left, a three-minute walk away. Before you reach it you pass the Chiesa di San Vidal, which is now one of the best venues for classical music concerts in Venice.
Day 3 – Morning
A Grand Canal boat ride is undoubtedly among the top 10 things to do in Venice. It’s magical at any time of day or night, but you do get to see more in daylight. It’s also one of the best travel experiences in the world, something you must fit in somewhere in your three days in Venice – as many times as you want, in either direction.
The best boat to take is the #1 vaporetto which runs from the bus station at Piazzale Roma to Lido, Venice’s beach island. The classic route is from Piazzale Roma, or the next stop, Ferrovia (Venezia Santa Lucia railway station), running to San Marco Vallaresso or San Marco San Zaccaria.
It’s one of the most memorable journeys you’ll ever make. Try to grab one of the small number of seats at the front, otherwise one of the window seats inside.
The Grand Canal follows a reverse-S course through the city, and is lined with many of the city’s grandest palazzi (palaces), some of which are museums, including Ca’ Pesaro (on the right, just after the Cannaregio Canal junction) and Ca’ d’Oro, one of the finest buildings in the whole city. The hotels on the Grand Canal in Venice are among the most sought-after in the city, with rooms facing the Canal commanding amazing views.
There are four bridges over the Canal – one each at Piazzale Roma and the Ferrovia. The third is the iconic Rialto bridge, hidden until the last moment, but you get advance warning with the fishy whiff from the Pescheria market next door. The final one is the wooden Ponte dell’Accademia, and the first sight of it with the domes of Santa Maria della Salute behind is unforgettable.
The whole journey takes 35 minutes on the #1, and it’s quicker on the #2, which stops at less stations along the way. Eventually you approach Salute, and the view to San Marco and the lagoon gradually opens out. It’s worth staying on until the second stop, San Zaccaria, so that you can pass the Campanile, Piazza and Doge’s Palace before disembarking.
The Rest of the Day
By now you’ve had a great introduction to Venice, and it’s time to explore some of the Venetian lagoon, one of the most fascinating and most beautiful landscapes in Europe.
You have two options here – exploring the district of Cannaregio for a couple of hours before heading out to visit two of the lagoon islands, or heading straight out onto the lagoon for one of the most popular day trips from Venice – the Murano Burano Torcello run on the #12 vaporetto.
I’d be more inclined to head to Cannaregio because of my interest in art, while Faye would be more interested in visiting some of the Murano glass workshops.
My recommendation is to take a walk through Cannaregio, starting at either the San Marcuola or Guglie vaporetto stop. Venice’s Jewish Ghetto was where the city’s Jews were confined to live. It’s a tiny island where seven storeys were often crammed into buildings that usually would only have five. There’s a small Jewish Museum and several cafes, all well worth exploring.
One of Venice’s most beautiful churches, Madonna dell’ Orto (Madonna of the Garden) is only a few minutes’ walk and a couple of islands from the Ghetto. It’s best known for its collection of Tintoretto paintings, including the astonishing Last Judgment behind the high altar.
Murano, Burano and Torcello
Murano glassware is renowned throughout the world, and is one of the most popular things to buy in Venice. The city’s glass industry was moved to the island in 1291 to stop the workshops setting the rest of Venice on fire, and they’ve been there ever since.
You can reach Murano by several vaporetti, including the 3, 4.1, 12 and 13. There are four stops, each with glass factories or shops nearby. Murano glass products are for sale in shops all over Venice, but on the island you can watch the glass being made, and often get a better deal than you would back in the city.
If you’re heading on to Burano, you need to get to Murano Faro (lighthouse) station to catch the onward #12 vaporetto. The boat ride across the lagoon is one of the best things to do around Venice, an evocative trip across the water where the regularly spaced channel markers and the wonky campanile of the main church in Burano are the only landmarks.
Torcello island is a compelling place to visit because it’s where Venice began, with refugees seeking safe haven from ‘barbarian’ invaders. It has Venice’s first cathedral, the beautiful Santa Maria Assunta, with an outstanding apse mosaic. But very little else remains from its heyday, with most of its buildings taken down and the materials put to use in Venice.
One of the most unusual things to do in Venice is to take a step back in time to see what it would have looked like before it was built on. Torcello is the best place to do this: you can climb the cathedral campanile and look out over the empty, low-lying land, the marshy terrain and water channels everywhere. It’s from this that Venice grew into one of the most powerful trading empires in the known world.
It’s only a short ride across the channel to lovely Burano. Photography is one of the most obvious and popular activities in Venice, and Burano is one of the best places to photograph. Burano is a riot of colour, full of beautiful, brightly painted houses clustered around canals which make a wonderful scene wherever you go on the island. Throw in the obligatory leaning tower and you have one of the most beautiful places in Italy, and some of the most popular, iconic images of the country.
I’ve gone to Burano several times, simply to photograph it, and will go back for the same reason. The blaze of colour lifts the soul, and it’s a pleasure just to be there and wander around. There’s also a lace museum (Museo del Merletto) showing the highly skilled, intricate work of the women of the island who used to make it to supplement the income of their fishermen husbands. There are plenty of restaurants and bars around the island to while away an hour or two, and enjoy life in the slow lane for a while.
Where to stay in Venice
Our feature on the best area to stay in Venice describes all the options within the city and beyond. As you’re spending 3 nights in Venice, I’d recommend looking for somewhere close to good vaporetto connections, so that you’re never more than 20-30 minutes away from San Marco, which you’re likely to pass through several times during your visit.
The numerous Grand Canal hotels in Venice include many luxury options. The likes of the Gritti Palace, The Westin Europa & Regina and the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal occupy prime positions on the Grand Canal close to San Marco, but there are some equally beautiful Grand Canal hotels between Rialto and the railway station, including Hotel San Cassiano Ca’ Favretto, a stone’s throw from the Rialto fish market.
I also strongly recommend Hotel Ala, one of the best 3 star hotels in Venice, which is on Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, opposite the beautiful church there. Its location is ideal, less than ten minutes’ walk from Piazza San Marco.
You can also find some budget hotels in Venice, with several options around the station and Piazzale Roma. The Villa Rosa is one of the better 2 star hotels in Venice, and is also a good option if you’re visiting Venice with kids, as it’s next door to Parco Savorgnan, one of very few parks in Venice.
Getting to Venice from the airport
The main airport in Venice is Marco Polo Airport (VCE), 13 km away on the mainland. There are several ways of getting to Venice from Marco Polo Airport, and to make the most of your 3-day break to Venice we recommend the quickest, most direct way – booking a return trip with Alilaguna.
They have two routes to Venice and San Marco. The Orange line takes the western approach down the Cannaregio and Grand Canals. The Blue line runs around the eastern edge of the city. These two routes cover most bases. Alilaguna also works out a lot less expensive than Venice’s water taxis. If you book online, you can get a return ticket for €25, whereas a water taxi to your hotel will set you back €100 or more one way.
The #5 airport bus used to be the cheapest way of getting to Venice from Marco Polo, but the price has recently been hiked from €2 to €8 one way, and when you factor in transfer times and vaporetti tickets, you don’t save much this way now.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.