Can you see Venice in a day? It would be stating a White House-style ‘alternative fact’ to say,”Yes”. However, one day in Venice may be all you can fit in. You may never get the chance to visit Venice again. What can you reasonably hope to accomplish in 1 day in Venice? It’s time to consider a day trip to Venice.
There are enough places to visit in Venice to last two weeks. So if you’re on a Venice 1 day itinerary the secret is not to try to do too much. It’s all about getting a taste of Venice, making memories you’ll savour. There’s no point spending time in queues like many poor unfortunates on one day Venice excursions. You’re going to do much better than that.
Here’s how, in our guide to what to do in Venice in one day.
- 1 ARE VENICE DAY TRIPS BAD FOR VENICE?
- 2 HOW TO GET TO VENICE
- 3 GETTING AROUND VENICE
- 4 YOUR DAY TRIP TO VENICE HIGHLIGHT: THE #1 VAPORETTO DOWN THE GRAND CANAL
- 5 SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE
- 6 VENICE WALKS #1 – DORSODURO AND SAN POLO
- 7 CATCH A TRAGHETTO – VENICE BY GONDOLA
- 8 SCALA CONTARINI DEL BOVOLO – ONE OF THE HIDDEN GEMS OF VENICE
- 9 VENICE WALKS #2 – ON TO CANNAREGIO AND CASTELLO
- 10 SANTA MARIA DEI MIRACOLI
- 11 SAN ZANIPOLO
- 12 VAPORETTO TO SAN MARCO
- 13 THE BASILICA DI SAN MARCO – ST MARK’S BASILICA
- 14 PIAZZA SAN MARCO AND AROUND
- 15 VENICE TOURS
ARE VENICE DAY TRIPS BAD FOR VENICE?
There have been many stories in recent years about the negative impact of mass tourism in Venice. The city receives 28 million visitors a year. Visitors from cruise ships get a bad rap, but only make up 1.5 million of them. Many more visit on day trips to Venice from around mainland Italy. So yes, in some ways day trips are bad for Venice.
One thing that upsets Venetians is that visitors come in a deluge, spend little or no money and then leave. Ideally it’s better to stay in Venice than to visit on a day trip – you see more and of course you spend more. If you’re spending a day in Venice and putting some money into the local economy, that’s a step in the right direction.
We’ve devised a route that gives you a flavour of Venice, taking you off the beaten path to some of the city’s hidden gems. You’ll spend much of time away from the crowds, and wonder what all the fuss is about. Wandering around the city is one of the best things to do in Venice: you’ll be doing plenty of that. You’ll be patronising local Venetian businesses, all the while discovering why this city is so special. Every person that does this makes a difference. We don’t all have to converge on the same few honeypots.
HOW TO GET TO VENICE
As you’re travelling to Venice for a day, we’ll assume that you’re starting point will be somewhere in Italy, most likely the north. By far and away the easiest way to travel between cities in Italy is on the train.
Trains run direct to Venezia Santa Lucia, which is in the Cannaregio district in the north-west of the city. They run from Milan via Lake Garda, Verona, Vicenza and Padua in the west. Another key line is from Rome, which runs through Florence, Bologna, Ferrara and Padua. We’ve written extensively about each of these cities in our article on day trips from Venice, and also include information on travel times to and from each city.
If you’re travelling to Venice by bus, you’ll get off at Piazzale Roma bus station. This is one stop along the Grand Canal from the railway station stop, Ferrovia.
We’ll assume you have arrived in Venice for 9.00 am, and start the itinerary from there.
GETTING AROUND VENICE
There are two ways of getting around in Venice – by boat (the Venice water bus, or vaporetto) or on foot. For your Venice one- day itinerary you’re going to need to do both.
The Venice vaporetto network is pretty comprehensive. It covers the circumference of the city, the Grand Canal and outlying islands. You’ll need to make a few vaporetto trips following this Venice day trip itinerary, so the first thing you’ll need to do is sort your vaporetto tickets.
You should buy a 24 hour vaporetto pass for €20. Single tickets cost €7.50, you’ll be making 4 journeys, so do the maths. You’ll see the ticket offices and machines as you leave the station. You can pay by cash or credit card. Once this transaction is completed, you validate your ticket at the machine at the entrance to the vaporetto wharf. Then you’re ready to go.
YOUR DAY TRIP TO VENICE HIGHLIGHT: THE #1 VAPORETTO DOWN THE GRAND CANAL
This is the ultimate Venice boat tour, and one of the best public transport journeys you can make in the world. We’ve been on the Manly ferry in Sydney, the Star Ferry in Hong Kong and the #28 tram in Lisbon, and none of them can top this.
The Venice Grand Canal is the city’s main thoroughfare. It’s lined with some of the city’s finest churches and palaces, and passes the city’s main market and the nearby Rialto bridge. The second half of the journey takes you between the districts, or sestieri, of San Marco on the left and Dorsoduro on the right. You’ll pass the elegant domed church of Santa Maria della Salute on the right before the journey across to San Marco (St Mark’s). Don’t get off at the Vallaresso stop. Stay on for the run past the entrance to Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) and the Doge’s Palace. You then alight at San Marco (San Zaccaria).
However, your Venice sightseeing has to wait another few minutes. You need to change for the #2 vaporetto across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore.
TIME TAKEN FROM START: 1 HOUR
SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE
The church of San Giorgio Maggiore is one of the most beautiful things to see in Venice. It’s been made famous by the views from the gondolas at San Marco and further along near Arsenale. The latter was famously painted by Claude Monet.
San Giorgio is the work of the architect Andrea Palladio, a native of the Veneto region. The church is a Neoclassical masterpiece, and you can take a lift up the campanile (bell tower) for an outstanding view of the city and lagoon.
After your visit (allow 30-45 minutes) return to the vaporetto stop. This time, catch the #2 vaporetto four stops along the route to Zattere.
TIME TAKEN FROM START: 2 HOURS
VENICE WALKS #1 – DORSODURO AND SAN POLO
Dorsoduro is one of the best neighborhoods in Venice to explore. It’s a little off the beaten path, and because of its student population, one of the livelier parts of the city.
Head left out of Zattere, turning right at the first canal you reach. This is the Rio di San Trovaso. It’s named after the church on the other side. The building and yard in front of the church is the Squero di San Trovaso, one of the last working boatyards in Venice. You can see the squeraoli working on gondolas that have been brought in for repair.
Head across the Rio di San Trovaso on the bridge you’ll have just passed, and follow the trail to the next bridge on the right. This bridge crosses the Rio degli Ognissanti canal, one of the most picturesque in Venice.
Turn right at the next canal, the Rio de le Romite. Continue along the walkway, Fondamenta Borgo, and cross the bridge at the end. When this street ends, turn right onto Campo San Barnaba, turning left on the square and heading for the canal, the Rio San Barnaba. Here you’ll find one of the most Venetian sights of all, a greengrocer boat. I always buy a few apples from them.
The Ponte dei Pugni, or Bridge of Fists, is next to the fruit and veg boat. This was the venue of regular fights between members of two historic factions, the Nicolotti and Castellani. Follow Rio Tera Canal straight ahead then left until you come to Campo Santa Margherita. This square is the heart of student Venice, and has plenty of pizzeria and restaurants to choose from if you want to break for lunch. There’ll be other opportunities for this later as well.
Afterwards, head north out of the square, crossing the canal to Campo San Pantalon and its church. Bear right, then go left up Calle San Pantalon, turning left at the dessert shop. Turn right after 15 metres, continuing across the canal to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.
This is a possible stop for you. It’s one of the outstanding Venice attractions because of its rich collection of Tintoretto paintings. It easily warrants 30 minutes of your time. You might not think you have enough time: it’s ultimately down to you.
The vast looming Frari Basilica is across the alleyway from the Scuola Grande, and normally would also warrant a visit. We suggest skipping it for now, so you have time for San Marco at the end. When you reach the front corner of the church, on Campo dei Frari, turn tight down Calle Larga Prima. At the end, turn left onto Calle Corli, then after 10 metres go right. You then turn left onto Calle del Campanile, and right after 10 metres onto Calle del Traghetto. Continue to the end of this street; don’t cross the bridge, turn right on the canal instead.
WALK TIME: 40 MINUTES
LUNCH TIME: 1 HOUR
SCUOLA GRANDE: 30 MINUTES
TIME TOTAL SINCE START: 4 HOURS 10 MINUTES
CATCH A TRAGHETTO – VENICE BY GONDOLA
A Venice traghetto is a ferry service by gondola across the Grand Canal. Don’t expect any of the trimmings – this is a working boat. Gondolas regularly get polished; traghetti don’t. There is usually seating room for some passengers, but most locals tend to stand.
One of the main traghetto routes is from the stop you’ll have just reached, San Tomà. It takes you across to the San Marco side, next to the Gothic Palazzo Garzoni.
The traghetto costs just €2 for a one way ride, which usually lasts three to four minutes.
If there’s standing room only, don’t worry, balancing is very easy. The key thing to remember is not to stand with your feet very close together. Keep them apart, ideally 50-60 centimetres – and you’ll be fine.
TIME TOTAL SINCE START: 4 HOURS 25 MINUTES
SCALA CONTARINI DEL BOVOLO – ONE OF THE HIDDEN GEMS OF VENICE
If you haven’t already stopped for lunch, Campo Santo Stefano is a lovely open square five minutes away from the traghetto stop.
You need to pass Santo Stefano church to reach your next Venice sight. Turn left at the church, cross the next canal, turning left. Follow the street around until the next T-junction, where you turn right. Take the next left along Calle de la Mandola, which takes you to Campo Manin. You’ll see a small yellow sign indicating the way to Scala Contarini del Bovolo on your right.
The Scala is a wonderful arched spiral staircase on the exterior of a medieval palazzo. Its name ‘del Bovolo’ comes from the Venetian word for snail.
It’s worth the €6 entry fee for the view at the top of the staircase. It’s at rooftop level, and you get a fantastic view over Venice from there with St Mark’s and all the other church campaniles dominating the skyline.
TIME TOTAL SINCE START: 5 HOURS
VENICE WALKS #2 – ON TO CANNAREGIO AND CASTELLO
The next walk shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. It’s likely you’ll encounter some heavy pedestrian traffic around Rialto, but that should peter out once you turn off the main thoroughfare.
From Campo Manin, follow Calle Minelli around to the left, turning right at the San Paolo ATM, then left after 1o metres onto Corte Teatro. After 30 metres turn right onto Calle del Teatro.
You’re now walking parallel to the Grand Canal, which is out of sight on your left. You’ll soon reach the Ponte del Lovo bridge, which has a beautiful view off to the right to San Marco campanile. Continue past Campo San Salvador, and turn right at the Disney Store. Cross the next bridge 40 metres ahead and you’ll come to Santa Maria della Fava church.
Follow Calle Fava to the left of the church, bearing left soon afterwards. This takes you through Campo San Lio, and across another canal, the Rio del Piombo. Turn left at the T-junction, then take an immediate right onto Calle del Piombo. Continue for 40 metres before turning left onto Calle Larga Rosa. Pass the supermarket on your right, continuing to the next bridge, which you cross. Then follow the path along the canal, turning left onto Calle Castelli. Turn right at the end for your next destination.
SANTA MARIA DEI MIRACOLI
Tiny Santa Maria dei Miracoli is an exquisite church just inside the Cannaregio sestiere. It’s decorated with marble inside and out, and was built in the late 15th century to house a painting of the Virgin Mary. This was reputed to have been instrumental in several miracles, hence its name.
Entry costs €3.
TIME TAKEN: 5 HOURS 40 MINUTES
The Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, or Saints John and Paul, is dedicated to two obscure early Roman martyrs. It’s one of the main Basilicas of Venice, and it’s a three-to-four-minute walk away from Miracoli. Cross the bridge at the back of the church, follow the path to the next bridge, cross that and the following one: it’s a straight run from there.
San Zanipolo is one half of one of the most striking ensembles of buildings you’ll ever see. The other is the gleaming white marble façade of what was the Scuola Grande di San Marco, a religious confraternity like that of San Rocco. This building is now Venice’s main hospital. Only in Venice, I say!
The Basilica is one of the most intriguing places to see in Venice. It’s best known as the resting place of many of the Doges, the elected leaders of Venice during the era of the Republic.
One of the most impressive sculptures of the early Renaissance period stands proudly outside the church. Andrea Verrocchio’s equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni is magnificent, and comparable with Donatello’s Gattamelata sculpture in Padua.
The Campo next to the church has a couple of cafes, including a branch of Rosa Salva, a pasticceria or bakery serving delicious cakes and great coffee.
TIME TAKEN: 6 HOURS 30 MINUTES
VAPORETTO TO SAN MARCO
After your coffee and cake, you can walk off some of the calories with a five-minute walk around to the Ospedale vaporetto stop. The 4.2 service currently departs at 3, 23 and 43 minutes past the hour. So you’re aiming to be on the 1543, or 3.43 pm service. This takes 30 minutes around the quiet areas of Castello sestiere, reaching San Marco (San Zaccaria) stand C.
TIME TAKEN: 7 HOURS 15 MINUTES
THE BASILICA DI SAN MARCO – ST MARK’S BASILICA
All of this leaves you enough time to see one of the most elaborate churches in Christendom before it closes. If you’re visiting between 1st April and 2nd November, you can reserve a ticket to skip the line at a designated time. The Basilica closes at 5pm, so you can book entry for 4.30 or 4.45 pm. In winter, you don’t need to book – there are rarely queues in the low season.
If you think this doesn’t sound like long, you’re right. Visitors are herded through the Basilica in much the same way a farmer would move cattle or sheep around. You could actually spend hours in there looking at the mosaics, some of the finest Byzantine art on Earth. You can get away with lingering longer at quiet times, but if it’s busy, forget it.
TIME TAKEN: 8 HOURS
PIAZZA SAN MARCO AND AROUND
Depending on what time you need to catch your return transport, you may have some time spare to explore the area round San Marco, where some of the main Venice tourist attractions are concentrated.
The waterfront next to San Marco has some of the best views in Venice. The Doge’s Palace is on your left, and beyond that, the Bridge of Sighs. You have the famous view back to San Giorgio Maggiore before you, and to your right, the Baroque beauty of Santa Maria della Salute.
Alternatively, there is the Piazza itself. Napoleon Bonaparte called it “the drawing room of Europe”. By this time of day, the crowds will have started to thin out, and you can begin to appreciate its elegance. You could wander the arcades, and possibly call in for a €10 espresso at Caffe Florian, which has been on the square for almost 300 years.
The choice is now yours. You can walk back to the station, which takes anything between 40 minutes and an hour. You can walk around the San Marco Vallaresso stop and catch the vaporetto back from there. Or you could walk part of the way back, from Piazza San Marco to Accademia. We’ve described this lovely walk in our article about spending a weekend in Venice. The Accademia stop is just to the right of the wooden bridge across the Grand Canal.
You can complete our self-guided Venice in a day tour by yourself quite easily.
However, you may prefer to opt for a Venice day tour, or a Venice walking tour lasting part of the day. You could certainly incorporate the latter into the 1 day Venice itinerary we have set out.
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.