Here’s a quick itinerary for spending 2 days in Venice as a first-time visitor to Italy’s magical lagoon city. To be honest, I’d recommend more than 2 days in Venice if you really want to explore beyond the big sights. But if you’re on a time limit, there’s plenty you can cram into a weekend or short break.
Venice is obviously one of the most popular destinations in the world, on everyone’s bucket list, and it’s easy to be tempted to skip it thinking it’ll be disappointing or overrated. I think this is especially the case if you’re a seasoned traveller and prefer going to more unusual locations. However, Venice is like nowhere else on earth. Yes, it’s busy and popular. But it’s so worth it. I mean, it’s a floating city made up of islands in a lagoon, full of grand history and a unique way of life. What could be more intriguing than that? There are no roads, only canals and footpaths, so you get a lovely break from dodging traffic like on other city trips. And everywhere you look is the original ‘shabby chic’ style of architecture. It’s stunning and photos don’t do it justice. You have to go there.
So settle down with a bellini (when in Venice…) and enjoy picking what you like the look of in this itinerary for spending a beautiful 2 days in Venice…
Before we start: is visiting Venice ethical?
Over-tourism is damaging many iconic places around the world. There’s a lot of debate in the travel blogging community about whether we should visit certain well-known destinations at all, and whether it’s okay to ‘promote’ them by photographing and writing about them when they’re struggling under an overload of tourism.
Problems for Venice include cruise ships, which are severely damaging the Venetian lagoon (and therefore the city itself). They bring people in as day trippers only, who then pound the streets and add to the weight of tourists damaging the city but generally don’t spend much money in the local economy because they’re fed and watered on the cruise ship. AirBnb is the other big issue. Like in Reykjavik and Barcelona, as well as countless other tourist hotspots, Venice’s local population is shrinking every day.
Because of all this, I’ve ummed and ahhed about whether or not to write about Venice on the blog at all. Eventually, I decided to go for it, partly because my ‘power of influence’ is so small that I’m definitely not going to make anyone go to Venice just by my writing about it. But also because I wanted to showcase how it’s better to visit out of season, to stay somewhere fully registered and licensed away from the crowds (like Ca’ San Rocco, where I stayed and loved!), and to buy your grub outside of the main squares.
I like getting off the beaten path, while also quickly whizzing through a few big sights, wherever I am. Venice was no exception. I hope this helps you to do the same. If you want to read more about how to help with over-tourism, there’s a great blog post here.
2 days in Venice itinerary: day 1
See the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, but then get lost
Most people who’ve just arrived in Venice will head to the Grand Canal as their first port of call. They’ll then most likely walk over the Rialto Bridge. This is the heart of Venice and although it’s a cliché and 100% touristville, if it’s your first time in the city you have to go there. It’s the popular bit for a reason. So go and take it all in, get your classic Venice photographs and elbow other tourists out of the way on the bridge (while watching your handbag, obvs – like most bustling tourist spots, it’s pickpocket central).
When I visited in April, you could easily escape the bustle of these touristy bits by nipping down a side street. I highly recommend doing this once you’ve had enough of humans. Suddenly, you’re in complete serenity with no other people about, just the sound of the water lapping.
For me, the beauty and enjoyment of Venice are found in this wandering around away from people. If it’s your first time, you can start with the Venice Free Walking Tour to get your bearings and an overview of the city. But then you have to explore on your own afterwards.
There are so many inviting paths to follow, some leading to hidden bridges that are barely big enough for two people to pass on, some leading to wider canals lined with washing-laden balconies. It’s really easy to lose track of time because it’s so windy and disorientating. But that’s no bad thing.
Venice is the best city ever to get lost in.
Have a cicchetti-based lunch by the gondola repair shop
Head to the brilliant Osteria Al Squero for a lunch of cicchetti. Cicchetti are delicious tiny snacks unique to Venice, sort of the Venetian answer to Milan’s aperitivo. They’re often mini open sandwiches, crostini or small portions of main meals. And they have to be nibbled stood up and over glasses of wine. Served at bàcari (small, local bars hidden all over Venice), cicchetti are also cheap, often below €3, so you can have quite a selection to make up a decent lunch without breaking the bank.
This little osteria only has a few seats inside so most people sit out on the bank of the canal, taking in the view of the shop opposite where Venice’s gondolas are built and fixed.
Keep an eye out for hungry seagulls though, especially if you’re trying to get that perfect Instagram shot of your wine and cicchetti balanced on the wall with the gondola shop in the background. If they don’t swoop down and make off with your cicchetti, then they’ll surely take someone else’s. And you’ll definitely want to catch that on your camera.
Head to St Mark’s Square (worth battling the crowds for)
The Italians love a good piazza. This is definitely one of the busiest I’ve been to, but it’s a beauty.
St Mark’s Square has always been the political and social heart of the city. It’s said that Napoleon called it ‘the drawing room of Europe’ (no doubt someone will comment to say this isn’t true!). If you look beyond the crowds, it is truly gorgeous.
Unfortunately as well as crowds of people, it’s also where the local pigeon gangs hang out. Some brave/mad tourists will pose for photos feeding them, but note that they’re well ‘ard and will mob you for food if they don’t poo on you first. If you’ve already had some cicchetti nicked by seagulls, this may be when you need to be on guard. There are also worries that pigeon poo is slowly damaging the art and architecture in the square, so don’t encourage more pooing by feeding them even more. You can also get fined for it. Feeding them that is, not pooing in the square yourself… although probably that too.
Like with all big touristy areas, the price of eating on the square will be wild. A drink will break the bank marginally less but still lets you have a sit to soak in the atmosphere. Just avoid the famous Harry’s Bar (home of the bellini) unless you want to re-mortgage your house.
If you want to get a good, elevated shot of St Mark’s Square, the Correr Museum café is a good shout.
Take in St Mark’s Basilica
Obviously the main thing in St Mark’s Square is St Mark’s Basilica itself. This incredible cathedral was first built back in the 9th century and has gone through various renovations since before becoming the badboy you see before you today.
I’m not a massive fan of going inside buildings and prefer the outside architecture, but if you do want to do a tour, this one seems well rated. I went inside the basilica on my first trip to Venice years ago and recall the golden altar being rather impressive. (I have a feeling you had to pay a couple of euro extra to get at it, but it’s not too much).
The Doge’s Palace is one for the Gothic architecture fans. This is the palace where Venice’s doges (most senior officials) ruled for over a thousand years. It’s pretty extra. Once inside, you can cross over the enclosed Bridge of Sighs and into the dungeon. Legend has it that the bridge is so named because of prisoners having a good old sigh when they crossed and had their last view of the outside world before they went into captivity. So that’s cheerful. But actually, it was built long after prisoners went into confinement forever there (in a time when it was more small-time criminals) plus you can’t actually see outside much from inside it anyway.
I quite like going round darker historical places like prisons. The more grisly the better. Make sure to find the letterbox in the courtyard wall where people could post anonymously their accusations against their fellow Venetians.
If you’re planning to visit both St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace, this two-hour walking tour lets you skip the queue and should save you a bit of time as well as money.
Climb up St. Mark’s Campanile bell tower
Now, we all know that a city break is incomplete without dragging yourself up to the top of some kind of tower for a view, right? Here’s the Venice iteration of this ‘fun’. But luckily for you, it has a lift.
The Campanile was actually built as a lighthouse to help people navigate the Venetian lagoon, but today it’s just there to get a load of some rather excellent views of Venice. On a clear day, you can spot the Alps in the distance. If you want to skip the queue to get in if it’s particularly busy, there are tickets for that.
The Campanile bells ring out at midday, which is also a nice thing to catch if you’re in the area.
Eat fresh seafood away from the crowds at Osteria Alla Frasca
Right, I’ll be honest. I found it really hard to find places that weren’t massively tourist-orientated for evening meals in Venice. I normally enjoy doing loads of research before every trip and being spoilt for choice (even in super touristy places like Rome or Prague) but Venice was hard AF. Lunches were easy, but evening meals were a trial by TripAdvisor.
Osteria Alla Frasca was one of the first places I narrowed it down to and – praise the online review gods – I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s a small seafood restaurant but wasn’t too expensive considering that. And they did fresh homemade pasta, which is the best thing for me about eating in Italy. It’s a little bit off the beaten track, but you still have to reserve a table if you’re going on a weekend because this is Venice and people get everywhere.
Oh and afterwards we walked back via a delicious wine at Vineria all’Amarone, which I of course forgot to photograph but highly recommend!
2 days in Venice itinerary: day 2
Time to get onto the canals
It’s a crime to go to Venice and not get ONTO the water. Yes, even if you hate water and can’t swim like me so tend to steer clear of the stuff. Seeing the city from the canals gives a whole different perspective and TBH, Venice is just gorgeous from any angle.
A saunter up the canals on a water bus (vaporetti) will set you back a very worthwhile €7.50 a journey. Or if you’re feeling spendy/mad, you can do a gondola ride for €100+.
I do understand that some people will have dreamt of going on a gondola in Venice and it will be something they remember forever. It’s totally money well spent in that case. But if you’re not too bothered about emptying your pockets to the gondoliers (or ‘gondoLADs’ as I wish they were called), you can enjoy Venice from the water for the much more reasonable cost of a water bus journey.
You can buy your vaporetti ticket on board if you’re running late, or from a ticket machine near the major stations. A single ticket lasts 75 minutes in one direction, with a change of boats if you need. You can take suitcases on them if you’re using it to get to/from your hotel, but only one per person.
Have a delicious vegan lunch at Fiumefreddo Bio
After water-bussing about all morning, you’ll be in need of sustenance. You may have thought vegan sustenance would be hard to find in Venice amid all that seafood, but my research 100% paid off for me and I’m gracing you with it too. Enjoy.
I think Fiumefreddo Bio was my favourite place we ate in Venice. Small, quiet and unpretentious, it’s located in a little square with not much through-traffic, making you feel very tucked away from it all. The food is really colourful and fresh. Everything we had was perfect and I only wish we’d been less full from breakfast because I could have eaten the entire menu.
I mostly eat vegan or the odd pescatarian food. And although it’s possible to exist on pizza, pasta and wine as a veggie/vegan in Italy, you do really miss proper veggie protein. This is where little gems like this place come into their own. I’ve never been so happy to see tofu and chickpeas. It was dead cheap too for Venice prices. Deffo recommend!
Visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
If you don’t have good weather throughout your 2 days in Venice, you might want to do something indoors. Or, if you just love modern art, you might want to duck out of the sunshine anyway to see the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This beautiful space is open 10:00-18:00 and it’s €16.50 to get in.
Peggy herself used to live here, along with her small army of Lhasa Apso doggies. They’re all buried together in the garden, which is rather lovely. I didn’t know much about Peggy Guggenheim but this definitely made me warm to her. Then when you start reading about her, she’s even better. She collected a range of 20th century art, loaning it to museums across Europe and letting other people access it, as well as having a pretty wild life and loads of affairs.
In her collection, you’ll spot some Picasso, Dalí and Pollock as well as some artists you might not have heard of. The staff do free talks at various points around the gallery. It isn’t that big so you can cover it in an hour or so then sit out in its garden with a view of the Grand Canal.
Oh and if you’re there in summer, it has air con. Thank me later.
Have a (vegan) gelato and a people watch
You can get your ice cream fix from Gelateria il Doge, which is one of the very few places to do non-dairy gelato in Venice.
If you’re after somewhere nice to sit with your gelato to watch the world go by, we kept drifting back to this little piazza outside the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, which is only tiny but might be worth popping into on a rainy day. If you didn’t already know that da Vinci invented loads of stuff, you will after 10 minutes in here. He even thought of things first but didn’t actually make them so someone else officially invented them, such as helicopters and cars. Impressive.
Outside the museum, there are a few bars with outdoor seating where you can have an Aperol spritz and a people watch. Or you can sit on the bank of the canal and watch the gondoliers pass by. If you’re a saddo who collects fridge magnets from every place you go to (like moi!), there’s a tiny souvenir shop that you can see in the below photo. It had a decent selection of non-tacky magnets. And tacky ones too, of course.
Visit a waterproof bookshop: Libreria Aqua Alta
If you’re anything like me, you can’t say no to wandering round a bookshop, even if you’re very aware that you already have far too many books and your suitcase is dangerously close to EasyJet’s limit.
Libreria Aqua Alta translates as ‘library of high water’. Why could it be named that? Yes, you at the back? Correct! The books are forever in danger of getting wrecked in Venice’s many floods. So they now keep everything stored in waterproof bins, baths and boats.
I have to say a lot of it is more of a quirky tourist attraction/photo opportunity than a proper shop, but they do have normal books you can actually buy as well as the more decorative piles everywhere. It’s worth popping into just for the whimsical novelty and to say hello to the various resident cats who’ve cleverly moved in so they can stay dry in floods too.
Eat fresh pasta at Osteria Ai Do Archi
In a rare turn of events, on one night we ended up going somewhere that wasn’t on The Plan. I know, all that research and then going off piste – who even am I?!
What happened was that I decided to be ill, so we’d ended up having to go to A&E. Oh yes, I know how to have a good holiday. The glamour! Anyway. After exiting the hospital with a diagnosis of ‘we don’t know what’s wrong with you, soz’, I couldn’t be bothered trekking back to where all my planned restaurants were.
So I ended up doing a very quick Google for anywhere acceptable in the area and picking something that looked solid.
What did we do in these situations before we had free roaming data in Europe? Oh yes, walked round getting hangrier and hangrier until you ended up somewhere absolutely vile based on having no information and just going off first impressions. I look forward to a return to such dark times after bloody Brexit.
Anyway, the acceptable place I decided on was Osteria Ai Do Archi and we both really loved it. Phew!
I didn’t have my camera with me, which is proper annoying, but you’re going to have to trust me that the veggie pizza and pasta were both top notch.
If you want to stay longer than 2 days in Venice…
I can’t believe that’s the end of my Venice itinerary! I feel like that was over really quickly. But there you go.
To be fair, 2 days in Venice isn’t really enough to properly get into it and get underneath the surface of the city. Plus, if you’re there longer you can do some day trips.
My number one day trip idea would be this…
Day trip to Burano island on the waterbus from Venice
This is such an easy day trip. You could even do it if you’re only doing 2 days in Venice, but it’d involve sacrificing seeing some of the things in actual Venice.
You can get a water bus (again, 7.50€) to either Murano (where they make coloured glass) or Burano (which is better, IMO) island. I did Murano on my first trip years ago, and while it was nice it wasn’t a patch on my visit to Burano this year.
As soon as I got off the waterbus in Burano, I was in love.
It’s SO colourful and is now one of my favourite places in Italy. Everywhere you look, there’s colour, bridges, cute little cafés and flowers. So stunning. The only downside is the heaps of people doing full-on photoshoots for Instagram, but if you stay for a full afternoon you can avoid most of them as it gets a bit later.
Blog post exclusively on how to visit Burano coming soon. I’ll put the link here when it’s live.
2 days in Venice itinerary – useful information for your trip
How to get there
We flew to Venice from Manchester airport. It’s a smooth journey on the bus into the city from Marco Polo Airport. Venice was the first stop on a longer trip round Italy for us, hence the flying. You can also come by train from somewhere else in Italy, in which case you’d transfer from Venezia Mestre to Venezia Santa Lucia station. Train and bus stations are on the west of the island.
Where to stay
Accommodation in Venice is notoriously expensive and AirBnb is a serious problem for locals. It’s worth doing research properly on where to stay. I chose the brilliant Ca’ San Rocco, a gorgeous old hotel in San Polo, only five minutes from the train/bus stations but in a beautifully quiet area of the city. The room was big, which I imagine would please any angry American reviewers on TripAdvisor (seriously, I’ve never seen one say a room wasn’t too small). I paid around £73 a night, so not ridiculously cheap in the grand scheme of the world, but an absolute steal for Venice and for the quality. Also, breakfast is served on a lovely little outdoor terrace if it’s a nice day. The best thing about this is the resident cat will come out to join you! He’s really cute and made my stay 42,987x better.
How to get around
Everything is walkable in the centre, but you shouldn’t miss getting on the water at some point. If you don’t fancy shelling out for a gondola ride, just do the vaporetto (water bus). A single journey is €7.50. The lack of cars/roads in Venice is amazing! I’ve not been anywhere for years that’s completely car-free (side note: the last place was Branno island in Sweden, if you’re interested).
When to go
We visited in April and the weather was beautiful – not too hot, but warm enough to walk around without a coat. It was busy but not overcrowded. I would not advise going in summer. It’s too busy and too hot and you’ll be adding to the masses descending on the city. Winter would be ideal for getting moody photographs and completely avoiding the crowds.
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You might also like my other Italy posts:
- A city guide to Rome for first-time visitors
- What to do in Lucca [coming soon]
- How to do Siena as a day trip [coming soon]
- Two days in Florence: an itinerary [coming soon].
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