If you only have One Day in Venice these are the must-see things you have to say you have been to this spectacular island of bridges and passages. Many people say that it is the most beautiful city in the world, and I have to say it is close to the top of my list too.
Venice is an island where there are no cars, bikes, or other forms of transportation, so make sure to pack a pair of comfortable shoes as you will be in for a lot of walking. The streets are lined with cobblestone and have many bridges over the canals. Take your time and enjoy the beauty of this city. Charm awaits you at the end of each passageway and over every bridge.
Many people go to Venice as a port stop on a cruise, therefore you want to take advantage of the limited time you have. As with any 1-day port stop, so much to see with not enough time to do so. I suggest knocking out the main tourist attractions first, before diving into the rest. Here is where I would start, and the order in which I would suggest you see these wonderful places. The 2 neighborhoods that we are going to explore are San Polo and San Marco. These two locations are in close proximity and can be done in a rather short amount of time. This allows for additional time to adventure to other parts of the island.
Grand Canal – You absolutely cannot go to Venice and not go on the 2 mile Grand Canal ride. Depending on where you are staying on the island or if you are coming in for the day on a cruise ship I would highly recommend hopping on a Vaporetto (water taxi) from the Santa Lucia Train Station. You can take the Vaporetto # 1 for the slow ride or #2 for the fast ride. I would recommend Vaporetto #1. If you can get a seat in the open-air front of the boat (most have them) It is about a 45-minute ride till you get to Piazza San Marco. In my opinion, it is the best way to see the city. Even better if you can do it at sunset! You can capture the most amazing pictures of the canal and the sun on the buildings at that time of day.
Tip: I recommend getting a water taxi pass as it is the only means of transportation as a one-way ticket is only good for a 1-hour hop on hop off, which is not much time. It is well worth it, especially if you want to explore the different neighborhoods.
Gondola Rides – Many people feel this is a must when in Venice. I will have to disagree, sorry to disappoint you. They are overpriced, $100 and up for 40 minutes. Many of the gondoliers will stay clear of the places you want to see as it is safer and easier for them. With all of the boat traffic, the water likes to be very choppy and the gondolas will rock back and forth. The perfect storm if you get motion sickness. If you just have to do it, find a lone gondolier rather than a big group of them and haggle. A good rule of thumb is $1 a minute, plus tip.
San Marco Neighborhood
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) – This is the plaza where St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace is located. You can also find Museo Correr, the Campanile (the Basilica’s bell tower), and Torre dell Orologio (clock tower).
It is an expansive and impressive space. You may have seen pictures of the Piazza underwater a few months ago when the flooding happened in Venice, in fact, it happens a few times a year. This is because it is the lowest point in Venice. So beware of when you go as you may or may not want to experience this.
The Piazza comes to life at sunset. There is live music, restaurants, vendor tables, etc. If you are up for some entertainment this is when and where to do it.
Tip: It is illegal to eat and drink in Piazza San Marco. It is also not allowed to feed the pigeons, so don’t get caught or you risk huge fines. While I’m talking about it, swimming in the water is also a big no-no.
St. Mark’s Basilica – This Catholic Church is the most recognizable of all the churches in Venice. It was built in the eleventh century and is known to be one of the best examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The exterior is quite gothic, while the interior is covered in gold, which is how it was nicknamed the Golden Church. Once inside take the time to look at the ceilings, mosaics, and sculptures. Probably most notable are the Horses of Saint Mark, which can be seen in the Museo di San Marco. Replicas are in the front balcony of the Basilica.
Photographs are not allowed inside the building, so unfortunately you have to imagine how ornate it is as I have no pictures of my own to share.
Admission into the Basilica is free. I would recommend securing a reservation as to not wait in the long lines. It is totally worth the small fee to secure your spot in line. Click on the hyperlink to take you directly to the website to book. I recommend the earlier the better as to avoid the crowds.
Also, it is necessary to cover your shoulders and wear knee-length pants to enter. Luggage and large bags are also not allowed. They do have lockers on-site to store your belongings if need be.However,
Doge’s Palace– Located next to St. Mark’s Basilica facing the Grand Canal, trust me you won’t be able to miss it. This was once were the Venetian government resided and now is a museum. This museum is a great place to learn about Venetian history, culture, and art. While inside you get to embrace in the overindulgent elegance of the apartments, government, and secret rooms.
The building alone is rich in history dating back to the 14th century, so even if you don’t take the time to go in, you should absolutely walk around the outside of the building to admire the Gothic architecture.
Fun Fact: During the 17th century not only was it a residence, but it held court, as well as a jail.
Tip: The Glass Museum in Murano and Lace Museum in Burano, Venice’s lagoon islands, which are affiliated with Doge’s Palace, are also not to be missed if you spend additional days in Venice.
Bridge of Sighs – Built-in 1614, it was originally used as a corridor from Doge’s Palace to the new house of prisons. This bridge is unique as it is enclosed and covered on all sides and has walkways that are separate but run next to each other.
The bridge got its name in the 18th century. The “Sigh” was referring to the prisoners who would get their last look at the Venice lagoon through the small windows in the bridge after they were sentenced in court and taken to their cell to serve their sentences. Hence the sighs of the prisoners.
Hint: While you are in the area stop by La Boutique del Gelato – Salizada S. Lio, 5727, which is north of Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Square. It is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth it to enjoy the best gelato in Venice it as you walk to Rialto Bridge.
San Polo Neighborhood
Rialto Bridge – The Rialto Bridge is probably the most iconic bridge in Venice and recognizable worldwide. It is the oldest of 4 bridges, originally built in 1181, which stretches over the Grand Canal. On the west side of the bridge, you can wind through the San Polo neighborhood and find a bite to eat as there are some charming restaurants and cafes. You can also do some souvenir shopping.
Rialto Market & Fish Market – While I don’t recommend breaking the bank to purchase anything at the shops on Rialto Bridge, it is fun to look around as you are crossing. There is a market which I find quite enjoyable to peruse or purchase souvenirs to the northwest of the bridge. You will also stumble upon the produce and fish markets, which I always find enjoyable. The fresh food is always so colorful and seeing how locals shop fascinates me.
Hint: Souvenir stalls are open daily, the produce market is closed on Sunday and the fish market is closed on Sunday and Monday. The produce and fish market tend to close by 1 on the days they are open, so if you want to go plan to go early and just follow the scent.
Tip: I would either buy something for a snack at the market or find a nice restaurant in the San Polo neighborhood as it seems to be less touristy and not as expensive as San Marco. My opinion is it is a more true Venetian experience. We enjoy Il Refolo – located at Ramo Quinto Gallion O del Pezzetto, 1459.
If you only have 1 day in Venice you will be on cruise control and you can see a lot of this spectacular city. Do make sure you make time to just take it all in and wander the alleys as they are so much of the charm of the island.
If you have more time I highly recommend considering at least a 3-day stay as there is so much more to explore in main island Venice as well as the Lagoon Islands.