Venice is the kind of city people around the world dream of visiting. Its canals and bridges and history make it one of the top places to visit in Italy. If you only have one day in Venice, you won’t be able to see everything, but you will be able to hit the top sights. It’ll give you something to come back for while still satisfying your wanderlust. Whether you’re doing a quick two-night/one-day stay, visiting on a cruise port day, or making a daytrip from a nearby city, you’ll still have lots of time to explore and hit the top things to do in Venice in a day.
If you’re staying in Venice, I recommend picking a hotel in the area around Piazza San Marco. I stayed between the Rialto Bridge and the square, and the location provided me with easy access to most of the sights I wanted to see. Accommodations here are a little more expensive than other areas, but you’ll save yourself time walking or riding boat shuttles. When time is tight, I like to start my days as early as possible to fit in as much as I can. In order to make this itinerary work, you’ll want to do the same.
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Tour the Doge’s Palace
Start your one day in Venice at the Doge’s Palace in Piazza San Marco. This area is one of the most popular parts of the city with tourists and features some of its most iconic sites. Getting there as early as possible (I highly recommend showing up at opening time or slightly before if you want to photograph the square) will help minimize the lines for the Palace and basilica, and allow you to enjoy the beauty of the historic piazza before the masses of tourists descend on it later in the day. The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale in Italian) opens at 8:30 year round at the time of this writing. You can pre-purchase tickets, but they don’t have times assigned so you may still find a long line. Priority passes are also an option to skip the longer line.
The Doge’s Palace was the seat of power in Venice for centuries and its ornate décor is a joy to explore. The gilded ceilings, paintings, and other beautiful accents really give you a sense of how much more money they had than anyone could ever need. You may also come across a special exhibit. I got to see one featuring some incredible jewels. (It ended up getting burglarized the day after I visited, but I swear it wasn’t me!)
Make sure you take a walk over the famous Bridge of Sighs. You can take a peek through the tiny windows to see the last view of Venice that prisoners had after being sentenced.
Visit the Basilica San Marco
After spending a couple hours exploring the Doge’s Palace, head back out to the Piazza San Marco. The famous basilica is right next to the palace, so this is the ideal time to explore inside. Entrance to the basilica is free, though there are small fees to visit certain areas. Check the official site for periodic closures because tourist visits aren’t allowed during certain services. Your free admission allows you to follow a one-way path along the outer edge of the church. You’ll love the gilded ceiling and beautiful décor. No photography is allowed inside, so you’ll have to see it for yourself.
I paid 5 euros to go to the small museum upstairs. It features a few exhibits about the basilica, but the real draw is the views. There is a balcony looking into the church and being that much closer to the beautiful golden ceilings is incredible. There is also a viewing area on a balcony outside overlooking the Piazza San Marco. I’d highly recommend it if you can climb the steep and narrow stairs to the top. The climb wasn’t long, but does require a little effort.
Depending on what kind of lines you encounter, you may want to grab lunch now. I waited until after the museum that comes next because I wanted to eat a little further away from the super touristy area, but there are plenty of cafes and restaurants for you to grab a bite to eat at.
Visit the Correr Museum
My ticket to the Doge’s Palace included admission to the Correr Museum across the square. To be honest, I wasn’t going to use this portion of the ticket, but then the tidal flooding cut me off from the areas I wanted to visit next so I decided to head into the museum instead of milling around in the puddles with the crowds. I was so glad I did. The artifacts inside the museum are fantastic, and you can also sneak some great views of the piazza through the windows. I love maps and globes, so I was particularly taken with the gorgeous old ones on display.
If you opt not to visit the museum, you could substitute this with a ride to the top of the bell tower in the plaza, which was another thing I did to kill time while the streets were flooded. The views of Venice from the top are pretty, but I think you get more bang for your buck at the museum.
Walk the Rialto Bridge
Venice is famous for its many bridges, and the Rialto is the most famous of all of them. One of the few bridges that spans the Grand Canal, it also features several small shops right in the center. Yes, they’re totally touristy, but no one says you have to buy anything while you’re walking across. Enjoy the view of the Grand Canal from the railings for a few minutes and snap some pictures. After crossing over, look on the lefthand side for the green and blue poles for an iconic image of Venice.
Take a gondola ride
I was traveling by myself and with the going rate for a gondola ride being 80 euros at the time, I decided that it wasn’t worth the cost. If I had been in a larger group that would’ve enabled me to split the cost, I might’ve gone for it just to have the experience. Instead, being somewhat thrifty, I opted to just take a ride across the Grand Canal on one of the traghetto boats. These boats look like gondolas and ferry passengers across the canal in areas that don’t have a bridge nearby. And they only cost a couple euros. Sure, the ride is short, but I hopped right on with no wait and floated across the same waters people were paying 80 euros for. I hopped on at the stop near the market, but if you search Google Maps for traghetto stops, you’ll see all of the locations.
Visit the Libreria Acqua Alta
This tiny book store became famous for its staircase made of books. The back patio area is home to hundreds of books that have been stacked into a staircase. If you climb to the top, you can peek over the wall and get a view of the narrow canal running behind it or pose for photos. Spend some time browsing the vintage books – there are tons about Venice if you’re looking for souvenirs – and keep an eye out for the store’s resident cats.
Depending on your pace and how long you like to spend lingering over lunch or exploring attractions, you may be at the end of your day. If you have more time to fill, I’d recommend one of the following activities.
Visit the Leonardo da Vinci museum
This is a small museum you can cover in an hour, and it’s full of replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions. It’s great for kids because you’re encouraged to touch many (not all though!) of them and turn cranks to see how they operate. If you’re coming from the Libreria Acqua Alta, you’ll have to cross the Grand Canal again to get to it, but it’s a fun way to end your day.
Take a boat to Burano
This was the one thing on my Venice bucket list that I didn’t get to do. I visited in the dead of winter so the limited daylight meant that the late afternoon ferry to Burano would’ve been kind of pointless since it would be dark by the time I got there. If you’re visiting in summer and have longer daylight hours, paying a visit to this colorful island near Venice would be the perfect way to end your day. Ferries depart from the docks not far from Libreria Acqua Alta, so if you’ve already visited there, you’re in a good position to get to the boats easily.
If neither one of those strikes your fancy, you can always spend time in the many gift shops. Just beware that not all of the stores claiming to sell Murano glass are actually real Murano glass.
Evening in Venice
If you’re visiting on a cruise port day or doing a daytrip to Venice, you likely won’t be able to enjoy the city in the evening. Nighttime in Venice was even more beautiful than the day. The lights reflecting in the many canals give the city an extra aura of grandeur. I’d definitely recommend circling back to the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco at night to give them another look. They’ll also be a lot less crowded than during the day.
If you loved this itinerary for one day in Venice, check out my other Italy guides:
- Itinerary for Two Days in Rome, Italy
- The Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Venice
- Venice by Night
- 10 Awesome Things to Do in Pompeii (Plus All the Tips You Need to Plan a Visit)
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