Venice in One Day – Explore Italy

If you find yourself with some time to spare in Italy, check out the history you can experience in the city of canals with this guide on Venice in One Day!

Venice is a city that we’ve all heard of; the romantic Gondola rides through weaving canals, festive masks, art, and ancient tales about an underground order. There is so much to see in Venice in one day!

Located in the Venetian Lagoon, Venice’s unique construction has replaced traditional roads and cars, with boats and canals. 

The city has a fascinating history from almost 2,000 years ago and has been a central location for trade, arts, exploration, and tourism for centuries. 

As much as there is in Venice, it’s not too big, and you could see everything in a few days if you plan it right! But if you find yourself with just a few hours to spare, there are plenty of sights you can see to experience Venice.

Check out my top suggestions for what to do & see in Venice, with helpful guidance on getting to the city and parking as well! Spend less time planning, and more time seeing with this guide on Venice in One Day.

Table of Contents

Where is Venice

Venice, Italy is a metropolitan area in the northwest part of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. Venice is a large city that extends inland, however when referring to Venice, most people are considering the ‘Old City’ dominated by canals and renaissance architecture.

Tourist Fee: The city of canals has announced they will be imposing a tourist fee for daily visitors. The tourist fee was supposed to go into effect on January 16, 2023, but as of March 2023, no official fees have been announced. The fee will be between €3-€10, depending on the season and capacity of the city.

This is different from the Tourist Tax, which is required by all travelers staying in the city of Venice. Venice lost its independence to Napolean in the 1700s.

Green Tags

1 Day in Venice Must-Do's

Yellow Tags

Things to do if you have extra time

Red Tags

Parking Areas

Venetian History

Venice has a long history under different rulers, and has consistently been an important port city for global trade of grains, silk and art. Although there are no records that denote the rise of the Venetian culture, historians have concluded that early settlers were of Roman decent who fled to the coast in an attempt to avoid German and Hun invasions.

Venice was historically an independent country, known as the Republic of Venice. However, Venice lost its Independent when Napolean seized the land, at which point Venice and much of Northern Italy went back and forth between Austrian and Italian rule for the next century.

 

The Old City is built in the Venetian Lagoon on 118 small human-made islands, that are connected by over 400 bridges! This design allowed its early residents to avoid invasion from foreign groups.

Venetian Masks

One thing you’ll see all over Venice are ornate and unique masks. These have a history dating back to the middle ages. The masks served many purposed, but a key instance is during the Carnival celebrations, where people of all classes came together for the festivities. The masks represent freedom and anonymity, as it was the only time in the year where lower and upper-class residents would be societally equal.

The masks were banned for centuries, but have made a comeback in the 1970’s as an honor to Venice’s heritage. You’ll see masks of all styles, materials and designs in Venice, which are fun to look at even if you don’t buy one!

Person wearing white, purple and gold mask at the Venetian Carnival
Venetian Mask | Image from Images of Venice

Know Before You Go

  1. There are no cars or scooters, so there will be a lot of walking! Wear comfortable walking shoes.
  2. There are stairs to cross over the canals, make sure everyone you’re traveling with is comfortable with a lot of stairs.
  3. Venice experiences a lot of over-tourism. If you are planning to visit, go in non-peak times like the winter and weekdays.
  4. Plan to arrive in the city early, parking and the streets fill up quickly.
  5. Watch out for the seagulls! They will shamelessly steal food mid-bite.
  6. Check the conditions of the canals. If you’re planning a Gondola ride, look at the schedule of the tides & plan your ride during high tide.

Parking In Venice

The Old City of Venice is a car-free zone, leaving the only means of transport to be via foot or gondolas. There are 2 ways to go into the Old City.

The first way is to park on the mainland in Mestre and take a train into the old city. This can be a great option if you’ll be in Venice for more than a few hours, or if you’re visiting in peak season and parking in the old city might be at capacity.

The second way is to drive across the lagoon and park just outside of the Old City, where you can walk in and explore. Parking here is no joke. I went to Venice early on a Wednesday morning in March, and lots were full! Parking rates are anywhere from €4 per hour all the way up to €35 per day in some of the closer parking garages.

See the locations of parking areas on the map above, shown with the red icons!

For more info on parking prices, check out Parkopedia.

 

Mestre (Mainland)

If you don’t want to risk not finding a spot across the Liberty Bridge in Old Venice, you will have plenty of options in Mestre on the mainland of Italy. Here you will find much more affordable options, with cheap and convenient public transport that will drop you off as close as you can get!

The best option is Venice City Park SRL at only €5.5/day, and is located right next to a bus stop! There are a ton of options around here, including Parcheggio via Righi Venezia and Park Petroli.

From Mestre, you can take either the bus or tram across the Liberty Bridge.

Piazzale Roma

Piazzale Roma is the closest you can park to the city of Venice. The cost is about €4 per hour, but the catch is you can only park for 1 hour. Because of this limit, you can typically find a spot fairly easily. However, with all of the zig-zagging it takes to get to the best spots in Venice, you will definitely run out of time! 

Parking police are on top of it here, so don’t risk getting a ticket! 

Autorimessa Comunale

The first parking area you’ll come to as you head close to the city is Autorimessa Comunale on the left-hand side. This lot only charges on a 24-hour cycle, at a rate of €35

Out front, signs will show if spots are available or if it is at capacity, so you can decide where to go when you arrive. There are almost 2,500 spots available, but vehicles are limited to 2.2 meters in height (no vans).

This daily rate is a great option if you plan to stay more than a few hours!

Garage San Marco

The next closest option is in the parking garage northwest of Piazzale Roma. There are various rates based on the length of time: €20/5 hours, €32/10 hours, €45/24 hours. 

This lot also has signs out front to update the availability of spots. Vehicles are limited to 2.10 meters to park here. 

Note: There are 2 entrance lines; one for short-term (right) and one for 24 hours+ (left)!

Park 280

My top suggestion is Park 280. It’s a few extra blocks to walk into the city, but this lot is affordable and easy to get to! This lot has a rate of €4 per hour which can’t be beaten at any of the other options.

The lot may look small on the map (and when you pull up to it), but it is actually quite big! The entrance is controlled based on availability, so you can’t enter until a spot opens up which is super nice to not have to rush to find one!

When we arrived, there was a line of 7 cars waiting at the entrance, and we only waited about 10-15 minutes to get in. Don’t let the line deter you!

Note: If you drive up to this lot, but decide to pass on it, you will be forced to route all the way across the lagoon bridge 4km back to the mainland, turn around and try again. 

Things To Do In Venice, Italy

Venice is a world-renowned city for its unique construction using shallow canals. It is romantic, beautiful, accessible, and has so much history for you to get a glimpse of. Venice has so many churches, basilicas, gardens, and beautiful viewpoints to take in this coastal city! Check out the best of the sites to see the most in Venice in one day!

1. Just Explore!

When you get into Venice, I highly recommend just putting your maps away and wandering. Allow your intuition to lead you down the winding streets and see what you come across! You may hit some plazas that are only visited by locals, unique shops by local artisans, and different views of the canals and architecture.

Venice has some very well-known spots, some of which are on this list, but it’s always refreshing to get off the beaten trail a bit and see the city more authentically.

Once you arrive in Venice, take an hour to walk and see where the winding streets take you!

Download a Venice walking audio tour from Voice Maps, and check out the other Necessary Apps to get the most out of your travels!

2. St. Mark's Square

The most iconic place in Venice is St. Mark’s Square. Here, you will be surrounded by historic buildings including St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and the Procuratie Vecchie. 

This serves as the religious, political, and social center in the city of Venice. Take some time to feel experience the grandeur. 

Cost: FREE
Time: 30 minutes

Aerial view of St. Mark's Square in Venice, featuring the bell tower and st. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark's Square | Image from Viator

3. St. Mark's Basilica

The most notable building in Venice is St. Mark’s Basilica. Construction began in the 9th century and was continuously expanded over 8 centuries with impressive detail and accuracy. Access to the Basilica is FREE for an adult, with possible add-ons if you want to explore fully so I highly recommend it! Entrance lines can be over 45 minutes of a wait, but you can purchase ‘skip-the-line’ tickets for only €6 between April-November!

While in the Basilica, no photos or videos are permitted, audio guides must be through headphones, and appropriate clothing must be worn (no bare shoulders or shorts). The Basilica is open 9:30-17:15 Monday-Saturday, and Sunday is 2:00-17:15. The Basilica also houses the Pala d’Oro alter (€5) and a Museum (€7). The Basilica’s bell tower is also by extra ticket only, for €10 (*see below).

If you don’t want to spend the time and money to go inside the Basilica, you can still marvel at the artistic masterpiece from the front. Grab some gelato, sit back, and look in awe at the work done over generations to create the centerpiece of the city. 

Cost: Basilica: free (or €6) | Pala d’Oro: €5 | Museum: €7 | Basilica Bell Tower: €10
Time: 90 minutes – 3 hours

 Skip the line and buy your tickets online here.

Facade of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy
St. Mark's Basilica | Image from Viator

4. Gondola Ride

It is almost a must to take a ride in the famous Gondola where you get serenaded by a local in a striped shirt, as you weave through the old city. You get many different perspectives of the city, and experience how the city was designed to be used – by boat!

Typically a gondola ride costs €80 for 40 minutes (€100 after 19:00). Be sure to agree on the cost and duration before getting into the boat! If you want your driver to sing, that will cost extra. There are places to book online in advance, which may be necessary for peak season, but in the off-season, you will see the gondoliers standing on the sidewalks waiting for someone to want a ride.

Cost: €80
Time: 45 minutes

5. T Fondoca Terrace

One of the best free attractions in Venice that you cannot miss out on! The T Fondoca Terrace is completely free of charge, but you cannot enter without a reservation, so make sure you plan!

Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a luxury retail area, that has an awesome opportunity to sightsee as well as shop! The terrace can be reached by a spiral staircase or an elevator making it accessible to everyone.

If you don’t mind spending a little bit of money for a unique experience, check out ‘Scala Contarini Del Bovolo’ below in the honorable mentions!

Cost: FREE
Time
: 20 minutes

Time slots must be booked online here.

Grand Canal in Venice, Italy seen from T Fondaco Terrace.
T Fondaco Terrace | Image from Tripadvisor

6. Giardini Reali

A city that is as packed together as Venice definitely isn’t boasting about its green space. In a busy and touristy city with so much incredible architecture to take in, it’s nice to find a quiet space to reflect and sit for a minute. 

Near St. Mark’s Square, you’ll find medieval gardens lined with benches in the shade. This is a perfect place to sit down with a slice of pizza, do some planning, or sit back and listen to an audio tour of the area. 

Green vines with pink flowers hanging over an arch and paved walkway in Giardini Reali park in Venice
Giardini Reali | Image from Four Square

7. Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge is the most notable bridge that spans that Central Canal. This is a great place to watch the boats come in from above, and it’s totally free! However I will say, this bridge is usually packed with tourists all trying to get the best photo. 

In my opinion, the best photos are taken from the small bridges in the private narrow canals where you can see Venice in a more intimate setting, but with only 3 bridges crossing the Grand Canal, you’ll inevitably cross Rialto!

Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice, with a Gondola floating underneath
Rialto Bridge | Image from Viator

Honorable Mentions

The world is big and you will never see it all, so I am a huge proponent of seeing a few things fully! Since this is focused on a single day in Venice, there are some awesome options that were left off of my list. However, they are still worth mentioning so you can plan your trip exactly how you want!

8. St. Mark's Campanile

Created as a lighthouse for boats in the lagoon, this tower-turned-bell tower is impossible to miss. You can get to the top of the bell tower that dominates the Venice skyline with a quick elevator ride! Here you will get the highest view of Venice, and all for only €10!

* Bell Tower: This is included in the section above on Saint Mark’s Basilica, but it can be done completely separately from the Basilica if you wish!

Brick bell tower with green roof in Venice with waterfront buildings
St. Marks Campanile | Image from Venice Welcome

9. Scala Contarini Del Bovolo

Brick building with circular staircase in Venice
Scala Contarini del Bovolo | Image from Wikipedia

If you’re looking for something unique that doesn’t involve another church or museum, check out this funky staircase! For only €8 you can walk up the 4 flights to get a unique perspective of the city! 

This is also an icon if you’re familiar with Orson Wells’ Othello. Tickets can be purchased online ahead of time, but you shouldn’t have any problem showing up at the door without them!

10. Doge's Palace

Located next to St. Mark’s Basilica on the waterfront, Doge’s Palace is another iconic destination in Venice. This palace was constructed with a unique Venetian Gothic style and used as the residence of the Doge (seat of the government). There have been centuries of history in these walls, which you can now explore in the Doge Palace Museum!

*If you are doing Doge’s Palace & St. Mark’s Basilica, check out the combined tours to save!

White rectangular palace with arched windows in St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy
Doge's Palace | Image form Viator

11. Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

This is the only attraction listed here that you cannot access by walking! San Giorgio is an island to the south of the central part of Venice, which boasts a huge white church with a tempting black door. This is a great spot to go to escape the crowds and get off the beaten path.

Entry to the church is free, and you can go into the bell towers for €8 to get the best views! To get here, you’ll need to take the water bus or a water taxi.

White church with tall columns and a black door in Venice, Italy
San Giorgio Maggiore Church | Image from Venice Lover

Summary - Venice in One Day

Venice is a city of romance and unique architecture, with a medieval history (and the Illuminati). No matter what you may have seen in photos or heard in stories, this is a city that needs to be explored in person to get a feel for its beauty and impressive construction.

Even if you only have one day in Venice, you can see a lot! With only a few hours, get a good parking spot that will give you the freedom to explore for as long as you want. Weave through the city towards Rialto Bridge, where you’ll get your first glimpse of the Grand Canal. Cross over the Bridge and check out the city from above at the T Fondaco terrace!

From here, make your way to the main attraction; St. Mark’s Square. Take some time here to sit and marvel at the beauty of the Basilica before you head inside! 

Head towards the Grand Canal and find a restaurant where you can sit outside and watch the boats go by with a Cappuccino. And then, head down the nearest side street until you find a Gondolier to take you out on the boat!

If you still have some time to explore, check out the list of Honorable Mentions above, and see what other attractions interest you!

What other destinations are on your bucket list? Find your Travel Inspiration here. 

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Posted by Taylor Mallaber

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