After ruling the Mediterranean and Asian trade routes for hundreds of years, you would think that Venice would have earned its due. But so many visitors to La Serenissima only stay for a few hours, crowding the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square, maybe getting an overpriced pop and pizza before leaving again. They may have set foot in Venice, but they haven’t really visited this incredible city of canals on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Venice deserves so much more than a casual flirtation. While you may not have time to stay for an entire week exploring the city and its outer islands, spending 48 hours in Venice will reward you with experiences and sights that too few travelers get to enjoy when setting foot in one of the world’s most magical places.
48 Hours in Venice
To truly enjoy two days in Venice, you need to stay in the city itself. That way you can really experience the city coming alive in the early morning, and the relative quiet that descends once the day tripping tourists stream out by vaporetto, ship or train.
When choosing where to stay in Venice, our pick for a memorable and central hotel is Al Ponte Antico. Located in beautiful view of the iconic Rialto Bridge, this family-owned boutique hotel (built in the 1500s and fully renovated) is charming, cosy and worth the splurge. The staff is friendly and attentive and the rooms spacious and air-conditioned, a necessity in Venice’s hot and humid summers.
The large, sumptuous breakfast buffet is included in the stay, with pastries being made and coffee served often by the hotel’s owner and his wife. Enjoy them at your leisure while gazing out onto the Grand Canal and the Rialto, it’s like a fairy tale come true.
Keep in mind that our 48 hours in Venice suggestions can be done in any order you wish. Though if you’ve never been, you may want to hit the highlights – St. Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, gondola rides – on the first day.
Enjoy a Guided Tour of Venice
Navigating the narrow streets and 300+ bridges of Venice isn’t that difficult but palling around with a local guide who can show you details and spaces you might have missed is worth every penny. We met up with Nadia Danesin of Friend in Venice, who took us on a private walking tour of the city’s historical and less-trampled spots.
Nadia gave us the opportunity to become Venetian for a day; learning how the city was constructed, the trading influence of Marco Polo, and how the city survived plagues, pestilence and wars over the centuries. It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into what made Venice into the wealthy powerhouse it once was, the remnants of which are what people flock to see today.
Tour Piazza San Marco
Take a guided tour of St. Mark’s Basilica in Piazza San Marco. The church of the city’s patron saint dominates the square and is the third edition of a church on this site, likely dating from the 11th century. Many of the artworks and the purported relics of Saint Mark were plundered from other ancient sites in the Holy Land. The church is a mix of Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance art, architecture and mosaics.
The famous four gilded horses overlooking the square were early spoils brought from Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade. The real ones are inside the church, but the replicas are no less impressive. Go out onto the terrace to enjoy the excellent view of the square from above.
The St. Mark’s Campanile stands across from the Basilica and is a landmark that can be viewed from just about anywhere in the city. The 323 ft bell tower had an early defense function, but the current one is a reconstruction from the early 20th century and is mainly used for bell-ringing and for tourists to ascend to the top for sweping city and lgoon views.
Visit the Doge’s Palace
If you’ve never been to Venice, seeing the interior of the Doge’s Palace is worthwhile. The Doge was the ruler of the Republic of Venice in its heyday. The citizens always elected an older man for this role (as in 70+), to ensure that he wouldn’t be in power too long.
The Palace is a gilded spectacle, with many works of art and golden halls on display. The tour includes the chance to walk across the Bridge of Sighs, named for the sighs that condemned men would express when viewing Venice for the final time, on their way to the prison which is next to the Palace.
Enjoy a gondola tour of the Grand Canal
I’ve taken a few gondola rides in my time, and it is a must do if you’ve never had the experience (Vegas doesn’t count). My advice is to enjoy the gondola tour of Venice early in the day or at sunset time. Early to avoid the crowds and heat; at the golden hour to appreciate the incredible beauty of the city as you see it from, and at, the water. The price is usually set and the same across the city. It’s currently around 80 Euros as of 2022.
If you’d like a much cheaper and quicker gondola experience, take a traghetto. These larger gondolas are used to cross the Grand Canal in areas like the Fish Market. The cost is reasonable, just 2 Euros, and the gondolas are larger, fitting about 10 people. If you’re on a budget and don’t need the romantic experience, a traghetto gondola ride is perfect.
Tour Venice by ACTV Vaporetto
Want to see ALL of Venice and some of its nearby islands in a quick and easy way? The ACTV Network of vaporettos (boats) are the city’s buses, and yes, public transportation by vaporetto is one of the best ways to truly discover the city when visiting Venice and its canal system and lagoon. You can buy individual trip tickets or a 24 or 48-hour (or more) Travel Card for unlimited trips.
Visit the island of Giudecca
This is not the most famous of Venetian islands, but it is reachable via vaporetto and is known for its Palladio-designed church, Il Redentore. This church plays a big role in the city’s large cultural festival held on the third Sunday in July, the Festa del Redentore.
On the Redentore weekend, long docks and a temporary barge bridge make it possible for Venetians to cross the lagoon to visit the church to celebrate the end of the 16th century plague that killed 50,000 people. Fireworks cap the celebrations; it’s a spectacular time to be in Venice.
Head to the rooftop of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Once the HQ of the German trading community in Venice for centuries, and one of the largest buildings on the Grand Canal, the current Fondaco dei Tedeschi, (German Warehouse), is a high-end duty-free shopping mall on four levels near the Rialto Bridge.
While you may want to shop here (the Fondaco does have some nifty high-end souvenirs that are a step above fridge magnets and masks), you want to get a ticket to access the rooftop for some of the best views of the city.
The tickets are free but must be booked in advance. The visit is date and time specific, and your visit will last for 15 minutes. More than enough time to take in the breathtaking view and pose for some selfies.
Eat cicchetti at a Venetian Bacaro
A bacaro is the Venetian term for bar, and cicchetti are essentially bar snacks – small plates (like tapas) of fried dishes like arancini, polpette (meatballs), and crostini, small toasts topped with grilled vegetables, bacalà (creamed cod), sardines ‘in saor,’ and meats. The cicchetti are accompanied by wine, beer or a cocktail, Aperol Spritz being very popular in summertime. Some of our favorites include: All-Arco (near the Fish Market), Osteria Al Sacro e Profano (near Rialto Bridge), Bacaro Pane e Vino, and Bacaro Risorto Castello in Canneregio.
Take a trip to Burano and Murano
The lagoon of Venice is home to quite a few islands, and two of them stand out for both their colorful homes and their colorful glassware. (Ideally, I’d recommend spending a full day exploring each of these islands, but if two days is all you have, you can split these up into half-day visits.)
Burano is about 1.5 hours from Venice by boat. The island is known for its lacework, production of venetian masks and very colorful homes. It’s a picturesque place to spend time, sipping espresso in its main square. Piazza Galuppi, and wandering along the canal running through the island.
Murano is closer to Venice proper, abut 1 hour and 10 minutes by boat. The islands that comprise Murano have been known for glass making since the 13th century. Nearly every shop will have glass chandeliers, jewellery, lamps and vases on display. There’s even a Murano Glass Museum for the curious to learn all about the fascinating history of glassmaking. Note: Ask vendors whether the glasswork you may be interested in buying has been made in Murano. In recent times, some of it has been purported to be imported from China.
Wander the aisles of Libreria Aqua Alta
One of the most unique (and self-proclaimed most beautiful) bookstores in the world, the Libreria Aqua Alta is a treasure trove of literature and a model of survival. The Libreria matches the constant marine threat of Venice’s annual floods by keeping much of its book stock in bathtubs and boats. Keep an eye out for several cats who’ve made a home for themselves in the shop; they may be hiding in the stacks.
Visit the Jewish Ghetto
Venice is home to the first Jewish Ghetto in Europe, established the 16th century. In fact, the word ghetto comes from the Venetian giotto, or foundry, which was next to where this area of the city is located.
The Ghetto is in the Cannaregio section, about a 20-30 minutes walking distance from St. Mark’s and the Rialto Bridge. Along the way, you’ll pass by the “Spritz Kilometer” a cheeky reference to the many bacaro bars, clubs and restaurants along the way. It’s a great place to stop for an Aperol spritz and some chichetti before or after the Ghetto.
Jewish life in Venice was physically limited to the Ghetto until Napoleon’s liberation of the city in the 19thcentury. Today, the area is gentrified but synagogues, restaurants and stores remain busy with a local population of about 450 Venetian Jews.
Have you been to Venice? What are some of your favorite places? Share in the comments below.
Photos: Claudia Laroye
Read more 48 Hours City Guides