Venice is a small island objectively, but it is packed with so many goodies that make this island one of the most visited places in the world.
For first-timers, this is a quick guide for you to conquer the must-sees and highlights of Venice in one day; and of course, it requires more time to truly appreciate the beauty, and dive into the history and cultural importance.
Let’s get an overview of Venice and leave comments for any questions. You are welcome to share your experience and recommendations, too!
What to expect for a day in Venice
First of all, the island is genuinely overcrowded. The popularity of Venice is undeniably high, and the tiny island is constantly battling the issues of overtourism. For a place with a population of 55,000, Venice handles over 20 million visitors annually – While it was an amazing experience, bear in mind what a visitor is responsible for and what a visitor can do to minimize the impact of damaging the existence of this place.
Venice is in fact, in a very walkable size. It is possible to cover the most important highlights in a day. Most of them are located along the Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square.
I was flipping my own travel notes and photos and I was pleasantly surprised that I had covered quite a lot of places while I was there; with notes and scribblings “Train your legs!“, and “Run! Run!”. That’s why I use this in my article’s title, as a reminder of a packed travel plan that I prepared. Well, there are so many different kinds of traveling and I just had to go with the style that suits me for each journey. So I did, “Run-Run” my way through Italy, and this time I had 6 hours in Venice.
Yes, you heard me – 6 hours, at most some leeway of 7. As the train approached the Station of Venezia Santa Lucia, I put my bags in storage at the station before hopping on another train back to Milan in the evening. I had my map, notes, iPod, and camera ready and it was time to explore the island on my own. Now that I went there, I reckoned it may not be necessary to have a detailed travel plan and notes anyway; just venture out and walk through all the beautiful canals, alleys, and bridges and we always winded up reaching the Piazza San Marco.
One-day Venice Walking Tour Route
Piazzale Roma / Veneia Santa Lucia – (water bus) – Rialto Bridge – (water bus or walk) – Ponte dell’Accademia – (walk) – St Mark’s Square (and the surroundings)
Venice water bus line 1: Vaporetto
There are 20 different waterbus lines servicing the daily commute in Venice, but Line 1 of the Vaporetto, is probably the most important one to tourists, as it stops by all the major sights and landmarks along the Grand Canal. If you arrive in Venice by driving, this is where you probably park your car. For six hours, I am going to cover the sights along the Grand Canal.
Vaporetto is a Venetian water bus, and Line 1 is a short bus line that runs from Piazzale Roma to Lido di Venezia (Lido is an outlying island and a beach resort on the Adriatic, but not enough time for a day in Venice!). While it is transportation means to visit places along the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco, and Lido; it is also an alternative to crossing the canal – it is, after all, a scenic boat ride to sail through the water and soak in the incomparable beauty of Venice.
Ponte Degli Scalzi is the first bridge across the Grand Canal and it is here at the train station.
Venice Waterbus service time and tickets
Line 1 covers the Grand Canal from Station Santa Lucia to Lido. The line starts at the train station and reaches Ca’ d’Oro, Rialto, S. Toma, Ponte dell’ Accademia, Basilica di Santa Maria Della Salute, and S. Zaccaria (Piazza San Marco). It was because I didn’t want to ruin the amazement by heading straight to the Piazza once I arrived. I wanted to have small tastes of the island before the big grand finale at the Plaza, and the Grand Canal was a good way to start.
The waterbus runs every 12 to 20 minutes, and it’s very popular among both tourists and locals, it could get really crowded all day in peak seasons (mid-April to mid-October). There could be a line at each stop, but luckily, it was okay for me even though the boats were quite packed. To buy a ticket, simply buy an ACTV waterbus ticket at the train station, or if you have a Travel Pass, the charge is included. Note that a single ride on a public waterbus costs €7,50 (wow!); You can buy tickets online or at ticket offices at Piazzale Roma, Ferrovia, Rialto, and San Marco. You can also buy them at tobacco shops, newsstands, or anywhere with the ACTV logo. Venice is really not that big, My strategy was: to hop off the bus and travel through the Grand Canal, soak in the beauty of Venice from the water, get off at the Santa Maria Della Salute stop, walk my way to the Piazza San Marco, and finally return to the train station in the evening.
Get your phone or camera once hopping on the boat because the scenic trip almost began simultaneously. As the boat started I sensed the excitement from everyone around me. I got a nice spot at the front of the boat and couldn’t wait to see Venice for the first time.
It was emotional with the welcoming breeze brushing my face and Venice was as breathtaking as everyone said. There are lots of beautiful sceneries on earth but Venice is simply unique – no wonder any canal city would be named “Venice” of some sort. The ambiance of the city was overwhelming and made me wonder: why was I in such a romantic setting by myself? But anyway, I got off the boat and enjoyed the must-see places on the island!
Fontego dei Turchi and Ca’Pesaro
Fontego dei Turchi and Ca’Pesaro are two attractions that you can stop by near the train station. The former location is a trade office of the Turkish and it was purchased by a Duke in 1381 and functioned as a warehouse of goods at that time. It was later abandoned as trade eventually subsided, and it is now a Natural History Museum on the second floor of the building.
Ca’Pesaro is a Borque-style architecture built in the 17th century, designed by Longhena. It took 58 years to build, and it’s a residence of Judge Pesaro – you can appreciate the grandeur of this building by looking at it from the outside, and it has become an art museum now, with artworks from European artists in the 20th century, including Klimt, Chagall, and Kandinsky.
Galleria Franchetti alla Ca d’Oro
How did it get its name “The Golden House”? Because it used to be covered with Gold mint back in the day, and the gold faded by erosion from the water. Yet, the intricate details of the balcony remained and it’s one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings on the side of the Grand Canal, that you would hardly miss as you sail down the Grand Canal on a waterbus.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Strangely I got off at the Basilica di Santa Maria Della Salute right before reaching St Mark’s Square, but yet it’s not a bad place to start your exploration of Venice. Because it’s quieter, and it’s a merely 10-to-15-minute walk through the Ponte dell’Accademia to get back to the popular square. The cathedral, simply known as the Salute, was built in the 17th century, as a Redentore church right after a wave of the plague that killed almost a third of the island population in 1630. While the church was not entirely dedicated to the plague, at that time, it was therapeutic to the public and the church is in honor of the Virgin Mary, who was considered to be a protector.
The church is located at the end of the Grand Canal, a location that captures eyeballs from the surrounding water; and inside, the church is an octagonal-shaped space with eight radiating chapels and three altars that depict scenes of the Virgin Mary’s life.
Collezione Peggy Guggenheim
Just a bit closer as you move your way to the Pont dell’Accademia, the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim is a rare single-story building/mansion that was bought by the Guggenheim family in the US in 1949, and now it exhibits over 200 modern art paintings and sculptures from well-renowned artists like Picasso, Dali, and more. Peggy Guggenheim, the owner of this building, was also buried right here.
Ponte dell’Accademia and Ca’Foscari
St Mark’s Square
Napoleon once said, “It’s the finest drawing room in Europe”. Developed in the 11th century, Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice and a focal point of all the iconic architecture from its establishment to the 16th century. The plaza is surrounded by spectacular buildings including the St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Bridge of Sighs, bell tower, and marble pillars. Now, there are many outdoor cafes and galleries lined up around the plaza and a docking point to board the Gondola.
A Gondola ride in Venice is a unique experience and the standard gondola rides have a fixed cost of €80 for a private 25-30 minutes tour. Book a Shared Grand Canal Gondola Ride with App Commentary to secure your place and a lower price.
There are quite a lot of museums around the square, too. Like Museo Correr, the National Archaeological Museum, the National Library of St. Mark’s, and more.
The palace was built in 1340, and it’s a Gothic-style landmark right on the waterfront of Venice. For centuries it’s been the center of supreme authority and the residence of the Doges of Venice. Now it has become a museum, with a long history, showcasing the intricate architecture and designs of the Republic. Doge’s Palace is an important attraction and tickets sold out quickly. It is recommended to book your skip-the-line ticket in advance to have access to the site including the Chamber of the Great Council, Museo Correr, National Archeological Museum, and Marciana Library.
Bridge of Sighs
The bridge can be viewed from the Ponte della Paglia, named the Ponte dei Sospiri, the enclosed bridge is made of white limestone and was used by the authorities to send prisoners to the interrogation room in the New Prison from the palace.
It was said that the convicts let out a sigh that could be heard when they were brought through this bridge, hence the name of the bridge. Now, it’s one of the most famous “Bridges of Sighs” across the world and you really can’t say you have been to Venice if you don’t stop by.
St Mark’s Clocktower
Or, Torre dell Orologio, is an elegantly decorated clock tower built in the 15th century.
The Three Magi led by an angel emerges only twice a year; On top of the facade, is the symbol of Venice – a winged Lion of Aint Mark with an open book, accentuated by a blue background with gold stars.
Learn more about the history and importance of the emblem – the Winged Lion.
For a deeper understanding of the art and history of Venice, Museo Correr is one of the eleven civic museums run by the Municipal Council Board, with an art collection donated by several important Venetian families; including paintings, bronzes, and glass pieces.
Venice National Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum is on the other end of the plaza, and it focuses on Greek and Roman sculptures, ceramics, coins, and stones dating back to the 1st century BC. For those who are interested in antiques and history, this is a place that you don’t want to miss.
The garden is located on the opposite side of Doge’s Palaces, right by the water it sometimes may be neglected as it was kept from the magnificent architecture of Saint Mark’s Square. It’s a green space designed by artist Antonio Canova, featuring a wooded grove and flowering greenhouse. It was not easy to construct a garden by the lagoon, and it was exclusive to the privileged in the past and it’s now re-opened to the public.
St Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica was built in the 9th century (then burnt down and restored a couple of times) and it’s one of my favorite and memorable cathedrals that I have seen in Europe and the resting place of Mark the Evangelist. The structure combined the building techniques of Roman, Byzantine, and Gothic. It’s a beautiful (and opulent) church with a golden interior and a sinking floor, I was walking on uneven ground (it has a great resemblance to the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul!).
The Basilica was built in the 9th century, housing numerous sacred relics that were actually stolen by Venetian merchants, or collected from the Crusades. For example, one of the bodies of St. Mark the Evangelist, was one of the four Apostles, from Alexandria in Egypt. Nevertheless, the total area of mosaic on this basilica encompasses a total of 85,000 square feet – big enough to cover 1.5 American football fields. Look closely, the mosaic was even completed with gold that gave the building the glistening it needed.
Restoration work has been in place as it was sinking to the foundation of Venice on a lagoon; Notice that the floor in the basilica is uneven once you step in. Check out more about my favorite cathedrals at the Top 16 Most Spectacular Cathedrals in the World!
I have mentioned that there are four bridges across the Grand Canal and I have so far introduced three. The Rialto Bridge is the final spot on my walking tour. It’s a great place to view the Grand Canal, and many gift shops and souvenir stores are located in the area. Interestingly, this bridge was originally built as a wooden bridge – (quite the opposite of Ponte dell’Accademia) and later modified as a marble bridge designed by Venetian architect Antonio da Ponte. Stores, hawkers, and stalls are everywhere but also beware of pickpockets.
I spent most of my time wandering around the key sights at the plaza, and there was already a lot of priceless and beautiful heritage and history to take in. I downloaded the podcast of Italy travel mp3 audio guides (ItalyGuides.it and It’s free!) which was amazing for me to know what to look at every step of the way. Once it was about time to leave the island, I walked my way back to the train station – but left some time to explore the shops, galleries, traditional art, and canals on the way. 🙂