things to do in venice
Destinations,  Europe,  Italy

10 Best Things to do in Venice For First-Timers

Last Updated on January 21, 2023 by Lina

The first time I ever set foot on one of Venice’s many islands was during a school trip back in 2015.

Unfortunately, it was a very short pleasure because we had a total of three HOURS to spend in the city. After a guided tour, we had a bit of free time to roam around and then headed back to the mainland.

Needless to say, it wasn’t enough time to discover all the best things to do in Venice. So as soon as our boat left the lagoon city, I knew I had to come back one day to properly explore this place.

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This year at the end of July, I finally had the chance to revisit the city.

Together with my sister, we planned to spend two and a half days there – definitely enough time to find out what exactly Venice has to offer.

Although I’ve been there before (do three hours even count?) it felt like the first time.

If you’re going there for the first time as well you’ll probably find this post about the best things to do in Venice for first-time visitors helpful.

It covers all the most important things to do without any rush. Depending on the duration of your stay, it may even leave some spare time for you to add some more activities to your itinerary!

Btw, Venice is also a great stop to add to your Northeast Italy road trip if you plan to see more of the country.

Venice

1. Visit St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace

Venice mostly consists of many narrow streets – which also explains why there are no cars allowed on the island. However, there’s one large square right at the sea: St. Mark’s Square.

St. Mark’s Square is the city’s main square featuring the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, Campanile and many lovely but expensive cafés. One of them is the famous Caffè Florian.

Opened in 1720, it’s the oldest café in the world and the most prestigious one in Venice. The prices are accordingly high so expect to pay more than €20 for two coffees.

best things to do in Venice for first-timers
St. Mark’s Square
St. Mark's Square

The most impressive building on St. Mark’s Square is undoubtedly the Doge’s Palace.
To see it from the inside, I recommend booking tours in advance.

For example, you can get tickets for special tours such as the Doge’s Palace & St. Mark’s Basilica Fast-Track Tour or the Doge’s Palace Priority Admission Ticket.

Many of these tours include a visit to St. Mark’s Basilica as well.

best things to do in Venice for first-time visitors
Doge’s Palace

TIP: Don’t forget to check out the famous viewpoint of the Bridge of Sighs.

To get there, head in the direction of the sea and turn left after passing Doge’s Palace. Climb the small bridge and you’ll find yourself looking at one of the city’s most iconic bridges.

Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs

2. Admire Venice From Above at Campanile

Is there a better place to see Venice from above than on top of the city’s tallest building?

The iconic bell tower Campanile is among the city’s most recognizable buildings and is usually the first known symbol that can be spotted from afar.

The only way up to the top of the almost 100-meters tall bell tower is an elevator. Good for us I guess because I can’t even imagine how exhausting it must be if there were only stairs …

Campanile and St. Mark's Basilica
Campanile & St. Mark’s Basilica

A ticket costs €10 and can be bought directly at the counter there. If you don’t want to queue for half an eternity, either go there very early in the morning or after 5:00 pm.

Even though my sister and I went there shortly after the opening time, there was quite a long queue already. We had to wait a total of 45 minutes until we finally made our way up.

As soon as we reached the top and left the elevator, we instantly knew that it was worth it. The views were simply stunning and seeing Venice from so high up was an awesome and unforgettable experience!

best things to do in Venice
View from Campanile

The following point on my list of the 10 best things to do in Venice is something many people hesitate to do.

3. Do a (Romantic) Gondola Ride

A gondola ride in Venice has always been on top of my Italy bucket list – even though it’s definitely not an inexpensive experience.

I spoke to a lot of other travelers and bloggers about it and some told me it’s not worth it whereas others almost urged me to do one.

After some consideration, we decided to just go for it and hop in one of these Venetian boats. We both thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we shouldn’t miss – whatever the cost.

I mean, when will we ever have the chance to do that again?

Maybe we were just super lucky that day BUT we had the most incredible time ever! First, we got a cheaper ride than usual and second, our gondolier was super awesome and even sang for us!

gondola ride in Venice

After admiring Venice from above, seeing the city from this perspective was truly a very different but not less great experience.

In my opinion, a gondola ride in Venice needs to be on every first-time visitor’s itinerary. No matter if you’re traveling alone, with friends, your partner or your entire family.

Tours you might find interesting:

Check out: Bucket List Experience – Gondola Ride in Venice

4. Eat as Much Italian Gelato as You Can

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
When it comes to gelato I’m definitely not picky about what flavor to choose.

First, I love trying new things and second, as a vegan I usually have a very limited choice.
Good for me that the vegan movement is booming so more and more ice salons worldwide offer dairy-free versions too.

No wonder it wasn’t difficult for me to find delicious Italian gelato in Venice. There was even an ice salon offering vegan flavors right around the corner of our hotel in Venice!

My favorite ice cream was a dark chocolate & raspberry flavor from Gelatoteca Suso. Besides this one, they had a couple of other vegan choices as well.

best things to do in Venice

If you’re not vegan, you’ll find numerous delicious flavors to choose from including both, traditional and exotic ones!

In general, it’s super easy to find ice cream in Venice. I mean there’s basically an ice salon at almost every corner! A fact that makes summer in Venice more bearable.

So if you’re seriously craving some nice Italian gelato, don’t worry: The desired destination won’t be far!

5. Same as 4. But With Pizza & Pasta!

Pizza, Pasta & Amore!

I can tell you exactly the two dishes I ate the most in Venice: Pizza & Pasta.

The main reason was that there were mostly no other great vegan options on the menu. So it was almost always pizza without cheese and pasta with tomato sauce for me.

Honestly, I didn’t mind it at all! 😀

Pizza in Venice

There are TONS of different restaurants offering Italian food but that doesn’t always mean it’s authentic and good.

One restaurant I can heartily recommend is ‘Al Paradiso’ near Rialto Bridge. We found it while looking for a nice place to have dinner.

Even though all the restaurants right at the Grand Canal offered fantastic views of Rialto Bridge, we decided against eating there.

Not always but very often are restaurants at major attractions just tourist traps. The prices are too expensive and the food is usually not of the best quality.

We turned right and followed a side street away from the canal.
Just a couple of minutes later we stood right in front of the restaurant.

Surprisingly, we were the only guests, even though it had really good reviews on TripAdvisor. At first, we wondered why no one was sitting there but then we realized it was really off the beaten path and almost no tourists passed by.

After some initial hesitation, we sat down and ordered the food. I’m so glad we did because the pasta with tomato sauce was simply amazing and tasted super fresh.

Plus the service was great and not to forget the awesome blue furniture! You need to know that blue is my favorite color so they deserve a plus point because of that! 😀

best things to do in Venice
Pasta is Life <3

6. Take a Vaporetto Along The Grand Canal

In most places, public transport mainly consists of buses, trains and subways. But not so in Venice!

If you want to travel from A to B or any of the other islands you need to take a water bus called Vaporetto. Don’t take its name word-for-word, they look like any other small ferry. 😀

Vaporettos are the best (and only) option to travel around Venice, however, the tickets are WAY too expensive in my opinion.

A single ticket costs €8 and a 24-hour ticket €20!!!

Some distances on the main island are easily walkable, but if you want to visit the other islands, taking a water bus is unavoidable.

I don’t want to just talk bad about the Vaporettos because they’re actually a nice way to enjoy Venice from the water without taking a gondola ride.

When my sister and I arrived at the train station we took a water bus to St. Mark’s Square from where we walked to our hotel.

During the ride along the Grand Canal, we passed under Rialto Bridge and saw a lot of important buildings. It really made our arrival in Venice special!

best things to do in Venice
Rialto Bridge & water bus stations

7. Watch The Sunset From Rialto Bridge

What’s the best way to end a great day full of exploring?
Watching the sunset from the city’s most iconic bridge of course!

Rialto Bridge is only one of the many sunset spots in Venice. I wish we had the chance to check out others but we only made it to this one.

At least we came there right on time to watch the sun slowly disappear behind the horizon.

Standing on top of this very impressive bridge and seeing the orange-colored reflections on the gorgeous Venetian houses was truly magical!

View from Rialto Bridge

8. Visit The Acqua Alta Bookstore

Another one of the best things to do in Venice is to visit the Acqua Alta Bookstore.
Before entering, you’ll spot a colorful sign right in front of it welcoming you to the most beautiful bookshop in the world.

It does sound super promising right? Well, I can tell you it did not disappoint!

Acqua Alta Bookstore

It’s not difficult to find out why this store is so special.
After entering, get ready to be greeted by some furry friends aka the cats living there.

Most of the books are placed on old shelves but there was one exception: A gondola in the middle of the main aisle filled with books.

An extraordinary but pretty unique idea for a shelf!

best things to do in Venice

If you continue the way to the back you’ll find the place for what the bookshop is most famous for.

Outside and directly at the canal, there’s a lovely and quaint rear courtyard that can be used as a reading corner. Don’t forget to climb up the books staircase to enjoy a wonderful view of the canal!

Most books at Acqua Alta are Italian but you can find English and German ones as well.

And even if you’re not a fan of books, I recommend visiting this place because it’s definitely one of Venice’s coolest attractions!

9. Explore Venice Off The Beaten Track

I don’t know about you but I love just to go wherever the path leads me.
For me, it’s discovering the hidden and local gems that make a place truly special.

Do it like my sister and me and switch off Google maps or whatever navigation you use.

Get lost in the maze of canals, narrow streets and bridges and keep your eyes open to not miss any nice surprises. Leave the tourist tracks and get to know the real and authentic Venice!

ATTENTION! Venice photo spam coming!

Venice canals
best things to do in Venice for first-timers
Venice canals

10. Plan a Day Trip to Burano & Murano

The last one of the 10 best things to do in Venice might not fit in everyone’s schedule.

It’s a day trip to the colorful island of Burano and Murano, the birthplace of the iconic Murano glass. Depending on the duration of your stay you may have to skip it as it requires a whole day.

Burano

Burano is one of the largest and most popular islands of Venice.

The latter is mostly because of all the cute colorfully painted houses you can find all over the island. No matter if blue, pink, orange, yellow, purple or green – there’s no color you won’t find there!

Trust me, it makes choosing the potential future home really difficult …

Burano
Best things to do in Venice

Murano

Unlike Burano, Murano is not that colorful and mostly famous for its glass making.

There are numerous shops where you can buy the finest Murano glass. If you’re lucky, you can even watch a glassmaker at work.

Murano
Glassmaker at work

Overall, Murano is a lovely island to visit but nothing extraordinary. Compared to Burano it was a bit of a disappointment. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see where the famous glass comes from.

Plus, small glass animals make a great souvenir so don’t forget to buy one!

Tours you might find interesting:

Check out: A Perfect Day Trip to Burano & Murano From Venice

best things to do in Venice

Aaaaaaand it’s a wrap!

My post about the best things to do in Venice for first-time visitors is complete! I hope you find it helpful and put some of the activities on your itinerary.

You’ll certainly find some more awesome things to add and I’d love to hear your feedback from your trip.

Until then, have a great first time in Venice! 🙂


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Do you want to travel like me?
Here are some of my favorite travel tips and resources:

Flights: I prefer using CheapOair or Skyscanner to book flights. The destination everywhere feature is perfect for finding some cheap deals!

Accommodation: Booking.com is my favorite site to find some great hotel deals. I do love staying at a local place as well, thus I book an Airbnb every now and then.

Travel Insurance: There are many reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having one. I use the simple and flexible one from World Nomads to be protected against unforeseen events.

Tours: I love taking tours to explore destinations like a local. My favorite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.

Camera Gear: I use a Nikon D5300 camera with an 18-105 mm and a 10-20 mm wide-angle lens to take my photos.   

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