Venice: It’s a place I’ve heard so many things about. It’s sinking. It’s magical. It smells like sewage. It’s a trip you’ll never forget. It’s full of tourists. I didn’t know what to believe, but when I had a work trip just an hour away, I couldn’t resist the chance to book a few nights in the Italian city. And from the very moment I arrived, I was completely captivated.
One boat ride down the Grand Canal was enough to let comments from all the naysayers fade into the background. When I arrived, I booked a private water taxi to take me to my hotel and took in views of the Grand Canal and pastel buildings on either side. It truly felt magical and cinematic—like the beginning of some Old Hollywood movie.
I planned my trip at the last minute—just a week before—so I didn’t have time to research many spots ahead of time like I normally would. As it turns out, my lack of plans was one of the best ways to experience the city. Wanting to see as much as I could in the span of three short days, I spent my time on foot wandering through each major area, popping into places that caught my eye and ones that had been recommended by friends.
While I loved seeing many of the major sights like St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace, the ones that I was most drawn to were a little off the beaten path and away from the crowds. Go on to read more about 11 things to do in Venice that can’t be missed.
Arrive by private water taxi
If you want to feel like you’re in the opening credits to some black-and-white film, book a private water taxi for your first cruise down the Grand Canal. It’s more expensive than a Vaporetto but the best way to take everything in when you arrive.
Stay in the quieter Dorsoduro district
I couldn’t recommend the area where I stayed enough. A quieter spot away from the crowds, it’s packed with cool sights (Santa Maria Della Salute) and museums (Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Galleria Dell’Accademia). And it’s just a few minutes in a water taxi to San Marco.
Book a room at Ca Maria Adele
I booked my room at Ca Maria Adele on a whim not long before my trip and have never been more enamored with a place I’ve stayed. When I arrived, I was greeted with a mint-flavored water and fresh apricots before I was taken to my room. In the small hotel, every room is different, and mine was on the ground floor in the Fireplace Room with a view of the canal and Santa Maria Della Salute. Each night when I came back, there was a breakfast menu covered in rose petals on my bed, and every morning, a tray with fresh fruit and an omelet would be delivered to my room just as the bells of Salute were ringing.
Take in the public art
The Venice Biennale is famous for its compelling art installations, like Lorenzo Quinn’s “Support,” depicting two hands grasping from the Grand Canal to highlight Venice’s rising water levels. Keep your eyes open for the works throughout the city.
Get around by Vaporetto
Venice’s waterbus is the easiest way to get around. Set up like a typical subway, it includes 19 scheduled lines to get you anywhere around the city and neighboring islands.
Have lunch at Harry’s Dolci
An alternative to the famous Harry’s Bar, Harry’s Dolci on Giudecca serves up the signature Bellinis that the original spot invented, but it’s a little more off the tourist path. Sit here for lunch and admire the unbeatable views across the water. It’s not cheap, so go when you want to indulge.
Get recommendations from the locals
Cantinone Storico was actually a restaurant recommended by the bellman at my hotel. On a very rainy night, I didn’t want to venture too far from where I was staying but was so happy they pointed me in the direction of this gem. I sat at a table by myself and befriended a group of Americans sitting next to me who had been coming here for over a decade. They shared their bottle of wine and recommended the branzino with olives and caper berries. The most incredible branzino I’ve had, probably ever.
Take in the view from the Ponte dell’Accademia
With one of the most romantic views of the Grand Canal, there’s a reason the bridge is covered with “love locks.”
Dinner with a view
This was easily one of the most picturesque dinners I’ve ever had; the view from the terrace at Osteria Bancorgiro can’t be beat. Book a table at sunset, order a glass of wine, and take in the views from across the Grand Canal.
Don’t miss Piazza San Marco
I visited St. Mark’s Square a few times—both in the heavy thick of tourists and again at the crack of dawn when it was just me and a few other eager photographers listening to the chime of the morning bells. Touristy, yes. But there’s a reason for it.
Explore Cannaregio and order Cicchetti at Vino Vero
Vino Vero, a place that I’d bookmarked on Google Maps, was a happy surprise. A local spot off the beaten path in the Cannaregio district, the small bar has a sign posted in the window reading “No Spritz”—a protest against the Aperol spritz drinks popular among tourists (myself included). The only things you can find here are an incredible by-the-glass wine list and cicchetti (a Venetian specialty of bite-size snacks—here, variations on seasonal crostini). And if you need any reminder that it’s off the tourist track, the only music playing here is American rap.
Go on to shop this editor’s Venice travel essentials
You can throw a wrap dress into your suitcase without worrying about wrinkles.
A go-anywhere bag that can transition from day to night.
Espadrilles are an easy way to wear shoes that are both comfortable and stylish.
The perfect carryall for a day of exploring.
The ultimate makeup remover.
For a long weekend trip, an oversize carry-on fits everything you'll need.
Next, read about five top tips for international travel.