Only have time to spend one day in Venice? Here’s the perfect itinerary for you!
One Day in Venice
It was Mission Impossible: McKneely edition. Our task was to see everything important in Italy’s floating city in a mere 10 hours. Just one day in Venice. Ridiculous, you say? I won’t argue with you, it was pretty ridiculous (but hey, I did say it was Mission Impossible). But staying in Tuscany, we were so close!! And I had wanted to go to Venice for so long that I just couldn’t resist squeezing it in for a fast field trip during our week in Italy.
Do I recommend doing Venice in 10 hours? Not really. There are some places in the world that deserve much more than a day to truly appreciate them, and Venice is one of those places. It’s one of the best cities in Italy, for good reason. There’s so much you can’t see in just one day, such as the Venice lagoon islands. The few hours we spent there only whetted my appetite to go back and run around those labyrinthine streets again someday.
There are a lot of one day in Venice itineraries on the internet that I found during my research, but many of them were impossible for our trip. That’s mostly because they are designed to be one full day, as in you get to wake up in Venice and go back to your hotel there at night. For us, that wasn’t an option. So if you’re ever in the position like my mom and I were, and so close that you can’t stand but go, even if it’s for just a few hours, here are my suggestions.
Suggested Itinerary for One Day in Venice
9 AM (or as early as possible): Arrive in Venice
My mom and I were staying just outside of Florence. From there, it’s 2 hours by train and 3 hours by car to Venice. Parking in Venice is, as you can imagine, an adventure. There are no cars inside of the city, so you have to park outside and take a water taxi across the canal. That’s why I suggest taking the train: it’s faster, and you don’t have to deal with a car (and inter-railing in Europe is one of the best ways to travel!)
If you’ve made the correct choice to travel via train, either as a day trip from Milan or Florence or elsewhere, you’ll arrive at Venezia Santa Lucia train station. Regardless of whether you follow my itinerary or not, you’ll want to start your day at St. Mark’s (San Marco), which is the center of the touristy part of Venice. (I typically avoid touristy areas, but remember, you only have one day, so you have to hit the highlights. So best to hit them early in the day rather than later). From there, you have a few options to get into Venice.
- You can walk. It’s about 30-40 minutes if you don’t stop and don’t get lost. But Venice is notoriously easy to get lost in. I highly suggest having a phone GPS available if you do this because it will make your life so much easier. Not to brag, but I consider myself pretty good with directions. But even I would not attempt Venice without some kind of map. If my mom, who is useless with directions, were set loose in Venice without a GPS, I’d never see her again. The city is a literal maze, and you don’t want to spend your entire one day in Venice lost in a labyrinth.
- You can take a vaporetto, which is a water bus. During the off-season, the #1 line is your only option, and it takes about 45 minutes to get from the train station to Piazza San Marco. During the high season, you can also take the #2 line, which makes fewer stops and only takes 30 minutes from point to point. This may be your only opportunity to see Venice from the water (which you do need to do). My suggestion is to take the vaporetto to San Marco in the morning and then walk back to the train station in the evening.
10:30 AM: Meet your guide in St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
Booking a tour guide for Venice proved to be one the smartest things I did for our entire Italy trip, which is why I’m putting this as the first thing in your one day in Venice itinerary (besides arriving.) Having a tour guide means that you don’t have to spend time looking for things, and you have an expert to answer any of your questions, like “what should I do for the rest of the day after the tour?”
- Itinerary alternative: hop-on-hop-off boat tour
What to look for when booking a Venice walking tour:
There are oodles and oodles of tour companies peddling their services to foreigners. The one that I found provided what is arguably the best-guided tour I’ve ever been on. So how did I find the perfect one?!
- First: many tours sell out months in advance. I booked our March tour in December, but I noticed that, at the time, many peak-season dates were already sold out. So plan ahead.
- It’s very important to get the correct tour guide. These tours aren’t cheap, so you want to do your research and make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck (or euro, as the case may be).
- You want your tour to include the big agenda items, like St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, two of Italy’s famous monuments. If they’re not a part of your tour, you’ll waste a lot of time waiting in line. And once you get in, you won’t have anyone to tell you what you’re looking at.
- Keep on scrolling past tours that say headphones included. If you’re going to drop a couple hundred euros on a tour, don’t do it on a tour where you can’t even hear the guide without headphones, for Pete’s sake.
- On that note, make sure you pick a guide who speaks your language. Because all you need is to go on a tour with someone who only speaks Italian, or Chinese, or German if all you know is English.
- Look for a company run by locals. Because you only have a short time in the city, you should take every opportunity to experience it and one of the best ways to do that is talking to locals! If your tour guide is a Venetian, that solves that.
Our tour guide: Antonella
- Meet Antonella, our tour guide from Discovering Venice. She was born in the city, raised her kids there, and now spends her time passing her love for her city onto visitors. In short, she’s absolutely amazing and you should go on a tour with her.
- I emailed a lot of companies about a lot of tours in my quest to find the right one. I knew we needed to hit the typical highlights, but I also wanted us to see the back streets and “secret Venice,” the places the tourists don’t go. When I emailed that to Anotella, she told me that was no problem, she could do a 2-hour tour with just my mom and I and could include whatever we wanted to see. Of all the tour companies I emailed, Anotella was the only one who offered that kind of personalization.
- With Antonella, we were able to spend over 2 hours absorbing an information overload. She was incredibly knowledgeable not only about Venice’s history, but it’s culture. She shared facts and stories and insights into what it’s like to be a Venetian, and what may be in store for the city in the future (for example, half of its population has moved inland in the past 20 years). The tour was worth much more than what I agreed to pay her, but it ended up being free. That’s right, free.
A brief detour into storytime:
Our tour did not go exactly as planned. When I originally booked it, Antonella agreed to meet my mom and me in front of St. Mark’s at 10:30 am on the day of our one day in Venice field trip. When we arrived, she wasn’t there. We spent several minutes wandering around the square, hopelessly looking for a tourist-less tour guide.
That was when the square started transforming into a lake – yes, friends, Venice floods. Regularly. That’s not something I read anywhere before our trip, so I’m telling you now -if you go in the Fall or in March, you better wear waterproof boots. If you want a laugh, you can go here to watch the video of us floundering around in the water.
Related: Tips for enjoying Venice with kids
At some point between standing in dirty foot-deep Venice flood water, and scrambling on top of one of the raised platforms being set up around the square, I realized I had never received the final confirmation that Anotella said she would be sending! In a panic, I sent off several emails and made a few phone calls; we then trudged off to find lunch somewhere less wet, in the hopes that someone would be in touch with us soon about our tour.
When Anotella got in touch with me, she explained that there had been some miscommunication between she and her assistant. Because it wasn’t our fault, she still wanted to give us our tour – for free.
2 PM: Eat Cicchetti
If you don’t eat lunch before your tour, you’ll be hungry now. Venice is known for “Cicchetti,” which is their version of tapas. They’re small bites meant to be washed down with wine. Two advantages to this: 1) they don’t take long to eat, so you’ll have more time to spend your one day in Venice exploring and 2) they’re a part of the authentic Venetian experience. You can find pasta and pizza anywhere else in Italy, but not cicchetti. Check out this list of foods you should try in Venice!
There are bacaris (bars) all over Venice where you can find cicchetti, but there’s a particularly high concentration at the Rialto market. Which, if you ask, your tour guide can drop you off at the end of your tour. While you’re there, make sure to get your picture of the famous Rialto bridge.
Related: Venice one of many great places to spend autumn in Europe
3 PM: Gondola tour
Yeah, they’re touristy. Yeah, they’re expensive (80 euros for 30 minutes WHAT). But if you are one of those people who can’t go to Venice without having the stereotypical boat ride down the canal, this is your chance. Personally, we opted out and chose to save our money for something else. But if you do it, the consensus is that the Rialto Bridge is one of the best departure points for a gondola tour, and if you’re following this one day in Venice itinerary, you’re there now!
4 PM: Wander
I know, that’s probably not what you were expecting. But up until now, you haven’t had the opportunity to do that! Yes, there are other churches and art galleries, etc. that you could go visit. But one of my favorite things we did in Venice was just wandering around its narrow alleyways, taking artsy pictures, trying on a few Venetian carnival masks, and exploring the quiet corners of the city. This is also the best way to discover Venice’s hidden gems. Just have your phone GPS handy and keep in mind how long it’ll take you to get back to the train station from wherever you are.
6 PM: Dinner near Santa Lucia station
To avoid being too rushed through dinner, find a restaurant near the train station. That way, you don’t have to worry about how long it will take you to get there from wherever you’re eating.
Related: How to spend 9 days in Italy, starting in Venice
7:30 PM: Say bye to Venice
For us, Mission Impossible was a success. We spent just one day in Venice and managed to hit all of the highlights. But I hope that, for your sake, you get to spend more than just 10 hours here (maybe consider 4 days in Venice!). However, if you don’t, I hope this itinerary is helpful to you as you plan your brief visit to beautiful Venezia!
If you’re staying for more than one day, consider taking a day trip to Murano!
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Related: Check out this post if you’re traveling to Venice with a baby!