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Where to Eat, Stay, Play, and More in Venice, According to an Expert

Venice is tricky. On the one hand, it’s one of Europe’s — and maybe the world’s — most overtouristed destinations. Virtually all year round, it’s crowded, overpriced, confusing to first-timers (just what is the difference between a gondola, a vaporetto and a traghetto?) and, too often, the scene of many an Italian culinary murder. 

But we’re here to slam the brakes on the Venice-bashing. 

As we were watching the sunset in a palette of oranges and pinks over the Grand Canal, the soundtrack of puttering motorboats and crooning gondoliers in the foreground, my colleague and fellow Travel + Leisure contributor Erica Firpo said, “Venice refuses to let you hate it.” For all the frustration and disappointment that this city can reap on the unprepared visitor, Venice is always going to be Venice: geographically absurd, transcendently, almost painfully beautiful, and mesmerizing once you cut through all the clutter. 

Here, I’ve drawn on the best parts of my many visits to create a guide to Venice, including not-to-miss attractions, unforgettable hotels, the best places for cicchetti and umbra, and where to eke out a hidden moment or two. 

Top 5 Can’t Miss

  • Take the gondola ride: You never know when you’ll revisit Venice, so don’t miss the chance to have this only-in-Venice experience.
  • Make a meal of cicchetti: The Venetian equivalent of tapas, these small bites can become a satisfying meal. Cantina Do Spade in the San Polo sestiere is one of my favorites.
  • Spring for the balcony suite: There’s nothing quite like flinging open your hotel room window and seeing the Grand Canal before you, and there are few better places to do it than the St. Regis Venice.
  • Walk Venice at night: The magical glow of the moonlit canals, the creaking of moored boats, and the relative calm of its narrow lanes — after dark, Venice lives up to its “most serene” moniker.
  • Enjoy a spritz with a view: Skip the overpriced bars on Piazza San Marco, but do find an elegant canal-view bar to sip a cocktail and complementary nibbles — Bar Longhi at the Gritti Palace is a storied choice.

Best Hotels and Resorts

St. Regis Venice

T+L readers’ favorite hotel in Venice earns its rank — it’s simply impeccable from every angle. Art- and light-filled spaces give this historic hotel a modern feel, but Murano glass fittings and those Grand Canal views ensure you never forget what city you’re in. Be sure to try St. R’s signature, the Bloody Mary.

Hotel Flora

Courtesy of Hotel Flora

In a city brimming with great hotels, Flora will always make my shortlist. What it lacks in five-star bells and whistles, it compensates for with a warm welcome, fair prices, and a lovely garden that’s the heart of the hotel. It’s also a rarity in Venice — a hotel that’s owned and run by a local family.

Venice Venice

The most exciting new entry in Venice’s hotel landscape, Venice Venice calls its approach and design “Postevenetian.” Contemporary art installations and spacious rooms with bespoke modern furnishings have breathed new life into the bones of an ancient palazzo. And the Rialto views aren’t too shabby, either. 

Best Things to Do 

Daniel Gorostieta/Travel + Leisure

Gondola ride

This is a controversial hill I’m prepared to die on: if you don’t do a gondola ride on at least one of your trips to Venice, you will regret it. The Floating City is even more ethereal at water level. I recommend finding a gondola station in the San Polo sestiere and plying the quiet canals of that area.

Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour

Once the political and financial motherboard of the mighty Venetian Republic, the Doge’s Palace remains a repository of hidden stories and legends, coded iconography, and monumental art and architecture. This guided tour lets you in on many of these fascinating tidbits and gets you skip-the-line entry to the palace.

Visit Burano

With its famously colorful houses, Burano is ripe for your IG reel. But this island of lacemakers and fishermen in the northern reaches of the lagoon is more than just a pretty place — it’s a working-class village where age-old traditions still live. Get there in the early morning or late afternoon to beat the crowds.

Get thee to the Guggenheim

Amazing in the quality of its collections and intimate in scale, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is a must-see for lovers of 20th-century art. Set in Guggenheim’s former residence, the museum is a vivid reminder of what a huge figure Guggenheim was in championing surrealist and abstract art of the last century.

Best Shopping

Alphotographic/Getty Images

Godi Fiorenza

This boutique and atelier of sisters Patrizia and Samanta Fiorenza is now in its 20th year. It’s a favorite of Jill Weinreich Luppi, an arts professional who’s lived in Venice for nearly 30 years. “Godi Fiorenza is really very special,” she says. “The clothing is exquisite, and the jewelry is always stunning and original.”

Francis Model

Skip the Italian chain stores and cheap foreign-made goods and acquire an item that will remind you of your trip to Venice for years: a handmade leather bag from this homespun brand. I still get compliments on the chartreuse suede number I purchased two years ago.

MEG Glass

I still haven’t brought home a set of handmade Murano drinking glasses, and I live with that regret. But you don’t have to. This hole-in-the-wall shop near Ponte de le Ostreghe has a reasonably priced assortment of colorful glassware (ask about shipping), plus the usual curiosities. 

Gilberto Penzo

For a one-of-a-kind gift for a hobbyist or a curious kid, nothing says Venice more than a model boat kit from this delightfully cluttered bottega. Penzo handmakes and sells kits for gondolas, vaporettos, water taxis, and more, plus sells finished models and other nautically-themed gifts. 

Best Nightlife

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Walk the Riva

Surprisingly, Venice is not a big city for nightlife and tends to shut down early, even on the weekends. A nighttime walk along the Grand Canal toward the Giardini della Biennale (take a left from Piazza San Marco) is a lovely way to spend an evening. 

Head to Cannaregio

The vestiges of working-class Venice still cling to life in this sestiere, which is also the home of the Jewish Ghetto. Along Fondamenta de la Misericordia, you’ll find bar after bar and plenty of space to sip your drink (and eat cicchetti) on a canal lined with simple private boats rather than gondola and water taxis.

Arts Bar Venice

If you can’t splash out on a room at the St. Regis, at least spring for a fancy cocktail at this tres-chic hotel bar, site of changing arts exhibits and events. Each custom concoction — one even comes in a smoke dome — features its own glassware designed by an artist and produced at Berengo Studio. A resident singer/guitarist plays all the songs you know by heart.

Best Restaurants

Cantina Do Spade

There’s a sit-down restaurant here, but we like the crowded cicchetti bar, where you order your small bites at the counter and then join a shared table or juggle your drink and plate in the narrow alleyway outside. There’s lots of bad cicchetti in Venice, and none is here. 


Weinreich Luppi brought me to this cozy restaurant she calls “dependable and always delicious, a true neighborhood spot run by people who clearly love what they do.” It was worth the trek to Via Garibaldi, in the authentic Castello district, to enjoy homemade pasta and bread, vegetables grown in their garden, and fresh-caught fish, all in an unpretentious, welcoming setting.

Trattoria al Gatto Nero

Courtesy of Trattoria al Gatto Nero

It’s always nice when a famous eatery is worth the hype, as I finally discovered when I had a chance to dine at this Burano landmark. We were guided through a menu of fresh-off-the-boat seafood, including their wonderfully delicate risotto de gò, a signature dish. If you visit in fall or spring, look for moeche, Venice’s softshell crabs. And don’t even think about showing up without a reservation. 

Bar All’Arco

This tiny little bar near the Rialto Bridge is located near the Rialto Bridge is Weinreich Luppi’s “first and forever choice for cicchetti. It’s such a special little place and it’s amazing what comes out of their postage stamp-sized kitchen.” Baccalà mantecato, the classic Venetian cicchetti of creamed cod on polenta or toasted bread (it’s way better than it sounds), is a must-try here.

Best Time To Visit

DanielGorostieta/Travel + Leisure

If you want to see a less crowded version of Venice, you need to risk some inclement weather and visit in November, December before the holiday rush, January, or February (but only before Carnevale events get underway). If you do visit in high season, basically any of the months not mentioned above, plan to get an early start on your day, take a break in the afternoon, and go back out in the evening. 

For several reasons related to the city’s well-being, we urge you to stay in Venice and spend your vacation euros in Venice. Another motive for sleeping in the Lagoon City? A new entry fee that will apply to day-trippers on set days of the year, as well as looming caps on tour group sizes.

How to get to Venice

There are direct flights to Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport (VCE) from several eastern U.S. cities, including New York and Atlanta. From VCE, you can take a bus to Venice’s waterside train station, Santa Maria Lucia, catch the Alilaguna shuttle boat, or take a private water taxi into the city.

Trains from all over Italy arrive at Santa Maria Lucia, which overlooks the Grand Canal. You can catch a vaporetto (water bus) from the train station to the closest stop to your hotel or take a private, pricey water taxi.

If you have a car in Italy, you must park it landside and take a train to Santa Maria Lucia or a water bus to the city. There are no cars in the city of Venice.

How to get around

You can reach most places in Venice on foot, which is necessary to reach many areas. This often means dragging suitcases over bridges and stairs, so it’s wise to pack light. 

Here are the main transportation options:

Vaporetto: Venice’s water buses rumble along the Grand Canal from 5 a.m. to midnight and serve Murano, Burano, the Venice Lido, and other points in the lagoon.

Traghetto: These standing-room-only gondolas cross the Grand Canal in areas without a nearby bridge.

Water taxi: The most expensive option, private water taxis are convenient when you have a lot of bags and want to pull up right at your hotel’s “porta d’acqua,” or water door.

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