After nine visits to Venice in various seasons, we have taken more than a few tours. Though it initially seemed like a difficult place to crack, we’ve found more than a few Venice walking tours that we really enjoy! While Venice is absolutely a lovely place to wander, at some point, it’s also nice to know more about the history, the architecture, and how the city continues to survive in the modern world. All of the tour guides in Venice have been able to provide valuable insight for us about life in Venice, Venetian history, and the quirks of each individual sestiere.
We spent our honeymoon in Venice. My husband fell in love with the city and we returned for numerous vacations, Christmas, and even an anniversary trip. Whether you’re a first time or returning visitor, there’s always something new to see. (Truly. I rarely can find the same place twice.) There is no better way to explore Venice than on foot, but if you get tired, I’ve recommended a couple of boat tours, too!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Venice by Night Walking Tour
We booked and missed this night tour of Venice twice due to transportation issues getting from and back to our hotel in the late evening. (This is what makes the Hotel Danieli a perfect hotel if you plan to stay out late in Venice!)
Third time is the charm, right??
Hands down, this has been one of my absolute favorite Venice walking tours because we were able to learn a lot of new information and parts of hidden Venice. Traveling during shoulder season (April), we were the only people signed up for the tour. Despite a private tour size of two, Andrea tailored the tour to areas of Venice that we had not explored on previous trips.
We learned about Venetian doge history, the origin of Venetian casinos, explored the Castello sestieri, and ended the tour near an empty San Marco. At times it felt like we had the city to ourselves, which is no small feat in Venice.
Andrea is a fantastic guide, and we enjoyed exploring areas of Venice that we haven’t spent much time visiting, especially without the crowds.
If you stay in Mestre or treat Venice as a day trip on a cruise, you’re going to lose a lot of the magic that city holds. I highly recommend spending at least three days in Venice and spending at least one of those evenings exploring the quiet canals with a guide. I would love to do this tour again during Carnivale.
BOOK THIS: Venice by Night Walking Tour
Doges Palace Guided Tour
In June 2021, we decided to take another guided tour of the Doges Palace. When we took a different one a few years ago, it was really underwhelming. This tour, however, was wonderful. Elizabeth provided an incredibly thorough tour of the entirety of the Doges Palace, including crossing the Bridge of Sighs.
There are a lot of artifacts in the Doges Palace, and at times, it can be difficult to imagine what it must have been like in the Republic of Venice. Not only did Elizabeth provide the necessary framework for understanding how the Ducal system worked in Venice, but she told stories in a way that made the interiors come alive. She was able to explain why certain processes were implemented, what the reasoning was, and how Venice was able to be such a successful republic. I definitely recommend booking this tour when visiting the Doges Palace. If you try to DIY it, it’s unlikely you will understand what you are seeing or why it is significant.
It’s worth noting that this tour utilizes radios inside the Doges Palace, which makes it really easy to hear the guide and appreciate what you are seeing. These radios worked very well compared to the ones that were used on a different tour that we took.
BOOK HERE: Doges Palace Walking Tour
Venice Guided Walking Tour & Gondola Ride
Dorsoduro is my favorite sestieri to stay in and explore, when we aren’t staying at the Danieli. Dorsoduro has a lot of hidden gems: small art galleries, several museums, as well as some of my favorite restaurants. It’s the best place to escape when the crows of San Marco or Rialto are just too much.
This Dorsoduro walking tour & gondola ride was the first tour we took in Venice on our honeymoon. It is still one of my favorites, even though it had the largest group we’ve ever had on a walking tour. Our local guide was able to weave through the quiet canals and point out various points of interest and architectural details. The tour started in the late afternoon, so many of the day trippers were back on their ships. We were able to get a glimpse of Venetians and students enjoy their late afternoon stroll along the fondementa, too.
This tour starts at the Accademia, wanders through the canals of Dorsoduro, and ends with a shared gondola ride across the Grand Canal during blue hour. A shared gondola ride may not be the most romantic gondola ride, but it is a great way to have the experience, especially if you are on a budget!
Tom and I both love the Dorsoduro sestieri because it seems very livable. There’s a large promenade overlooking island of Guidecca, multiple canal-side walks, and plenty of gorgeous art galleries and museums.
My favorite restaurant, Da Gianni, is across from the Zattere vaporetto stop, as is the best gelato in Venice, Nico’s. (Try the bacio. I love Nico’s bacio.) If you’re looking for an affordable Venice hotel, check out review of Palazzo Veneziano. Rates include breakfast and some rooms have quiet canal views.
Murano, Burano and Torcello Tour
This Venetian island tour is a great way to quickly experience the most popular islands around Venice. I visited Murano on my first two trips to Venice (2004, 2010), but I don’t think I “saw” Murano beyond the glass factories.
Individual vaporetto tickets are 7.50 euro each, so a tour to Murano, Burano and Torcello seemed like a great deal! In many ways, this tour is also more efficient than taking the vaporetto because it doesn’t make as many stops.
We’ve taken this tour a couple of times and we’ve always found it to be worth the cost. Our first tour was delayed by 40 minutes, so our time on each island was a bit abbreviated. Nevertheless, it was a great introduction to the Venetian islands! You can absolutely see Murano, Burano, and Torcello in one day.
This tour does include a glass demonstration, which I really enjoyed. We did not feel any pressure to purchase anything. As soon as it’s over, you can head out and explore the island independently. You will have free time on Burano and Torcello without any demonstrations. Each of the islands has its own unique character. If I had to choose, I would say that Torcello is our absolute favorite of the three. The church on the island is incredible, especially when you consider its location. I’ve included a breakdown of what our experience was, given the abbreviated tour timeline below.
Murano – 35 minutes
We arrived at Ducale, one of the famous Murano glassblowing showrooms, and were ushered onto risers for a glassblowing demonstration. A glassblower shows us how they can make horses, vases, and bowls. (I wish I had these skills.)
The prices in the showroom didn’t seem too bad. I bought a Christmas ornament for our travel Christmas tree. (It wasn’t my favorite thing in the showroom, but it was the perfect souvenir for me.) Our goal, however, was to explore the island instead. There are several churches with Byzantine influence on the island, so I would encourage you to skip the glass, too.
If you’re going to Murano for glass, another one of our tour guides warned us that the mark up is 20-30% on Murano, so don’t be afraid to negotiate!
Burano – 40 minutes
As soon as you step off the boat in Burano, you’re greeted by lace shops galore. Again, we skipped the shopping and headed off on a walk through the island to explore all the brightly colored houses. I would have liked to have a guided tour through Burano to teach more about the lace-making and the history of the island. In some ways, it feels a little more lived-in than Murano, but it also feels like we haven’t been able to scratch the surface.
We did find cheap gelato for 1.50 euro, but it was the worst gelato ever – no flavor, icy texture, and the cone was of the boxed variety. I didn’t even finish it.
Torcello – 50 minutes
Torcello is my favorite Venetian island! From the boat dock, it is a 10-15 minute walk to the “more populated” area. Populated is relative. Torcello is so green and serene; it is completely different from Murano and Burano.
The best part of Torcello, however, is the oldest Byzantine church in Venice. There are no photos allowed inside, but I can promise you that it’s 100% worth visiting. Make sure you splurge for the audio guide so you can know more about what you are seeing.
It can be a tight squeeze to tour the church and walk back to the port, so you’ll want to stay focused and walk quickly. I could have easily stayed there longer. It’s incredible to see the work in the church.
Free Walking Tours in Venice
On our most recent trip to Venice, we tried one of La Bussola’s free tours of Venice, and I was really impressed. Matteo was an excellent guide and provided a great overview of the Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Croce areas. We learned some things we did not know about Venice, but what I enjoyed was Matteo’s suggestions on how be a better tourist in Venice. He also made a lot of local recommendations, ranging from museums that are rarely in the guidebooks, to lesser-known churches, to restaurants. If you’re on a budget or want to see an area beyond San Marco, the free walking tours of Venice, hosted by La Bussola, are a great place to start! (They also offer free walking tours in Florence.)
DIY Venice Walking Tours
We love the Venice Day by Day book, Frommer’s 24 Venice Walks, and the Top 10 Venice book. Each of these books breaks down numerous Venice walking tours by area, special interests, and whether or not you are traveling with children. The Top 10 book also breaks things down by area, but it doesn’t generally have a route for you to follow. I use it to supplement the Day by Day book and plan out my day. Both fit into your pocket and are lightweight.
The Rick Steves Venice book also walking tours, but I think the value add is really in downloading his free Venice walking tours and listening to it on your phone. We’ve done the one of St. Mark’s Basilica and it works very well.
Venice Wine Tasting
After all this walking, you’ll need to rest your feet. To successfully do that while also getting off the beaten path in Venice, I recommend booking this wine tasting in Venice. It takes place in a small wine bar that overlooks one of the quieter canals. The owner will take his time to go through the various wines from the area (not all exclusive to Venice) and allow you to choose what to try. In our case, we left it up to him and he brought us a true rainbow of wines to try.
The wine tasting is served with some delicious area antipasti, so you’ll have a bit of a traditional Venetian apertivo experience as well. We ended up purchasing a couple of bottles of wine directly from the bar, and he was happy to make recommendations for us to purchase the cheeses that we tried, too.
BOOK HERE: Wine Tasting in Venice
(Almost) Free Venice Boat Tour
If you’re willing to grab a vaporetto pass, download the Grand Canal cruise. Board the #1, grab a seat outside, and pop in your earphones for audio cruise along the Grand Canal. We have taken this DIY boat tour in the early morning, the afternoon, and again at blue hour. Each time, it was really enjoyable.
It’s fun to watch the city wake up and slowly come to life. I think it can be a little bit on the long side, but my husband thoroughly enjoys every minute of it. It is a great way to let your feet rest and see views of Venice that most people won’t get to experience except by boat.
Other Walking Tours in Venice
We have taken a couple guided tours of the Doges Palace. So far, I have not come across tour that I really enjoyed and feel comfortable recommending to others, though it was very helpful to be able to skip the line for tickets.
I wouldn’t mind doing a Venice food tour to learn more about the cicchetti tradition. We’ve done a DIY tour of the stalls around the Rialto market, but I think it would be interesting to shop the market with a local since so much of the products seem to be very fresh and for locals versus tourists.
I think it would be incredible to visit St. Mark’s basilica after dark and see how the mosaics shine. We generally try to get there as soon as it opens and do a DIY audio tour before it gets too crowded. Tom also loves to go right before they close and see the late afternoon sun from the rooftop. You can also have a bird’s eye view of Venice from the bell tower viewing platform.
Simply put, there is no shortage of Venice walking tours to explore and there is still so much for us to see and experience, so you’ll probably see us Venice again. Check back for updates!