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Venice in Northern Italy is often referred to as the “City of Canals” or the “Queen of the Adriatic,” is unlike any other place on Earth (no Venice in Vegas is never an option!)
While we’re not raving fans of Venice, we do think it should be on every traveler’s bucket list, simply because it is so unique with a long history worth learning about.
One of the best ways to see mysterious Venice, is on foot. While a Venice walking tour doesn’t take you around the entire city, it does take you to the unmissable sites, and a few hidden gems, whilst simultaneously interacting with the locals and getting tips for visiting the city.
If you’re like us and you’re only visiting Venice for a day (that was more than enough for us) then you might be tempted by a walking tour of Venice.
But is it worth it? What do you see? And which walking tour organization should I go with? These are all excellent questions, which we will be answering below.
What is the best way to see Venice?
Venice is not a huge city and so the best way to see it is on foot. You could easily walk around the main historic sites within an hour. If you require public transportation in Venice, your best bet is to hop on a water taxi.
The Venice Walking Tour Itinerary
Nestled on a cluster of 118 small islands in the Venetian Lagoon along the northeastern coast of Italy, Venice’s distinct beauty is immediately apparent.
The city’s architecture, prevalent in Gothic and Renaissance palaces, as well as iconic canals, and romantic gondolas make it a dream destination for many.
However, while its intricate network of canals, alleyways, and bridges conceal hidden treasures waiting to be discovered, it can also lead you to feel lost in a maze of winding streets.
With a limited time for sightseeing, how do you know how to fit it all in, not get lost, and experience its enchanting secrets?
If you’re wondering what a walking tour experience of the floating city is like, here’s where our three hour guided tour took us:
Rialto Neighborhood: Venice’s First
We started our tour outside Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto, Venice’s first church and the city began on 25th March 421.
Legend has it that Venice began with the population from the mainland trying to find a place where they felt more protected from their rivals. The lagoon and marshlands provided them with that.
After our introduction to the city and tour, Paolo, our local tour guide, guided us through this Rialto neighborhood, along the canal, and through the fruit and vegetable markets and Rialto Fish Market, which closes at midday due to the heat.
We didn’t get to see the bustling Rialto market that draws people from all over Venice, but we got to experience its lingering smell!
It was a wonderful way to start the tour away from the crowds and learn more about Venetian life including its love for good seafood and prosecco, which comes from Venice! Venice also has its own winery, which you can enjoy on this wine tasting tour!
On the way to Rialto Bridge, we passed the souvenir shops on the main street. I bought a lovely pink scarf from here – out of necessity -as Kalyra was wearing shorts, and knees and shoulders must be covered when entering St Mark’s Basilica – one of the best stops on our Venice waking tour.
In the past, these souvenir markets were filled with luxury products like silk and spices as Venice was a central stop on the space trading routes, helping it to become an important economic global center in 1300s and 1400s.
The Rialto Bridge
No walking tour of Venice would be legit, if you did not walk over the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal. As a central crossing point, it has always played a vital role in the daily functioning of the Republic of Venice.
In the middle of the bridge are more souvenir shops which have been there since its beginning.
The Rialto Bridge dates to the 12th century and was built as a wooden structure, but it collapsed twice before they decided to reconstruct it in the more reliable stone between 1588 and 1591 by Antonio da Ponte.
We stopped here briefly to marvel at the bridge’s architectural beauty, snap our “I was here photo”, and watch life go by on the Grand Canal. Paolo steered us over to the other side of the bridge – the less crowded side for a different but just as enjoyable Grand Canal view.
Wandering the Alleyways
With her small flag to help us see her through the crowds, Paolo zig zagged us through the quiet squares and alleyways that whisper stories of the past.
She shared those, but also practical tidbits like where to chow down on the best local eats and how to navigate the maze-like city streets are on the menu too.
I enjoyed learning more about Venetian life including the need to get around on ferries or gondolas to escape the 30 million visitors a year, and their obligations to clean up the mess, including dog poo.
Venice has six districts, three on one side of the Grand Canal and three on the other. If you have more time in Venice, it’s worth exploring to appreciate life in Venice beyond the top tourist attractions.
Marco Polo House
This continued as we wandered the narrow alleyways of Corte del Milion to visit the site of Marco Polo’s house in the quarter of San Giovanni Crisostomo.
The famous explorer and merchant lived here for the last 25 years of his life, until January 1324. We learned a lot about his life as we stood in this square.
The original house unfortunately burnt down in 1596. All that remains is a great archway with a beautiful Veneto-Romanesque arched lintel and on the foundations of this big house, in 1678, the actual Malibran theater was constructed.
Some of the gondola rides will pass by it. I did on my first visit to Venice, but our gondola ride this time did not. Our tour proceeded on the other side of the building for views from the canal.
Paolo told us a lot about Marco Polo’s travel life, which was one of my favorite parts of this walking tour.
Campo San Giovanni e Paolo
We winded through more alleyways, learning more about Venetian life to the much quieter Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, for an espresso break.
In Venice campo is piazza, which means grass meadow. Each Island in Venice has its own campo serving the villages, and each campo has a church named after it, and a community well. The villagers would build tanks and fill them with sand to filter the brackish water into drinkable water.
It’s one of the largest squares in Venice and is where you’ll find Santi Giovanni e Paolo, one of the largest churches in the city. It’s named after St John and Paul the protectors and has the status of a minor basilica. Twenty-five doges are buried here.
Paolo also told us more about the Scuola Grande di San Marco hospital on the square, which used to be the home for the brotherhood fraternity.
Here you can pay €1.50 to use the restrooms or buy an espresso for the same price or less and use their facilities with it. #nobrainer
St Mark’s Basilica VIP Access
Now we’ve had our afternoon espresso fix, it’s time to stroll past the lines and into St. Mark’s Basilica, or Basilica di san Marco, with our pre-reserved skip-the-line tickets.
Since we’d spent three weeks in Europe already, we were more than happy to visit St Mark’s Basilica on this guided tour. It’s small enough that a quick tour is more than adequate, and with a guide no time will be wasted looking at things you don’t understand.
I loved having an excellent guide point out the most key features and sharing the Venetian history of Italy’s second most important church to us. He was full of interesting facts, anecdotes and information that you wouldn’t find in the guidebooks.
St. Mark’s Basilica is another awe-inspiring Byzantine masterpiece, highlighting intricate golden mosaics, gilded domes, and exquisite relics. Prepare to have your jaw meet the floor.
It really is worth a visit, but there was no way I wanted to wait in line with most other people for hours waiting to get in. Skip the line with our Walks of Italy guided tour was impressive.
We also passed through St Mark’s Square, or Piazza san Marco, which was half taken over getting ready for an evening concert. To be honest, I find St Mark’s Square very underwhelming. As it’s open and free, you can visit it at any time on your trip to Venice.
Let’s finish with a Gondola Ride
You really can’t come to Venice and not do a gondola ride. There are some touristy attractions that just have to be done.
We finished our guided walking tour with the 30-minute gondola ride. It was part of the tour, which meant we could skip the lines!
When you see that some of the gondola rides are the same price as this three-hour walking tour, you can understand the value of doing this tour as it’s included!
With just a handful of fellow adventurers on board, you’ll glide through the dreamy waterways, soaking in the cityscape designed for this exact view.
As we were a family of four, we had a gondola all to ourselves, which we really appreciate. And since we were on the afternoon tour, we rode the gondola at the ideal time – late afternoon to early evening, just as the sun hit golden hour.
This is the time when the Venetian architecture and quaint canals are awash in golden light, illuminating their finer details and intricate designs.
Taking a gondola ride in Venice is like stepping into a dream. As you drift along the city’s labyrinthine canals, you’ll be transported back to a time of romance and elegance.
Is a Guided Walking Tour of Venice Worth It?
We recommend joining a guided tour of Venice, like we did with Walks of Italy. They have various tour options to see all the sights and more.
The longer I travel (and with kids), especially now to destinations like Europe that have such a rich history, the more I see the value in guided tours.
It allows me the opportunity to switch off from being mum and head tour guide, and connect a little deeper to the destination, the city’s history and culture. Otherwise, it gets lost in a sea of complaints, bored brains, tired feet, crowd hustle, and endless navigation.
Even if you have more than a day in Venice, a guided tour is a great way to orient yourself to the city and discover places you want to return to for a deeper look, and a more lingering Venice experience. Just ask your local guide to tell you some of those hidden secrets!
If you’re ready to dive into the enchanting vibes of Venice without getting lost in a sea of maps, this is the tour for you. In just three hours, you’ll go from being a tourist to a Venice insider, all thanks to your local guide’s passion and know-how.
We joined the Welcome to Venice: Walking Tour, St Mark’s Basilica & Gondola Ride tour as guests of Walks of Italy (but under no obligation to write this post).
We also did a guided walking tour in Florence with Walks of Italy and food and wine tour in Florence, a street food tour of Rome, and Montmartre food tour in Paris with their sister company Devour Tours and found both companies and tours to be professional, informative, and enjoyable.
Local Venetian Tour Guide
One thing I love about Walks of Italy is that all tour their professional guides are local – either born and bred – or have lived there for some time. They also often have art and history degrees so are deeply knowledgeable about the area they are guiding you through.
Our local guide Paola has lived in Venice for over two decades and was very passionate and well versed in Venetian culture and way of life.
Listening to Paola describe everyday life in Venice was the first time I understood why people would live here and battle the never-ending threat (and reality) of encroaching flood waters. (not too mention the never-ending tourists!)
She was kind, gentle, and attentive, answering all questions and keeping us at a gentle pace but making sure we didn’t miss anything.
Unfortunately, we did have some tourists behaving badly on our tour. I’ve done hundreds of tours around the world, and this was the only time I’ve experienced such embarrassing behavior.
It was a gift for my girls to see this and appreciate their own respectful behavior but to understand the importance of considering others.
It’s important for you to know this behavior is NOT normal, is in no way indicative of the Walks of Italy tour and did not spoil it.
What it is indicative of is the classy way Paola handled it. She was firm and direct and artfully knew what behaviors to ignore and which ones to address. Everyone else on the tour spoke so highly of her because of it and had deeper gratitude for her.
Other Venice Tour Options with Walks of Italy
Walks of Italy have other options for guided tours of Venice. We wanted to join their Venice Boat Tour with Grand Canal & Clock Tower Climb but it was sold out. So be sure to book in advance!
As we enjoyed our Europe food tours so much, and Venice has a unique and delicious food scene, their Cicchetti, Food & Wine Tour at sunset would be a highlight!
With more time in Venice, you may want to escape the crowds with this enchanting day trip to Venice’s lesser-visited outer islands, such as the Island of Murano & Burano, complete with an exclusive wine tasting and private glassblowing demonstration from master glassmakers.
Final Thoughts on a Walking Tour of Venice
With its enchanting labyrinth of waterways, historic architecture, rich cultural heritage, and iconic landmarks, Venice has captured the imaginations of travelers for centuries.
Taking this guided walking tour of Venice will allow you to toss those maps aside and effortlessly explore Venice and form a deeper connection to its history, culture, and people one quirky alley and majestic bridge at a time!
Wondering what else to do with the rest of your day in Venice? We have you covered: Check out our one-day itinerary of Venice with a few hidden food spots, and our surprising favorite tour. We also have a post sharing the top things to do in Venice and tips for visiting Doge’s Palace.
And while you are in this region, you must visit Verona. We stayed in Verona and traveled to Venice for the day. Many people do it the other way around, but for me, Verona has my heart. It’s a charming and romantic Italian town with more space and fewer crowds than Venice.