Take a DIY walking tour of Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy surprised me. You always hear about people saying how crowded it is, how un-Italian it is (because there are too many tourists), and so on. We had it in our heads that we wouldn’t enjoy it, but you know what? We shouldn’t have listened.

This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own.

We found plenty of lovely spots on the main island of Venice and the other nearby islands. A lot of that was thanks to using the Marco Polo Venice guidebook to have our own walking tour of Venice. We’ve used their guidebooks before when we (very uncharacteristically) visited Hong Kong and Singapore. The way I see it is that you can’t have too many insights into a place you know NOTHING about! We always tend to find good restaurants, viewpoints, and areas we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Giudecca island, Venice, Italy

Why do a DIY walking tour of Venice?

For this trip, we focused on getting away from the crowds. We did such a good job that we didn’t even see Saint Mark’s Square. We stayed in the Castello neighborhood which was great because we were in between 2 water-bus (Vaporetto) stops Celestia and Arsenale

Since we weren’t trying to be around everyone else on the island, we decided to take the “In the footsteps of Palladio” walking tour that Marco Polo has in their book. I actually wanted to do the “Exploring the lesser-known islands” one but wanted something a little shorter. When we go back (ohhhhh yesssss we are definitely going back!) we’ll be doing the other tour to see even more of what most visitors don’t see.

Guidebook research

The thing about Venice is that it can feel overcrowded at times. There are cruise ships that dock and lets thousands of people disembark and they all want to see the same things. That’s why these self-guided walking tours of Venice are the best! Whether you are staying in Venice for a day (from a cruise ship or for another reason), or you are staying on one of the islands for a few days, this is a great way to feel something that many don’t take the opportunity to feel — a little peace and quiet.

Take the Vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore

Make sure you have a public transportation ticket. You only have to validate (tap in) once unless there are barriers, then you’ll have to tap to get through them. As we usually do, we opted for a multi-day ticket so it’s less to worry about on a day-to-day basis.

You’ll need to find the number 2 Vaporetto from the San Marco-San Zaccaria stop. There are a lot of Vaporetto stops in this area, so make sure you find number 2 going in the direction of San Giorgio! Not that it’s a horrible thing if you got on the wrong one (unless you are short on time).

Anyway, back to the task, the tour! Though, I could ride those Vaporettos all day 🙂

Sean and Jessica at Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

You’ll pull up to this small island and hop off into the vast open space before you which still doesn’t get enough room to fit the whole church into a photo without an ultra-wide lens. It is massive and beautiful. This is where you start to understand the name of the tour because Andrea Palladio created this masterpiece for the Benedictines in the 16th century.

Head on inside to check out the scale of the building. When we visited there was an art exhibit that had a colorful square tower in the middle that you could walk in. I must say, it was a bit strange to see in that setting, but it also gives it a cool new vibe.

Art in Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
Inside Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

The thing to do here is to wander through the church and the monastery, then go up into the tower where the views are unreal. I just wanted to cry because it was so beautiful. There are spots in all corners of the tower and, although there were plenty of people, you didn’t feel overly crowded. That’s the funny thing about taking the time to go somewhere a little different. You aren’t fighting for a spot.

View of Giudecca
Marco Polo Venice with a view

The view is what did it for me. I don’t appreciate the church setting as much as Sean, but I know he did enjoy that visit.

Next, it was time to catch the next Vaporetto to Giudecca. Just hop on the next one headed in the same direction you came in, and go one stop. The vibe is so different but you can still see across the water into the main part of Venice.

Jessica in the hotel gardens

Secret gardens to explore

Ohhhhh this is my FAVORITE part!! I was a little apprehensive because the secret gardens mentioned in the Marco Polo Venice guide are part of a hotel…a bit of a fancy one, at that. But it was easy peasy. We walked in and asked the guy who looked like a guard if we could go look at the gardens, and he was fine with it and pointed us in the right direction. If you are able to dine in this hotel, I would recommend it. It’s stunning.

Head out back and experience something else that brought tears to my eyes. There are four gardens and each with a different personality. I was SO happy. Even thinking about them now makes me smile. Whether you want a wide-open space with the shade of a tall tree, or a pergola covered in greenery and flowers, or a rustic garden with a maze-like feel, it’s all here. They are perfectly kept and I actually wanted to run around like a child at that moment. It felt so freeing and so different from any other part of Venice we encountered.

Gardens on Giudecca
Gardens on Giudecca one of four

We probably spent more time than we realized in these gardens. I didn’t want to leave and I instantly looked up the property to see if we should stay there next time. If you are interested in booking that property, here it is on Booking.com. It’s called Palladio Hotel & Spa. Fitting for this tour, huh? 🙂

Il Redentore

Visit the Il Redentore

Another Palladio piece, the Il Redentore, a 16th century Roman Catholic church is stunning from the outside. He built it as a votive church and is a thank you to God. It’s also at the heart at one of the biggest Venetian festivals, the Feast of the Redentore.

Il Redentore is a major Renaissance masterpiece and if anyone loves this kind of architecture, this is a must-visit place to go. It’s not very crowded (similar to most places on this tour), and you’ll likely be in awe the entire time.

water bottle fill station

This might be random, but it’s good to know, there’s a water bottle fill station just outside the church, so it’s a good time to fill ‘er up! Stay hydrated, especially on hot days.

Snacks waterside in Venice

Have an afternoon snack

In the Marco Polo guidebook, they suggest stopping at La Palanca. That was such a good idea!! They do run on reservations, but it was after the lunch rush, so we got a table right away outside and one table away from the water’s edge. The staff was so nice (not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting that). We asked for recommendations and ended up with a platter of local favorites.

Lunch on Giudecca

So, yeah, we were eating Venician favorites, with wine, next to the water, across from the San Marco’s Square area. Life is so good and chill.

It was a moment of pure bliss. The saying of “Eat, drink, and be merry” is one of my favorites and totally fits here. Venice is so special. I get it now. But, you might just have to get a little away from the crowds to feel it.

Canals on Giudecca

Order your Marco Polo guidebook for Venice, or wherever you are planning to travel next!

View from rooftop bar on Giudecca

Treat yourself to a late afternoon drink with a view

Who am I kidding? Seeing Venice is a treat in itself. However, I’m a big fan of getting up high to see everything you can see. I know the PERFECT place for you to do that, get a drink, and let the time pass.

Walk on along the water. It’s a theme on this island. Just keep walking. Just keep walking.

Walking along Giudecca

Just over one of the bridges, you’ll see the Molino Stucky Hilton Hotel. Walk in and head straight to the back. You’ll see a sign for the Skyline Rooftop Bar.

Hilton on Giudecca
Hilton rooftop bar in Venice

Be sure to check their hours ahead of time. You can walk around on the roof area by the pool which also has breathtaking views…add this hotel to the list of hotels I want to stay in while in Venice. If you can afford it, book it here.

Grab a drink and a snack and marvel at Venice from above. The rooftops are beyond gorgeous. I wonder when they built Venice, did they know how beautiful it was? I can’t get over it.

Sean and Jessica at the Hilton rooftop bar on Giudecca

Seriously, though. Venice has stolen my heart and part of that is because of this guidebook that helped us discover areas we probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.

We can’t wait to visit again! They do have a problem with too many tourists, but as with similar cities, spreading people out will really help and taking a walking tour like this one will actually, in a small way, help you be a more responsible traveler.

Jessica on Venice canal

Until next time, Venice, arrivederci! Wishing you all joy and travels!

Jessica Cutrufello wearing a green floral dress, glasses and pink lipstick

Hi! I’m Jessica, an American who made Amsterdam her home in 2014. I share European gems through food and memorable experiences. Want to know more? Head to my about page or check out my YouTube channel.

Travel with us - Tuscany October 2022