Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Venice every year to see its improbable architecture and learn the history of one of Medieval Europe’s greatest mercantile powers. Most of those visitors, however, take just a day or two in the city before catching a high-speed train to another of Italy’s major metropolitan areas. This means that most miss the golden opportunity to take one of the many classic day trips from Venice that explore the hidden gems of the wider Veneto region.
Veneto’s treasure trove of sites and cities sits within easy striking distance of the formidable shadow cast by Venice, and they quietly offer some of the most fulfilling and authentic experiences you can get while traveling in Italy. The best way to get access to them? Use the Lagoon as a base from which to explore all of the great day-trip options nearby.
Here are the best day trips from Venice:
Thanks to its role as the backdrop for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona is widely considered one of the most romantic cities in Italy and the best day trip from Venice. But the city has much more to offer than just love stories. See the vibrant facades of the houses in Piazza delle Erbe, get a coffee in the center of the city in Piazza Bra, then, tour the Verona Arena which was built in the first century and is still in regular use. Summertime visitors can even attend an opera in the open-air amphitheater which, after nearly 2,000 years of existence, is still one of the best opera venues in the world. Tickets go for as little as €25.00. Visitors can arrive directly from Venice by train in about an hour or by car in the same amount of time.
Probably the optimal Venice day trip for art lovers, Ravenna is famous for the magnificent Byzantine mosaics scattered throughout the city, some of which date back 1,500 years. The most famous mosaics feature scenes of the Apostles and can be found in Basilica di San Vitale. For even more mosaics, visitors can tour the Piazza del Popolo, the Mercato Coperto, and the Mausoleum of Gallia Placidia. The Mausoleum is one of a whopping seven UNESCO World Heritage sites found in Ravenna. Though it takes 3 hours to arrive by train from Venice, once there the town can be viewed in a couple of hours. Plus, you’ll have seen some of the most ancient, well-preserved mosaics in the world! Read more about Ravenna and go prepared with our guide, How to Read Mosaics in Italy.
The walled city of Padua (Or as the Italians call it, Padova) is just 25 minutes from Venice by train, making for an easy and pleasant day trip. According to tradition, Trojans founded the city in the 12th century BC, which would make it the oldest city in all of northern Italy – although that’s a pretty murky claim. Nonetheless, it is a very old city, and it has the second oldest university in Italy. Galileo even taught there! Today, Padua is a beautiful university city jam-packed with great art. Check out the Basilica di Sant’Antonio – one of the churches claiming to hold some of the remains of St. Mark. Also, don’t miss the spectacular Scrovegni Chapel which is covered in 14th-century frescoes by Giotto. The two most famous are his Lamentation and Kiss of Judas. If the weather is nice you should also stop by the city’s botanical gardens, They’re the oldest in Europe and also some of the most impressive.
Just 30 minutes north of Venice by train, Treviso is a medieval town that still retains its defensive walls, town gates, and even its old moat. The small city center is a testament to town life, with pleasant brick walls and nice coffeehouses. Those looking for a bit more than just a shot of caffeine should try a glass of Prosecco – the city was the original producer of the bubbly white wine that many now prefer to champagne. Treviso also has probably the strongest claim to being the birthplace of tiramisu, now the most widespread dessert in Italy. Although it’s rare to get a bad tiramisu in Italy, you won’t find a better one than in Treviso.
Filled with 14th-century palaces built by the erstwhile ruling family, the House of Este, this often-overlooked town has plenty to see. Ferrara is actually a part of Emilia-Romagna, rather than Veneto, but it’s along the direct train line from Venice to Florence and is a cinch to reach. Visit the Este Palace (Castello Estense) in the center of town; it’s as iconic as the family that occupied it. You also shouldn’t miss the Romanesque Cathedral of San Giorgio and its famous relief of the Last Judgement. Finally, head to the nearby University of Ferrara that graduated Nicolaus Copernicus.
We’ve also chosen Ferrara as one of our favorite small towns in northern Italy. Check out the entire list at The Best Small Towns in Northern Italy.
Vicenza one of the best of the basically unknown day trips from Venice. Just 45 minutes from the Lagoon, the town is perhaps best known for its architecture, especially the buildings designed by architect Andrea Palladio. His Teatro Olimpico is one of the most famous, but the gorgeous Villa Rotonda right outside of the city is a true highlight of Vicenza. It’s easiest to reach the Villa by car, but the historic city center of Vicenza is an easy, beautiful place to stroll, tour museums and art galleries, and stumble upon more of the nearly 23 buildings and spaces designed by Palladio, including the main piazza, Piazza dei Signori.
Sirmione, Lago di Garda
Sirmione is a narrow peninsula jutting into Lago di Garda. Though it takes more than two and a half hours to get there by train, the splendid lake, the scent of lemons in the air, and the unique town on the water make for a lovely day trip from Venice. Tour 14th century churches and the 13th century Scaliger Castle, built as a port fortification for the powerful Scaliger family’s personal fleet of boats. Alternately, you can simply walk around the tiny town, buy some lavender, and enjoy the breeze – its beauty is one of a kind.
Trieste, in the neighboring Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, is a two-hour train ride from Venice, making it one of the longer day trips from Venice but it’s absolutely worth it. Perhaps best known outside Italy as the decade-long home of James Joyce, the city’s location along the border of Italy makes it a unique cultural destination. Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Slavic influences are visible in the city’s architecture, cuisine and even language. View the juxtaposition in the medieval old city and the neoclassical Austrian district. Head to the top of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian’s Castello di Miramare (aka the “Look at the Sea Castle”) for the most spectacular sea views. Afterward, be sure to get a coffee – Trieste is the unofficial coffee capital of Italy and the main Mediterranean coffee port. Finally, stay until dusk to watch the lights of the buildings in Piazza Unita d’Italia turn on and light up the square. The city is sure to enchant you.
At two and a half hours away by train, Mantua (Mantova) is definitely more of a demanding day trip from Venice. But the reason to go is that it has long held UNESCO World Heritage status for its historic city center. See the Teatro Scientifico where 13-year-old Mozart played a concert, the Rotonda di San Lorenzo and the city’s Duomo. Afterward, get a museum pass to visit the Gonzaga family’s many imprints on the city. There’s Palazzo Te – Federico Gonzaga’s pleasure palace on the edge of the town – and not to be outdone, Palazzo Gonzaga – the family’s impressive palace in the center of town. Seeing the massive Palazzo alone could take hours, but those short on time should beeline for the famous frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi, or Wedding Chamber, by Andrea Mantegna.
While you’re there, don’t forget to sample Mantua’s world-renowned cuisine! In 2017, Mantua will also be one of the European Capitals of Gastronomy. The food reflects the geography with frog legs, duck, pumpkin tortelli and the delicious risotto alla pilota, or rice with bits of dried sausage.