Venice’s reputation as one of the most beautiful, romantic cities in the world has landed it onto the list of the “greats” in Europe. For my first ever visit to Italy, I spent just over a day in Venice, wandering the canals of the city built on a lagoon and seeing the sites. While I could have used an extra day for exploring more of the Venetian islands, I was happy to have just enough time to see Venice. After a trip through the cheaper (and far less-touristed!) Balkans, Venice was a great end point. What all should you see in Venice? Here are five things you must do if you visit Venice!

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1. Take a gondola ride

The most overpriced, most touristy thing you can do in Venice: take a gondola ride through the canals. There is nothing more serene than floating around Venice—even when the price is 80€ for a half-hour ride (rising to 100€ after 7:00pm!). Gondolas can hold up to 6 people though, so unless you’re looking to go on a romantic date, pack in as many people as possible to cut down on the cost! And while a ride on the Grand Canal is fun, I’d recommend getting a gondolier who will take you on the much quieter, side canals. Instead of hitting gondola traffic and constant big waves from boats, the back streets will make for a much more authentic ride. I shared my gondola ride with my boyfriend, and 110% felt like it was worth the high price tag! Gondolas in Venice are made by hand and cost 40,000€ to buy!!!

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2. See St. Mark’s Basilica

The beautiful cathedral church of St. Mark’s is one of the focal points of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), and absolutely stunning on the inside. It’s free to enter, although the lines can be very long. Backpacks are not allowed inside, so head straight around the corner to the bag-drop office, and (because they will only hold your bags for a finite amount of time) you’ll get a free pass to skip the queue!

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3. Marvel at the Doge’s Palace

If there’s one museum attraction you can’t miss in Venice, it’s the Doge’s Palace. The former home of the doge (ruler) of Venice, construction began in 1340 and today the building is a stunning display of Italian architecture. While the courtyard, Doge’s apartments, and institutional chambers are magnificent, don’t miss the opportunity to walk across the canal inside the Bridge of Sighs and visit the prison complex. When you leave, be sure to check out the Bridge of Sighs from the canal by the waterfront.

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4. Cross Ponte Rialto

The Rialto Bridge is one of Venice’s main sights and can’t be missed on a visit to the city of canals. The bridge crosses over the Grand Canal, and is one of the main crossings between two of the larger, central islands. Be warned that hordes of tourists are usually clustered around the area! And try to see the bridge when it’s not under construction.

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5. Get lost in Dorsoduro

The Dorsoduro area of Venice is probably what you imagine the picture of Venice to be in your mind: small, narrow, winding streets, old buildings with peeling plaster, canals that appear as if from nowhere. This neighborhood is less touristy than San Polo or San Marco, but will still give you the inexplicable Venetian vibe. Ditch the map and just get lost—you’ll never know what you might find! If you have time, don’t miss the beautiful church, Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. There’s no admission fee to enter!

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Of course, the country is known for its food. So if you’re in EATaly, definitely make the most and eat as much Italian food as possible! And always go for the house wine, it will be the cheapest yet still so good.

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If you have more time in Venice, there are a million art galleries to keep you occupied. I’d also recommend visiting the nearby islands: Murano (for its glass-blowing), and/or Burano (for its colorful houses and lace history).

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The Basics: Venice has a population of about 260,000 people, of whom about 60,000 live in the historic city, and is quite smaller compared to the more populous cities of Rome (2.6 million) and Milan (1.25 million). Italy as a whole has a population of nearly 60 million people. Italy is a member of the EU and a part of the Schengen zone. The official currency is Euros. There are two airports: Venice Marco Polo Airport (the main airport), and the much smaller Venice Treviso airport (located about 20 miles away from Venice) as the Ryanair hub.

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Getting Around: The city of Venice is built on more than 100 islands, which is why there are so many canals. There are no roads or cars in the historic center of Venice—Piazzale Roma is the main bus station and transport hub, on the western side of the city. Vaporettos (water buses) are ludicrously expensive—upwards of 5€ for a single ticket! Because of this, I recommend walking everywhere, as the city center of Venice is actually quite compact (it’s just very easy to get turned around in the winding alleys and end up lost). I never took a vaporetto during my time in Venice, although had I visited any of the islands (Murano or Burano), I would have needed to.

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Where I Stayed: Seeing the outrageous price for hostels in the center of Venice (and seeing as I needed to stay central as I had such a short amount of time), I stayed at a hotel, Pensione Seguso, with my boyfriend. The hotel was very nice, with a beautifully decorated interior, and a delicious breakfast in the morning. Our room had a balcony overlooking the water, and included a sink (with a shared toilets/showers down the hall). The location was great (besides that we got lost at midnight trying to find it!) and about a 15-minute walk to Piazza San Marco. I booked via otel.com (no “h”), through booking.com. The only drawback was that they didn’t offer free wifi—it was 4€. Overall, I’d stay here again!

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Venice is a charming city and I really loved my (brief) time there. Although of course it’s expensive and full of tourist crowds, it’s enchanting in its very own special way. While I think a handful (2-3) days is as much time as you’ll need, I was very happy I could see most of Venice on a short stop!

Have you ever been to Venice? What “must do” things do you recommend?