Ah Venice… La Serenissima… the most serine.
There is a reason Venice is so famous. There is no place like it on earth. But, if you have been reading here long enough, then you know that I am pretty tough on Venice. While I have softened a bit over the years, thanks to visiting friends who live there or staying on the island in the off-season, I still don’t advise people to devote a lot of time to Venice. In fact, many tourists and study abroad students see the best of Venice in just one day!
In a perfect world, I would recommend staying one night and two days in Venice. There is nothing quite like seeing Venice in the evening after all the tourists have departed. That said, I realize timing and travel plans don’t always work out perfectly, so I am sharing two options – one or two days in Venice.
If You Only Have One Day in Venice:
Get an early start.
The first high-speed train arrives around 10 am; take it! From the train station take the number 1 or number 2 (express) vaporetto to St. Mark’s Square (this will also give you a glimpse, albeit a crowded vaporetto glimpse, of the Grand Canal.
St. Mark’s Square
This is the heart of Venice and should not be missed. Be sure you make time for a fancy coffee in one of Europe’s most famous squares (I love café Florian).
St. Mark’s Basilica
Noticing a pattern here? Saint Mark is the patron saint of Venice and the cathedral was built to commemorate him and enshrine the saint’s stolen body (the Venetians stole it from Alexandria). Venice’s cathedral is unique for its Ottoman/Eastern influences and its incredible gold mosaics inside.
Seafood Lunch Near the Rialto
From St. Mark’s make your way to the famed Rialto Bridge. On the back or north side of the bridge you will find a lovely square with several delicious seafood restaurants (the seafood market is right next door) with a wonderful view of the Grand Canal.
You cannot truly appreciate Venice until you get lost. After lunch, let yourself wander aimlessly around the San Polo neighborhood.
Of course no trip to Venice is complete without a gondola ride. It is the only way to see the “streets” of Venice the way the Venetians did/do (unless you own a boat of course). Embrace the cheese and select a gondolier or cute canal that appeals to you. Prices are pretty standard (between 80 and 120 euros depending on time of day) and rides typically last 40 minutes. Remember the price is per boat, not per person.
Sadly the last high speed train out of Venice is around 7:30 pm, so if you are only spending one day in Venice, make sure to go all out on lunch since you won’t be able to dine in the city.
If You Have Two Days in Venice:
Dinner at La Zucca
End your first day (as listed above) with an amazing dinner at La Zucca (you must book ahead) and then make your way over the Accademia Bridge to take a stroll along the Fondamenta Salute and past the old customs house (Punta della Dogana) for an amazing view of Saint Mark’s Square from across the entrance of the Grand Canal.
Secret Passageways Tour of the Doge’s Palace
Begin day two with a morning appointment for the Secret Passageways Tour of the Doge’s Palace. This tour explains the governmental structure of Venice, the power and rule of the Doge, and reveals all of Venice’s secrets! (more info here)
Catch the Vaporetto to Burano
After your morning tour, catch the vaporetto to the colorful island of Burano where you can have an amazing lunch and see a more local side of the Venetian lagoon.