Venice is the crown jewel of the Adriatic, a beautiful city of canals, filled with the silent swish of gondolas, and the dignified facades of palazzi from centuries past. Long considered a must-see stop on any trip to Italy, there are less attractions to see and things to do in Venice compared to say, a visit to Rome, but the city has her charms nonetheless. While you may be tempted by a short visit to Venice, 3 days in Venice is the perfect length of time to get lost in her twisting streets, marvel at the Byzantine architecture and fall in love with the light reflecting off the water. This Venice travel itinerary takes you through the highlights.
3 days in Venice | Day 1
Venice is a city made for walking. With no vehicle traffic, the streets of Venice are perfect for wandering, following your heart as you choose one winding turn after the next. The main attraction in Venice is Piazza San Marco, often called Venice’s living room. On your first day in Venice, start here. To get an overview of La Serenissma, as Venice is sometimes known, climb up the steps of the Campanile, or bell tower, in the middle of the square. The view from here is stunning, stretching across the piazza and the Grand Canal.
Once you’ve gotten your bearings, descend and pay your respects to St Mark’s Basilica, the opulent, Byzantine 12th century church looking onto St Mark’s Square. Inside, be dazzled by the stunning gold mosaic and marvel at the bejewelled altar screen, studded with thousands of precious gems. The Basilica hosts a number of treasures, mostly spoils from the Crusades on Constantinople. Afterwards, join the lines to enter the Doge’s Palace – to skip the lines, join a ducal guided tour to get the full low down on the stories and gossip from Venice’s time as one of the world’s greatest trading and naval powers.
For lunch, turn your back on San Marco’s and wander the streets towards Dorsoduro, approximately a 20-30 minute walk – budget more time for getting delightfully lost in the many sottoportegos and alleyways on the way there. Dorsoduro used to be a working class district and is known for it’s squero, or gondola yards. If you’re lucky you may be able to spot a few still working on the sleek, black craft. Aim towards Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi, an upscale wine bar with local wines by the glass and delicious cichetti, the Venetian version of tapas.
Once you’ve refuelled, drop by the Gallerie dell’ Accademia, a world class gallery filled with the titans of Renaissance art; Titian, Canaletto, Bellini, Veronese. There’s plenty to see here for culture vultures. For something a little more modern, swing by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, also located in Dorsoduro.
Walk across to the huge dome of Santa Maria della Salute, a cathedral standing sentinel over the mouth of the Grande Canal leading into the lagoon. The church was built when a Doge, in an appeal to God, promised the largest church in Europe, dedicated to Mary and health, if only the Black Plague would leave Venice. It did, and he did.
I am entranced by Venice, enchanted by the silkiness of her canals and smooth cobblestones and twisted, mysterious streets. The city is romantic, full of secrets and reflections and darkness.
Detractors of Venice lament the overwhelming number of daytrippers and visitors, who are threatening to turn the city into Disneyland for adults. You’ll struggle to escape the crowds while in Venice, but in Campo Santa Margherita in Dorsoduro, a small slice of local Venetian life remains. Finish your first day in Venice here with an aperitivo and a long, leisurely dinner in one of the many bars and restaurants lining the square. Try Osteria alla Bifura for hearty local fare or Ai Sportivi for pizza. Barflies and partygoers have plenty to choose from here as well – a local college crowd transforms the area with bright nightlife.
Where to stay in Venice
Venice is divided into a few different sections – the area around Saint Mark’s Square is the most central and correspondingly hosts the most expensive hotels and accommodation options. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, make a reservation at the Westin Europa & Regina, arriving in style by vaporetto right to the hotel’s canal front. The hotel is posh and glamourous, with an unbeatable location. For a midrange option, the 3-star Hotel Le Isole is great value for money. A charming, boutique hotel located a stone’s throw from St Mark’s Square. Rooms are elegantly furnished with leather headboards, brocade and marble bathrooms, and on warm mornings Continental breakfast is served in the internal courtyard.
If you’re looking to fit in with the locals a little more, try one of the modern, well equipped rooms at Corte 1321 in Cannaregio, closer to the train station and very handy for transfers to airports and the mainland. Rooms are light and bright, and there’s a private courtyard for you to relax in with a bottle of wine at the close of day.
3 days in Venice | Day 2
With only 3 days in Venice, you’ll need to get up early today to catch sunrise over the Grand Canal from the Molo. The silver lining? On your walk over to Saint Mark’s Square, give yourself permission to stop at every bakery that’s just opening and treat yourself to a freshly baked cornetto (or two, or three), warm, flaky croissants filled with apricot jam.
In the early hours Venice belongs only to our footfalls, the sunlight that illuminates wet stones and San Maggiore across the lagoon, the reflection of bobbing gondolas moored by the Molo, the gaudiness of the Basilica.
Don’t tarry too long after sunrise. Head over to the Rialto Bridge, where on most mornings you’ll find the fresh produce markets, a colourful spectacle filled to bursting with fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread, and meat. Browse slowly, savouring the sights and smells.
There’s a butcher selling sfilaccio cavallo – horse steaks and rabbits hanging in shop windows, skinned and ready for the selling; rows of sculptural artichoke hearts, lemons from Spain, oranges from Tuscany; leafy vegetables stacked in rows; round apples and dusky pears; piles of strawberries and braids of onions and dried peppers tied to stall awnings, all unloaded by the crate from the canal onto the market proper – everything in Venice comes by water.
A fountain overflows into basins set at its base, which is used for soaking vegetables and washing fruit for sale. The Venetians come to buy flowers, fish, horse, poultry, fruit, vegetables. Dogs on leashes greet each other, excited by the smell and scent of a million exciting things.
Nearby, the Pescheria, Fish Market is filled with the smell of the sea and the sharp, metallic taste of red blood. There is a whole tuna, laying large across ice; vongole – clams – netted in bundles; still-jumping fish drowning in the air; tiny anchovies in a smear of silver; blinking crabs; lobsters with their claws tied shut; crayfish and bugs and flatfish and red salmon and mackarel and steaks of swordfish, razorclams and diver-harvested scallops and oysters waiting to be freshly shucked.
After the colour and excitement of the market, check out the Rialto Bridge, one of four bridges that span the Grand Canal. Dating from the 16th century, the bridge is wide enough for shops and tall enough for galleys to pass under it. Considered to be one of the symbols of Venice, the Rialto is a must-see on any Venice travel itinerary. You can cross over the Rialto Bridge but for lunch, make sure you stay on the west side. Hunt down Osteria alla Ciurma or Osteria Bancogira for good value cichetti in local surrounds.
The highlight of Venice is finding your own discoveries in its winding streets. In the afternoon, throw away the map and wander where your feet take you. There are shops selling antiques and dusty leathery books, bookshops with books piled into a black gondola inside the building, artisan stores selling handmade paper, picturesque cafes to stop for an espresso in, traditional mask shops selling authentic papier mache, made-in-Venice masks.
When you’re ready for a rest, follow the yellow signs and slowly make your way back towards San Marco, and stop for an expensive coffee at Florian. The 17th century coffee house was the place to see and be seen in for hundreds of years – it does not feel much different in the present day.
Water, light, colour, perfume, escape, disguise, license are gold spun and stitched into the skirts she trails across her stones by day and spreads over her lagoon in the never-quite-blackness of her nights.
At night, take a vaporetto towards Cannaregio, one of Venice’s local districts, for dinner at Trattoria Casa Mia. The restaurant is usually filled to bursting with families, so if you’re heading there on the weekend, reserving in advance is recommended. Try the deep fried white bait and pasta in squid ink.
3 days in Venice | Day 3>
On the last of your 3 days in Venice, take a short day trip to Burano and Murano, to visit glassblowers and lace-makers, the source of much of Venice’s famous goods. Alternatively, for sunseekers, catch the No.1 vaporetto and head to the Lido, the 11km stretch of beach across the lagoon. There are lots of hotels, cafes and bars here, as well as a public beach.
For your last dinner in Venice, do as the Venetians do and indulge in the local version of a bar crawl, only with cichetti. Head to Do Mori, a Venetian institution with a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that dates back centuries. Don’t give in to all the delicious offerings on the counter – keep some of your appetite for All’Arco, Do Spade, Bancogiro and Merca, which are all within walking distance and in the area.
Love, secrets, darkness and mystery. Venice warms you with her beauty, delights you as she dances with the moon and light and water