Built on a grand total of 118 islands, Venice is one of a kind. There are no cars or roadways, just canals and boats. Its stone palaces seemingly rise out of the water. Its mesmerizing beauty, quaint alleyways, and rich culture set it apart from any other city in the world. Truman Capote once said, “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” Because Venice is so small, it is entirely possible to get a good experience in a short visit. I have laid out a four day itinerary that will allow you to see the best of the best.
Day 1 – Typico Venezia
When you first arrive to your hotel, get out and about so you get to know the city and how to get around the different bridges and canals. It’s time to wander the alleyways, drink wine in sunny piazzas, and sample cicchetti in tiny bars along the canals.
You will notice that the different islands are connected by a number of bridges. Some of these are better known than others, namely the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) and Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto). The Bridge of Sighs was built back in the 1600s and got its name from the prisoners who sighed as they crossed it into the jail. The Rialto Bridge is the city’s oldest bridge and, at one stage, was the only point of crossing over the Grand Canal (the city’s flagship canal). The Rialto Bridge is particularly special as it has been built a total of seven times!
Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square, the city’s only true square) is where you are bound to go on your first night in Venice. It is the city’s main tourist haunt and full of cafés which frequently have bands playing. In comparison to other European cities, and in particular other Italian cities, Venice is a bit tamer at night. Rather than landing yourself on the nearest bar stool and tanking up on the bar’s selection of beers and spirits, instead you could find yourself in the cafés. This isn’t too bad, though, as they usually serve alcohol late, just like a pub.
Between activities, I recommend taking advantage of the amazing shopping and dining options. There will be plenty to choose from – just get out and explore. But if you want some tips see below:
- Make like the Venetians and go to one of the traditional bacari bars for great-value wine by the glass, plus delicious cichetti, the local version of tapas. Two of the best are Cantina Do Mori (Calle dei Do Mori 429, San Polo) and Antica Adelaide
- A young and lively crowd head to Muro Vino e Cucino for (very) late drinks. Also check out the numerous cool bars around Campo Santa Margherita
- Another street aligned with bars cafés and restaurants is the Strada Nova. What’s most appealing about this street is that is virtually tourist free and here you will feel like a true Venetian. The street is extremely picturesque.
For Shopping –
- For show stopping vintage Italian jewelry visit Le Gioie di Bortolo (Campo di San Bartolomeo 5536, San Marco)
- The best modern Murano glass is by Venini. For some breathtaking colors and shapes visit Veninis shop
- For beautiful leather gloves and top-quality cashmere (Campo San Luca 4269/b, San Marco)
- For enchantingly quirky homewares visit Caigo da Mar
- Ca’Macana – For the best mask store in Venice (Calle delle Botteghe, Dorsoduro 3172,30123)
Day 2 – Take it in: Art, Churches, and Canals
St. Mark’s Square or Piazza San Marco is also a great place to burn a few hours during the day. Once described by Napoleon as “the finest drawing room in Europe”, it is different to other squares in the world as it hasn’t been invaded by cars. Instead the completely pedestrian area is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Europe to sit down for a couple of hours and gather your thoughts. The pigeons are fun too!
If you’re not content with your jaw hitting the floor just once in the one morning, Basilica San Marco (St Mark’s Cathedral), which was built in 1094, will really take your breath away. Once you walk inside your senses will be working overtime just trying to take it all in. My favorite are the four horses that adorn the front of the basilica. These four bronze horses “Triumphal Quadriga” were placed on the façade following the sac of Constantinople in 1204. They were stolen by Napoleon in 1797 and returned in 1815. The originals are now placed inside the Basilica for conservation with replicas in their place.
Besides the basilica, there are so many other art galleries to explore. The Galleria dell’Accademia on Campo della Carita comes to mind. Although the building is falling apart, the work inside is beautiful. With an incredible collection of Venetian art including Paolo Veronese’s Christ in the House of Levi (originally known as The Last Supper), most of the works in the original gallery were taken from churches and convents that were under attack. Entrance to the gallery is limited to 300 at a time so lunch time is a good time to visit.
Whether you are a saint or a sinner, you have to visit some of the city’s churches. While they can’t match the beauty of the basilica in St Mark’s Square, they still have their own unique qualities. The gothic Chiesa Di Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frari (St. Mary’s Church, also known as the Frari) is probably the most magnificent and is where the ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ (painting by Titian) is housed. There are too many churches in Venice to mention them all, just make sure and try and see as many as possible.
Now they are quite expensive (around $80 an hour) but you can’t leave the city built on water without embarking on a Gondola. Travelling around the canals on one is the only way to complete your stay in Venice.
Day 3 – Tour and Opera
Today, maybe take a tour! I am not huge on tours usually but if you have a good tour guide/company, it makes all the difference. And because you have the time, it might be good to get some deeper knowledge of the city. For a tour guide, I recommend Luisella. She is the number 1 tour guide in Venice, so book early! Take a look at some of the tours she has to offer and see what interests you. I would personally be interested in the coffee and chocolate and Marionette tour – or maybe The Grand Canal and hidden waterways tour.
Another idea for a tour is a food and wine tour. These are some of my favorites as you get to know the local cuisine/wines and you get a better knowledge of the best foodie spots in the area. Urban Adventures has a top rated tour that happens twice per day. One in the late morning and one starting early evening. The tour only takes 2.5 hours and would leave you with plenty of time to go back and get ready for your night.
You could follow up your tour with a night at the Opera. Teatro La Fenice – which means The Phoenix. It is one of “the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre” as well as those in Europe. While the theater originally opened in 1793, it was especially prominent in the 19th century. La Fenice became the site of many famous operatic premieres. Unfortunately, and ironically, it was badly burned in 1996. In 650 days, a team of two hundred plasterers, artists, woodworkers, and other craftsman succeeded in recreating the ambiance of the old theatre at a cost of some €90 million.
Day 4 – Island Hopping: Murano and Burano
I think the easiest way is taking the Vaporetto to Murano from Piazza San Marco. Then, the same vaporetto will take you to Burano. You can stop first in Murano or Burano. Murano is bigger and you can spend 2-3 hours there. Burano is a very small island but is nicer than Murano. 1 hour visit would suffice. There are options to have a lunch in both places but the lunch is much much better in Burano.
Venice was the epicenter for creative glassmaking for centuries. Artisans lived and worked in the city until leaders decided the fire risk was too great and moved the glassmakers to Murano. Over centuries, creative glassmaking became Murano’s legacy. The island filled with furnaces pumping out heat and smoke, glassblowers worked in shops and studios molding and shaping swirls of colored glass into spectacular chandeliers, vases, figurines, beads and jewelry. Glass is Murano’s legacy and the reason tourists flock to the island in droves.
Murano is worth a visit if you are interested in glassmaking and/or shopping for unique souvenirs. If neither appeals to you, skip it and head to Burano. To get to Murano, catch the vaporetto 42 from the Fondamente Nuove near St. Mark’s Square. It will first stop at Isola di San Michele. It takes a total of 15 minutes to get to Murano.
When you stop at Murano, glass factory and studio representatives will greet passengers and you will be invited to come watch their craftsmen at work. Half of the passengers will trail off behind the representatives and the rest quickly disappeared down Murano’s main “road.” The pro with the factory tour is you will see a glass blowing demonstration – however you will also be subjected to salesmen trying to get you to the buy expensive glass products after the show. If this doesn’t sound appealing but you are still interested in the glass, you can tour the island on your own. You can wander along Murano’s main canal, admiring the beautiful glass in the shop windows. There will be many studios and shops selling glass, side by side, street after street, to explore. Youll find incredible waterside cafes with incredible views but the food will be forgettable. Get a drink and snack and wait to do lunch on Burano.
Get back on the same vaporetto to get to Burano, which will be a 30 minute ride. Burano is a fishing village known for its handcrafted lace and technicolor houses. The colors are heavily regulated (you have to write for permission before painting) and their origins disputed. Some say the houses were painted brightly so fisherman returning from sea could spot their houses through the fog. A less romantic version say the houses were painted distinctively so fishermen could find their way home after a night on the town. Whichever legend you choose to believe, the effect of the colors is indisputable. The jumble of colors and canals, crisp sheets flapping in the sea breeze, the low hum of fishing boats motoring through the canals give it an aura distinct from any other island. Burano is a special place. For food, you have to check out Trattoria Da Romano. While it may be on the pricey side, it is touted to have the best Risotto in Italy. Definitely a must.
When heading back remember the return boats from Burano can be busy and take about an hour to get back to Venice. I would allow about 6-8 hours for the entire day, depending how much time you take on each island.
While this itinerary is designed to stimulate all of your senses, feel free to switch it up. At the end of the day, you cant go wrong in Venice. Its mesmerizing beauty will captivate the heart and imagination. I sincerely believe everyone must visit this spellbinding city at least once in their lifetime.