Venice is known as La Serenissima or The Most Serene One in Italian. Shaped like a fish, this is a true maritime city that sometimes feels as if it is not on the water, but in the water. As such, the changeable climate gives the city her humours. With luck, you may see her adorned by crystal clear blue skies in the middle of winter, or you may alternatively witness her charms through a veil of thick fog. Not to worry, with a little bit of planning the city will enchant you, regardless of the prevailing weather.
Venice dominated the trade routes of the Mediterranean for centuries and the extent of Venetian power and influence is still evident in the architecture of diverse places such as the landlocked Italian city of Bergamo or the Greek port of Corfu. Of course, to appreciate the copies you first have to see the original, and an off-season weekend is the perfect opportunity to do just that…
Friday Evening: Arrival in Venice
19:00- Dinner and drinks in Canareggio
Fresh from the plane or train, this is your first evening in Venice. Therefore, it’s a good opportunity to taste some of the city’s nightlife. The district of Canareggio is where you might get the evening started. Paradiso Perduto (website in Italian), brought to you by a well-known local character called Maurice, is in a historic location and is highly recommended. Vino Vero (link to Facebook page) is much beloved by local youth and possibly less appreciated by the neighbours. It’s a lively spot to kickstart your night. Looking for a more relaxed option? Head down to Strada Nova and check out one of the little tavernas on the side streets.
9:00- Coffee with an old world ambiance
Caffè Florian is a legend in coffee!
This Piazza San Marco institution first opened its doors in 1720. In fact, it is the world’s oldest coffee house. Where better place to get your caffeine fix? Orchestral music still hums in the background, although you should not be surprised to hear many of the customers speaking Mandarin Chinese these days. After all, old Europe is not quite the centre of world finance it once was and a coffee at Caffè Florian comes at a price.
To be honest, the coffee itself is nothing special, but the decor seems as if it hasn’t changed that much from the day when the cafe first opened its doors. The interior is bookended by trompe-d’oeil mirrors and the gold-edged frames of the classical pictures create the sensation of sitting in the centre of a period piece. Waiters in suits serve coffee and cakes on silver trays. Add in the Chinese customers and it feels like walking onto a Mittel Europa period piece film set with 21st century extras.
Expect to pay 20-25 euro for a cup of coffee and cake!
10:30-Walk through the heart of Venice
With your wallet considerably lighter after the morning coffee, start exploring Venice from its centre- Piazza San Marco. Make sure to walk around the square to admire the stunning buildings. The onion-shaped domes of Basilica di San Marco dominate the cityscape and imprint a touch of the orient on the traditional centre of the city.
This is tourist central, so don’t spend too long here. Get away and see the city! The route up to Ponte di Rialto will take you through alleys and over canals where you will see the ubiquitous gondolas. It’s a pleasure just to wander, occasionally stopping in a shop to browse. Take your time and take in your surroundings.
Ponte di Rialto, once you reach it, is another place that will enchant you. Completed in 1181, it was built as the main artery to cross the Grand Canal. Make sure to stop at the top to admire splendid views of the canal and to take the pics that will turn the folks back home green with envy. Across the bridge, you will find a busy market area. Again, this is another place where you could spend a long time just browsing. Wander into the side alleys. Explore and adore!
If you have time, try to visit the fish market, a touch of true tradition in touristy Venice. This is, needless to say, the ultimate maritime city and much of its original food traditions would have been fish-based. Expect colour and come armed with a camera and a tolerance for the smell of fresh fish!
Head to Fondamente Nove to take the 4.2 vaporetto (water bus) to Murano. Be warned that it is a place where you could easily spend an entire afternoon. By now, you should be feeling quite hungry, so swing by Art Café and Food (Facebook Page) at 35/a-36 Fondamenta Vetrai. This stylish joint is a real foodies’ destination. A sandwich should cost around 5 euro and they also sell a wide selection of teas, coffees and ice creams. You should definitely check out the retail section where the food products are presented as works of art to adorn your kitchen back home. According to the manager, there are plans to provide Italian cooking classes here in the future. Watch this space!
There is more to Murano than just food! After all, this is one of Europe’s oldest centres of glass making. Visit the shops and workshops where you can see live demonstrations of the art. See a piece being made from beginning to end. If crystal is your thing, then just shop till you drop. Hopefully, leave some time to visit your next destination- Burano.
Take vaporetto line 12 to get there from Murano.
Burano was a fishermen’s island. Venice being a foggy place in winter, they painted their houses bright colours so that returning fishermen could recognise them, regardless of the weather conditions. The result is a kaleidoscope of pastel colours. For that reason alone, Burano is well worth a visit. However, there is more! The island also developed a tradition of lace making that has continued to the present day. Visitors will find shops selling intricate lace products of every type. If that was not enough, there are some excellent restaurants. Trattoria al Gatto Nero is considered a great spot for lovers of fish dishes. Note that address!
19:00- Start planning your night out in Venice
After all of that sightseeing, you may want to let your hair down. With tourists from all over the world, Venice is busy, even at night. Venice Jazz Club in Dorsoduro attracts rave reviews online. Otherwise, the area near Ponte di Rialto is home to some lively bars. Many argue that Pizzeria Megaone (Facebook Page), a stone’s throw from there, serves the best pizza in the city. Line your stomach there before hitting the bars near the bridge. However, try not to overdo it so that you can make the most of your next day in Venice!
10:00- La Giudecca
After a long breakfast at your hotel or at the highly recommended Al Parlamento in Cannaregio, it’s time to set off on your travels again. The spires of Giudecca beckon from across the Grand Canal. Although you always see it from a distance, why not take the opportunity to get to know it close up? Vaporettos leave from San Zaccario (100m from Piazza San Marco) and the views back from Giudecca are sure to leave indelible memories. Not in the humour for too much walking? Then, sit at a window in a café and enjoy the same great views from your seat. Should you want to explore, the area has a more relaxed and authentic feel than other places in the city.
12:30- Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Ready for some art and culture? Visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum which houses a dazzling collection of modern art including greats such as Mondrian, Dali, Miro and Giacometti. Peggy Guggenheim, a socialite of the famous New York family who was married to Max Ernst, moved to Venice where she amassed her impressive collection. The building was her home of and it is suitably modernist. Travelling in a country renowned for its art, this is a must-see stop in Venice. Art lovers, beware! You will be in paradise…
Tickets cost 15 euro and there are reductions for students and pensioners. Take vaporetto line 1 or 2 and get off at the Accademia stop.
15:00- Late lunch near the station
All good things must come to an end. The question is: How can you finish off your trip in suitable style? Collect your bags and have a traditional Italian meal at Trattoria Il Vagone, which is only a stone’s throw from Santa Lucia Railway Station. Eat simple and traditional Italian food with the comfort of knowing that you will not have to run to catch your train or the water taxi to the airport.
18:00: Getting away
Venice Marco Polo Airport has links to most major Italian and European airports. Also, Delta runs seasonal flights from the US via JFK and Atlanta. To get to and from the airport you can take a water bus (13 euro one way) or a regular bus that will drop you off in Piazzale Roma, near to Santa Lucia Railway Station.
Note: If you need to take a water taxi to or from the airport, you can expect to pay in excess of 100 euro.
Trenitalia runs high-speed Freccia Rossa trains to and from most major Italian cities. Booking well in advance should help to cut costs. The fastest trains reach Venice from Milan (2 hours), Rome (4 hours), Florence (2 hours) and Naples (5 hours).
You can book trains directly on the Trenitalia website.
Venice is unique. That is part of its charm. However, being an open-air museum comes with a downside. The presence of tourists in the city year-round means that costs are higher than average, particularly in or around Piazza San Marco. Also, being a city like no other, water buses cost a lot more than the regular transport options that you find in other cities. One way fares cost €7.50. One day, two day and three tickets cost €20, €30 and €40 respectively.
Accommodation is another serious concern in Venice. Again, booking well in advance will allow you to score the best deals. On my last visit, I stayed in Giusy’s Air BnB in Cannaregio (Fondamenta dei Mori). It was clean, comfortable and good value. Additionally, it was also well-located in terms of proximity to Santa Lucia Railway Station. Obviously, choosing a place close to the city’s main tourist centres will mean paying higher prices. True budget travellers, on the other hand, may want to look at options on the Lido or in the mainland town of Mestre. Just remember that you may miss out on some of the magic of staying in the city.
Click here to get more tips on how to make the most of your time in Venice.