Teal-hued lagoons, grand palazzos and mouth-watering cuisine: no travel guide to Venice can properly explain the unique charm of Italy’s romantic water world. This one will try – bringing together a weekend in Venice itinerary that packs in everything from the iconic sights to outlandish mask stores and the world’s oldest café to help you make the most of your 72 hours in this dream-like destination.
What to do in Venice: Day One
One of the top things to see in Venice is the historic St Mark’s Square – and the best time to enjoy it is before it gets too busy. Make a beeline there bright and early to book your ticket to St Mark’s Basilica, so you can skip the lines and not spend your precious time waiting around.
If you’re doing a midweek getaway rather than a weekend break, you’ll get to hear a choral group perform around the Basilica – adding to the enchanting sensory experience as you study the shimmering mosaics inside.
Adjacent to Saint Mark’s is Doge’s Palace, once the mighty headquarters of Venice’s rulers. Beautiful works of art decorate the vast interior of this majestic construction, including Tintoretto’s godly masterpiece Paradise. As the largest oil painting in the world, it’s a big one to check off your arty bucket list.
If you think the palace is impressive, just wait until you see the Doge’s private chapel – a heart-stopping, gold-gilded icon that showcases Venice’s links with the East.
After an obligatory Instagram snap of the Bridge of Sighs – when you get there, your hand will instinctively reach for your phone camera – side-step into one of the most historic places to visit in Venice for lunch.
In fact, Caffé Florian is the most historic – because it’s the oldest café in the world. Treat yourself to daintily-filled smoked beef sandwiches, Norwegian salmon, or the English afternoon tea.
Having a list of vaporetto – or waterbus – routes is handy so you know how to get across the water. Take line 2 or 4.2 from San Zaccaria to San Giorgio Maggiore if you’re in the mood for some calm contemplation. As well as being far quieter than the holiday hotspots, it offers the added bonus of the best views of the whole of Venice – lagoons, islands and all. Take the elevator inside the church to the top of the campanile for some of the most spellbinding views you’ll ever experience.
Get back on the vaporetto (line 2) and head to Zitelle. Designed by Palladio in the late 16th century, Le Zitelle church was a former shelter for poor young women (zitelle meaning ‘old maids’ in Italian slang).
You’ll only get to take a peek inside if you’re spending a weekend in Venice, as it’s only open Sundays. If you’re visiting in the week, you should still go to check out the inspiring exterior. You could even book a luxurious spa treatment at the carefully restored convent – now a 50-room hotel – next door.
You won’t have to walk far to find a memorable dining experience, because there are plenty of world-class restaurants in Zitelle. Request a table under the golden ceiling of Oro Restaurant, designed by architect Adam D. Tihany. The dishes are like pieces of art themselves – Jackson Pollock-style extravaganzas that are artily decorated with sensational Italian flavors taken to imaginative heights.
What to do in Venice: Day Two
Your standard travel guide to Venice might not cover the beautiful islands of the lagoon, but it’s well worth spending a whole day exploring them all. A good place to start is in Murano, famous for its glass blowing displays.
Take a vaporetto to the Fondamente Nove stop and transfer to line 12, then hop off at Murano – you’ll soon get lost in the island’s picture-book charm. Loop the canals, try on masks in the many stores, and definitely see some glass blowing in action.
Look for the furnace signs (fornace in Italian) and watch the Venetian masters sculpt everything from vases to horses with astoundingly dexterous ease – giving you a delicate souvenir to take home with you.
Jump back onto line 12 and head to Burano, one of the most colorful places to visit in Venice, with rows of kaleidoscopic buildings painted in mint greens, brick reds, burnt apricots and more pink than Barbie’s bedroom.
Pull yourself away from the rainbow of houses if you can, because there’s some fascinating history to explore here. This was where lace-making once thrived – and it’s still going strong at Marina Vidal Venezia, where you can view the most delicate hand-stitched lace and bag yourself a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind souvenir.
With pan-seared pulpo, briny oysters and lemon-blasted razor clams on the menu, a weekend in Venice means plenty of seafood. Trattoria Da Romano is famed for its refined risottos and sparkling fish dishes – order the risotto with goby fish, and you’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time at this old-world Burano institution.
Torcello is next on the island-hopping itinerary. This island comes with a slightly macabre story – it was once a city larger than Venice, before the bubonic plague struck its inhabitants. Now all that’s left on the abandoned island today is its century-old, mosaic-filled cathedral.
For your evening meal, head to St Mark’s Square on the vaporetto. There’s no swisher way to enjoy Venetian fare than at Quadri. It’s not inexpensive, but totally worth it for the quality dining experience on offer – especially if you can bag a prime spot with a piazza view.
You may recognize the dazzling glass chandeliers from your Murano trip, but the food is unlike anything else – order the deep-fried langoustines or slow-cooked suckling pig. For a show-stopping dessert, Chef Massimiliano uses his culinary wizardry to make white chocolate and apricot purée look like a poached egg.
After dinner, make your way to the Venice Jazz Club in the Dorsoduro/Accademia neighborhood. An intimate venue that seats around 60 people, it’s a great place to round off the night with performances from top-notch musicians. Given its size – and popularity – it’s advisable to book tickets in advance.
What to do in Venice: Day Three
Finish your weekend in Venice like a local by setting your compass for Madonna dell’Orto church to the far north of the island. Inside you’ll find a stunning array of works by Venetian greats Tintoretto, Titian and Cima da Conegliano. Next, wander through the labyrinthine alleyways of the old Ghetto and hop on a vaporetto from San Marcuola to Rialto Mercato (line 1).
After you’ve immersed yourself in the hustle and bustle of Rialto’s fish market, head to Poste Vecie and sample produce cooked to perfection. The oldest restaurant in Venice, it’s been serving up seafood masterpieces since 1500.
The inky-black noodles with fresh crab meat are out-of-this-world, while the bowls of fried sardines with caramelized onions are also well worth sampling.
If you’re an art enthusiast, one of the best things to see in Venice is Punta della Dogana Gallery, one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world. On the vaporetto, take line 1 to Salute, and when you get off, head towards its big bronze globe. This triangular building, restored by minimalist Japanese architect Tadao Ando, is a piece of art in itself.
If you’re a keen walker, a simple pleasure in Venice is window-gazing while passing quaint antique shops in Salute. Stop when you reach Gusto in Abbazia. It’s a refined but laidback eaterie that offers a stunning view of the Grand Canal. Greeting you like an old friend, this restaurant plies you with succulent scampi, oodles of seafood spaghetti and show-stopping tiramisu.
Make no mistake, no weekend in Venice is complete without a romantic gondola ride. Shop around for the best prices – you may find the tourist-heavy areas more expensive, and rides elsewhere in the city cheaper.
Book your gondola and float down the Grand Canal, soaking up sights of the illuminated lagoon paradise. This serene travel experience will give you a completely different view of the city and, if you’re lucky, you may land yourself a singing gondolier.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Venice? Leave a comment on our Facebook page to give us your tips on how to make the most of a visit to this timelessly romantic city.