In Part 3 of our Italy vacation, I discussed our day trip to Tuscany. After Tuscany, we had one more day in Florence before we took the train to our next destination, Venice! Venice is a place like no other. The winding streets, picture-perfect canals, and vast lagoon were everything I wanted and more. However, Venice can get pretty crowded so a few days in Venice can be more than enough. Here’s what we did with our 48 hours in Venice.
Day 1: Seeing the Major Sights
We got to the train station by 11:00am and starting navigating our way on foot from Santa Lucia to St. Mark’s Square. Our hotel, the JW Marriott, is located on a separate island, so we wanted to catch the free shuttle boat to the hotel to check-in before sightseeing. Navigating the crowds of Venice with luggage is quite the experience (aka frustrating AF)! For this reason, I recommend carrying a backpack (this is my favorite). After checking in at our hotel, we took the boat back to St. Mark’s and let our Venetian adventure begin!
St. Mark’s Campanile
We joined the short line to go to the top of the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square. Unlike Giotto’s Bell Tower in Florence, you get to take the elevator to the top of this one. You may notice that the bell tower looks sort of new. Unfortunately, the original structure from the 1500s collapsed and was rebuilt in 1912. The views from the top are gorgeous so I highly recommend it even though it isn’t the original historic tower.
A Quick Bite to Eat and the Rialto Bridge
After the bell tower, we grabbed pasta to go from Dal Moro’s. Basically, you pick your sauce and toppings and they serve it up fresh in a white to-go container. The pasta was cheap and delicious! This is a great option if you’re looking for delicious food fast. I got the pesto and my fiancé got the bolognese. The guy at the restaurant made us promise to eat it right away because it’s best fresh. It’s hard to find a place to sit in the tiny streets of Venice, but we found a wall to lean against and enjoyed our piping hot meal.
After lunch, we walked over to the famed Rialto Bridge to check out the Grand Canal. The bridge was extremely crowded but the views of the Grand Canal are breathtaking. Venice is so unique that it’s hard to let the crowds take away that magical feeling.
Back to St. Mark’s
St. Mark’s Basilica was finished in 1092. We could really tell the difference in its design from the other large basilicas we saw in Rome and Florence. You can’t take pictures inside, but the main takeaway was that there’s gold…everywhere.
After the basilica, we went to the Doge’s Palace. For those who aren’t sure who the Doge is (e.g., me before visiting Venice), the Doge was the elected leader of the Republic of Venice for over 1,000 years. Doge’s were elected for life and lived and conducted all political business from the aptly named Doge’s Palace. It was not very busy so I don’t think you need to worry about getting Doge’s Palace tickets ahead of time. The tickets were a little expensive (20 euros) so you may wish to skip it if you are on a budget. The Doge’s apartments were closed so that was a little disappointing considering the steep ticket price. It’s still an interesting place to visit with lots of beautiful rooms and artwork. There’s a room full of medieval weapons and we saw some 20-year-old guys geeking out over what was there so if you’re into LARPing, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. The highlight of the Doge’s Palace for me was walking over the Bridge of Sighs and getting an inside look at the prison.
Expensive But You Gotta Do It
Gondola rides are a source of hot debate for people traveling to Venice. Some say it’s a touristy rip-off, while others say it’s a must-do activity. I initially was anti-gondola, but decided, hey, when in Venice! We paid 80 euros for our 30-minute gondola ride and it was actually so relaxing. You get to ride through the small canals you would never otherwise travel on. Seeing Venice from the canals is a much different experience than seeing it from land.
A few considerations when choosing a gondola:
- Avoid high tide. It can be difficult for the gondolier to navigate under bridges when the water is too high.
- Pick a gondola stand with fewer people. The gondola routes are generally the same so if it’s crowded, you’ll end up in a canal clogged with gondolas.
- Going at sunset sounds romantic, but if you want to get good pictures from the water, make sure there is plenty of sunlight because it gets dark between the buildings.
Getting Away from the Crowds
After our gondola ride, we walked across the Ponte dell’Accademia, the other bridge that crosses the Grand Canal. You can get much better pictures from here than the Rialto Bridge because there are far fewer people that venture over this way.
We crossed over here to go to the neighborhood Dorsoduro which was recommended by a friend of mine as a great place to escape the crowds. Dorsoduro has among the highest land area in Venice so it’s easier to walk around. There are also tons of bars with outdoor seating where you can grab a snack and a Spritz. If you need a break from the mad rush of tourists, Dorsoduro will not disappoint.
Day 2: Exploring the Venetian Lagoon
After a long day of sightseeing the night before, we took it easy in the morning by spending time at the beautiful infinity edge pool at the JW Marriott. We ventured over to the main island to explore a little more before our afternoon tour of Murano and Burano.
Checking Out Castello
It’s easy to get the main sights of Venice out of the way in a day, so we had the rest of our time to leisurely explore. We walked over to Castello where the former Venetian Arsenal was housed. The arsenal was home to several shipyards and armories which were crucial to the naval successes of the Venetian Republic in the second millennium AD. After walking around a bit, we grabbed lunch at an outdoor eatery, and headed back toward St. Mark’s to meet our tour group. We booked our tour to Murano and Burano through City Wonders for about $41 per person. You can take the Vaporetto (public transportation boat) to both islands, but we figured this would be easier. Basically, we got lazy and didn’t want to deal with figuring out how to get around ourselves).
Murano, Home of Glassmakers Extraordinaire
We took a private boat to Murano as our tour guide gave us some history of the area. We pulled up to a glass-making studio and were brought inside for a demonstration. This was another reason I wanted to book a tour rather than exploring on our own. The glassmaker made a vase and a figurine of a horse in record time and with such ease. After, we got to explore the showroom.
Did you ever see a colorful glass statue at one of your friend’s parent’s houses and think, “wow, that’s ugly”. Chances are they got it in Murano and it cost several thousand dollars. I have a huge amount of respect for the glassmakers, but I was shocked by the prices in the showroom! I think it goes without saying, but I didn’t make any purchases in Murano.
We walked around Murano for about half an hour. The town is somewhat sleepy, but a good break from the crowds of Venice.
The Colorful Island of Burano
Burano is known for its colorful houses and handmade lace. Our first stop was a demonstration with a lacemaker. Burano lace is very intricate and takes months to complete a small doily. Each lacemaker is a master of a certain stitch. After she finishes her work, the lacemaker will pass it on to the next lacemaker who will complete the next type of stitch. Due to the time-intensive process, Burano lace is quite expensive. It is mainly sold as decorative pieces that are framed.
We had some free time to explore Burano and take some pictures of the pretty houses. On our ride back to Venice, we took a scenic route and the guide told us more about the history of the area and recent efforts to prevent the rising sea level from destroying Venice.
Overall, I recommend this tour because it gives you more context into what you will see in Murano and Burano. If we had gone on our own, I think we would have been like, that’s it?
Another Delicious Dinner
After our tour, it was time for our reservation at Osteria Alla Staffa. Doing a little research and making reservations before you go will ensure you have quality meals in each place you visit. I was so glad I’d made this reservation. Osteria Alla Staffa is a little place with a lot of atmosphere and a delicious menu. There are some good seafood options if you’re looking for a Venetian classic. The food here inspired my fiancé to come up with a “chef in-residence” concept restaurant where we try to lure the chef from Osteria Alla Staffa to come back to cook in Boston for a year. I’ll let you know if we ever get this idea off the ground…
Writing this post is actually making me nostalgic for Venice which is strange because I rarely get like that after a vacation. I think that’s a sign that Venice does have something about it that’s truly magical. I don’t think Venice is a very livable city, but it’s the perfect escape from reality. I can see why it’s overrun with tourists! Stay tuned for my last trip report from Italy…Milan.