3-5 Day Travel Itinerary: Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy is the most glorious, ramshackle, magical place you will ever visit. This 3-5 day Working Joe Travel Itinerary will help you see it all.
No moment can compare with Joe and I’s first trip down the Grand Canal. Just the mention of the name, 'Venice,' and we smile at the recollection. The water taxi ride was a spectacular start to the adventure. Leaving the Santa Lucia train station in a teak motoscafi (speedboat), we skimmed across a choppy highway of water.
Bridges arched gracefully in side canals, sometimes 3 or 4 stacked in the distance. There were gleaming 5-star hotels nestled next to moldy mansions. Stoplights directed the heavy boat traffic. Red and white poles pulled our eyes to the gondola stands.
We learned on the ride that Venice must be seen from a variety of perspectives. Whether exploring by ferry, foot, or rooftop the city tells a different story from every angle. To truly make friends with the city you must brush against the buildings covered in latticework and graffiti; cross the brick, iron, and marble pedestrian bridges; and eat under the colorful café awnings that line the narrow canals.
Venice is not sleek or well ordered. It is exotic, messy, and full of contrasts. World-class hotels tower over neat pensiones (guesthouses). A couple of streets behind high-end retailers, laundry hangs from windows lined with flowerpots. A short distance from the crush of human bodies at Piazza San Marco, neighborhood children ride bikes in Campo San Polo.
It is difficult to explain what is so romantic about Venice. The people are human, the shops carry familiar goods, and the canals are filled with plain seawater. Yet, the municipality exudes a sense of beauty, mystery, and intrigue that is unmatched. It is rare to experience moments of shared wonder as a couple; and no matter how jaded, this city is sure to trigger at least a few. Perhaps that is the magic and magnificence of Venice.
This 3-5 day Working Joe Travel Itinerary is a handy trip planner for exploring Venice. The itinerary is designed as a self-paced, tour-free walking route. There are only two ways to get around this vacation destination; by foot or by boat. This itinerary makes use of both and requires you to navigate stairs, cobblestones, pedestrian bridges, and boat docks. Finally, Venice is a busy place. Therefore, we have tried to balance being in the thick of hectic crowds with time spent at less frenetic destinations.
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Day 1: Grand Canal, San Marco, and Riva Schiavoni
Upon arrival in Venice, treat yourself to a water taxi ride down the Grand Canal. Locate a yellow “taxi” pendant, and hop aboard a speedboat to cruise along one of the most glamorous waterways in the world. On the 3.5 km route, you will pass a myriad of palazzi (mansions) and marble churches.
Check into your lodgings. Grab your camera and begin your walking tour of Venice's historic district at the Ponte dell Accademia. The wooden bridge on the southern end of the Grand Canal is one of four primary bridges that link the two sides of the city. Take time to snap a few photos of the canal from the mid-point of the bridge.
Head into San Marco, the oldest sestieri (district) in the city. You will soon come to Campo Santo Stefano, and the 14th century Chiesa di Santo Stefano. Hotels, shops and cafés line the square. Take a walk through Santo Stefano. Built in 1442, inside the church there are works by Tintoretto. After your tour, grab a snack. Sit and enjoy the relative tranquility of this part of town.
From Santo Stefano, make your way to the La Fenice Opera House. Stop and enjoy an opera house tour. The building’s stately white façade is in stark juxtaposition to its opulent burgundy and gold interior. Journeying about, you will walk past splendid painted stuccos and learn the secrets of the theater.
From La Fenice, it is a short walk to the Piazza San Marco. Entering the piazza on its west end, walk straight to the middle of the piazza. Pause to take some pictures of the Basilica di San Marco, the Campanile, and Palazzo Ducale. This is the heart of old Venice (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Drink it in. If the lines are not too long, climb the Campanile’s Bell Tower. When you are through, exit toward the Grand Canal. It will be growing late in the day by now.
Turn east on the Riva Degli Schiavoni. As sunset falls, stroll the waterfront promenade from the Palazzo Ducale to the Arsenale (or until you tire). To your left, you will see palaces begin to glow as lights twinkle on. To your right, observe the gondolas as they bob along the canal. Stop for dinner at one of the restaurants with tables positioned near the water. Enjoy a drink and toast your good fortune.
On the way back to your hotel, pause once more in the Piazza San Marco. At night, after the crowds thin and the atmosphere changes. The shops remain open for gifts and gelato. Diners eat and drink in open-air restaurants. Around the piazza orchestras play. Pure whimsy and delight!
Day 2: Piazza San Marco, Rialto, and San Polo Walking Tour
Gear up for a big day. Locate the tickets you have previously reserved, and set out early. Travel to the Piazza San Marco. Find the entrance line of for the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), and get in it.
Built in a Venetian-Gothic style, this ornate palace served as the home of the doge and the seat of the city’s government for centuries. Your entry ticket allows you into a series of staterooms, the doge’s apartment, and a prison. There are opulent staircases, secret passages, rooms full of armaments, and priceless artwork. Its educational, awe-inspiring, and a hoot. Just go!
Exiting the Doge’s Palace, cross the piazza to the Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s). Enjoy the wait in line by taking photos of its intricate marble-clad exterior. The carvings, sculptures, and turrets pop against the bold blue sky.
A warm golden light bathes you upon entering the basilica. Every vestige of the interior is so detailed that you will not want to leave one spot to move on to another. Try not to let the crowd push you forward as you take in the domes, mosaics, and the sarcophagus of St. Mark.
By now, Piazza San Marco will be very crowded. Leave the piazza on the northwest side. Make your way through the packed streets toward the Rialto Bridge. Do not worry about getting lost. The signage is good, and the press of people will show you the way. This is a ‘touristy’ section of the city. Do not fight it. For the most part, touristy means fun. Secure your valuables and set forth. Enjoy the street vendors and splashy store windows.
When you get to the Rialto Bridge, find a spot along the railing and people watch for a while. Then, pivot, and let yourself be amazed at the volume of boat traffic on the Grand Canal (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). Finish crossing the bridge, and move into the San Polo district. If it is before 1 o’clock, walk straight to the Mercati di Rialto. Produce, flowers, wine and cheese will stock the stalls of this lively market. Even after 1pm, some stalls remain open as well as a number of restaurants and bars.
If you miss the market, consider heading to Riva del Vin. This is the area next to the Rialto Bridge. It is dotted with restaurants that offer seating on the canal for a memorable lunch.
After eating, set out on a route that takes you through the Campo San Polo (the largest square in Venice), and then on to the Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari. Built in 1250, the ‘Frari’ is an austere brick structure. Inside, however, the church comes alive with a soaring alter and many colorful masterpieces. Despite the amazing artwork and architecture that you will find in this part of the city, perhaps its greatest asset is how far away from the crowds of St. Marks it feels.
Tonight, take a Gondola Ride. Joe and I recommend a ride on the smaller canals that shoot-off of the Grand Canal. The gondola stand next to the Bauer Palazzo Hotel is an excellent location to try. No matter where you start, the boat’s polished lacquered exterior, padded seats, and oarsman will leave you feeling imperial. Do not consider the cost. Just relish where you are, and be grateful.
Day 3: San Polo and San Croce
Today, we throw structure out the window. Sleep in. Enjoy the view out of your hotel window. Take a long hot shower, and have breakfast in the picture-perfect little café you have been passing by.
Begin your exploration with a leisurely vaporetto (waterbus) ride. Joe and I suggest city Route #2. With approximately 20 stops along the way, Route 2 snakes along the Grand Canal. Then, after making stops at the nearby islands of Lido and Guidecca, it circles back around. The ride is a fun, inexpensive way to people watch and get an idea of the scope of the city.
Disembark the vaporetto at the Biasio station in Santa Croce. Spend the afternoon exploring the narrow pedestrian lanes and bridges that make up the districts of Santa Croce and San Polo. Forego a map, and turn in whatever direction appears most enticing. You will discover tiny neighborhood squares, hidden gardens, and picture-perfect canals with boats neatly lined on either side. Learn about a Venice that few others will see; one that will make you love her even more.
If you tire of aimless wandering, make your way to an area where artisans cluster. Take time to shop for locally made items. In San Polo find Calle Seconda dei Saoneri; or in Santo Croce look for Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini. On these streets, you can bargain hunt for marbled paper, Murano glass, and other treasures. And, be decadent. We recommend you buy desserts in several bakeries.
Tonight, get dressed up and go somewhere special for dinner.
Bonus Day 4 : Dorsoduro
In the morning, depending upon your interest in art, explore either the Galleria dell Accademia Museum or the Guggenheim Museum. Both institutions are located in Dousoduro within walking distance of the Ponte dell Accademia Bridge. Stretch your legs upon exiting the museum, and stroll down the Zattere. The paved walkway runs between the Punta della Dogama and the Stazione Marittima. As you walk along the beautiful promenade, stop to eat at one of the restaurants that line the way.
To end the day, tour the Santa Maria Della Salute with its huge dome, high alter and many notable paintings.
Bonus Day 5: Trip to Murano
Take a vaporetto, or book a tour, to the Island of Murano for a glass blowing demonstration.
Addio per ora (goodbye for now)! Laura and Randy
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