When I first visited Venice, I expected to be slightly disappointed, thinking one of those places which has been over romanticised and built-up in expectations. And yet, despite the throngs of tourists, it still holds this certain old-world magic in its shabby winding lanes that I have not encountered anywhere else in this world. It’s so untouched by modernity in a way unlike anywhere else I have ever seen, giving it an unparalleled old world charm.
You don’t need long to take away an experience that will stay with you long after. I’ve visited here three times, all for short trips of one or two days, under varying circumstances. First as a student on a string budget, next after a cancelled flight following a business trip, and then my favourite trip, with my boyfriend (Matt), where we met up with my best friend and her family.
While a longer trip would give you ample time to take in everything this city has to offer at a leisurely pace, I think three days is a perfect amount of time to see everything you want to in this city.
DAY 1: Morning-Beat the Crowds
Start early and go straight to St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco). The square obviously gets overrun by tourists very quickly (although oddly I’ve never seen too many of the much-talked-about pigeons here). But when we went to enjoy it at around 9 am one morning, it was quiet, and the early morning light was perfect for photos. This gives you a chance to take everything in slowly, from impressive Byzantium-inspired St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco); the ornate Doge’s Palace, once Venice’s political and judicial hub; and Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower built between 1496 and 1506. St. Mark’s opens to visitors from 9:45, so you’ll be there earlier enough to beat the queues.
It will cost you a bit more than your normal brew (at about €9) but you could have your morning latte at one of the many surrounding cafes to take in all the sites and sounds of the city. When I was here on my own for a work trip, sitting in the sun and watching the bustle of the square was something I’ll never forget. Then follow it up by either popping inside another one of the nearby sites, or checking out the Museo Correr.
Make sure to stroll back by the square in the evening, taking in the bands playing in the background and the sunset over the canal.
Afternoon: Get Lost in the Streets
You’ll inevitably get lost somewhere along the maze that is Venice’s streets. Embrace it. Enjoy it. This can take you far from the beaten path and you can discover some really special places. You never know what you may find. Also, if you are looking take home some Murano glass or a new leather wallet, it is best done away from the Rialto Bridge or Piazzo San Marco, as prices are often hiked up on prime tourists routes.
All that wondering is sure to make you hungry and thirsty, so keep an eye out for pizza and aperitivo bars. And make sure to stop for photos when you cross over the always breathtaking Grand Canal.
Dinner: When you’ve gotten your bearings once again, slip over to the quiet Ristorante Antica Sacrestia on Calle della Corona, only a 5-minute walk from Piazza San Marco. The perfect place for a romantic dinner without breaking the bank, and they were kind enough to tolerate our relatively lively group when we came barrelling through their doors. Expect good quality classics and superb service, oh, and a wine list to die for.
Day 2: Morning: Visit a Museum
For museum lovers, you might feel spoilt for choice by what Venice has to offer, and luckily, even those who might usually rather spend their time shopping are likely to find one that piques their interest. My favourite was Gallerie dell’Accademia, featuring pre-19th-century art such as that from Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Canaletto. Go in the morning before it becomes too crowded to truly enjoy.
Afternoon: Take in the Views
Go to San Giorgio Maggiore and take the lift to the top of the 18th-century campanile to enjoy the view, which seems to be less crowded than the one in Piazza San Marco, yet you get a better birds-eye view of the network of islands that make up this one-of-a-kind city. To get there, take the number 2 vaporetto (water taxi) from the San Marco- San Zaccaria stop, and get off at the next stop. Enjoy looking out over Venice, seeing the way this unique city is put together.
Or, if you can’t help but take a gondola ride, now is the time to go, but be wary of being price gouged. I’m still yet to take a gondola and I don’t regret it (and my wallet probably thanks me).
Dinner: Head back through Piazza San Marco, towards Trattoria Al Gazzettino, reasonably priced, great atmosphere, and who can say no to a few complimentary drinks?
Day 3: Morning: Enjoy the Waterfront
Spend the morning leisurely wondering along the Canale de San Marco, starting from Piazzo San Marco, down the Riva degli Schiavoni. When I was last there, Matt and I grabbed an early lunch to go and a quiet bench in Giardini Reali, a rare moment on our trip to truly relax.
Afternoon: Take a Boat Ride to Burano
A little village lined with candy-coloured houses, perfect for some Instagram-ready shots (#nofilter). Take the boat back to Venice around sunset for some romantic views along the water. Grab dinner while you are there, stopping by Al Gatto Nero Da Ruggero.
Boats to Burano depart from the San Zaccaria stop (near St. Mark’s), taking about 45 minutes, and leaves once an hour, though check the timetables, there was a strike on when we went and it was a bit confusing!
No matter how long you stay, or how you pass the hours in this enchanting city, it is sure to stay with you long after. Apart from my home in London, I’ve been here the most out of any European city, and after my three visits, I still look forward to returning again.