Planning Your Perfect Day
For the following itinerary, you’ll get around on foot, using waterbuses, or vaporetti, at least once (twice if you go to the Accademia). Vaporetto tickets (good for 75 minutes after validation) are euro 7.50 per trip. You can buy tickets at machines or kiosks at the dock itself–make sure you validate (stamp) all tickets in the yellow machines at the docks before getting aboard. You can also pay the conductors onboard (find them immediately upon boarding, or risk a steep fine).
It’s not worth getting a 24-hour ACTV travel card (euro 20) for waterbuses for this itinerary, unless you plan to use the vaporetti to get to and from the Rialto (where this itinerary starts and ends). If you plan to take three trips or more in one day, buy the travel card. The good news is that water transportation is efficient and fast in Venice. It’s relatively straightforward getting to the Rialto, so you should be able to complete this itinerary regardless of where you stay.
If you're interested in working a visit to Venice into a longer itinerary, consider this 14-day trip that covers many of Italy’s highlights. For more tips on visiting the country and how to spend your time here, check out the Best Time of Year to Visit Italy or How Many Days Should You Spend in Italy?
7:30 am - Visit the Rialto market
Get an early start by perusing the stalls of the Mercato di Rialto, on the waterfront just north of the Rialto Bridge. At this time of day, the fresh fruit and vegetables section, and the fish market just beyond, are largely devoid of tourists, the air thick with the cries of sellers and haggling locals.
Grab a coffee, panini or pastry (the local breakfast) at one of the no-frills cafés around here – Bar Rialto da Lollo or Pescaria are solid options. Before heading back to the Rialto Bridge be sure to pay your respects at Il Gobbo (“The Hunchback”), a quirky 16th-century statue in Campo San Giacomo di Rialto, once used as a podium for official proclamations.
8:30 am - Cruising the Grand Canal
From the Rialto waterbus dock take the no.1 vaporetto south along the Grand Canal (the boat should be traveling right to left) – try and stand at the front or back for the best views. This section of the city’s primary thoroughfare is lined with some of its most opulent mansions, including Ca’ Rezzonico, where Robert Browning, the poet, passed away in 1889, and Lord Byron’s former digs, Palazzo Mocenigo. Your ultimate destination is Piazza San Marco – you should aim to be at the Basilica around 9.15am. If you are making good time, take no.1 to the “Arsenale” stop and stroll back to St Mark’s along the Riva promenade, taking a peek at the Bridge of Sighs on the way.
9:30 am - Piazza San Marco & Basilica di San Marco
It’s time to tackle the city’s major showstopper, Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), which by now will already be teeming with visitors. No matter – it’s one of Europe’s most spectacular public spaces, dominated by the exotic pile of Basilica di San Marco itself. Make sure you book “Skip the Line” tickets for 9.30am in advance.
Take your time inside, as there is a lot to see. The present church was completed in 1094, resembling a Byzantine palace more than a Roman Catholic cathedral, with a cavernous interior gilded with mosaics. The high altar’s green marble canopy is believed to cover the remains of St. Mark himself, while the Pala d’Oro (Golden Altarpiece) is a Gothic treasure encrusted with precious gems and enameled panels. Don’t miss the “Madonna di Nicopeia,” a bejeweled icon looted from Constantinople and exhibited in its own chapel. Also worth a visit is the Tesoro (Treasury), a collection of more crusaders’ plunder from the Middle East.
The Palazzo Ducale is the other major attraction near the piazza, but if you tackle that today you’ll hit Renaissance overload before lunch. It's worth grabbing an expensive coffee at Caffè Florian instead, taking in the frenetic scene on the piazza and enjoying the lavish decor of the city’s oldest café (open since 1720).
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
11:30 am - Teatro La Fenice
Depart the Piazza San Marco to the west, strolling by the astonishing façade of San Moisè church and on to the sumptuous Teatro La Fenice for a self-guided tour. One of Italy’s most famous opera houses (it ranks third after La Scala in Milan and San Carlo in Naples), La Fenice was originally constructed in 1792 but has been completely rebuilt twice after major fires.
1 pm - Lunch at Da Fiore
Break for lunch at Da Fiore, a typically laid-back Venetian trattoria. Everything on the menu is good, especially classics such as squid ink pasta, but look out for the local specialty, moeche (soft-shell crab), usually served during two main seasons (March to April and October through November). If you want to keep it quick, visit the bar next door, the Bacaro di Fiore, which has been here since 1871. The bar serves cheap wine and cicchetti, Venice’s version of tapas – fried sardines, marinated squid, crostini and the like.
From here it’s a short walk down to the Grand Canal and the Accademia for an afternoon of serious art appreciation. If you’d rather keep walking, take a loop back from here to the Rialto area, perhaps stopping at Ca’ Rezzonico, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco with its magnificent frescoes by Tintoretto, or the “i Frari” church, a gargantuan 14th-century Gothic basilica containing two Titian masterpieces. You could also stop at one of many campos (squares) to enjoy a leisurely spritz, the Venetian classic cocktail of prosecco and orange-flavored Aperol.
2:30 pm - Gallerie dell’Accademia
One of the highlights of Venice, the Accademia is usually less busy in the afternoon, but you can always reserve tickets in advance, just in case. Take your time to soak up the museum’s priceless collection of European art. Some galleries will likely be closed–a massive renovation will be ongoing through 2021–but all the major works will be displayed somewhere. Venetian masters Tintoretto, Titian, Bellini and Tiepolo feature heavily, as does Veronese, whose mammoth “Feast in the House of Levi” is not be missed. Look out also for Giorgione’s enigmatic “Tempest”.
If the Annunciations and Assumptions start to blur, you’ve probably had enough. Hop on to the no.1 vaporetto at the dock outside the museum and cruise back up to the Rialto–it’s time for a drink.
5:30 pm - Aperitivo
Aperitivo (early evening drinks, served with snacks) is one of the great Italian traditions. In Venice the snacks are called cicchetti, traditionally eaten standing up with a glass of wine or prosecco in a tiny local bar known as bàcari. You’ll see them everywhere, but north of the Rialto are a couple of especially historic establishments.
Do Mori has been in business since 1462 (it has antique copper pots hanging from the ceiling to prove it), a small, dimly lit bàcari that knocks out tasty baby octopus, salty anchovies and tramezzini (tiny sandwiches). Eat, drink, then move on to Do Spade, which, astonishingly, has been around since 1415; Casanova was a regular. You can sit on benches outside if it’s too crowded indoors, munching on small plates of fried calamari, mozzarella and salted cod.
7 pm - Rooftop Views from T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
As sunset approaches head back over the Rialto Bridge to T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a grand Venetian palazzo turned super posh department store, crammed with fancy boutiques (it’s usually open until 8pm). The secret here is the Rooftop Terrace, offering the most sensational view across the rooftops and spires of Venice. It’s worth making reservations for the terrace in advance in peak season (on the store website). Still hungry? Grab a more formal meal at the elegant cafe/restaurant here, AMO.
8 pm - Drinks and Live Music
Venice isn’t really known for nightlife, but there are plenty of wine bars and pubs tucked away off the main streets. The alleys around T Fondaco dei Tedeschi feature a couple of gems: Osteria all’Alba, a divey bar smothered in scribble graffiti, known for live bands, cocktails and craft beers; and the Rusteghi Wine Bar, a quieter spot with a carefully curated wine list and great snacks. At weekends bars stay open to 1 am or 2 am.
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