Meredith has traveled extensively and offers advice and life hacks to make your journey more enjoyable.
For those of you wondering if it's possible to see the key attractions in Venice on a weekend break, the answer is yes. A few days are enough to experience everything from romantic gondola rides to seeing paintings by Italian masters. Even on a whirlwind trip, Venice will not fail to leave you mesmerized—that is, as long as you know how to make the most of your time there. With a carefully planned itinerary like the one outlined below, you can experience all that Venice has to offer without feeling rushed. In doing so, you'll discover why this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most visited places in the world.
Here's the itinerary I used when I only had a short stay. With a little planning, I was able to capture the best the city had to offer. Scroll for details!
The Perfect Three-Day Venetian Trip Itinerary
- Piazza San Marco
- Doge's Palace
- Bridge of Sighs
- Rialto Market
- Opera House
- Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
- Peggy Guggenheim Museum
- Scuola Grande di San Rocco
- Basilica dei Frari
To make the most of my first day, I started at the Piazza San Marco. This location is easy to get to and has many sights within a short walking distance, making it the perfect place to start your Venetian adventure.
St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark's Basilica is the most iconic destination in all of Venice, and its wide piazza—shared by pigeons and tourists alike—is instantly recognizable from films and photographs. This is a great place to get a panoramic picture.
The beauty of this Byzantine-style basilica is rich inside and out. Take the time to appreciate the mosaics and gold, which are evidence of the historical importance of Venice. I paid a little extra for a skip-the-line ticket, which was worth it because I didn't want to waste precious time waiting in line.
Note: There is a dress code to enter. Shoulders must be covered and legs must be covered to the knees. If you don't have a cover-up, shawls can be rented for a small fee at the door.
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The Doge's Palace
Adjacent to the Basilica in the Piazza San Marco, you'll see the Doge's Palace with its Gothic-style architecture. In the past, this building had three main roles:
- The Doge's (magistrate) residence
- The administration offices of the government
- A court, including a prison
Now a museum, the Doge's Palace houses excellent examples of Murano glass and Venetian art, as well as an impressive collection of weapons. Allow yourself about two hours to see the museum. Because you're on a tight schedule, buy tickets online, and opt for either an audio tour or a guide who will be able to explain what you're seeing and answer any questions you might have. For those with limited mobility, there is a lift for access.
At 99 meters high, the Campanile is the tallest building in Venice and may well be the first thing you see when arriving in the city. Although it used to be a lighthouse and needed rebuilding after a collapse in 1902, the Campanile is now open to the public and provides a stunning 360º view of the city. There's even an elevator to whisk you to the top.
At the top of the Campanile, you'll be standing in the spot where Galileo demonstrated his telescopes to the lords of the day. It's easy to think the study of science was always well received. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case; the Catholic church was all-powerful at the time, and Galileo's writings were considered heresy.
Before leaving the square, grab a bite to eat. Sightseeing builds up an appetite, and with countless cafes and restaurants, you're never far from great-tasting Italian food. Seafood lovers should try the risotto al nero di seppia (squid ink risotto). While sitting at a cafe in the Piazza, I had time to reflect on the history of the area. Looking at architecture, paintings, and sculptures is one thing, but knowing you are walking in the footsteps of great men is humbling. How different would our world be without their dreams of creating and their desire to change the status quo?
The Bridge of Sighs
Legend says that if a couple kisses while passing under the Bridge of Sighs, their love will be eternal. What better reason could there be for going on a romantic evening gondola ride?
The Bridge of Sighs, as it was coined by the English poet Lord Byron, connects the prison to the Doge's Palace, where prisoners were interrogated. It's said that as the prisoners crossed the white limestone bridge over the Rio di Palazzo, they would sigh, knowing it was the last time they'd see their beloved Venice. Although that makes a wonderful story, it can't be true because the prisoners would have been able to see little to nothing from that angle.
Some of these prisoners were destined for the dark and dank lower cells, or 'wells,' where conditions were awful. Insects, constant damp, and occasionally rotten food meant they weren't likely to come out alive. More often than not, prisoners died from malnutrition or disease related to their inhospitable living conditions.
Another series of cells located under the palace's lead roof was where short-term prisoners or prisoners awaiting their sentence were held. These cells were baking hot in summer and freezing in winter but were still preferable to those in the dungeon. This is where the infamous womanizer Casanova was held. He was the only prisoner ever to escape the prison. He pried open the bars of his window, went out onto the roof, climbed down a drainpipe, and convinced the guard to let him out. Apparently, his gift of gab didn't only work on women! Legend has it that he stopped for a cup of coffee before making his escape.
The next step is the Rialto Market. From the Piazza San Marco, cross the Grand Canal on the Rialto Bridge. The Rialto Market is a bustling area of commerce, especially in the morning, when Venetians source many of their daily fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish.
This is a perfect opportunity to grab some cicchetti, which are a variety of bar snacks served with white wine. Baccalà mantecato is one such favorite and consists of dried cod made into a whipped paste for spreading on toast or bread. You'll find a wide variety of these at an osteria or cicchetti bar, giving you an ideal break for taking in the Venetian atmosphere during your visit.
The Opera House
Also known as La Fenice, or the Phoenix, this building has been destroyed by fire three times—the most recent being in 1996, when two electricians set fire to the opera house because their company was facing hefty fines for delays. In fact, the whole saga sounds like something out of an operatic tragedy! The owner of the company decided to flee the country. He was later found in Belize and extradited back to Italy.
Many famous composers—such as Verdi, Bellini, and Rossini—have had their premieres at La Fenice. I encourage you to see an opera while you are in Venice. Be sure to book your tickets beforehand so you can relax and enjoy the show.
Today is all about art. I suggest you wear comfortable shoes and clothing, as there will be a lot of walking!
The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
Great architecture or divine intervention? The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute was built as an offering to the Madonna for saving the people of Venice from the plague. Over 80,000 Venetians lost their lives due to the black death. This domed church, positioned at the mouth of the Grand Canal, is built on soft mud—an engineering nightmare that required 100,000 pylons set deep in the muddy quagmire.
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Those with a penchant for modern art should head from the basilica to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. This important museum can be seen in about an hour, but be sure to factor in some extra time to enjoy the beautiful garden and restaurant. Housed in the 18th-century waterside Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, this was Peggy Guggenheim's home for 30 years. Situated away from the hustle and bustle of busy squares, this place provides a balance of modern art and serenity. I thoroughly enjoyed this museum even though I generally prefer works by the Old Masters.
Step outside the Guggenheim museum and board a gondola for the next stop on our whirlwind museum tour. Let's turn back the clock from our modern foray and head to the Ca'Rezzonico. The contrast between these two museums is day and night. Take a guided tour around the ornate ballroom and appreciate its 18th-century artwork and furnishing.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
From there, make your way to the nearby Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which can be seen in less than two hours. This stop is a hidden gem with fewer tourists and a vast array of paintings by Italian painter Tintoretto. I recommend renting an audio guide, which is very helpful.
Basilica dei Frari
Finally, take a leisurely stroll in the Basilica dei Frari, where you'll see works by Donatello and Titian.
Today you'll be boarding a vaporetto, or water taxi, and heading to Murano and Burano, two picturesque islands in the Venetian lagoon that are well worth a visit.
On Murano, an island famous for its glassworks, you can see glassblowers at work in the fornaci. Watch them create works of art right before your eyes and purchase items in their gift shops if you wish. There are also various glass sculptures peppered around the town, as well as quirky lampposts. A laid-back place to spend a few hours soaking up the atmosphere, this is a stop you won't want to miss. Don't forget to try some delicious food while you're there, such as fegato alla Veneziana, a.k.a. Venetian-style liver and onions.
Next, pop over to Burano, the home of Venetian lace. Visit the shops specializing in Burano lace, but be prepared to pay handsomely for it, as it's the real deal. Pieces made by hand are labor-intensive, and this is reflected in the price. Visitors should be wary of imitations or copies and check the prices before purchase. Lacemaking isn't the only draw for tourists to Burano; the island's vividly colored buildings are a wonderful surprise for tourists. Although they appear to be painted random colors, this is not the case; the owners have to apply to the council when it is time to repaint and will be assigned an acceptable color. This fun and funky island offers photographic opportunities galore, so be sure to snap a shot of its colorful houses casting reflections into the canals.
Best Time to Travel to Venice
Because your visit is only for three days, planning your itinerary wisely will ensure you see the beauty of Venice and maximize your enjoyment by avoiding the elements and long lines.
Spring and fall are the best times to travel to this city—specifically March, April, May (excluding Easter break), September, October, and November. The summer months are crowded and hot, so skip visiting at that time. In fall, the weather can be changeable, but if you dress accordingly, it can be one of the best times to go, with fewer tourists, cooler temperatures, and lower prices for accommodation.
No matter when you choose to travel, a weekend break in Venice is going to leave you with three things: a ton of photos, great memories, and a desire to return for a longer stay. Now that you know it's possible to experience Venice in such a short time, all that's left is for you to book your tickets.
© 2017 Meredith Davies