Travel Guide - 3 Days in Venice, Italy
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Venice, I think of a place teeming with magic and mystery: it’s labyrinth of canals and small winding cobbled streets; it’s distressed and faded facades; and the dulcet tones of gondoliers singing mixed with the sound of water lapping against the city’s steps. The reality is absolutely said beauty and mystique, but it is often hidden behind hordes of cruise ship tourists, high prices and, unless you veer off of the beaten track, pretty underwhelming food!
But have no fear, after visiting Venice for 3 days and 4 nights with my sister, I am here armed with my top tips and recommendations for the best, and fairly affordable, time in Venezia!
Where to Stay & Getting Around
The good news about the tourist hordes is that they very often come to Venice for the day and as the sun begins to set on the city, you will likely find the majority of them disappearing back to the mainland, cruise ships or wherever they may have arrived from. As such, I cannot recommend staying in Venice proper enough; yes it may be a little pricier, but it is in the evenings that the city really becomes yours for the taking so be as near to that action as you can be! My sister and I booked a room via Booking.com that came in at 60€ per night each, which, all things considered, I think was pretty reasonable! And I have no doubt that you could find cheaper!
As far as getting around goes, I would wholeheartedly avoid paying the astronomical rates for a gondola ride. Yes, I know it may seem like a must do in Venice, but the city is best explored for free on foot. As is the case in most Italian cities I’ve visited, Venice delivers a welcome surprise around every corner. This may be in the form of a stunning church, a colourful and historic house or even a gelateria, but regardless, you will only see true Venice if you take the time to set off on foot and get lost in its entangled streets.
The city isn’t that large so you’ll eventually find your way back, don’t worry!
That said, if you really do want to take in the sights from the water, the public transport vaporetto is your best option at 7.50€ for 75 minutes worth of sailing, or 20€ for a 1-day pass.
What to see
Rialto Bridge & the Mercato di Rialto
Google stock images of Venice and you will no doubt find yourself wading through 100s of photos of the Rialto Bridge, and for good reason! The pedestrian bridge is the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal and is one of the statement attractions of the city. The best part? Whilst it is consistently busy, it is free to look upon and cross so no budget spend is needed here!
What is perhaps a little lesser known is the Mercato di Rialto. Open from 7:30AM Mon-Sat, head there early to watch locals as they shop for fresh fishy produce that was hauled in on boats just that morning from the harbour!
Piazza San Marco Venezia
It would be sacrilegious to write a travel blog post about Venice and not mention its prized piazza (or square) that is home to 3 of the city’s must-visits: St Mark's Basilica, the Tower and Cafe Florian.
St Mark's Basilica is unlike any of the other central cathedrals/churches I have seen in Italy, in that it does not rely as much on one central and towering dome to impress, but is instead squatter and caked with spires, gold, mosaic and statues in all it’s Byzantinian and Italian Gothic glory. A few of things of note before you visit:
Any form of bag (including backpacks) are forbidden and must be left at the nearby baggage drop. This is free BUT it does get busy so if you have booked a time to enter, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to sort this out.
I don’t know whether this is just a well kept secret or that most tourists are just incredibly stingy, but you can purchase a queue jump for just 3€ on your phone to enter almost immediately via venetoinside.com, so don’t freak out when you see the colossal line lapping the building.
For all those aspiring photographers out there, photos are forbidden inside. I didn’t realise this until after I got a few shots (oops) but I did get told off which is highly embarrassing!
St Mark’s Campanile, or Bell Tower, can also be accessed using a queue jump ticket via venetoinside.com, though I ended up joining the normal queue anyways as it moved so fast. There is nothing overly impressive about the tower itself BUT the views form the top are stellar!
Cafe Florian is a Venetian landmark, having served punters on this same spot since the 1700s. Now the price list is insane (think 10€ a cappuccino), but you are sat right on the square, with views of some of the city’s best sights, alongside live classical music and a free pass to venture inside and explore the stunning new-baroque interior. If you’re on a tight budget, maybe just saunter past and pop your head in, but it is worth the money for something a little more special.
We went hunting for the hidden synagogues of the Ghetto Ebraico Venezia and pictured is just 1 of the 5. Though Jewish people had began settling in Venice from the 13th Century, the building of synagogues remained forbidden, even after the creation of the Venetian ghetto in 1516 for the community, and so these beautiful rooms of worship are hidden from plain site, occupying interior rooms of existing buildings. Though over time the ghetto became home to a large number of Jews, the population living there never assimilated, but were clearly divided according to ethnic identity. The Venetian Ghetto is the oldest ghetto in the world and is in fact the the reason for the use of the word in many other countries.
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco was finished in 1560 (yes, 458 years ago!) and was the seat of a voluntary Christian association that was established in 1478 and named after San Rocco, the ‘protector against plague’. All the members were wealthy Venetian citizens and to this day, the building is home to an incredible collection of art and architecture. I was absolutely blown away by the intricate interior design and decor of this place!
The SPAR Supermarket in the Former Teatro Italia Venezia - the Despar Nordest supermarket chain decided to open their newest store in an old Italian theatre, that they have invested millions in to ensure it was renovated, restored and repurposed in line with the original structure and features. This place takes shopping in style to a whole new level when you’re picking out a shampoo under historic frescoes. We happened upon this by complete chance but anyone who knows me, knows I am a HUGE fan of repurposement and this is a beautiful example of old meets new!
Built at the end of the 14th century, the Palazzo Dandolo was once home to the (you guessed it) Dandolos, a noble and affluent Venetian family. Over the years the building has changed hands numerous times and in doing so, been transformed and extended. Today the palace houses the Hotel Danieli, a five-star palatial hotel smack bang in the centre of the city that goes for ~£400 per night and has been used in a number of blockbuster films. Pictured is the preserved original lavish central staircase. They are a bit funny about people going in if they aren’t staying with them, but walk in with some conviction and you’ll at least get a glimpse of the staircase and lobby. Worth it!
What to eat
As previously explained, Venice is full to the brim of restaurants serving up bog standard food at ridiculous prices catering to the tourists. But wander a little off of the main tourist trap and you’ll find yourself amongst locals in much nicer and more affordable establishments.
I'm going to kick-start this section with my very favourite find in Venice and that was the wonder that is cicchetti. Cicchetti is the perfect way to have an incredible meal in Venice without paying top dollar or having to commit to a more formal seated setting.
As the sun sets, Venice's traditional bàcari begin to open their doors to reveal counter tops filled to the brim with ready to eat foods: everything from deep fried fresh squid to grilled white fish, roasted vegetables to salads and dips.
And the process is simple: you queue up and when served simply point at all the things you'd like to try. Your server will fill a paper plate up before passing it to the cashier who will have a quick look and there and then pull a figure out of thin air (or so it seemed!).
A filling meal and a spritz each at Paradiso Perduto cost us somewhere around the 25€ mark...bargain! We then found a canalside spot to dangle our legs over the side and revel in the foodie treats we'd bagged! Heaven!
Corte Sconta isn’t too far from the beaten track, but tucked down a little street and complete with a small outside terrace out back and some of the best seafood in the city, is a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle! The simplest recipes can make for the most incredible meals, and when the ingredients are local and seasonal, the flavour of the dishes is unbeatable, and that’s exactly the experience we had here at Corte Sconta.
To tourists there are arguably few things more quintessentially Italian than pizza. But for all those pizza lovers out there, Venice is perhaps not the place for you being better known for its fresh seafood, risotto and pasta dishes. But then there is Farini bakery; with two eateries across the city, this is the perfect place to pay very little money for a sumptious meal on the go. My recommendation? Grab a slice and find some steps down a quiet canalside rue to eat it up to the sound of lapping water and passer by gondolas.
You would never ever find Taverna Al Ramer unless someone directed you there first. Tucked down a tiny arched alleyway off of the main tourist route, this restaurant sits almost directly on the canal, and has its own wooden pier on which locals sit sipping aperol spritz’s and smoking. Just before the sun sets, grab yourself a drink from inside and find a free perch on the water for a stunning show of colour. We did not get a chance to eat here but I have it under good authority that it doesn’t disappoint.
Ca'd'Oro Alla Vedova was another reasonably priced restaurant that had been highly recommended. After failing to get in our first 2 nights, we finally managed it on night 3 and soon realised that the busyness was a testament to its quality of food and its teeny space that, at a guess, I'd say could cater for no more than 15 covers at any one time. This place offers up hearty Venetian classics like meatballs, liver, polenta and tiramisu. Mmmm...
Calling all sweet-toothers! What could make Italian gelato better? Ramming it in between a fresh warm brioche bun, that’s what! We went for a chocolate and black sesame combo which, contrary to my sister’s disgust, actually went together pretty bloody well! We hit up Gelateria Cà d'Oro Venezia for our hand held dessert, but noticed a fair few places offering this across the city!
A quick day trip
Lastly, Venice is a short boat ride to a number of other nearby islands that are worthy of a visit. Whilst many tend to venture to Murano because of it's infamous glass, we chose to ride just 45 minutes on the vaporetto to Burano, the island known for its brightly coloured fishermen's houses. Burano is any explorer's dream place; a warren of tiny woven streets all lined with fantastically coloured buildings, it has a perfect mixture of sights, shops, restaurants and drinkeries that can easily fill a full day of fun. Any travellers headed to Burano should check out Trattoria Maddalena Venezia for lunch, followed by a crisp glass of wine at the neighbouring Venissa vinyard. Delizioso!
And that's Venice for you fellow intrepid travellers! Go forth, explore and report back with all and any recommendations of your own!