9am: Jetting Off
The closest airport to central Venice is Venice Marco Polo, and flights take just over two hours from London. Top tip: get a flight arriving around midday – you should arrive at your hotel just in time for check-in, so can drop your bags and explore the city straight away.
12pm: Getting There
To get mainland Venice, you’ll need to make a seven-mile journey by road or water. The most popular option with tourists is the vaporetto – Venice’s water bus service and the main form of public transportation in the city. Operated by Alilaguna, a service runs directly to and from the airport from various ports around Venice at least once an hour from 6am to midnight each day. One-way tickets cost €15, or €27 for a round trip – that’s double the cost of the ATVO bus service (which travels by road) but seeing the haze of the city appear from the glittering water is worth it.
Alternatively, there’s the ultimate Venetian experience: travelling by water taxi, a private speedboat that gets you around quickly and comfortably to any destination. They’re pretty expensive – a ride from Venice Marco Polo Airport to the city centre can set you back over €100 – but as the speedboats seat up to ten people, it’s worth splitting the fare if you’re in a large group. Tickets for the water taxis, water buses and by-road buses can all be bought at Marco Polo airport.
1pm: Checking In
As for where to stay, these top hotels in central locations make ideal bases for short trips…
For OTT luxury: If it’s blow-the-budget, all-out decadence you’re after, the Aman Canal Grande – a 16th-century palazzo dripping in gold and filled with traditional frescoes – is as romantic as the city itself (and where Amal and George Clooney spent their wedding night, no less).
For Venetian glamour: The former residence of the Doge of Venice, today the Gritti Palace is a lavish 91-room hotel boasting magnificent views and opulent interiors – think individually-designed rooms and suites decked out with precious antiques, silk wall coverings and beautiful fabrics.
For Insta-worthy photos: Another masterfully restored ancient palace, Hotel Danieli is worth a visit simply for an Insta-snap of its legendary foyer staircase – and the rooms don’t disappoint either: huge marble bathrooms, gold-leaf columns and sumptuous red velvet furnishings have old-world splendour.
For understated cool: If the chandelier-filled Venetian hotel norm isn’t your bag, Corte di Gabriela is a refreshing boutique alternative with 10 uniquely designed rooms. Central, yet hidden away from the main tourist track, it’s filled with minimalist décor and industrial chic touches.
For grown-up romance: Located in a quiet area by the church of the Salute, this intimate hotel is ideal for romantic weekends away – the grown-up gothic interiors, sultry dark tones and cosy feel make it both welcoming and stylish.
2pm: Piazza San Marco Sightseeing
Luckily for those who don’t have much time to spare, three of Venice’s most famous attractions – St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace and Torre dell’Orologio – are mere seconds away from each other in St Mark’s Square. The Piazza may be the busiest spot in Venice, especially during peak season, but there’s plenty of room for everyone.
Before seeing the sights, stop off for a quick coffee at Caffè Florian – the famous Piazza San Marco café with awe-inspiring historic décor (slightly pricey, but worth it). Straight opposite, you’ll find the Basilica, where admission to the main foyer – with its stunning mosaics and multicoloured marble columns is completely free. Then onto the Palace, which does carry a hefty admission fee (almost €25) but getting to marvel at the wall-to-ceiling paintings and breath-taking Gothic architecture makes up for it. Plus, the tour allows visitors to walk over the famous Bridge of Sighs – something you’ll have to battle crowds to get a photo of at certain points in the day.
If it’s scenic views of the city you’re after, take a trip up the Campanile di San Marco – the square’s 99-metre high bell tower – which has a lift to the top, letting you look out over the Piazza and central Venice for just €8.
4pm: Rialto Market & Cicchetti
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time to move on from St Mark’s – avoid the tourist trap restaurants with no prices on their menus at all costs. Instead, dine like the locals and seek out the city’s backstreet bars, known as ‘bàcari’, for a glass of wine and cicchetti. A Venetian take on bar snacks (Italians really do do it better), cicchetti are tapas-style small plates comprising bite-size bruschetta and crostini, salt cod and marinated fish, olives and artichokes, cured meats and cheeses.
Some of the best bàcari can be found in the San Polo district, just over the Rialto Bridge by the Rialto Market. Here you’ll find All’Arco, one of our favourite spots for a low-key lunch – nab one of the tables outside if the sun’s out. Armed with ingredients from the market, father-son team Francesco and Matteo serve miniature masterpieces such as cannocchia (mantis shrimp) with pumpkin and roe, and otrega crudo (raw butterfish) with mint and olive oil marinade.
A world-famous destination for foodies, the Rialto Market itself is also a must-visit – boasting pyramids of colourful seasonal produce (and quite a few free samples).
7pm: Experiencing Teatro La Fenice
Next is a visit to Venice’s famous opera house – one of the most popular in Italy – to take in the stunning architecture and be dazzled by a live show. Audio and guided tours are available in the day, but it’s well worth looking online for concert tickets too – along with staging more than 100 opera performances per year, it also hosts free events and concerts which are open to the public.
10pm: Nightcap At Harry’s Bar
No trip to Venice is complete without a Bellini at Harry’s Bar, a mainstay since 1931 and right on the St Mark's bay waterfront. On your way back to your hotel, stop off at the Piazza once again – it will most likely be empty, and looks even more amazing at night.
If you’re not staying at the Gritti Palace, and want just one more cocktail before hitting the hay, the hotel’s Bar Longhi is a truly special place to end an evening – open until 1am (that’s two hours later than Harry’s), and boasting a lavish marble bar, it features an outdoor terrace you may well spot a couple of A-listers smoking on.
9am: Island Hopping
Yes, gondola rides are iconic, but with queues of tourists and ever-climbing prices their appeal is likely lost on some. Instead, we highly recommend taking a trip to the neighbouring islands of Murano and Burano – that way, you’ll see Venice by boat and soak up even more of the local culture.
Viator has a great selection of small group tours at very reasonable prices (half-day trips usually start around 9am and finish at 3pm). Opt for one that offers plenty of time to explore Burano – packed with technicolour houses, this quaint fishing village has some of the most picturesque views of the Lagoon, and plenty of great spots for lunch overlooking it.
3pm: Museums & Exploring Dorsoduro
Museum-wise, the Venice Guggenheim museum is a must for modern art fans, while the Gallerie dell'Accademia has an impressive collection of pre-19th century paintings. Both are situated in the Dorsoduro district – a hop over the Grand Canal via the Accademia bridge. This is where you’ll get a flavour of the ‘real Venice’, without the crowds of San Marco.
While there’s so much to see in the city, leaving an afternoon free to stroll aimlessly around and get lost in winding alleys, is a must. And Dorsoduro is a great place to do it – this artsy, student-y area is full of affordable bars, bàcaro and quirky shops, as well as the majestic Santa Maria della Salute church.
7pm: Aperivito Hour
If you’re still in Dorsoduro when aperitivo hour hits, head to Osteria Al Squero – a quiet, canal-side bar serving up spritz for just €2.50, along with a delicious selection of cicchetti. And to do aperivito hour (which usually lasts between 6pm and 10pm) like the locals, head back over the bridge to the Cannaregio district, where you’ll find Taverna al Remer and El Sbarlefo – both buzzy little places with great soundtracks, and occasional live music evenings.
9pm: Fine Dining In Cannaregio
Cannaregio is also home to some of the best restaurants in Venice – spectacular cuisine at decent prices – especially the northern parts, as most tourists don’t tend to venture up there. For the most authentic experience, make like the locals and dine at around 9pm.
Ostaria Boccadoro is one of the best and is reportedly well on its way to a Michelin star. Specialising in homemade pasta, cloudlike gnocchi and seriously fresh seafood – sourced straight from the Venetian Lagoon, sold at Rialto market and served up on your plate within a matter of hours.
L'Anice Stellato is another favourite, serving classic regional recipes with a modern, elegant twist in a charming, wood-panelled setting (they also cater to those with special dietary needs like vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs). The ‘scampi in saor profumati allo zenzoero e al pepe rosa’ – mouth-watering balls of scampi with sweet and sour onions, perfumed with ginger and pink peppercorns – is a must-order.
When to visit Venice…
Venice is one of those cities that is beautiful in all seasons, but – as we’re sure you’ve already heard – the peak summer months can see the small island become inundated with tourists. If you’re keen to avoid the worst of the queues and crowds, give July and August a miss – May, June or September are far less busy, and likely to be pleasantly warm instead of hot and humid.
For those unfussed about summer holidays but still wanting to see Venice this year, booking a trip in the late autumn – from mid-October to mid-November – is a more purse-friendly and less busy alternative. If you’re lucky with the weather, temperatures can still be warm enough for al fresco dining, too.
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