How to Spend One Relaxing Week in Venice

Independent for 1100 years, Venice still looks and feels very distinct from much of Italy. It’s been overrun by tourists, especially cruise lines, but still has so much to offer that it’s well worth spending a few days here. The city is one massive atmospheric experience so stroll far and wide. One note about dining: Venice is overrun by tourist traps. You’ll know them by their plastic coated menus and hawkers. Look for the Slow Food snail icon in the window as a guide to quality.

1050 Campo della Carità
The Ponte dell’Accademia is one of four bridges that span the Grand Canal, and will get you quickly from San Marco to the labyrinthine Dorsoduro neighborhood. Originally built in 1854 out of steel, the current wooden bridge was built in the 1930s and offers picture-perfect views over the most picturesque canal in the world. Visitors with walking challenges or ambulatory devices will find the Accademia with its long flat steps much easier to navigate than the other bridges.
Piazza San Marco, 1, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy
The Ponte dei Sospiri was given its English name by part-time Venice resident Lord Byron, who wrote in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: “I stood in Venice on a Bridge of Sighs, a palace and a prison on each hand.” Byron’s travelogue nails it: When you stand on the famous crossing, the Doge’s Palace and a public prison are on either side. A local myth (that turned into the plot line for the film A Little Romance) says that lovers who kiss on a gondola at sunset beneath the Bridge of Sighs will be granted eternal love. Access to the bridge itself is through the Secret Itinerary tour of the Doge’s Palace.
Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy
Near the base of the landmark Rialto Bridge, the historic Rialto Market is well worth a wander. Seek it out in the early morning when it provides an authentic local experience (and awesome social-media ops), with fishmongers hawking their fresh seafood catches and local produce merchants setting out seasonal fruits and vegetables. When you’ve finished exploring, go grab breakfast and a strong coffee at one of the nearby trattorias. If you’re a real foodie, consider exploring Rialto Market with a local guide who can delve into the history and also introduce you to Venice street food.
Piazza San Marco, 328, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
The Basilica San Marco is Venice‘s crown jewel. Situated at the eastern end of Piazza San Marco, the cathedral was built around 1078 on the site of an earlier house of worship. It is famously the home of the remains of the apostle Mark, which were said to have been smuggled from the Holy Land by Crusaders in a barrel of pork. The basilica is not just a wonder from the outside; its glittering gold mosaics make it one of the most breathtaking examples of Byzantine design in the West.
Dorsoduro, 701-704, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
There’s plenty of art in Venice, from the churches to the Scuoli to the Accademia. But when you just can’t look at another Caravaggio, and even Titian hair doesn’t move you any more, refresh yourself with a visit to Peggy’s house. The renowned American heiress lived here for 30 years and houses a beautiful selection of her famous modern art collection. It’s a real jewel, small enough to feel manageable, significant enough to cover almost all of the modern art movements and include important pieces from Jackson Pollock and Mondrian to Picasso, Dalí and Kandinsky. The petite sculpture garden (above) has the kind of works that will make you smile, and there are also temporary exhibitions. I was there during a special Futurism collection and a young intern, seeing me with my 13-year-old friend Niambh, offered us a special one-on-one guide to the paintings. A joy.
Piazza San Marco, 57, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
During the day, the Piazza San Marco in Venice is an overwhelming flurry of activity, but once the sun sets, you’d be surprised at just how much a sense of ease and languor settles in. Life simply slows down as the crowds depart. Stop by Caffè Florian for a memorable evening. Opened in 1720, this is Italy‘s oldest cafe, and features ornate frescoed and gilded salons, as well as an outdoor seating area for great people-watching. Sip a drink and enjoy Caffè Florian’s live orchestra and singers as you sit under the beautiful night sky, with an illuminated St. Mark’s Basilica in the background. Looking around at my family, I could see total contentment reflected on each of their faces—the most magical and relaxing night of my trip. While not inexpensive, this evening was worth every Euro to me—a night that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life.
Fondamenta Vin Castello, 30125 Venezia VE, Italy
Two things you need to know about gondola rides in Venice: They’re worth it; and the price is agreed beforehand. Knowing those two things, you can happily hop aboard this traditional Venetian mode of transport and relax, because, touristy as it is, it’s not a rip-off, and it’s a must-have experience. You can pick up a gondola almost anywhere in Venice, and you can see whatever sights you want from one... My own recommendation is to head away from the Grand Canal to the quiet backwater canals where you can really imagine yourself centuries back in time. We engaged our gondolier at the station near Rialto Mercato and asked him to take us across to Cannaregio, a more residential area that still boasts some extraordinary palazzi and churches. We barely met another boat, apart from the odd Venetian getting himself home on his motor launch, and unexpected delights loomed upon us silently and suddenly, like Marco Polo’s house, or the Chiesa dei Miracoli. All in all, much better than joining the heavy gondola traffic in San Marco.
Piazza San Marco, 1, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
This pink-marble waterfront edifice in Piazza San Marco dates back to the 14th century, when it was the residence and seat of government for the doges (rulers) of Venice. Today the ornate Byzantine- and Moorish-influenced Gothic Palazzo Ducale is a symbol of the city, and serves as a museum hosting some of Venice’s most important art, including the famous Bacchus, Venus, and Ariadne masterpiece by Tintoretto. It also runs the popular Secret Itinerary and Doge’s Palace Hidden Treasures tours. After you’re done, treat yourself to a glass of wine in the small on-site bistro, with windows looking onto the Grand Canal adjacent to the Bridge of Sighs.
Fondamenta Nani, 992, 30123 Venice, Italy
If you are in Venice, you will surely get familiar with local spritz (a fizzy, refreshing aperitif) and cicchetti, or small snacks. If you want to have a local experience, be sure to stop by Cantine del Vino Già Schiavi while walking around La Salute area.

It’s more of a wine bar or shop than a true restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling bottles along the walls and most patrons standing as they nibble cicchetti like bruschetta with a cod spread or brie and anchovies. Buon appetito!
Rio Terà de le Carampane, 1911, 30125 Venezia VE, Italy
If you’re looking for some of the most authentic and delicious seafood in Venice, pay a visit to Antiche Carampane. Located in an unassuming building a few minutes’ walk from the Rialto Bridge, this trattoria is where the locals eat when they’re craving seafood-focused Venetian dishes. It’s a cozy family-run restaurant with framed photos in the dining room and friendly service. The local fish, octopus, clams, shrimp, and scallops are what to order here, as it tastes about as fresh as it comes and is served in a variety of styles, including a simply prepared catch of the day. The menu here is more complex than that of the typical tourist joints, featuring traditional Venetian dishes that are not usually found outside a local’s kitchen. In spring, try the fried soft-shell crabs.
30122 Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy
Dating back to 1104, this impressive complex is where thousands of workers constructed the fleets so critical to Venice’s power—capable of completing a ship in a day. Nowadays, the spaces are exhibition sites for the art and architecture Biennales and host occasional concerts and other events; they aren’t open to the public on a daily basis.
Rio Terrà Foscarini, 909/A, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
While traveling through Italy, my art history professor booked us students into religious colleges and convents. Wether it was to save money or because she thought osmosis would occur and our knowledge of Venetian Religious Art would be enhanced, I am not sure. However, as a non-religious person I really didn’t mind staying in a space dedicated to Christianity. The rooms were clean and the breakfast conversation was as interesting as the breakfast itself. But there is Wi-Fi, serene areas to write, relax and take in the sounds of the connecting church and the location is ideal for any traveler looking to explore a part of Venice that many tourists don’t see. The view from your room won’t disappoint either, and unlike hostels, for some reason I just felt like my stuff was safer with the prying eyes of Mother Mary, the crucifix adorned in every room and paintings of Don Orione looking over you.
1050 Campo della Carità, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is the place to see Venice through the eyes of centuries of famous Venetians. The museum has a huge collection of paintings from the Byzantine and Gothic eras through the Renaissance and into the 18th century (including many of Canaletto’s paintings that helped draw travelers here from around the world). Before you visit, watch the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime, which has some great scenes filmed in the museum in the 1950s.
Dorsoduro, 2, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
Controlled by the François Pinault Foundation, the same trust in charge of Christie’s auction house, this is a museum-worthy gallery in the heart of Venice. Set inside a 17th-century customs house, it showcases Pinault’s impressive private collection, comprised of some 2,500 pieces of modern art. The location, at the point of land where the Grand Canal meets the Giudecca Canal, is equally spectacular. After you’ve finished browsing the art collection, grab a pastry or a small bite at the in-house Dogana Cafe.
Piazza San Marco, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Since few areas within the city of Venice afford high perspectives of the entire city, take the elevator (no stairs) to the top of San Marco’s Campanile in Piazza San Marco. You may have to put up with a few elbows to get a spot against the railing, but it is all worth it for the spectacular panoramic views of Venice and the lagoon. While here, contemplate the history of this spectacular bell tower and observe the view from the same spot where numerous doges have stood, as well as Galileo. It was here that he introduced his telescope to the doge!
Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Built in 1525 as the family home of Doge Andrea Gritti, this antique-stocked palazzo has rooms with mosaic floors, hand-painted furniture, and panoramic views of the Grand Canal. Murano glass chandeliers and sconces light up the hotel that Ernest Hemingway called “the best hotel in a city of great hotels.”

Hotel Gritti Palace, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, Venice, 39/041-794611. From $519. This story appeared in the July/August 2011 issue.
Piazza Santa Fosca, 29, 30142 Torcello VE, Italy
Chef Cristian Angiolin heads up the kitchen at this Venetian lagoon institution, which is open year-round except for January and Tuesdays. The restaurant is no longer a part of the Cipriani franchise, which began in Venice and has since expanded to places like New York and Miami.

What you come here for is the restaurant’s garden, which is open from late spring to early autumn and is one of the best places in the lagoon to visit with a large group of friends and celebrate into the evening. The bartenders make the best negronis and have an extensive wine list that includes pours from most regions on the Italian peninsula. If you don’t want to be marooned on Torcello Island, come for lunch. But it’s another one of those amazing dining spots with rooms, so that if you do come for dinner and miss the last boat back to Venice, you can always check into the hotel.
Calle Briati, 8b, 30141 Venezia VE, Italy
The Abate Zanetti School of Glass has been home to masters of Murano glassblowing for 150 years, and today it provides an immersive experience into the island’s famed glass artistry. Located at the Glass Museum, a half-day program is offered here that includes the historical backstory and glassblowing demonstrations. More serious artists can sign up for Giancarlo Signoretto’s five-day primer in the furnace room that covers how to gather glass from the kiln and how to use blowing pipes, tweezers, and molds to fashion soft glass into functional pieces of art, from traditional Venetian goblets to modern vases.
Piazza Eremitani, 8, 35121 Padova PD, Italy
Built in 1307, Giotto’s Arena Chapel, aka Scorvegni Chapel, should not be missed when visiting the Veneto. In Padua, it is often overlooked, which can mean smaller crowds during certain times and seasons. After a video in English and Italian explaining the history of the small unassuming chapel, you march through a vacuum that removes impurities on your clothes, which helps preserve the interior and colours of Giotto’s masterpiece. Then you may enter 10 or so at a time to observe each detailed panel. Some represent the miracles Jesus performed, but what you should notice is the intensity of the figures depicted upon the wall and a striking representation of Mary’s parents in love and kissing. Another image to notice is the kiss of Judas—where he kisses Jesus before he is to betray him—and Mary Magdalene’s face of agony as Jesus hangs from the cross. Also pay attention to the entire wall that depicts The Last Judgement where Jesus is surrounded by apostles and below him are those who are chosen to be escorted to heaven, while to the left of the image are those being tortured in hell by blue monsters. The man who commissioned the Chapel, Enrico Scorvegni, is depicted next to the cross presenting Giotto’s Chapel, within his hands, to the Virgin Mary. Photos are not allowed within the Chapel and this rule is enforced. (this image is credited to http://padovacultura.padovanet.it/homepage-6.0/2010/12/scrovegni_chapel.html)
Piazza del Santo, 11, 35123 Padova PD, Italy
This massive church was one of the most impressive in size, architecture, and collection of relics—for the art that is within and surrounding the building. Before you head inside, almost as an afterthought hidden in between kiosks selling St. Anthony prayer candles and rosaries, you’ll encounter the equestrian statue of Gattamelata by Donatello. If you are traveling during the week of June the 13th (the day that St. Anthony died) you’ll be in the company of hundreds, perhaps thousands, who have come to pray to him inside the church beside his tomb. Visitors, some desperate for an answer from above, leave flowers, letters and personal items alongside his tomb. At the back of the church there are relics that belonged to St. Anthony such as his preserved tongue, black and withered by time, that sits within a glass case surrounded in gold. Other items include his ear, pieces of clothing he was thought to wear and touch during his life. The size of the interior and columns may inspire you to sit among those loyal devotees and listen to a lulling service in Italian. (My camera was held hostage during my visit so the image is accredited to http://commons.wikimedia.org)
Piazza Unità d'Italia, 34121 Trieste TS, Italy
In the center of Trieste, the capital of Italy’s Friuli–Venezia Giulia region, the vast Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia looks out over the deep, blue waters of the Gulf of Trieste. This elegant seafront square is bordered on three sides by ornate Viennese-style government buildings and flanked by the winding streets of ancient Roman “Tergeste” and the grid-like Borgo Teresiano neighborhood. Facing the sea is the Municipio (city hall) building, with its clock tower and two bronze moors. On either side of the square are the stately Lloyd Triestino building and the Palazzo del Governo, whose golden, mosaicked façade sparkles in the sunshine. In front of the Municipio, the angel-topped Fontana dei Quattro Continenti pays tribute to the four continents that were recognized in the 18th century: Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. At the water’s edge sit the intriguing bronze statues of two young women known as Le Sartine, or “the seamstresses.”
One of the best strolls through Venice begins in the neighborhood of Arsenale and finishes on the Island of Sant’Elena. Walk along the main drag of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, a street full of shops and colourful local life until it dead ends. Make a right on to Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi where a monument to the streets namesake stands. From here the streets become very quiet. Follow Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi to the end and turn left onto the Fondamenta San Giuseppe. This is a mostly residential area where you see laundry hanging from pastel painted houses and hear small fishing boats tapping against the sides of the canal. Make the first right off the Fondamenta and get lost in the twist of back streets here until you come upon the Via XXIV Maggio. From here, look for signs pointing to the Church of Sant’Elena, a beautiful 12th-century monastery on the island.
Murano, 30141 Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy
Famous for its long history of handblown glassmaking, Murano sits just a few minutes’ ferry ride offshore in the Venetian Lagoon. The main attraction is the Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro), which recounts the history of glass through the centuries, with the largest focus on important pieces of Murano glass produced between the 15th and 20th centuries. You can also join a guided tour and catch a glassmaking demonstration here. When finished, do a bit of shopping for locally produced glass at some of the boutique shops. Also check out the Romanesque-style Church of Santa Maria and San Donato, which may or may not house the bones of a slain dragon under its boldly hued mosaic floor.
Ramo Ca' d'Oro, 3912, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
This tiny Venetian bacaro (bar) is so popular that many of its patrons don’t even make it inside. Instead, they cluster around the entrance drinking wine. Sample cicchetti (bar snacks) that the locals come for, especially the meatballs.

Given how popular it is, your best bet at getting in is to go at lunch or just before closing. It’s an excellent option for a full meal or just a few snacks, depending on how hungry you are.
Via Baldassarre Galuppi, 221, 30142 Venezia VE, Italy
Let the wind blow through your hair as you take a 30-minute vaporetto ride to Burano, an island in the lagoons of Venice. Known for its brightly-colored fishermen’s homes, the island is largely free of the tourist crush of the rest of Venice. Spend the afternoon shopping for exquisite handmade lace and sampling gelato, then do as the locals do - gather in the town square at sunset to enjoy drinks and people-watching in one of the many cafes.

We settled in at Trattoria Da Primo, where the bartender recommended a typical Venetian drink, the “Spritz” (Prosecco, Aperol or Campari liqueur, and soda). Then get ready to feast at Trattoria da Romano, regular host to locals, tourists, and visiting artists. The restaurant is famous for Venetian specialities such as creamy Goh fish risotto and fresh seafood. Burano is definitely the place to go for a quiet, small-town feeling night out in Italy.
30100 Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy
While exploring Burano, break for a fabulous seafood lunch at Al Gato Nero. The “black cat” restaurant is the creation of Ruggero Bovo, who has been cooking up some of the tastiest fresh fish and seafood here since 1965. “I love the fish of the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic Coast, the raw material which has fed my island for generations and which I still have the fortune of getting fresh every day,” Bovo says. Fish and seafood are the star attractions on both the appetizer and main menu selections, but there are also options for vegetarians and carnivores. The pasta here is homemade, as are the delicious desserts.
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