The Perfect Day in Venice

Venice dazzles from the moment you enter the Grand Canal, where you’ll navigate gondola traffic past sherbet-colored palazzi and churches. Continue exploring in a loop, from St. Mark’s Square to the Rialto Bridge and Canareggio around to the Gallerie dell’Accademia before toasting your fairytale day with rooftop drinks.

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The Grand Canal is the no-brainer must-do Venice experience, and the best way to explore the city’s main thoroughfare is on a vaporetto, or water bus. For a great introduction to the area, ride the vaporetto from the railway station, at the edge of the lagoon on one end of the canal, all the way to its other end at San Marco’s basin. Along the two-mile trip the waterway makes a big reverse S-shape through Venice’s central districts and gives you a true feel for what makes this romantic, historically rich city tick. The banks of the canal are lined with Venice’s most expensive real estate. Here, you’ll find some 170 palazzi originally built for nobility between the 13th and 19th centuries. Today they house luxury hotels, private residences, and even art museums.
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.
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.
Sestiere San Polo, 30125 Venezia VE, Italy
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal, and without question it’s one of the most iconic sights in Venice. There has been a bridge at this site since the 12th century, connecting the districts of San Marco and San Polo, and until the Accademia Bridge was built in 1854, the Ponte di Rialto was the only way to cross the canal on foot. Early versions of the bridge were made of wood and eventually succumbed to fire or collapse, until its current incarnation was constructed of stone by Antonio da Ponte in 1591. Beyond the mandatory walk across the single-span stone bridge, there is an open-air market at its eastern foot that is worth a wander. Skip the stores selling jewelry on the Rialto Bridge itself, however; you’ll find better quality and value in other parts of the city.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Via Giudecca, 810, 30133 Venezia VE, Italy
Venice’s only rooftop bar serves up enchanting panoramas of the southern lagoon and San Marco from the top floor of the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice, a former flour mill on Giudecca island. (The roof terrace is open to all, its swimming pool is only for hotel guests). The 48-page drinks menu is organized by spirit base with each spirit matched to a district of the city. These creative cocktails come at a price, but it’s worth it for the experience of lingering here after sunset—especially when a live band is playing.
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