A WEEK ON THIS BEAUTIFUL ISLAND

Venice, Italy is unlike any other city in the world. The architecture is fantastical, the water is mesmerizing and the art is second to none. A little bit of research (and good tips from trusted sources) will go a long way and make the difference between having a frustrating trip or a magical one. Here is our Venice, Italy Travel Guide to help make a week on this beautiful island spectacular.


“An orange gem resting on a blue glass plate: it’s Venice seen from above.”

Henry James

VENICE, ITALY OVERVIEW

Depending on when you visit, Venice, Italy can be a wonderful city or quite frustrating. The first time I went was in the middle of summer and there were throngs of people everywhere crowding the impossibly narrow sidewalks, making it feel like a holiday weekend at Disneyland. The crowds, coupled with the intense heat and my lack of research, made the trip memorable, but not in a good way.

Luckily I have visited twice since and now know how lovely this group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges can be. Timing, planning, plus a little bit of room for exploration makes all of the difference.

TIPS FOR VISITING VENICE, ITALY

  • If possible, visit during off-season (anytime but the summer months)
  • Make dinner & lunch reservations ahead of time (1-2 weeks)
  • Wear comfy walking shoes (there are no cars in the city)
  • Buy tickets to main museums and attractions ahead of time (to skip the long lines). Most places sell tickets online

PLACES TO STAY IN VENICE, ITALY

COMFORTABLE, BUT LUXURIOUS HOTELS

I’ve stayed in quite a few places in this city and on nearby islands. There are hundreds of options to choose from, but I am only listing the ones I love and can vouch for.

JW MARRIOTT

On its own island, this property gives you a perfect break from the fervor of Venice. It is a peaceful 20-minute ferry ride away, giving you just the right amount of time to brace yourself for the crowds (if you are on the way to the city) or decompress (if you are on the way back to the hotel). The hotel is very nice, meticulously kept with:

  • Michelin-starred restaurant
  • rooftop pool on the main hotel
  • private ferry to Venice proper (complimentary for guests)
  • bicycles to wander around the island
  • beautiful grounds
  • luxurious spa

*The rooms in the main hotel are nice, but the private villas are the stars here. They each have a private courtyard, small dunk pool and outdoor lounge area.

DANIELI

If the center of action is more your speed, the palatial Danieli might be for you. This old-style Italian palace is just steps away from the Bridge of Sighs and the famous Piazza San Marco. I stayed here more than 10 years ago, so defintely check out reviews and photos. It’s more of an old-school hotel experience.

*This hotel also has a rooftop bar, which attracts quite a few people.

PLACES TO EAT

There are hundreds of touristy restaurants in Venice (which I seemed to find on my first two trips), but on the third trip, I finally got it right. Here are my favorites, which are not tourist traps, served delicious food and I would definitely eat at again.

AL COVO

Owned by an American and her Italian husband, Al Covo is both cozy and refined. The food is sourced from local small-scale producers and is excellent. It’s hard to get a table, so make a reservation ahead of time (or have your hotel concierge do it).

*Specialties include fresh, Adriatic-Mediterranean seafood, delicate hand-made pastas, locally-sourced beef filet and homey desserts.

GRAND CANAL RESTAURANT

Just like its name implies, this restaurant terrace is on the Grand Canal and part of the Hotel Monaco. This is where chic Italians go to relax, share some food and people watch– It is the place to see and be seen. Somehow we landed a coveted table on the terrace of the Grand Canal Restaurant (we actually made the reservation online a month in advance and requested an outdoor seat) and feasted on delicious calamari pasta and prosecco. The added bonus was that we made friends with our waiter, who happened to be featured in one of the Star Wars movies. He was as adorable as our experience was great.

*This meal, with the impeccable service, was one of the highlights of our trip.

TRATTORIA AL GATTO NERO

We took a short day trip to Murano and Burano and had scheduled a lunch at a different place in Burano, but our boat driver insisted that we go to Trattoria Al Gatto Nero, saying it was the best restaurant on Burano, and perhaps, in all of Venice. We are thrilled we listened to him. It was a lovely family restaurant that serves traditional fare (perfected grilled fish, soft pillows of pasta and other typical Venetian seafood dishes). Al Gatto Nero means the black cat and the entire place is decorated with portraits and drawings of such. It feels cozy and homey– like a restaurant owned by your Italian aunt. We loved it and would go back many more times.

*The whole roasted fish and seafood platter were scrumptious.

ACQUA PAZZA

One day we were starving, it was raining, and we needed food STAT. So we saw this nice covered patio in a square overlooking the Campo Sant’Angelo and decided to try it. We had delicious Amalfi cuisine (large portions) and very nice service.

*The highlight was the platter of Italian cookies and limoncello that the waiter brought at the end of our meal.

IL REFOLO

After so many nice and somewhat formal dinners, sometimes it’s nice to have a more casual experience. That’s what we found at Il Refolo. This small restaurant is away from the crowds in a more residential part of Venice and offers delicious pizza, salads, and pasta.

*During good weather, there are seats outdoors overlooking a small canal (which is surprisingly rare in Venice).

RISTORANTE RIVIERA

Set on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro area (near the Peggy Guggenheim Museum), Ristorante Riviera is a treat. It normally has seating on the Canal, but we were there on a blustery, rainy day. We sat inside with what appeared to be only locals and were treated to a Prix Fixe meal that was delicious and unexpected. The owner stopped by to introduce himself and make sure everything was good. Service was impeccable.

*During nice weather, sit outside canalside. It’s lovely watching the boats glide by while dining on exquisite food.

GELATERIA SUSO

Gelateria Suso is an Instagram darling, which made me skeptical, BUT this gelato is worth the long walk to get there and the long lines. Fresh, large scoops of velvety gelato… Delicious!

*Be prepared to wait for a while. We went several times and had to wait each time.

THINGS TO SEE & DO

WANDER AROUND THE CITY AND EXPLORE

Allowing a day or two to wander and explore will give you an opportunity to see things that you never would see when on a strict schedule.

DOGE’S PALACE

This palace was once the seat of the powerful Venetian government and the architecture reflects its importance. It is a Gothic masterpiece with layers added from the 14th century on. It has rooms that were apartments for government officials, offices and a prison. It now houses a museum, which is definitely worth seeing.

*Hieronymous Bosch’s Hell, The Last Judgement, and Fall of the Damned into Hell are on exhibit here, as well as works from Tiepolo, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto.

PIAZZA SAN MARCO & BASILICA

The principal square in Venice is what many consider to be the center of the city. It’s here where the government buildings are; the famous St. Mark’s Basilica, museums, Clock Tower, Campanile and famous restaurants and cafes, plus thousands upon thousands of pigeons. Construction on the Basilica was started in 978 and had elements added over the centuries (many taken from other areas that Venice invaded). The Basilica is a visual wonder- a combination of Byzantine and Gothic architecture that looks like the top of a very ornate cake from someone’s wildest dreams.

*The tickets to the basilica and Doge’s Palace sell out quickly. You can buy tickets online here.

GONDOLA RIDE

Touristy, but riding on a gondola gives you a different perspective that is worth the lines and the high price. Viewing the city from water level is lovely and gives you a glimpse of what this majestic city was like many centuries ago.

BASILICA DI SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE

This beautiful baroque-style church was built following the plague of 1630 that killed many people throughout Europe. It was an offering from the city to Our Lady of Health for the deliverance from the pestilence. The dome of the church has inspired many artists including Canaletto, John Singer Sargent and J. M. W. Turner.

*Buy tickets online to skip the lines.

PEGGY GUGGENHEIM COLLECTION

American heiress Peggy Guggenheim opened her palatial home to visitors starting in 1951 to showcase her impressive collection of modern art. When she died in 1979, her home was opened year-round to visitors who admire the works of Jackson Pollack, Max Ernst (Guggenheim’s husband), Kandinsky, Mondrian, Calder and a number of other important figures in the Modern Art movement.

*The sculpture garden is beautiful, as is the terrace that overlooks the Grand Canal of this 18th century palace. It’s in the Dorsoduro area of Venice, Italy.

RIALTO BRIDGE

Perhaps the most famous bridge in Venice, second to the Bridge of Sighs. The Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge that spans the Grand Canal. The walkway of the bridge has a row of shops on each side.

*This is worth a few pictures, but is usually overcrowded. It is next to the new DFS luxury department store, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

MURANO & BURANO

These two islands are about a 20-40 minute boat ride from Venice. Murano is home to the famous Murano Glass factories and Burano is known as the lacemaking island of Italy. I was skeptical about a trip to both, but ended up loving the daytrip. Watching the glassblowers (who learned their trade from their elder family members) is mesmerizing, while the colorful buildings in Burano are worth the trip alone.

*Eat at Trattoria al Gatto Nero on the tiny island of Burano. You won’t regret it. The food is authentic, traditional Venetian food.

GRAND CANAL

Several of the sites above are situated on the Grand Canal (Guggenheim, Rialto Bridge, Salute). It’s nice to walk from one end to the other.

*Notice how the architecture and feel of the neighborhoods change as you walk from one end of the Grand Canal to the other.

GALLERIE DELL ‘ACADEMIA

This is the royal academy of fine arts in Venice and was one of the first institutions to study art restoration in the late 1700s. Now it’s a state museum in Italy and houses important works of Venetian art from Leonardo da Vinci, Tintoretto, Veronese, Charles Le Brun and others.

*It houses Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, but it is rarely exhibited because it is on paper which is sensitive to light.

BRIDGE OF SIGHS

This enclosed bridge connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms of the Doge’s Palace. The Bridge of Sighs got its name because it is the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment.

*Many an artist has painted this bridge. One of the most famous is John Singer Sargent.

SAN MARCO CAMPANILE

For a stunning bird’s eye view of Venice, go to the top of this nearly 100-yard tall tower that is across the way from St. Mark’s Basilica. It was originally built in the 9th century and has been rebuilt many times since (it collapsed in 1902 because of poor construction).

*The view here is stunning! Gallileo used the campanile as an observatory to study the sky and it was here where he first demonstrated his telescope.

HEALTH & ORGANICS

FOOD

The great thing about food in Europe is that the food safety regulations are stricter than in the US, genetically modified food is banned and most of the food is seasonal. So even though you may not be eating organically grown food in Europe, as a whole, it is healthier.

ERBORISTERIA

These are herb stores that sell natural and/or health products (teas, tinctures, homeopathic remedies, natural soaps & clean beauty products). They are fun places to try new products and many take orders online (for when you fall in love with something and want to order it again from home).

FINAL THOUGHTS ON VENICE, ITALY

As I said earlier, a little bit of planning will go a long way in making your trip to Venice memorable. Please let us know if you have some favorite spots in Venice that we didn’t include in our guide.

If you want more travel guides to other cities in Italy, see our 2 Perfect Days in Florence Guide and our Rome Travel Guide. For those of you who love artists and want to know their secrets, see In the Studio with Irma Spencer, a Burano, Italy ceramicist and textile artist.

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