Venice is sinking, there is little doubt about it. Which is why it was higher up my travel list than the likes of Naples or Florence when I visited Italy. But even without the clock potentially ticking on the future of the city, Venice has long been one of the country’s top tourist attractions. Appropriately named the “fairy tale city of the heart” (well done, Byron), the mysterious twisty alleys and canals lined with the crumbling glory of Renaissance mansions and Byzantine churches is what’s earned Venice a spot on practically every tourist’s itinerary.
The result, especially if you arrive in peak season, is a visit defined by slow-moving queues, some of Italy’s worst food (yes, I did say that and yes, it is true) and over-priced…well…everything.
Many people arrive in Venice with expectations as grand as the canal but leave with little more than a bag full of disappointment. This presents a fair conundrum for those who have not yet visited Venice. It would be a shame to miss this legendary city in all its magical, canal-laced grandeur. But is it possible to experience Venice without the disappointment? The answer, fortunately, is yes. How? Spend only one day in Venice. It may not seem like enough time, but with a good strategy and an early start, you can hit all the high marks of Venice’s artistic and architectural masterpieces while minimising your exposure to the crowds and overpriced tourist tat. Here’s what to see and do in one day in Venice.
Piazza san Marco
If there is one thing you can guarantee in Venice, it’s that St Mark’s Square will be mobbed with tourists by mid-morning so head there first thing and revel in its splendour absent hundreds of fellow travellers. Rimmed by some of the finest Renaissance architecture in the city, the square is dominated by the magnificent Basilica di San Marco, a 900-year old Romanesque and Byzantine masterpiece crowned by five ornate domes. Free tours are available in high season.
The Torre dell’Orologio (Moor’s Clock Tower) is another spectacular in the square and the one-minute lift ride to the top of the Campanile gives some of the best views of the city.
As you leave St. Mark’s Plaza through the granite-columned gateway to the city, you can’t miss the Doge’s Palace with its ornate marbled façade that is reminiscent of a wedding cake.
The Rialto Bridge
Stroll along the waterfront until you reach the bridge to the Arsenale. You can’t enter this 12th century military complex, but you can pause to admire the four magnificent marble lions guarding the entrance before stopping for a coffee in the square. From there, it’s a quick vaporetto ride to the most famous bridge in Venice, the Ponte di Rialto, 24 meters of Istrian Stone arching over the Grand Canal and lined with a lot of overpriced boutiques. Skip the shopping unless you absolutely must and just lean over the parapet and watch the boats pass beneath filled with everything from fruits and vegetables to building materials, the fascinating waterborne parade of a city without cars.
Photo by: MorBCN
Take a traghetto from the Calmpo della Pescaria next to the Rialto Bridge to experience the more tranquil maze of alleyways and tiny bridges of this northeast neighborhood. Turn an unexpected corner and allow yourself to get lost in the Venice of long ago, a place of cobbled streets, narrow canals and seductive secrets. Look for the church of Madonna dell’Orto, home of Tintoretto masterpieces including The Last Judgment and the Martyrdom of St. Paul.
This intriguing museum is housed in a handsome Grand Canal palace and will whisk you back to life in the last years of the Venetian Republic when families like the wealthy Rezzonicos lived in a glittery whirl of extravagant parties, lavish dinners and assorted frivolous pass-times. Awash in incredible period paintings including Tiepolo and Longhi, the exhibition halls include amazing furniture, tapestry, fashion and artifacts.
The Grand Canal
You don’t need to spring for a pricey gondola to experience the magnificence of Renaissance Venice. A half-hour vaporetto ride from the train station to Piazza San Marco will take you past some of the city’s most impressive architecture and also give your feet a chance to rest. Try to go in the late afternoon (for its soft, golden light) and sit up front for the best view of banks lined with a parade of faded palaces and Byzantine churches that seem to float on the water. You’ll glide past elegant hotels, magnificent museums and around 200 spectacular palazzi built between the 12th and 18th century. Highlights include the pink-and-white Ca d’Oro, the church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Gritti Palace Hotel, once a haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
Where to stay
Image courtesy of Palazzo Guardi Hotel
There are lots of nice little fairy tale style Hotels in Venice to rest your head at night although if you feel like spending a little extra then the Palazzo Guardi situated in the old part of Venice offers a stay in a fifteenth century residence.
It’s quite possible that after spending one day in Venice you may feel inspired to spend a few more…and I guess it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to extend your stay so you can slip away across one of those tiny bridges and into the mysterious maze of beckoning alleys that draw you into the ancient, endlessly intriguing heart of Venice. After all, who knows how long Venice will be with us?
Planning your one day in Venice
- Be selective about which attractions you really want to see so you won’t waste time and standing-power getting into places that don’t interest you as much.
- Even if you’ve spent the evening sampling the finest vintages those charming little wine bars have to offer, rise early and make a beeline to the principal sites – Venice is a popular cruise stop so top and tail your day with the more popular sights so you don’t coincide with the arrival of the ships.
- Opening times of attractions change frequently so double-check schedules before setting out.
- By seeing which lesser-known attractions are near major sites, you can allow yourself a little breather and explore some of the city’s hidden treasures.
- Don’t try to walk everywhere especially in the steamy heat of July and August; not only is it time-consuming, but you’ll be exhausted. A day pass on the vaporetti (water buses) is a good investment or catch a ride on a traghetti (gondola ferry).
Want to read more travel planning tips for Italy? Click below.
In partnership with HostelBookers.