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It’s no surprise that Venice is one of Europe’s most popular weekend getaways. A short flight away from many of the continent’s capitals, this watery metropolis offers culture, beauty and serenity (if you can dodge the tourist hordes.) Nothing prepares you for your first sight of St Mark’s Square and its glistening medieval Basilica; phenomenally beautiful palazzos and world-class museums line the canals and alleys, with bars full of cicchetti and Spritz cocktails on each corner offering a welcome respite from the busy streets. There’s simply so much to do here that Culture Trip recommends taking the city slowly and avoid rushing between sights, letting yourself soak in the beauty of a perfect weekend in Venice.
Wake up nice and early and grab some oven-fresh breakfast pastries from Farini, a café in Campo San Lio that’s just a few minutes from the Rialto Bridge. Apricot-jam-filled croissants are a local speciality that shouldn’t be missed; make sure you grab one with your coffee, to eat in or take away from this bustling bakery. Cross over the Rialto Bridge, admiring the wares in the small jewellery shops that line the famous arch, and head to Rialto Market. This is the place to go to experience a slice of traditional Venetian life and culture; this canopied structure has hosted an early morning market for centuries, flogging fish fresh from the lagoon, a rainbow of colourful fruit and vegetables, and local herbs and spices. Once you’ve chatted with the stall-holders, snapped some photos and perhaps bought some souvenirs, leave the market and make the short walk to Sestiere San Polo. Here you’ll find the jaw-dropping Basilica dei Frari. This imposing church is one of Venice’s finest medieval structures and holds many important tombs and artworks, including the final resting place of the Venetian painter Titian.
Walk or take the vaporetto water bus to Accademia, and wander along the San Trovaso Canal to Osteria al Squero to sample Venice’s best cicchetti (a style of light bites particular to the city, similar to tapas) and prosecco for lunch. Although the bar itself is quite small, you can enjoy the bite-sized morsels outside, leaning against the walls that line the canal and admiring the very Venetian view – just opposite lies the charming Squero boatyard, a gondola repair shop that’s always a hive of activity.
Once you’ve rested your feet and had your fill of the fresh local ingredients that make up Osteria al Squero’s ever-changing cicchetti selection, head down to the world-class Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This museum houses an incredible collection of Modernist artworks amassed by the late, great Ms Guggenheim. A famously eccentric patron of the arts, she’s buried in the gardens of the palazzo-cum-gallery, alongside her legion of beloved dogs. Afterwards, take a short walk to the Baroque Santa Maria della Salute Basilica; an unmistakable feature of the Venetian skyline, this beautiful church has a tragic history. It was built in the 1630s by the city’s residents to thank God for delivering them from the devastating plague that swept Venice at the start of the century.
Jump on the vaporetto (there’s a stop conveniently located just outside the Salute) back up the Grand Canal to San Stae. In Venice, even taking the public transport is an activity in itself; this must be one of the most scenic bus routes in the world, and sunset is the perfect time to cruise along the water while marvelling at the grand palazzos that line the canals. After your journey, head to La Zucca for dinner – this Michelin-recommended gem has proudly served up its heavenly pumpkin flan for 40 years. Beloved of Venetians, this is one restaurant where you must be sure to reserve a table in advance.
Walk off dinner with a pleasant stroll to Campo Santa Margherita, Venice’s nightlife hub. Here, you can enjoy a nightcap or two in one of the quaint, cosy bars that line the square. Culture Trip’s tip is to head for the cheerful red façade of the Caffè Rosso, where the Aperol Spritz is cheap, plentiful and a strong contender for the best cocktail in the city.
Start your morning with a caffeine hit at Torrefazione Cannaregio, an excellent café where the friendly staff can talk your through their huge range of tea blends and coffee beans, both locally and internationally sourced. Overwhelmed by the options? Culture Trip highly recommends the Colombian Supremo or Ethiopian Sidamo. Grab one of their freshly baked pastries as fuel and cross the canal to Campo Ghetto Nuovo, Venice’s Jewish quarter and home to the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world. Learn the rich, and sometimes tumultuous, history of the area at the Jewish Museum. The museum runs a tour of the magnificent, ornate synagogues in the area; if you’d like to participate, book in advance as group sizes are limited.
Then, hop on a vaporetto – or if you’re in a whimsical mood and money is no object, opt for a traditional gondola ride. Though it may be more expensive than a vaporetto, taking a gondola is on many people’s Venetian bucket list, and the boats can be easily found here in Fondamenta San Felice, just off Strada Nova. Ask your gondolier to take you to San Marco, sit back, and enjoy your floating tour of this unique city.
Before taking in the awe-inspiring marvel that is St Mark’s Square, grab a bite for lunch from Dal Moro’s. This small, unassuming takeaway joints serves up boxes of steaming, freshly-made pasta that’s perfect for lunch on the go. However, be aware that eating is forbidden in St Mark’s Square, so make sure you’ve polished off your pasta before heading to Venice’s most famous square. Take in the splendour of the gold-mosaiced Basilica and the towering Campanile. Your next stop is also in the square, but it showcases the duality of Venice, combining magnificence and darkness. The Doge’s Palace, where Venice’s elected leader resided for centuries, is filled with sumptuous interiors and frescoed ceilings – but it’s also the site where justice was meted out to the city’s residents, and a behind-the-scenes tour takes you through the secret passages and bleak prison chambers.
Unlike the condemned prisoners (which included the legendary lothario Casanova), you’re free to leave the Doge’s Palace at will – when you exit, end the afternoon inside the illustrious St Mark’s Basilica. If you duck in half an hour before closing time, you’ll find a more modest queue for entrance than earlier in the day, and will still have ample time to wander beneath the opulent domes and arches.
After taking in some of the most magnificent sights of the city, stroll to Liberia Aqua Alta, a charming bookshop with a host of great postcards and stationery in the shop front, and one of the most fun photography spots out back; many of the books are stacked high in bathtubs and gondolas to protect them from Venice’s temperamental tides. The shop is open until almost 8pm; don’t forget to bid goodnight to the owner and the friendly cats as you leave. As the sun sets, enjoy a stroll through vibrant Cannaregio and head to the buzzy canalside haunts on Fondamenta Misericordia, the sestiere’s nocturnal heart.
Stop for a late dinner at Il Paradiso Perduto, a colourful restaurant with endless traditional Venetian options including the local speciality, a deliciously decadent squid ink pasta. Dine slowly and go for as many courses as you can manage in true Italian style.
End your weekend on a high note by drinking the wee hours away. Just next door to the restaurant, Vino Vera lives up to its name as proud purveyors of a huge range of excellent wines – or for a final taste of Venice, indulge in a last Spritz.