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The Perfect Itinerary for a Weekend in Venice

Updated on August 15, 2017
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Meredith has traveled extensively and offers advice and life hacks to make your journey more enjoyable.

A Weekend Break to Venice, How to Maximize Your Stay

You may be wondering if it's possible to see the key attractions in Venice on weekend break? Yes, it is with a carefully planned itinerary you can experience all that Venice has to offer without feeling like you were rushed.
You'll discover why this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most visited places in the world. Even with only a weekend break, you could be experiencing everything from romantic gondola rides to seeing paintings by Italian masters. In fact, you'll be mesmerized by Venice on this whirlwind.
Here's the itinerary I used when I only had a short stay. With a little planning, I was able to capture the best Venice had to offer.

Gondolas in Venice
Gondolas in Venice

St. Mark's Basilica

To experience the most in a day, I started at the San Marco Piazza. St. Mark's Basilica is the most iconic destinations in all of Venice and is instantly recognizable from films and photographs. With the wide sweeping piazza in front shared by pigeons, doves, and tourists. This is a great place to get a panoramic picture.

The beauty of this Byzantine style is rich both externally and internally. Take the time to appreciate the mosaics, and gold which is evidence of the historical importance of Venice. Be aware there is a dress code to enter, the shoulders must be covered and the legs must be covered to the knees. I paid a little extra to buy a 'skip the line ticket'.

The Doge Palace

St. Mark's Square Doge's Palace
St. Mark's Square Doge's Palace

The Doge's Palace

In the past, the Doge's Palace had 3 main roles:

  1. The Doge's (magistrate) residence,
  2. The administration offices of government
  3. A court including a prison.

In the San Marco piazza, you'll see Doge's Palace with its Gothic style architecture. Now a museum you'll see examples of Murano glass, Venetian art, and an impressive collection of weapons. Allow yourself about two hours to see the museum. Because you're on a tight schedule, buy tickets online and opt for either an audio tour or hire a guide who will be able to explain what you're seeing, and answer any questions you might have. For those of limited mobility, there is a lift for access.

Rick Steves Pocket Venice
Rick Steves Pocket Venice

If you don't want to use a local tour guide, this is your next best thing. It also is a lot less expensive, and in my opinion, more efficient. The funny thing is, I saw other people carrying this around as well. No one wants to look like a tourist, but if you are pressed for time, whip out this book and you will know what you're looking at be it art or a building. Plus there is no language barrier.


The Campanile

At 99 meters high the Campanile may be the first thing you see when arriving in Venice because of its sheer height. Although this used to be a lighthouse, it is now open to the public. With an elevator to whisk you to the top, you'll have a 360º view of the city.

Although this bell tower was rebuilt after a collapse in 1902, you'll be standing where Galileo demonstrated his telescopes to the Lords of the day. It's easy to think that the study of science was always strong and well received with enthusiasm, however, this wasn't the case. The Catholic Church was all powerful and Galileo's writings were considered heresy.

While in the square, grab a bite to eat, sightseeing builds up an appetite and with countless cafes and restaurants, you're never far from great tasting Italian food. Seafood lovers should try the Risotto al nero di seppia which is squid ink risotto. While I sat at the cafe it gave me time to reflect on the history of the area. Looking at architecture, paintings and sculptures is one thing but knowing you are walking where great men have trod is humbling. How different our world would be without their dreams of creating and their desire to change the status quo.

The Bridge of Sighs

Legend says that if a couple kisses whilst passing under the Bridge of Sighs, their love will be eternal. What better reason could there be for going on a romantic evening ride on a gondola?

The Bridge of Sighs, as it was coined by the English poet Lord Byron, connects the new prison to the Doge where prisoners were interrogated. It's suggested that as the prisoners crossed the white limestone bridge with its stone bars at the windows, they would sigh knowing it was the last time they'd see their beloved Venice as they crossed the Rio di Palazzo for the final time. Although that makes a wonderful story, it can't be true because the prisoners wouldn't have been able to see anything of Venice.

Some of the prisoners were destined for the dark and dank lower cells where conditions were awful. Insects, constant damp, and poor quality and sometimes rotten food meant they weren't likely to come out alive but would die of a malnutrition or a disease related to the inhospitable living conditions.

Under the lead roof, there were also cells and this was where the better off prisoners were held. The conditions were hot in summer and cold in winter but compared to the other cells, it was the equivalent of the Ritz for prisoners. This is where the womanizer Casanova was held. He escaped out of the roof, climbed down a drain pipe and convinced the guard to let him out. Apparently, his gift of the gab didn't only work on women. Legend has it that he also stopped for a cup of coffee before making his escape.

Rialto Market

The next step is the Rialto Market. From the San Marco Piazza, cross the Grand Canal on the Rialto Bridge. The Rialto Market is a bustling area of commerce especially in the morning when Venetians source many of their daily fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish.
This is a perfect opportunity to grab some Cicchetti which are a variety of bar snacks accompanied with white wine. Baccalà mantecato is one such favorite and is dried cod which has been made into a whipped paste for spreading on toast or bread. You'll find a wide variety of these at an osteria or a Cicchetti bar giving you an ideal break for taking in the Venetian atmosphere during your visit.

The Opera House, La Fenice

The Opera House, La Fenice, or the Phoenix is true its name as it has been destroyed by fire three times, the most recent being in 1996. When two electricians set fire to the opera house because their company was facing large fines for the delay in finishing. In fact, the whole saga sounds like something out of an operatic tragedy. The owner of the company decided to flee the country and was found in Belize and was extradited back to Italy.

Many famous composers such as Verdi, Bellini and Rossini have had their premieres at La Fenice. I would encourage you to see an opera while you are in Venice for your weekend break. Book your tickets beforehand and enjoy the show.

The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute

Day Two is all about the art and I would suggest you wear comfortable shoes and clothing.

Great architecture or divine intervention? The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute was built as an offering to the Madonna for saving the people of Venice from the plague. Over 80,000 Venetians lost their lives due to the black death. This domed church, positioned at the mouth of the Grand Canal, is constructed on top of the soft mud. An engineering nightmare which needed 100,000 pylons deep-seated into the muddy quagmire.

Those with a penchant for Modern art should head to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. This important museum can be seen in about an hour but take time out to enjoy the beautiful garden and restaurant. Housed in the 18th-century waterside Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, this was Peggy Guggenheim's home for 30 years. This is away from the hustle and bustle of the busy squares and provides both a balance of modern art and serenity. I thoroughly enjoyed this even though I love works by the Old Masters I was pleased to have experienced this.

Step outside the Guggenheim museum and board a gondola for the next stop on the whirlwind tour of museums, from modern art, let's turn back the clock and head to the
Ca' Rezzonico . The contrast between the two museums is like day and night. Take a guided tour around the ornate ballroom of the 18th-century artwork and furnishing.

The Scuola grande di San Rocco can be seen in less than 2 hours, and is a hidden gem, with fewer tourists and a vast array of paintings by Italian painter Tintoretto. The audio guide will be helpful.
Take a leisurely stroll in the Basilica dei Frari where you'll see works by Donatello, and Titan.

Murano and Burano

Today you'll be boarding a Vaporetto, a water taxi, and heading to the islands of Murano and Burano. The picturesque islands in the lagoon of the Grand Canal are well worth a visit. Famous for its glassworks, on the island of Murano, you can watch glassblowers at work in the fornaci. See them create works of art right before your eyes and purchase items in their gift shops if you wish. Take time to visit the island with its displays of glass sculptures peppered around the town and notice the quirky lampposts. A laid back place to spend a few hours soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying some delicious food such as fegato alla Veneziana or Venetian styled liver and onions.

Pop over to Burano, the home of Venetian lace. Visit the shops specializing in Burano lace but be prepared to pay handsomely for the real article. Pieces made by hand are labor intensive and this is reflected in the price. Visitors should wary of imitations or copies and check the prices before purchase.
Lacemaking isn't the only draw for tourists to Burano. the vivid colored buildings are an unexpected surprise for tourists. Although they appear to be random colors, the owners have to apply to the council when it is time to repaint. They will be assigned an acceptable color. This fun and funky island offer photographic opportunities with their vivid colors casting reflections into canals.

Burano, Venice
Burano, Venice

Best Time to Travel to Venice

Because your visit is only for three days, planning your itinerary wisely will ensure you see the beauty of Venice and maximize your enjoyment by avoiding the blistering heat and the long lines.

The best months to travel are March-May excluding the Easter break. The summer months are crowded and hot so skip visiting at that time. September-November the weather can be changeable but if you dress accordingly, it can be one of the best times to go. Fewer tourists, cooler temperatures and lower prices for accommodation make it an ideal time.

No matter when you choose to travel, a three-day break in Venice is going to leave you with three things. A memory card full of photos, great memories, and a desire to return for a longer stay. Now that you know how it's possible to see key attractions in Venice, all that's left is for you to book your short break.

© 2017 Meredith Davies


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    • Cal-gal profile image

      Meredith Davies 5 months ago

      It's a beautiful place, as is most of Italy. I hope you get a chance to experience it. Thanks for reading.

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 5 months ago from Louisiana, USA

      Venice is on my bucket list of places I want to visit. I want to take a trip to Italy someday so I may actually only get a few days in Venice because of all the other wonderful Italian sites. These are some very good tips and advice. Thank you for sharing and the pictures you chose are beautiful.