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“There is something so different in Venice from any other place in the world, that you leave at once all accustomed habits and everyday sights to enter an enchanted garden.” – Mary Shelley, English author
Welcome to Venice
Upon first arrival in Venice, you quickly realize that there is nothing ubiquitous about the place. It is unlike any other, with a charm and intrigue all its own. Colorful buildings rise above the narrow canals. Uneven brick-lined walkways and quaint bridges (of which there are 400) beckon with romanticism. Gleaming gondolas float lazily past adorned with fire engine red plastic roses and mesmerized faces.
While it is true that the Palazzo Ducale, Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge are bustling with thousands of tourists, and have been for centuries, this Italian wonder on the Adriatic Sea can also offer a serenity that will consume and beguile. You can purchase skip-the-line tickets to most of these iconic places ahead of time here.
Venice is a breathtaking city to behold, from its lively piazzas and cafes, basilicas and museums, to its osterias, bacari (wine bars) and shops ordained with elegant Murano glass and haunting Carnivale masks. As for us Winetravelers, Venice offers a stunning backdrop from which to enjoy a crisp glass of sparkling Prosecco, a refreshing glass of the dry, lovely Soave, a rich glass of Amarone della Valpolicella or one of our favorites, a Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso.
Venice in One Day
I have no doubt that someday Venice will call me back to its canals and dare me to lose myself for weeks at a time, but until then, it is one of my favorite destinations in Italy to make a one-day stop. I’m certainly not saying 24 hours exploring the many corners of Venice is enough to truly know or understand this unique city, but it will leave a tantalizing and long-lasting taste in your mouth that will keep you coming back for more.
So, for wine lovers exploring the vineyards of the Veneto region or passing through on the way to Tuscany, we offer the following carefully-curated Venice itinerary. Alternatively, if you’re looking to hit the back alleyways of Venice and experience it like a local in a guided fashion, there is no better choice than scheduling a food and wine tour with Intrepid Urban Adventures. If you’d prefer to focus on famous landmarks and architecture, you can get skip-the-line access with this tour.
To begin, we suggest establishing a home base in Verona, 71 miles to the west of Venice, it is a perfectly romantic city from which to access both the Veneto wine region and Venice.
As a car is the best way to explore the vineyards adorning the hills of Garda, Bardolino and Valpolicella, Verona will offer a central location with plenty of accommodations, parking and easy train access for a Venetian adventure.
This not only saves you from having to deal with the hassle of parking on the outskirts of Venice, but also allows you to leave your luggage behind without the need for lockers or storage.
Winetraveler Tip: Be sure to arrange for tickets at the Arena de Verona ahead of time with this Verona city pass. You’ll get free access to the city’s monuments and also access to the public transportation system. The 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater offers nightly operatic performances which are nothing short of magical. Arrive early to claim your desired spot on the stone steps, sip a glass of wine and wonder at the architectural and historic marvel surrounding you. Afterward, join the other hundreds of opera-goers on the beautiful Piazza dei Signori for dinner and revelry.
Dozens of trains depart daily from the Verona Porta Nuova train station. The round-trip ticket will likely cost around $25 USD for the hour and 20-minute trip. As the trains can be crowded, it is recommended that you purchase these in advance from TrenItalia.
Select an early-morning train between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. as it will put your arrival at Venice’s St. Lucia station between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., ahead of the sizeable crowds. Both the Porta Nuova and St. Lucia stations are easy to navigate, and the ride is direct and comfortable.
Arrival in Venice
Upon your arrival at St. Lucia, exit the station and head toward the Grand Canal. While you can walk to the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark Square), we recommend hopping on the Vaporetto. Tickets are available online or outside St. Lucia. You’ll want line #1 or #2 which will whisk you through the Grand Canal to the Piazza in about 25 minutes.
The quick arrival to the Piazza via the Vaporetto will enable you to visit the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) or the Basilica di San Marco upon opening and before the mid-day crowds which begin arriving by 10 a.m. Or, if outdoor exploration is more of what you had in mind, use this time to take photos of the Piazza, the Campanile (bell tower), Basilica, Palazzo, and the Bridge of Sighs before the throngs of people arrive.
Early morning is also one of the better times to snag a seat at an outdoor cafe lining the Piazza. We recommend the renowned and elegant Caffè Florian. Dating back to 1720, it is the oldest café situated under the arches of the Procuratie Nuove in Saint Mark Square. Although the Florian attracts many tourists, it remains a stunning locale for an espresso, biscotti and Vivaldi; although we won’t fault anyone for ordering a glass of prosecco to start the day either.
If you are lucky enough to have secured an outdoor seat at the Florian, take your time. Enjoy the ambiance, the view, and the grand history of your coveted seat in one of the most famous squares in the world.
If Bellini cocktails are more your thing, head to Harry’s Bar Cipriani by the ferry terminal to experience the 1930s cocktail bar frequented by Hemingway and known for Bellini, carpaccio, and club sandwiches.
There are also some special, local-guided tours that focus on enjoying a morning meandering around Venice. Enjoy pastries and coffee shops that aren’t touristy, and then stop by highlights included on the tour like the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square, and Doge’s Palace.
Leaving the Tourists Behind
As late morning approaches, the tourists will begin arriving to the San Marco Piazza area in droves. Since this is a one day itinerary, we recommend you begin to meander deeper into the streets of Venice for a more authentic and oft-missed look at this bewitching city.
Set off to the north, west or even northwest from the Piazza and simply lose yourself. Wander about slowly, look up, look down, right and left around this carless series of islands made for discovery and exploration. Visit the shops and merchants that draw your eye and entice your sense of wonder and whimsy, such as one of the small vinaie (wine shops) like Al Canton del Vin to sample “un umbra,” a glass of regional wine; or a ceramic shop with dozens of handmade Venetian masks.
As soon as you are off the Piazza and away from the Grand Canal, the streets narrow and the colorful buildings with laundry strewn on lines between them rise above you. Window boxes filled with brightly colored flowers and small boats tied to posts serve as gentle, awe-inspiring reminders of day-to-day Venetian life.
Stop to visit the quiet local shops serving sandwiches, cheeses and cured meats, or saunter your way up to the bar at one of the many, standing-room-only bacari and ask for a recommended wine with cicchetti (small plates).
As the mid-day sun bears down, it becomes the perfect time to enjoy a Venetian seafood or pasta lunch at a charming osteria. These often small, quaint eateries have a way of enveloping you into the atmosphere and making you fully aware of the present moment; from the aromas, the tastes, the rustic interiors to the cool and sounds of gentle, but lively conversations – nothing else will be of any concern.
Recommended Lunch Destinations
Al Covo – rustic and tucked away, Al Covo is a charming restaurant serving locals and tourists alike from an updated, yet traditional menu of seafood and pastas.
Corte Sconta – a renowned seafood restaurant with a vine-laden courtyard and an inventive menu including items such as marinated swordfish and clams steamed in ginger.
Osteria Oliva Nera – an intimate, family restaurant serving stuffed fried zucchini flowers, bigoli in salsa (spaghetti with anchovies and onions), and variously prepared fresh local fish and squid.
When in Rome… (or Venice)
After a satisfying lunch, you will return to the cobbled streets with a sense of utter serenity despite knowing your day is only halfway done. Relish this elusive feeling as you find a willing gondolier. You won’t need to return to the main canal to find an available guide. Simply approach, ask the price (many will negotiate) and duration. Alternatively, you can schedule a private gondola experience or even a private photo shoot ahead of time.
Once you find the guide and arrangements that best suit you (we prefer keeping to the smaller, less traversed canals), step down into the polished gondola, sit back and enjoy this uniquely Venetian experience. Although a gondola ride in Venice can be considered a cliche tourist experience, it is one that you will not regret. Some gondoliers are chatty, others deftly steer through the back canals in silence, but most will follow your lead. And again, make sure to look up, down, left and right as beauty can be found in the smallest of details from brightly painted doorways to the sun casting silhouettes of passing gondoliers on a pastel-colored wall.
An Evening in Venice
As late afternoon passes to evening, it’s time to return to your wanderings. Make your way toward the Ponte de Rialto (Rialto Bridge), the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal, built in 1591. The busy pedestrian bridge can be traversed along the steps on either of two outer balustrades, or the wider central walkway leading between rows of small shops selling tourist items, jewelry, linens, and Murano glass. As one of the most visited sites in Venice, you’ll likely have to make your way through the crowds as you cross over the Grand Canal to the smallest of the Venetian provinces, San Polo. Make your way to the west, winding your way into the interior streets away from the buzz of the Rialto.
Depending on the time and your interest, now would be a great time to sneak an hour or so in at one of two art museums: the Galleria del Accademia or the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Both locations remain open through 6 p.m., but tickets will need to be purchased online or at least 45 minutes before closing.
As the day winds down, it’s time to return to that leisurely pace captured earlier in the day, painting those memories in your mind as you once again step up to a bar at another bacaro. Or, as the sun begins to set, grab an outdoor seat at one (maybe even two!) of our recommended evening wine and snack stops recommended evening wine and snack stops for a final taste of la dolce vita.
Depending on your departing train, it’s likely time to make your way back to St. Lucia for your return trip to Verona. Many shops and eateries will be closing, so it’s only necessary to budget enough time to board your train; although, we do recommend grabbing a slice of street pizza if you’re still hungry and a bottle of water for the train as you make your way back along the Strada Nova. The return train will likely be more crowded, but it’s still comfortable, quick and easy. Before you know it you’ll be asleep, dreaming of the magical, unbelievable day you experienced in unrivaled Venezia.
Estro – a more upscale, yet approachable, sit-down cucina, Estro’s menu will inspire and the wine list is a real treat – reservations recommended.
La Bottiglia – a small, quiet wine bar serving simple sandwiches and plates and expertly matched wines.
Vineria all’Amarone – closer to the Rialto, and slightly busier, all’Amarone offers wine flights, wine by the glass and a delicious array of food
Cantina Do Mori – a legendary bacaro going back to 1462, Cantina Do Mori offers a lively, standing-room-only atmosphere, an array of wine and a delightful menu of cicchetti.
Ristorante La Cantina Venezia – along the Strada Nova, La Cantina sits in a well-traversed piazza and serves wines by the glass and small plates with delicious seafood cicchetti and fresh bread.
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