48 Hours In Venice
Just the name ‘Venice’ summons images of romantic gondola cruises down narrow canals; pavement cafes where people sip espresso or prosecco; trade and commerce; opera and art. The backdrop for countless films and novels, Venice is one of the most popular cities in Europe. If you have just a couple of days here, these are some key things to do with your time.
Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. @HG_Richardson / www.hg-richardson.com
A walking tour is a great way to start exploring. I booked the Venice Free Walking Tour with a little hesitancy, but it turned out to be a brilliant decision. Our guide was immensely knowledgeable and adept at keeping a group of about 30 international tourists both entertained and at heel as we wandered the back streets of Venice, smoothly avoiding the crowds, whilst learning about the city’s past and present.
At the end of the tour, rest your feet over lunch somewhere in the area. Our walking tour ended in a quiet square called Campo Santa Maria Nova in Cannaregio where you’ll find the excellent pizzeria Antico Gatoleto. Aside from pizza, recommended dishes include the prosciutto and mozzarella starter (involving a fist-size ball of cheese), the tender beef carpaccio, and the spaghetti with clams, which is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
After lunch, spend some time getting your bearing by taking an aimless wander through the labyrinth of lanes. One of the best things about Venice is that when you find yourself on a busy street, you only need to slip down a narrow side passage and the noise all but dies away, almost immediately. Stop for gelato or a coffee when you need a break.
Tip: As soon as you sit down, a coffee can be anything up to €10, but when you stand at the bar, the cost is capped between €1 and €1.50.
En route to Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), you might want to pause for a Bellini in the bar where the drink was invented in 1948. Harry’s Bar is so unassuming you could walk right past it and the service is friendly and unpretentious.
Visit Piazza San Marco before the basilica closes at 5pm – heading there just before it shuts (or first thing in the morning) is best if you’ll be satisfied by a quick walk around. Usually heaving with tourists, this area is quietest at either end of the day.
Watch the sunset over a few cocktails from the rooftop bar of Hotel Danieli – five minutes’ walk from Piazza San Marco – before taking the ferry (or a 25-minute stroll) to Dorsoduro, home to the buzzy student quarter, for dinner at Ristorante La Bitta (Calle Lunga San Barnaba). Make sure you book ahead.
Take the boat to Burano, an island famed for its lace making and brightly coloured houses. Have lunch at Da Romano (Via Baldassarre Galuppi), a family-run restaurant that dates back generations.
Catch the ferry back to the Grand Canal and hop into a gondola. The trick is to wait for a quiet time of the day and barter down from the official €80 rate.
Tip: If you don’t fancy the full 40 minutes, you can just catch a traghetto from one side of the canal to the other – a quick taste of the gondola experience for just €2.
Back on dry land, visit one of Venice’s many galleries, such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection or Gallerie dell’Accademia. If art isn’t really your bag, take the afternoon to browse some of Venice’s more authentic shops: Murra, on Ruga degli Speziali in San Polo, sells locally made leather goods, each with a Venetian stamp; the owner of La Mascareta (Calle de la Chiesa) will show you how he makes his masks and will provide a history of each style; and Libreria Acqua Alta is a quirky bookshop famed for its steps of flood-ruined books at the back – climbing them is said to make you wiser (though I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this claim).
Set aside a couple of hours for cicheti bar hopping. Sample the local processo with Venice’s tapas-like bar snacks, usually enjoyed in the early evening.
Spend your final night in Cannaregio. Have dinner – if you’ve got room – at one of the canal-side osterias or pick up a slice of pizza at Arte Della Pizza (Calle de l’Aseo), a tiny takeaway pizzeria that’s popular with locals. Toast your last night with a carafe of prosecco at Al Timon (Fondamenta degli Ormesini), a lively, friendly bar, outside which a moored boat acts as al fresco seating.
When to go?
Venice can get extremely busy and avoiding the peak tourism dates (July and August, Easter and Christmas) is highly advisable. Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit.