How to travel back in time? Visit Venice in 2 days

by 10 Jan, 2021Italy

😷  COVID-19 NOTICE: You can check out the latest information about travel restrictions and bans in Italy due to the coronavirus HERE.

Wait, Venice is 1h30 from Slovenia? I had never been keen on going to Venice before given how packed with tourists the city always looks in photos… but the summer of 2020 revealed a completely different picture and there we went on our way to Slovenia taking all the necessary precautions: avoiding public transportation, eating outdoors, wearing the mask and keeping the distances even in Venice’s narrowest alleys.

I have been in a few cities in Italy before but none of them has made me feel like travelling back in time as Venice did… Its magic goes beyond its intact architecture, rare arrangement and nowadays hostile location (given the high risk of flooding) – there is something terribly simple about the city that makes it just unique: the impossibility to have roads, and therefore its dependency on narrow alleys, counted bridges and inevitable detours. How would other European cities look today if they wouldn’t have been that accessible either? With less perfectly maintained roads, more historic buildings and so on? Venice definitely reconfirmed my belief that city centres should be increasingly pedestrianised!

But putting politics and adjectives aside (otherwise you will stop reading me), Venice is a must-do in life even if you aren’t the keenest person on cultural trips and cities, plus there is a big culture of “terracing” and you can get there either via car, train or plane…

What to expect from this post? General tips about Venice that can keep you busy for two days without noticing time passing and a snapshot of places to go for local food or a glass of Spritz. What not to expect from this post? A cultural guide and exhaustive list of places to visit in the city.

🚀 How to get there in the first place

We went to Venice by car given the 2020 situation and that we would later hit the road again to continue our itinerary in Slovenia, but getting to Venice by car might not always be the best idea given you will need to park it somewhere expensive for your whole stay and not use it.

Arriving by train seems the most ideal but also beautiful way to reach Venice, given the central train station (Santa Lucia) is annexed to the old town, it’s 30-min walking from Piazza San Marco (the main square of Venice) and most convenient hotels or apartments are often located in-between. There are direct train lines with Milan, Rome, Naples, etc. and even with Geneva, Munich and Vienna.

Venice also has an international airport (VCE) that is connected with Piazzale Roma (this is the last square with roads in Venice, located on the edge of the old town) via bus through ACTV line 5 (8€ one-way, 15€ return); or with Piazza San Marco via the water bus provided by Alilaguna (more expensive, but closer to central Venice: 14€ one-way, 25€ return).

🚘 Rolling out parking in Venice

That said, if you need or want to go by car as we did, many people often prefer to park in the mainland (i.e. in the Mestre area or even in Padova/Padua) and reach Venice’s old town via train through a regional Trenitalia line. However, we checked different parking options and realised the price difference for a parking lot a bit farther away wasn’t worth it as we would depend on the train as well. And we therefore opted for the most common parking in central Venice: Autorimessa Comunale (close to Piazzale Roma) – which I believe offers the most competitive price: 26€ for 24h if you have a normal car (not wider than 185 cm).

⚠️  BEWARE: This parking only charges 24h periods and I therefore recommend you note well at what time you arrived (you don’t want to be charged an extra 26€ for just a 1h or so lapse)…

This parking also has a special night rate for 15€ if you only park between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m., but not sure if this would be of interest to many…

You can book your parking and pay in advance with a slight discount (23,40€/24h) through Venezia Unica. This is a one-stop on-demand city pass that will also allow you to book and pay for other things in advance, such as tickets for public transportation within Venice (and your transfer from/to the airport if needed) and access to key attractions like Palazzo Ducale.

Once you place your Venezia Unica pass order, you are emailed a voucher/PNR booking code that will allow you to collect your pass. You can retrieve this in the ACTV automatic ticket machines or in other points of sale/collection in the city. I must admit we didn’t acquire the Venezia Unica pass because we planned this trip last minute and hate to stick to a schedule in general. But we also assumed it wasn’t necessary given the reduced amount of tourists going to Venice. However, there were plenty of cars when we arrived and freaked out a bit, so I would advise when planning to park there to potentially book in advance. I was planning to do so at the beginning and it took me a while to understand the whole Venezia Unica process, so I thought to share the above summary with you in case it’s useful!

So H and I arrived in Venice, parked our car and embarked in a 48h (no more!) trip to the past…

🎭 Venezia, the unpaved, in 48 hours

First thing when arriving, you need to leave your suitcase or backpack wherever you are staying. Believe me, you don’t want to go up and down each bridge with it… especially in summer as Venice gets really warm and narrow alleys don’t help you feel refreshed if they are too crowded!

🛏 Where to stay?

In our case, we decided to go with a guest house called Amadeus Holidays (map location), very central, maybe not too fancy but with the charm of an old building and reasonably priced for Venice (around 70€/night for a double room with private bathroom in high season). But there are multiple options and I would advise you just stay central, as in our case, between Ponte di Rialto and Piazza San Marco. I also liked the vibe of the neighbourhood Cannaregio (closer to the train station, so also very convenient).

🤩 What to visit?

For a 48h stay like ours, what’s nice in Venice is to walk and keep walking (or literally get lost unless you want to be checking Google Maps every second) and cover the following in whichever order you prefer: 

Piazza San Marco in Venice

Visit Piazza San Marco and enter the Basilica di San Marco, which we couldn’t visit inside as it was under maintenance 😭 and the interior looks just espectacular from pictures, but the exterior also leaves you speechless with its beautiful facade and golden mosaics. For these reasons, this Basilica that dates from the 11th century is also known as the Chiesa d’Oro and sometimes even feels a bit oriental. If of interest, there is a museum inside the Basilica that costs 5€/adult. If still under maintenance, the museum visit can allow you to see some bits of the Basilica interior.

Court of Palazzo Ducale in Venice
Bridge of Sights in Venice
Palazzo Ducale with statues view
Interior facade of Palazzo Ducale in Venice

Next to it, there is the Palazzo Ducale, H and I aren’t big museum fans except for a few exemptions, but this is definitely a must-do because: 1) will allow you to at least enter in one palazzo, 2) understand Venice’s history in terms of how it was governed from the Middle Age and why it was also so unique in that sense, and 3) you get to walk through the Bridge of Sighs and visit the New Prisons. You can do the visit without booking but you will end up queueing like fools as we did. Therefore, if you don’t mind sticking to a specific time, you can pre-buy your tickets here (it was 14€/adult when we went but it seems prices have gone up…). If you feel very cultural when visiting Venice and want to do a museum marathon, you can also consider buying the Museum Pass. If you are planning on visiting more than one museum, it might be worth – check it out!

Views from Campanile di San Marco with fence
Views of Venice in Italy

Without leaving Piazza San Marco yet, another fun-to-do (wouldn’t say must-do if queue is too long…) is going up Campanile di San Marco (10€/adult) to get an overview of the city. Although from high up you won’t appreciate the canals, you will have a beautiful view over the piazza and Venice’s roofs and built-up terraces; and most importantly, you will better perceive the scope and strange arrangement this city has.

And that’s it in terms of my indoor recommendations! I am pretty sure for Venice lovers and loyals this will look like a too simplistic list and I have no doubt there are many other amazing places to visit like the Palazzo Fortuny, Teatro La Fenice or Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, and countless churches. But for a 2-day trip in Venice, I think it’s important to only visit a minimum and stroll around most of the time! But again, this is up to everyone’s preferences and time. But the question now is…

Views of Venice from traghetto
View of the Grand Canal in Venice

👣 Where to walk in Venice (🚣 and how to ride a cheap gondola)

✅  The city has about 300 bridges, however, the Canal Grande (the main canal dividing the city into two) only has four bridges, which either force you to take long detours or take the most local thing in Venice: the traghetti (traghetto, in singular). A traghetto is a very cheap but non-fancy gondola (2€/trip for tourists) that helps you cross the Canal Grande. Each trip is obviously very short (the longest one does San Marco-Punta della Dogana), but will allow you to experience a gondola without any corniness. Note that you often take them next to the expensive fancy gondolas (about 80€/40min…) – don’t let them intimidate you when approaching your traghetto! Also note traghetti often have random schedules that are hard to check online and often close up early in the day. And going back to the strolling experience, you must cross and admire at some point the bridges crossing Canal Grande: Ponte di Rialto (from the 16th century), Ponte dell’Accademia (wood and metal-based), Ponte della Costituzione (designed by Calatrava) and maybe to a lesser extent Ponte degli Scalzi (in front of the train station).

✅  After spending “some” time in Piazza San Marco you should definitely walk around the neighbourhood, along the art galleries and including Campo San Bartolomeo, which is next to Ponte di Rialto; and then you can cross the bridge to visit the San Polo neighbourhood, where there are nice bars for an aperitivo any time (you will find some suggestions in our map of recommendations!).

✅  From San Marco or San Polo it is also nice to visit the Dorsoduro neighbourhood, specially if taking a traghetto or crossing Ponte dell’Accademia. The area around Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is worth exploring, as well as some movie-geek spots like Chiesa di San Barnaba (from Indiana Jones…). Around Dorsoduro, it’s very nice to have lunch or at least an ice-cream in Fondamenta Zattere Ai Gesuati, and Campo Santa Margherita is known for its bars at night!

✅  Another nice walk from the San Marco neighbourhood is going to the Cannaregio neighbourhood through Strada Nova, and have a drink or even dinner around Fondamenta dei Ormesini and its area – it’s very lively in the evening! I personally loved Cantina Aziende Agricola (map location) and Al Timon (map location). On our way to Cannaregio we found an empty pier with amazing views over the Grand Canal, I cannot guarantee you it’s always a quiet spot, but worth sharing with you the location – you will find it on the map of recommendations as well.

✅  If you have more days or it’s not your first time in Venice, you may want to visit other islands like Murano, known for its glass (vetro) industry, or Burano, known for its lively and coloured fishermen’s houses. Both islands are easily accessible via waterborne public transportation: lines 2, 4.1, 4.2, 12 and 13 for Murano and line 12 for Burano. You can check schedules here and remember that public transport tickets can be acquired in advance via Venezia Unica, avoiding unnecessary lines (each way currently costs 7.5€).

Lively Fondamenta dei Ormesini in Cannaregio

🥗 Where to go for quality food and drinks

And now, the yummy part about going to Venice! I have to say that every time I’ve visited Italy in the past, I’ve struggled in finding quality food given the amount of tourist restaurants you always find in major cities… Have you faced the same issue in the past? Although this also happens in many other places (including my home country!), this is nothing against Italy (I love pasta and pizza!) plus let’s be honest, unless you are doing purely gastronomic tourism, when you have a list of places you want to visit in one day, you don’t want to spend hours and hours looking for the right place to have lunch or dinner (and I can tell you that neither H’s food standards nor mine are precisely high!). So this time, before going to Venice, I did some food researching and also asked a couple of friends from the region that gave me amazing tips (💕 thank you) and found out the amazing terracing culture of Venice!

First of all, Venice has two (although probably more) classic drinks: the Spritz, being the most typical one the Aperol Spritz, but you can also order it with Campari instead or the White version with lemon, white wine and sparkling water (although I have found contradictory recipes); and the Bellini, a cocktail made with Prosecco and white peach purée, and that was created in Harry’s Bar (near Piazza San Marco) in the first half of the 20th century, where you can still order it for the amount of 🥁… not sure how much, but I have read many critics about the drink being overly expensive, about 20€ for one apparently (so we didn’t go and we tried it somewhere else spontaneously…)Harry’s Bar is also home of the famous dish carpaccio. It was originally made with thinly sliced raw beef, although it’s nowadays popular across all Italy and worldwide, and can be prepared with different meats or also fish.

In terms of food, we really liked to have for breakfast tramezzini, these are savory sandwiches made with soft white bread with no crust and that in Venice are known for having a very rich and abundant filling (e.g. with tuna, prosciutto, eggs, olives, tomatoes…), having a puffy and compact look like the one below, and they are often reasonably priced in a generally expensive city! These with a cappuccino were the perfect breakfast before embarking on a full day of walking and sightseeing (although in general I prefer sweet breakfast!). You will find these in many places but I was recommended Tiziano (map location) which I really liked!

Tramezzini for breakfast at Tiziano in Venice

For lunch and dinner, the rule #1 is don’t go to places where they have a translated menu in the entrance – those are the to-avoid places in Venice. Look for a trattoria (Italian restaurant), osteria (tavern-like restaurant) or bacaro (wine bar).

The bacari (in plural) but also osterie serve the Venetian version of tapas, but please don’t use the word “tapas” but cicchetti (there were signs saying “these aren’t tapas” 😅). Cicchetti are often a slide of bread or polenta topped off with seafood, meat or vegetables, but you will also find arancini, fried meatballs and cheese, and a long etcetera! Bacari and osterie are definitely the place to have an aperitivo (usually between 7 and 9 p.m.) during your stay in Venice.

If you feel like eating pizza, I was suggested to go where they serve it al trancio (by slice) and in terms of key dishes, all the seafood pasta I tried, tasted amazing!

✅  TIP: If at some point you fancy buying gourmet food (a good souvenir always), other types of goods or just take a look, T Fondaco (map location) is a rather expensive department store near Ponte di Rialto, but it’s beautiful inside, they have free toilets (yes! this is good to know as you need to pay for Venice public toilets) and they have a lovely rooftop terrace that we couldn’t get in as it was fully booked (it seemed a bit expensive, but in for a penny, in for a pound!). I later saw you can book here...

📍Map of recommendations in Venice

Well, I know all my blah, blah, blah is very interesting, but might not be too handy for you! So I have made this map flagging places I’ve mentioned above, that we’ve tried or were recommended to us but that our agenda or stomach didn’t manage to handle. Hope this can be useful to you as a reference while you walk through the city and feel thirsty or hungry!

💃 Random

Last but not least, while in Venice, H and I got artsy and inspired by the abundance of culture in the city and found art pieces that would represent us physically and emotionally when travelling:

An artsy representation of us while travelling

[I let you guess who’s who]

But I think Venice has always inspired very different things:

In case you want some inspiration for your trip playlist! 😉

Did you find the above useful or have other suggestions for Venice?

Please feel free to like or share this post, leave a comment further down and/or find out more about travelling to Trieste and Slovenia from Venice👇👇👇👇👇

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