Venice in Winter – A Complete 3-Day Itinerary
Before our first ever Italian trip, Josh and I were inundated with stories of Venice being an overcrowded, overpriced tourist trap. We were determined to see it for ourselves before we passed judgement, so we booked our tickets for 3 nights in the beautiful canal city. We timed our trip for the off-peak season in mid-January, meaning the weather was cooler and the crowds were thinner. In fact, Venice in Winter was no more cramped than any other major city, and after the day-trip crowds leave in the late afternoon you really get a taste for Venice in its most authentic state.
For those considering a trip to this romantic cluster of islands, I’ve put together 3-day itinerary containing our favourite landmarks, experiences, eats and museums to inspire you to take the plunge and visit Venice for yourself. While it can be pricey, there are still plenty of options for those looking to travel on a budget.
WHERE WE STAYED IN VENICE
The first thing you’re probably wondering is, which neighbourhood do I stay in? I know it’s always my first question when visiting a new city. Personally, we chose to stay in San Marco; the heart of Venice, and only seconds from the major attractions.
Hotel Colombina was our home for our 3 nights in Venice. The palace hotel is located a short 2-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square in the historic centre of Venice. The room itself felt characteristically Venetian, with gold trimmings, chandeliers and beautiful views of the sprawling city rooftops. There is a small restaurant and bar inside the hotel and turn down service is offered to all guests.
While accommodation in any major city can be expensive, it is important to remember that the further you stay out of the city centre, the more travel costs you will incur. Venice only has 2 modes of transport; walking and boats, and the latter is quite pricey. My suggestion is to research travel times to the major attractions before selecting your home base, it might just save you a few euro!
VENICE DAY 1: SAN MARCO & SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE
Stroll through Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)
Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) is perhaps the most popular attractions in Venice. Located in San Marco, the Piazza is high on the list of must-sees for most visitors to Venice. I suggest you time your visit for the early morning, when the tourists have yet to arrive and the square is still relatively quiet. Bonus – There are pigeons everywhere! I know this isn’t everyones idea of fun, but geez I love those little feathered cuties and their bobbing heads.
If you have time, St Mark’s Square is definitely one of those locations that are worth a second visit. After dark, the square lights up and the many restaurants and cafes around the perimeter open for business. Beware, the restaurants are pricey and don’t offer the most authentic Venetian cuisine, I suggest eating beforehand and coming here for a late night romantic stroll.
The Church of Gold – Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Basilica)
Saint Mark’s Basilica can be found at the Eastern end of the Piazza San Marco and is a must see during your time in Venice! The Basilica is nicknamed the Chiesa d’Oro (Church of Gold), and with good reason. Step inside and you’ll be wowed by floor to ceiling gold mosaics, 8000 square metres worth to be exact!
For a truly special experience, I suggest timing your visit for the early morning. The sun will be just low enough to enter the Basilica and you’ll be able to witness the mosaic glittering in the sunlight.
Visiting the Basilica in Winter has the added benefits of skipping the long lines. In the Summer months, people queue upwards of 45 minutes to see the interior of the Basilica. If you insist on travelling in the Summer months, pre-book your ticket online to skip the queue.
At 3 Euro per person, the Saint Mark’s Basilica is well worth the visit. It is worth noting, photography is not permitted inside the Basilica, so take the opportunity to give your camera a much-needed rest and soak in the beauty. Saint Mark’s Basilica is open every day from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm (last admission 4.45 pm) with the exception of public holidays.
Breakfast and Coffee – Osteria Da Bacco
This place became our morning regular for coffee and croissants during our time in Venice. It is a delightfully eclectic café, offering pastries, sandwiches and the perfect spot for your morning coffee needs!
The staff are friendly and there are a few seats for us newbies who are a little hesitant of throwing back espressos at the counter with the locals. Being the first stop on our Italian itinerary, I started off with my usual habit of drinking a big, milky cappuccino with breakfast. However, after a few odd stares and a little coaxing from Josh and the coolest waitress ever, I was throwing back macchiatos like a true Italian by day 2 in Venice!
The Famous Bridge – Pointe Di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
The must-see on everyone’s Venice bucket list; the Pointe Di Rialto (Rialto Bridge). The famous bridge has 3 walkways, with the centre (and widest) of the three scattered with rows of small shops selling, the famous Murano glass, trinkets and souvenirs.
Unfortunately during our visit the spectacular Renaissance bridge was mid-way through an 18 month restoration, making it difficult to photograph. The works have now been completed and were officially unveiled as part of the Venice Biennale exhibition, which is good news for you guys!
A Perfect Sunset – Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore (Church of San Giorgio Maggiore)
While Venice has many churches to visit, this one is special not for it’s interior, but because of the spectacular view from the Bell Tower!
In the late afternoon take the ferry from S. Zaccaria (Danieli) “F” to S. Giorgio on San Giorgio Maggiore, here you’ll find the church of the same name. The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is free to enter, however you’ll want to pay the 3 euro to access the Bell Tower.
An elevator takes you to the top, where you’ll be treated to 360-degree views of Venice. To the North you’ll see the facades of San Marco and Castello bathed in warm afternoon light, and to the South-West the breath-taking silhouettes of Giudecca’s dome top buildings.
This is the perfect destination for sunset, but keep in mind that you’ll have to share the beauty with a few others; I suggest arriving a little bit early to ensure you get a spot at the top.
VENICE DAY 2 – CASTELLO & SAN POLO
Caffeine Fix – Café Del Doge Caffetteria Rialto
We discovered Café Del Doge by chance during the usual “I’m busting to go to the toilet and there are no public toilets” routine. After a quick dash to the bathroom we decided to use this as an excuse to grab a freshly squeezed orange juice, and Josh’s 4th espresso of the day – An impressive effort before 11am, I’m surprised he didn’t have the jitters!
Café Del Doge was a small little café, with only a few seats and the regular sway of locals ducking in and out for their caffeine fix at the counter. The guy behind the counter was an absolute machine – I have never seen one man make so many coffees, and so quickly! If you’re after a bite to eat, they also offer fresh pastries both sweet and savoury.
Boats, Boats, Boats! – Arsenale di Venezia (Venetian Arsenal) & Historic Naval Museum
Being a city of islands surrounded by canals, a major part of the history of Venice revolves around boats. As Josh is a sailor at heart, the Venetian Arsenal and Naval Museum were at the top of his list of things to see!
The Arsenale itself is made up of shipyards and armouries with the Porta Magna signifying the entrance. For just 5 Euro, you can visit the nearby Museo Storico Navale (Historic Naval Museum) and catch a glimpse of the traditional gondolas, boats and ships that once cruised the canals. Perhaps the most glamourous of the lot is the beautiful eighteen-oar Royal Vessel, used to transport King Vittorio Emanuele II in the 1850’s.
The Historic Naval Museum is open every day from 8.45am to 5pm, with last admission 4.30pm.
A Light Lunch – Basara Milano Sushi Pasticceria
At this point, we had been travelling through Europe for 5 weeks straight, and I don’t think there was a day that went by that I didn’t have a croissant or some other indulgent pastry. With a carb baby on board, it was time for something a little on the lighter side – Enter Basara Milano – The sushi restaurant.
We ordered a mix of seared salmon, tiger rolls, and vege dumplings – Just what we needed, and totally delicious!
The World’s Largest Oil Painting – Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)
Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is easily one of Venice’s most recognisable buildings. Built mainly in the 14th century, this Byzantine palace housed not only the Doge’s apartments, but was also the seat of government and the city’s courtrooms.
While the exterior is stunning in it’s own right, step inside and you’ll be dazzled by rooms embellished with gold and stunning frescos. Tickets are 20 euro, but are worth it to see the lustrous Scala d’Oro (Stairs of Gold) and the world’s largest oil painting Tintoretto’s Paradise; a whopping 22 x 7 metres in size.
Admission to Doges Palace is from 8.30am – 5.30pm (last admission 4.30pm) from April 1st to October 31st, and 8.30am – 7pm (last admission 6pm) from November 1st – March 31st.
VENICE DAY 3: CASTELLO, DORSODURO & THE GRAND CANAL
A Quirky Bookstore – Libreria Acqua Alta
This is one unique bookstore! Every square inch of this place is covered in books – Bathtubs and gondolas crowd the floor space, overflowing with paper, and there is even a staircase made entirely of (you guessed it) BOOKS! Climb to the top, and you’ll be treated to your own private view of canal.
Most importantly for my fellow cat lovers out there, the owner is a man devoted to his feline friends! Little bowls of cat food can be found around the store, with the most adorably friendly kitties lapping it all up! Books + cats, what more could you want!
I like to pick up a book as a souvenir of each trip I take – And like the true grown-up I am, I purchased myself a copy of an Italian Dragonball Z manga and walked out of there one happy lady!
If you’d like to check out this unique store, you can find it at Calle Longa S. Maria Formosa, 5176/b, 30122 Castello, Venezia. Open every day, 9am – 8pm.
Authentic Italian Restaurant – Al Vecio Marangon
If you’re after a classic Italian meal, look no further than Al Vecio Marangon. We stumbled across this place while wandering the back streets of Dorsoduro. It’s large open windows and beautiful wooden interior drew us straight in.
The beautiful displays at the counter showcase a range of the freshest ingredients and a small range of wines are on display at the back. Most noticeably though, is the giant gold espresso machine! I dunno what it is, but the coffee that is made by that monumental machine is some of the best I’ve ever had!
But if you’re like me, you’re here for the food! This was by far the best meal we had in Venice. Josh ordered handmade gnocchi with bolognaise, and I had the most delicious serving of lasagne ever. Just look at that masterpiece… drool!
An Art-Lovers Dream – Peggy Guggenheim Collection
After lunch head over to the Peggy Guggenhiem museum to view the expansive art collection curated by Peggy herself. The museum is home to a permanent collection of masterpieces from the early 20th century, including pieces by the likes of Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso… The list goes on, but you get it, there are some big names. If you’re anything like me and appreciate art a little on the quirky-side, you will be blown away!
The collection is housed within Peggy Guggenhiem’s former home which sits beautifully on the edge of the Grand Canal. On a sunny day, you can enjoy her eclectic curation of sculptures in her well-manicured garden alongside Peggy herself, who is buried in her garden with her 14 dogs.
Entry to the museum is 15 euro and worth every penny! You can catch Peggy’s collection daily 10am – 6pm, except for Tuesday’s when the museum is closed. Last tickets are issued 30 minutes before close. For more information visit the website.
Alternative to the Gondola Ride – Vaporetto (Ferry) Ride on the Grand Canal
Ok, so this might not be the most popular suggestion, as I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that the gondolas look every bit as beautiful and romantic as they do in photographs. However, they are hard on the old wallet! To take a short ride on a gondola, you will pay at least 80 euro for a 6 person share ride, and even more if you wish to explore the canals past 7pm. Sharing a cosy ride with 4 random tourists is not quite the romantic trip I had in mind.
So rather than blow the budget, we hopped aboard the Vaporetto (ferry) and cruised down the Grand Canal for a much more reasonable 7 Euro each. Of course, not quite the same as a gold trimmed, glossy black, velvet seat gondola; but a great alternative for those looking to save some cash.
We took the Vaporetto Linea Uno (No. 1) for the scenic trip down the Grand Canal, passing through the Rialto Bridges and catching glimpses of the many historic buildings that line the water’s edge. For my fellow photographer friends, I suggest hoping aboard as the sun begins to set for some truly amazing shots of the city.
The Vaporetto service leaves every 10 minutes during peak periods, for more information on tickets, validation and stops visit the ACTV website.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, to marvel in some exquisite artistic masterpieces, or just get lost in the never-ending maze of streets; Venice has something for everyone! We loved every moment of this beautiful canal city and can’t wait to return and explore the islands of Burano and Murano.
This was truly one of those times where a city far and beyond exceeded my expectations. Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a destination? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you! 😊
Eager for more European adventures? Check out my guide to a day-trip through Basel, Switzerland.
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