If you read my last post, or if you’ve visited Venice before, you’ll know that Venice is expensive. There’s not much to do for free, and lots of opportunities to be scammed. Careful planning really helps with this city, more than most places! So we obviously made that easy for ourselves by planning a 3 day wedding and a 3 week honeymoon at the same time!
We didn’t want to be cheapskates, we were on our honeymoon after all, but we also didn’t want to blow our entire 3 week budget here!
We wanted to get a mix of history, food, art and local culture but we also didn’t have much time – just 48 hours – somehow we fitted in a bit of everything! Yes there is plenty more to see, but we definitely left feeling we had had a full Venetian experience. So if you’re going I’d recommend trying to fit in some of these 10 things (done in the order we did them, not order of preference!)
1. Lunch in Murano at La Perla ai Bisatei
If you know Europe, you’ll know they are sticklers for meal timings. Most places are only open for a couple of hours at lunch, and we knew the earliest we would get to Venice was 1pm (if we were lucky). I did some research of places to go near our hotel on Murano, and La Perla ai Bisatei caught my eye. A favourite with locals, it serves traditional fare at very reasonable prices. And it serves food til 3pm, and is only a couple of minutes from the hotel. It was the perfect match.
Sure enough, as we wandered into the Campo San Bernado, a pretty non-descript square, there was a non-descript small bar, with no name written over it. This was where we wanted to go. As soon as you stepped inside, you realised that it wasn’t just a bar, but sprawled back into the depths of the building, with waiters bustling back and forth between busy tables of tourists and locals. A short wait, and we were placed on a table with a couple of Italian women. We quickly struck up conversation with them, laughing at the chaotic service, the cheeky waiter and communicating somewhere between Italian and English. The food was all local and went down well with a pichet of local wine.
If for some reason you are not super full after this, there is a good gelato shop on the walk back to the main drag, down Calle Angelo dal Mistro. Obviously Dec and I had to have one, despite being stuffed!
2. Murano glass museum and shops
We couldn’t stay on Murano and not visit the museum – that seemed criminal! We were also genuinely interested about the trade and its history, and the museum takes you through a fascinating tour through the centuries of the most beautiful glass designs. You begin to get an understanding from the museum not just of the glass trade, but of the whole history of Venice, and how that affected trade over the years.
We had bought the Museum Pass online already, so when we turned up, we just picked up our passes and took ourselves round the museum. There wasn’t a queue when we went (about 4pm) but that’s probably due to the fact that most people are day trippers, and will have been in the morning. It was an entirely stress-free museum and definitely worth the visit!
Afterwards, we thought we’d go and look at some of the shops, and tried to visit only the legitimate ones (a lot are now selling cheap glass products from China and you have to look for the “Murano Glass” sticker on the products to guarantee it’s from the island). Turns out the glass really is super expensive – we managed to get some earrings and cufflinks, and that was it! We bought these at the Mazzega glass factory, which had decent reviews.
If we’d have had more time to research Murano glass, we’d have found that there are various factories where you can watch them making the glass, but as it was, we only realised that as we got the traghetto the next day and saw the queues of people outside of one of the popular facilities. I’d have loved to see it, but perhaps another time!
3. Take the traghetto out to Mazzorbo for dinner at Venissa
I actually really enjoyed the experience of taking the traghetto. Yes it’s not exactly a fancy boat, and they’re probably pretty polluting too, but it was very novel taking a water bus, and it made me feel like a local, particularly taking the ones from Murano, where we were often the only tourists. The ride to Mazzorbo was by far the longest we did, and despite feeling slightly sea-sick, it was nice to watch the other islands go by, along with random trees, tiny islands made up of just bushes, and the occasional boat.
My friend Mariangela had told me about Venissa when I first mentioned I was going to Venice, and said I had to go. I looked it up, and it sounded amazing, a Michelin-starred restaurant at the edge of the lagoon, in one of the only green spaces, with its own, ancient vineyard making boutique wine.
At the time, Dec had said no, because it would be a large cost and we had 3 weeks of holidays to consider, but it turns out we have incredibly generous friends and family, and with all the honeymoon contributions we received, we suddenly realised we could afford it. There ensued a panic attempt at a last minute booking, and thankfully they had space.
I have plans to do a more indepth post on our top meals of the honeymoon, but suffice to say, this was up there. In a beautiful and relaxed setting, with only 5 tables and incredibly friendly attentive staff, we knew it would be a good meal. We opted for the five course tasting menu, with wine pairings including Venissa’s own wine. For a start, we actually got 8 courses once you include appetizers, amuse bouches and petit fours, and then the food itself was to die for. Melt in your mouth pasta flaked with gold. Crispy and zesty shrimp tacos, and spicy seafood sponge that tasted both local and exotic.
We watched as the chefs picked herbs from the garden that we then saw on our plates, and listened intently to the sommelier explaining the history of the vineyard and how unique their orange wine was (white wine made with the grape skins). In summary, it was a beautiful, luxurious and romantic evening full of delicious Italian food and wine.
Waiting for the traghetto home, we were both peacefully happy, standing in the moonlight on the quiet island of Mazzorbo. When we arrived back on Murano, the island had gone to bed, and we meandered back to our hotel in relative silence, our footsteps echoing along the canals. It was the perfect end to a romantic evening.
4) Visit the Doge’s palace
Our museum passes already collected, we were prepped to visit the Doge’s palace the next day. Originally I had thought we would rise early, visit the mercato realto for the hubub of market life, go to mass at the Basilica di San Marco before 9am to experience it/avoid queuing, and then visit the Doge’s palace. As it was, we could not bear an early start, and probably didn’t leave the hotel until 10am. Oh well! We made a beeline for the palace, passing by all the tourists taking pictures of the bridge of sighs, and saw an almighty queue outside the palace.
Thank god for these passes! We skipped straight by, and nearly walked straight into the palace, but then I noticed that for 10€ more, we could see an exhibition in the palace of Canaletto. Dec had no idea “what” Canaletto was, but on seeing my excited face, he agreed to pay the extra for it.
We didn’t do a tour of the palace, so took ourselves around, reading the signs, and complementing them with information from my Rough Guides book. The palace itself isn’t that interesting, but the history and politics about what happened in the palace is incredibly interesting, and really gave us a much better understanding about Venice as a whole. In fact, it was really good being able to see the Canaletto exhibition, as it too gave us a better understanding of Venetian life and culture from its heyday. I actually genuinely like Canaletto’s artwork, so to see it up close was truly special. The detail and precision in his art was insane and Dec and I were really in awe.
The Doge’s Palace also takes you around the dungeons, and you do actually get to walk across the Bridge of Sighs. I thoroughly enjoyed this, getting to look out at Venice, and at all the tourists looking back at us, it was somehow very amusing.
The visit probably took us a good two hours in total, and I felt like I had truly learnt something from the trip about the city and its political history, which really made it what it is.
5) Visit the basilica di San Marco
After we had finished at the Doge’s Palace, we walked out into piazzetta just off Piazza San Marco. We pretty much walked straight into the queue for the basilica. We decided to get it out the way, so we could do it and leave the overcrowded tourist centre. The queue for the basilica moves pretty quickly as there is no fee to get in, you just need to be aware that women must have shoulders and knees covered, the same as in all Italian churches.
It’s absolutely amazing inside, the mosaic detail, the gold all around, the way the floor is wavy because of regular flooding, and this feeling that you might have actually walked into a mosque, given the style of the architecture and multi dome effect. Of course, all of the glitz was stolen from the East in crusades, putting a slightly morbid spin on the beauty of the church, but it was still awe-inspiring!
It is easy to get caught up in the long snaking queue of tourists following the route around the church. We stood to one side for a bit to just read about it from our guide book and admire what was in front of us. We ended up paying to see the pala d’oro, queuing up for ages and not realising there would be a cost! It was ridiculous, a bit like seeing the crown jewels at the Tower of London, but it does make you feel a bit sick looking at the vast, stolen wealth, and the power the Church wielded over the people. But I won’t get into historic political-religious discussions on here!
We opted not to visit the statues of the horses and the balcony, for which we would have also needed to pay. I’d been before with my friend Lindsay and it hadn’t really seemed worth it. After a heavy morning of sight-seeing, we were more intent on finding some good food and drink!
6) Go for a lunch of cicchetti (at Osteria alla Ciurma)
You don’t have to go where we went for cicchetti, but it was damn good!
Cicchetti, or snacks, is the Venetian version of tapas, served in bars and osterie across the city. It’s also a great way to try more of the local delicacies in smaller portions, perfect for when you’re short on time!
We used this article to help us find a well priced place to eat. Osteria alla Ciurma has moved since the article was written, but is still pretty central in Venice, and a little way away from the main tourist drag. We were pretty much the only people there when we arrived (for a late lunch), and spent a long while umming and ahhing about the vast selection of hot and cold cicchetti, the seafood, the meaty or the cheesy options, and finally, what wine we would have with it all! We started with a glass each of traminer from Friuli (just east of Venice and a wine relative of gewürztraminer), but liked it so much we got a bottle. We had a ridiculously leisurely lunch, selecting more cicchetti, sipping our wine and looking out at the little canal behind the bar.
Leaving with a spring in our step, and slightly giggly from the wine, we decided that we obviously needed a gelato. Just down the road from the osteria was Gelateria San Stae, and it was a 2 scoop day for us both!
We greedily licked our ice creams as we made our way north to Cannaregio, to visit the Jewish ghetto.
7) Visit the Jewish ghetto with a guided tour
Dec wasn’t that fussed about the ghetto, but given my heritage, the famous Merchant of Venice, and the fact that this was the world’s first ghetto, I was quite interested in visiting.
The Jewish museum holds guided tours, which I would recommend otherwise you don’t get anything out of the area! It’s such a different part of Venice, if it wasn’t for the winding streets and canals, I wouldn’t have remembered we were in Venice at all. The museum is in the Campo do Ghetto Nuovo, where school children were playing ball games and mum’s sat on benches chatting away. There was such a sense of normality there that it was hard to remember we had been amongst thousands of tourists just an hour or two ago.
I’m not going to lie, there was something of “my big fat Greek wedding” to the tour – in the way the dad from the movie could relate everything back to the greeks, so too could our guide about Jews! But it was fascinating hearing about how they settled in the area and had to live. Visiting some of their synagogues (Dec visited his first, and two more on the tour!), We were in awe as to how they fitted such beautiful places of worship into small, cramped and rickety buildings.
Just as the Doge’s palace had taught us about the major politics of the city over the centuries, so too did the Jewish Ghetto teach us about how minority groups were treated and how they lived together in this strange, international city, as well as more about the general Jewish diaspora.
Our tour guide was pretty hilarious actually, cracking jokes throughout, and the tour was just the right length to enjoy it without feeling overwhelmed with information. We had a quick look around the museum afterwards, and then walked back along the Rio Della misericordia – Cannaregio’s main drag, and found a spot by the canal to sit and enjoy an afternoon aperol spritz!
8) Get a free rooftop view of Venice from the Bottega Veneta T Galleria
Many people head for the Campanile to get a skyline view, paying 8 euros and traipsing along behind hordes of unfit tourists, huffing and puffing up and down a ridiculously warm narrow staircase. Don’t get me wrong, I actually usually love doing this in Italian cities, and I’ll be the first to head for the towers, but when there are as many tourists as there are in Venice, and there’s the lure of a free view…why would you?!
Our hotel had highlighted this to us, and so we booked online for a 15 minute slot, and after our spritz, made our way over to one of the fanciest department stores I’ve visited, just off the Rialto bridge.
We took the lift to the 5th floor and gave our names to the staff to join a short queue. A few minutes later, we were let up onto the roof of the store, where they had created a panoramic viewing platform. The prime view was of the grand canal and Rialto bridge, but you could also see all the domes of Basilica San Marco and the Campanile itself. Venice is generally quite a low city, so there was nothing blocking our views of the buildings and rooftops and we enjoyed just being able to breathe above the narrow walkways and take it all in.
Obviously the reason this place is free is they hope you’ll peruse the shop and buy their products, and we were very nearly swayed by the truffle crisps that they were giving free tasters of, but we abstained (stupidly – never give up the opportunity to buy and eat truffle crisps!). Instead we wound our way back to the traghetto port to take us home to get ready for another night out!
9) Have dinner in Cannaregio
We had really liked the vibe in Cannaregio when we had been for a drink earlier, with locals chilling in the afternoon sun and drinking at canal-side bars.
Which was just as well as it turned out I had already reserved for us to have dinner there. A popular weekend place, Paradiso Perduto had rave reviews online not just for food, but for being a lively restaurant with locals and toursists alike, live music on some days and all night partying. If we got any of those things we knew we would be happy!
I’m glad I booked because the place was rammed. Our table was on the stage (no live music that night), and all around us were groups of friends, people on dates, happy couples, and various cats.
Sadly I hadn’t read the reviews in depth. If I had, I would have seen all the warnings THAT THE PORTIONS ARE HUGE. Instead, we naively ordered a fish platter for 2, and got served about 10 whole fish. I find 1 seabass filling. Never mind the equivalent of 5! Oh and the only thing served with it? Polenta – just in case we weren’t full enough! However, it was all delicious, and we had at least shared our starter of grilled artichoke hearts (and polenta), which was super tasty!
Service was slow, but affable, the wine slipped down easily and the general good mood of the place kept us buzzing even as we left. We sauntered along the canal a bit further and decided to stop in a wine bar, Vino Vero, which reminded me more of a craft beer tap room, serving up interesting wines by the glass. We managed to find a spot by the canal and enjoyed drinking in the atmosphere and the wine amongst the locals.
We left around 11pm, and had hoped we might not be too late to find a late night gondolier…but alas, they had all gone home for the day. We’d been told night-time trips in a gondola were extra romantic, but these clearly need to be much earlier in the night!
I was slightly devastated that we might leave Venice without doing one, but we agreed to try the next morning.
10) Experience a gondola ride
Our final day in Venice, we got up early, breakfasted, checked out, and took an early Traghetto over to the main island. We were so prompt we beat the gondoliers, and they were still cleaning their boats as we tried to find one to take us out.
There are a few official gondolier stops on the island, which are pretty obvious. There were two we had spotted that were closer to our traghetto spot:
Gondola Station Santa Sofia – on Campo Santa Sofia, and right onto the Grand Canal
A gondola station by the Hotel Antico Doge – just a bit off the Grand Canal.
I wasn’t keen on a tour of the grand canal, as it’s just a big thoroughfare, and we agreed it would be more fun on the little canals, where it’s quieter and you aren’t vying for space as much.
As it turned out, not one gondolier was interested in us as we approached the Santa Sofia station – we weren’t sure if they were open for business, so we were lingering, but none of them approached us. And so we left for the other station, where a delightful Gondolier immediately welcomed us on board. We agreed the price and time before we left (it should be €80 for 30 minutes (some sites say 40 minutes, but all the signage says 30), and off we headed!
Leaving so early in the morning, it was very peaceful, as we were watching the city wake up. We briefly hit the Grand Canal, where we could see the Rialto Market getting going and had unobstructed views of the Rialto Bridge before heading off onto the quieter canals, passing Marco Polo’s home, beautiful churches, workmen and tradesmen setting up for the day, and very few other people. The little winding canals were a treat to go along, and you never knew what view you’d find around the corner. Our gondolier was ridiculously good at navigating the gondola through tight spots, past larger boats and jutting out buildings without a single scrape. But with a boat so beautiful and expensive to maintain, that wasn’t really surprising!
He didn’t profess to be an expert tourist guide, but he did point out points of interest, and talk about some of the history of the city relevant to what we were seeing. It may not have been night time, but actually an early morning gondola ride felt very romantic to us, and was a calming and beautiful start to our day.
The only thing you have to do with a gondola ride is accept the cost, and not worry or think about it once you’re out. It’s a really beautiful experience, and a wonderful way to experience the unique ways and views of Venice. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to do it before we left!
Hopefully some of these tips and ideas are of some help if you ever think about visiting Venice. We had the most amazing time, and left the island not feeling robbed, but that we’d spent our money on some wonderful and unique experiences. Travelling back to the mainland in our water taxi, we had the wind in our hair and smiles on our faces, having had a magical mini-break within our honeymoon!