Three days in Venice - a whole day to appreciate this Italian gem - day 1
If you’ve only got a few days to see Venice, you will want to make the most of every minute. This itinerary encompasses the best of the best.
09:00 – 11:30 – the Rialto Bridge and Market
Begin your day on the San Polo side of the Rialto Bridge. We start here to get in a visit to the famous Rialto market before it closes mid-day, and also to avoid all of the huge tour groups that will be queuing up at St. Mark’s Square in the morning. Just over the Rialto Bridge is the area of Campo San Giacomo where things all began back in the year 421. Here you will find the oldest church in Venice, San Giacomo di Rialto. The statue in the square opposite the church, ‘The Hunchback of the Rialto’, is where citizens gathered to be addressed by government officials.
Along the side of the campo is Bancogiro, a row of wine bars which was once the site of Venice’s financial district, then a row of banks. Bancogiro is a great spot to spend some time watching traffic pass by on the Grand Canal. Continue through the arches on the far end of Campo San Giacomo to enter the Rialto Mercato,
the market. Fruit and vegetable stalls fill the centre of the campo, while butchers line the sides. Beyond the vegetables lies the famous Pescheria fish market. The market, a hubbub of daily Venetian life, is open Monday-Saturday from 07:00 to 14:00 for produce, and Tuesday- Saturday 07:00 to 12:00 for fish.
While on the San Polo side of the Rialto Bridge, wander through the narrow streets surrounding the market to find little places like Cantina do Mori on Calle Do Mori, the oldest wine bar. Look out as well for Drogheria Mascari on Ruga degli Spezieri, the oldest grocery, with its shop front filled with colourful pyramids of spices reminiscent of the days of Marco Polo.
Walk up onto the Rialto Bridge, one of Venice’s most historic landmarks. Rialto, for “high banks”, is the area first settled, chosen because it was less likely to flood. The current marble bridge built in 1588 replaced previous wooden bridges. Its unusual design includes pavements on either side and shops along the centre. Shops on the Rialto include everything from souvenirs to high-end glass, and the view from the top of this bridge is one of Venice’s most iconic. At the height of tourist season it takes patience to grab a spot at the railing for some good photos, but it’s worth the wait.
Plan to spend the morning on the San Polo side of the Grand Canal, including time for a nice lunch, then spend the afternoon exploring St. Mark’s square and the waterfront.
13:00 – 15:30 – St. Mark’s Square
Coming down the other side of the Rialto Bridge you are now in the San Marco district. This is a very crowded area filled with numerous shop-lined streets, all leading to St. Mark’s Square. Follow the Mercerie, the most famous street, to make your way to the square.
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) contains Venice’s most famous buildings - the Campanile (Bell Tower), the Basilica of St. Mark, the clock tower, the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.
Save your visit to the basilica for late afternoon when the crowds have disappeared. Open to the public in 1097 after acquiring the remains of its famous saint, the building is encrusted with mosaics, inside and out. It’s free to enter, although there is a small fee to view the altar and upstairs balcony, home of the famous bronze horses. The basilica is open from 09:45-17:00 except Sundays, when it’s open from 14:00 to 17:00.
The Campanile boasts incredible views over the rooftops of Venice, the lagoon, surrounding islands, and the Italian Alps on a clear day. The Campanile opens at 09:00, while closing time varies depending on the season, and there is an entrance fee.
16:00 – 18:00 – the Doge’s Palace and Bridge of Sighs
The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), one of Europe’s most imposing palaces, houses not only the Doge but also the governmental and judicial headquarters of Venice. Its opulent interior filled with gold leaf, marble, famous paintings, exquisite rooms and secret staircases showcase Venice’s vast wealth. Opening hours: 09:00-17:00 daily, and till 19:00 in the summer.
Just outside the Doge’s Palace is the Bridge of Sighs, linking the Palace with the old prison across the canal. It’s here that prisoners used to stop for one last glimpse of the world before being led down into the prison cells.
Take time to enjoy the orchestras playing at the three old famous cafés lining the square - Quadri’s, Lavenna’s and Café Florian’s. Enjoying an expensive drink in the square is one of those Venice must-dos.
To round off your day of walking, spend a little time on the water. Treat yourself to a gondola ride, and also a ride down the Grand Canal on the public boat, the vaporetto.