Ah, Venice, inspiring, magical Venice rich in the history written on the very waters of its famous canals. From being the capital of a maritime empire that brought the East to European waters to the centre of generations of creatives and artisans, Venice is a city literally floating in adventures just waiting to happen. Let’s face it, this city is one of the most visited places on earth for a reason. Picture-perfect cityscapes, absolutely stunning architectural marvels and landmarks of incredible historical significance wait around every corner, all accompanied by the gentle lap of the iconic canals.
It’s also one of the most accessible cities in Italy, making it the perfect spot for a 24-hour pop-in in the middle of any busy itinerary to inspire you to come back for a more in-depth immersion in this truly unique place. It’ll be a tight squeeze, but I promise you can get a true taste of the essence of Venice in just 24 hours. Lucky for you, your favourite wanderer is here to guide you on your adventure. Read on for what I think is the perfect 24-hour Venice itinerary!
Breakfast: Rise and shine, we’ve got exploring to do!
Chances are if you’ve travelled anywhere in Europe and stayed at hotels you’ll be used to the standard free breakfast. Venetian hotels are no different in this regard, and a lack of breakfast-serving cafes can leave those without a complimentary breakfast a bit put-out. Don’t worry and trust in the Italian love for Nutella. Head on over to your nearest supermarket, grab some toast or pastry of choice, yoghurt and, of course, the trusty Nutella and you’ve got yourself a tasty (if not entirely healthy) breakfast to tide you over. Trust me; there’ll be plenty of deliciousness to snack on later in the day to keep you sated.
After breakfast is done head on foot over to:
Stop 1: Ponte di Rialto and the Grand Canal
The Rialto Bridge, known in Italian as the Ponte di Rialto, is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal and was completed in 1591 after architect Antonio da Ponte put forth the revolutionary idea of a single span bridge to connect the two sides of the Grand Canal. In fact, the idea of a single-span bridge was so revolutionary that da Ponte’s fellow architect Vincenzo Scamozzi predicated the bridge would be in ruins soon enough. I guess the joke is on Scamozzi because this bridge still stands in its original condition to this day and provides one epic view of the Grand Canal that just can’t be missed.
Although the central passageway is now filled with shops flogging the usual variety of overpriced souvenirs aimed at tourists, the two outer passageways put you at a high enough perspective to see the passage of the many gondolas who leave from the Grand Canal’s banks. I was lucky enough to visit the bridge at sunset, and the view was something that I’ll never forget.
Bonus tip: if you want to catch a gondola for that quintessential Venetian experience, don’t catch it from near the Rialto. The water in the Grand Canal is very choppy compared to the other, less-used canals because of the increased amount of traffic, and the gondoliers are used to tourists so they aim to charge more than usual. If you can get a group together to ease the cost, that’s totally fine, but for those budget-savvy travellers among us, stick to one of the smaller canals.
Snack stop 1: Rialto Market
Just across from the Rialto Bridge is the famous Rialto market, which has been pleasing foodies both ancient and modern for nearly 700 years with its selection of moscardini (baby octopus), moeche (soft-shell crabs), inky seppie (squid) and mountains of freshly caught lagoon fish. As well as seafood, the Rialto Markets are also home to a large collection of fresh produce stands, those of which produced locally are tagged Nostrano. For those of you lucky enough to have access to cooking facilities, the Rialto Market is absolutely teeming with mouth-watering Italian dinner ideas. Go ahead and dig in! The markets are open everyday from 7pm to 2pm, excluding Monday’s.
But, for those without a kitchen or just not feeling the seafood and fruit vibe, there are plenty of bakeries and sweet shops surrounding the Rialto Bridge to top up your energy with a mid-morning snack. There’s just nothing like munching on a freshly-made cannoli while overlooking the Grand Canal.
After filling up, the next stop is to buy your ticket and hop on a vaporetto, one of Venice’s cheap and convenient water buses, their stops recognisable by the large yellow and grey platforms jutting out into the canal, for a lovely cruise down the Grand Canal towards our next destination:
Stop 2: Piazza San Marco, Basilica di San Marco and Palazzo Ducale
If you know anything about Venice you’ll have heard and probably seen a thousand photos of St Mark’s square (Italian: Piazza San Marco). It’s one of the oldest landmarks in Venice, with construction believed to have been started between 800 and 1100 AD, and together with the Piazzetta forms the social, religious, political and tourist centre of the city.
Take it all in as you head towards Saint Mark’s Basilica (Italian: Basilica di San Marco) for the first stop in this section of Venice. I won’t go into the long and fascinating history of Saint Mark’s Basilica as I’m sure you’ve probably heard it before, but I do have two tips for you. The first tip: really don’t forget to look up! For me, the most spectacular part of the basilica was its stunning gold roof and elaborate façade, depicting the life and religious importance of St Mark. Don’t forget you can head to the top of the church for a really great view of the piazza and St Mark’s Campanile. The second tip: keep an eye out for the Tetrarchs on the south-west corner of the basilica. This famous porphyry statue depicts the Four Roman Tetrarchs, who ruled both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire after the new Imperial system was implemented by Emperor Diocletian. The statue is a symbol of the interdependency of the four-rulers, brought to Venice from Constantinople in 1204, and serves as an important heritage piece for our knowledge of the Roman Empire. Pretty neat, huh?
Next destination is the Doge’s Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) located only a convenient stone’s throw from St Mark’s Basilica. Built in the highly-influential Venetian Gothic style, the Doge’s Palace was, you guessed it, the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice until Venice became a part of the Kingdom of Italy. As such, the palace was used not only as a private residence but also to host many important political meetings and to entertain the Venetian elite. Each room in the Palace is grand and served a specific purpose in the functioning of a Venice that is not so hard to imagine. Wikipedia does a terrific job of laying out the purpose of each room, which can be found here. Now a museum, the Doge’s Palace is the place to learn as much as you can about Venice’s rich and varied history as it provides a fantastically preserved look into the life of Venice’s once all-powerful ruler.
Phew, I bet you’re feeling really exhausted after all that culture and learning. Luckily it’s time for:
Snack stop 2: Caffe Florian
You probably passed Caffe Florian on your way to St Mark’s Basilica but if you didn’t now is the time to indulge yourself and sip some very overpriced coffee in the oldest coffee house in continuous operation since its opening in…wait for it…1720! Boasting a varied history and past clientèle that included Goethe, Dickens, Proust and Casanova, Caffe Florian is housed in a beautiful, classically-styled set of rooms overlooking the Piazza San Marco. The café is expensive, as it models itself as a luxury Venetian experience, but if you can spare the expense it really is something worth the money and it’s nice to tick off your Venice bucket list. Chances are you’ll only be in Venice once so why not make the most of it.
Stop 3: Explore and shop!
When I first arrived in Venice, the Venetian guide in our water taxi announced that to see the real Venice you need to walk its streets when I asked her what were the best museums and landmarks to see. She was absolutely correct! To get the best out of your visit to Venice dedicate a few hours to walk around and get lost. Check every nook, cranny and endless alleyway that calls your attention as you’ll never know what you’re going to find waiting around a hidden corner. Insanely elaborate church façades, home made pizza bites in every flavour you can imagine, handmade stationery shops and truly unique buildings are only the beginning of what there is to discover among the canals.
You’ll also want to spend some time shopping for Venetian masks and Murano glass souvenirs – you’re in Venice, let yourself be a dorky tourist just this once! There is literally a shop selling these items every second window front so take the time to find a piece that you truly love and will fondly look back on as a reminder of the perfect day you spent wandering the enchanted streets of Venice.
Don’t forget to have fun! Spend as much time as you want at any of the locations I mentioned or completely throw caution to the wind and make your own way. Just don’t forget to really be present in the moment, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get to see everything, as long as you’re enjoying being immersed in the Venetian way of life. And hey, if you don’t get to see everything, you’ll just have to come back!