A whirlwind weekend in Venice

Karen Stride

Title photography by Diego Gutierrez

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June 2018

Be charmed by this watery wonderland. With its glistening canals and timeless architecture, Venice has been romancing people for centuries. It’s simply like nowhere else in the world – here’s how to get a taste in three days.

Day One

06:40 – Maximise your weekend with an early start

You can fly direct from London Heathrow, London Gatwick and London City to Venice. An early start from London Gatwick on Friday means that you’ll be canal-side long before lunch. If this isn’t your local airport, flights depart from London City at 08:05 and London Heathrow at 08:55.

10:30 – Make a grand arrival

After touching down at Venice Marco Polo Airport, grab your bags and jump aboard an Alilaguna water bus (or a private speedboat if you’re feeling flash) to make the short transfer across the water to Venice. A private transfer will take under 30 minutes, whereas the less speedy (but very reliable) Alilaguna takes just over an hour to reach San Zaccaria (San Marco), costing 15 euros.

11:00 – Dive into the backstreets

The best way to get your bearings in Venice is to get lost. Nip through narrow calli (streets), across waterways (stopping on the bridge for a cheeky selfie) and into bustling piazzas – you’re never far from the water or the chiming of church bells.

12:00 – Cross the canal

Tick off a gondola ride on your Venice to-do list at the traghetto ferry. At just 2 euros this short and sweet journey is a must-do. It’s a quick, useful way to cross the Grand Canal.

If you can’t find a table, grab a glass of Prosecco and dangle your feet over the edge of the canal.

13:00 – Lunch on the go

If you’re pressed for time don’t worry, the Venetians don’t hang around; coffee, Prosecco and cicchetti (bar snacks) are all enjoyed on the go. Enjoy 'sardele in soar' – sweet and sour sardines, and Tramezzini – tiny crustless sandwiches. For something fancier, find Caffe Florian. The world’s oldest café serves its pricy gourmet dishes on silver trays.

14:00 – Take to the water

A ride along the Grand Canal is also a great way of getting to grips with the geography of this amphibious city. Take an Actv water taxi and stand up like the locals for the best photo opportunities, including your first glimpse of the famous Rialto Bridge. The great thing about the Actv water taxis is that you can get on and off as many times as you like. Buy the one- or two-day pass.

  • Take a gentle gondola ride through Dorsoduro. © tunart.

    Morning traffic

    Discover the 'real' Venice in Dorsoduro. Life is cheaper and the waterways are calmer this side of the Grand Canal, plus you'll find Venice's best art in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Gallerie dell'Accademia.

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15:00 – Hang out with the locals

Get off at Accademia to explore the bohemian area of Dorsoduro. Away from the throng of tourists in San Marco, this quieter neighbourhood feels like a breath of fresh air. If the sun is shining, head to a piazza for some people watching over a refreshing spritz.

16:00 – What’s your favourite work of art?

Venice really is an architectural masterpiece. Without stepping into a museum you’ll be dazzled by the design of its iconic buildings and treated to exquisite Renaissance works in its many churches. Get your art fix at one of the cities prestigious galleries. The Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection are both in Dorsoduro. Displaying work from over 200 artists, including Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Dali, at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection you’ll see some of the world’s best Surrealist, Cubist and Futurist works.

19:00 – Dine alfresco until the sun goes down

Make your way through the picturesque streets to Campo Santa Margherita, a lively square with an abundance of cafes and nightlife – perfect for an aperitif or leisurely dinner. Among the boho student hangouts you’ll find many affordable places to eat. Enjoy cocktails at Margaret Duchamp or fantastic pizza at Pizzeria ai Sportivi.

  • Spot the Bridge of Sighs, over a narrow canal behind Piazza San Marco. © David Henderson.

    A hidden bridge

    Built in 1600, the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) is one of the most enduring symbols of Venice, spawning imitations around the world. Spot it behind Piazza San Marco. Stay at Hotel Orion near the main square.

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  • Piazza San Marco with the Basilica of Saint Mark and the bell tower of St Mark's Campanile. © Perseomed.

    The centre of Venice

    Always busy, always bustling, Piazza San Marco is the focal point for Venice: it's the city's largest square, and a great place to get your bearings.

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  • Check out local produce and shopping locals at Rialto Market. © funkyfood London - Paul Williams / Alamy Stock Photo.

    To market

    Get up early and pick up picnic supplies at Rialto Market. Look out for regional specialties, like pistachio pesto and white asparagus. Stay near Rialto Bridge at L'Orologio Venezia

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Day Two

10:00 – Mingle with the locals at Rialto Market

Head to the Rialto Market first thing on Saturday morning to soak up the bustling atmosphere – it will be buzzing with locals picking up fresh produce and flowers. It’s all packed up by 1pm, so get yourself up and out.

13:00 – Time for lunch

Grab a canal-side spot near the market at Osteria Al Pesador – a prime spot for soaking up the activity of the Grand Canal. If you can’t find a table, grab a glass of Prosecco and dangle your feet over the edge of the canal.

14:00 – Soak up the splendour of Piazza San Marco

Unless you’re planning to visit out of season or at some ungodly hour it’s impossible to avoid the crowds around Piazza San Marco. But to beat the queues pre-book your tickets for Basilica San Marco and St Mark's Campanile. The cathedral is a spectacular amalgamation of styles, built up over time like a historic storybook. Take in the intricate detail of the Basilica San Marco’s beautiful exterior before you go inside. Make a speedy ascent (via the lift) to the top of the St Mark's Campanile for a view over the city’s terracotta sprawl.

Alternatively, hop across the water to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore where the campanile offers panoramic views of San Marco, Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal.

Skip the line at St Mark's Basilica

15:00 – Get that iconic photo

From Piazza San Marco head towards the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront. Lined with gondolas and much-photographed, you may feel like you’ve been here before. Not far away you’ll find the Bridge of Sighs – it gets very busy so you may have to wait for a good photo opportunity.

17:00 – An early drink

The Venetian nocturnal scene is more about leisurely drinks and bustling bars. People tend to go out early, straight after work or before dinner. Near Piazza San Marco stand shoulder-to-shoulder with locals in tiny All'Arco or grab a glass of Bellini-to-go from Al Merca, where drinkers spill out into the square.

19:00 – Stroll along the promenade

Cross the bridge to Zattere, a peaceful promenade which is perfect for a stroll away from the crowds. As you walk along the southern shore of the Dorsoduro District you’ll find plenty of dining options – and stunning architecture.

21:00 – Hit the roof

Grab a gelato for your walk back, then cross the water to the island of Giudecca for culture and cocktails at the Hilton Molino Stucky’s rooftop bar.

Book the Hilton Molino Stucky

  • See rainbow houses along the canals of colourful Burano. © claudio.arnese.

    Burano brights

    If you happen to live in one of Burano's colourful waterfront houses, you have to apply for government permission if you want to change its colour. Hope you like magenta!

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Day Three

08:00 – Catch the Vaporetto

Get up bright and early and jump on the first boat to colourful Burano. Boat 12 from Fondamente Nove stops at both Murano and Burano. Go all the way to Burano first to avoid the crowds. The journey takes around 40 minutes.

09:00 – Wander around colourful Burano

The brightly-painted houses in Burano are crying out to be photographed – perhaps why it’s always been a haven for artists. Walk through the alleyways, catching a glimpse of the rainbow terraces jostling for you attention along the main thoroughfare. Burano’s history in lacemaking is still evident in the touristy shops, as is the love for seafood in the restaurants that line the main street. This vibrant island was made for wandering and people watching.

13:00 – Try the catch of the day

Make sure you make a reservation to dine at Trattoria Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero, a special seafood restaurant that takes in deliveries from the lagoon’s fisherman several times a day. Share their Burano-style risotto between two.

15:00 – Soak up the local charm of Murano

Jump on a boat bound for Murano. Long-famous for its glass making, this working island is very proud of its heritage. The intricate glass creations range from beads to exquisite chandeliers, with many shops selling the same items. While a glass blowing demonstration or souvenir shopping may be top of many ‘must do’ lists, the real charm can be found in the back streets, learning the stories of the ancient buildings and eating with the locals.

If you don’t want to use the Actv water taxis, you can book a half day tour to Murano, Burano and Torcello, with boat transfer and entry to a Murano glass-blowing factory included.

Book a tour of Murano, Burano and Torcello

19:00 – Say goodbye with a spritz

Spend your final evening in the down-to-earth area of Cannaregio. To the north of the Grand Canal, and home to the former Jewish Ghetto, this oft-overlooked area is worth a wander. You’ll find plenty of options for a final spritz before you depart – try Al Timon for the best cicchetti and wine.

23:25 – Buona note Venezia!

Catch a late-night flight back from Venice to London. The 23:25 on Sunday flies into London Gatwick, arriving at 00:30 on Monday morning.

Where to stay

L'Orologio Venezia

The boutique L'Orologio Venezia has luxury interiors and canal-side dining close to the Rialto Bridge.

Book a stay at L'Orologio Venezia


If you’re on a budget, family-run Orion provides authentic Italian hospitality in a great location not far from Piazza San Marco.

Book a stay at Orion

Hilton Molino Stucky

Stay at the Hilton Molino Stucky for lazy summer days around the rooftop pool and hazy evenings spent in the rooftop bar. This eye-catching building is located on the island of Guidecca, but offers a regular water taxi service to Piazza San Marco.

Book a stay at Hilton Molino Stucky