In the dungeons
3:30pm – Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge is a 10-minute walk from Doge’s Palace and the oldest bridge over the Grand Canal. It’s now one of the most recognisable symbols of Venice, along with carnival masks that can be found pretty much everywhere in Venice.
Rialto Bridge has been rebuilt and renovated several times since its original construction in 1181 AD. During the 15th century, shops were built along the north-eastern ramp of the bridge, creating a shopping tradition that’s still alive today. While the original shops were most likely food stalls, the stores today sell mainly jewellery and souvenirs.
No trip to Venice is complete without crossing the Rialto Bridge and stopping for a photo or two. Be warned, it does get very crowded, so keep a close eye on your pockets.
4pm – Wander around Venice to Explore its Charm and Boutique Shopping
The best way to explore Venice is to simply wander through its side streets and narrow alleyways. You’re bound to discover tiny picturesque bridges, boutique fashion stores, and most importantly… gelatarias. I recommend taking an hour or two to meander – the further, the better. The street named Fondamenta Della Misericordia, 11 minutes’ walk north of Rialto Bridge, is amongst the prettiest.
If the enticement is too strong, squeeze in a gondola ride, but only if you’re able to conjure an eye-watering €80 for a 30-minute tour. You can pre-book tickets online with Viator.
Get onto the iconic Grand Canal with the white #1 water bus heading south back towards San Marco, where you’ll find dinner.
6pm – Dinner
I recommend dining at Restaurante la Feluca, a traditional Venetian eatery specialising in fresh seafood. The best restaurants in Venice tend to be fully booked around dinner time so you should choose a dinner restaurant earlier in the day and call ahead to book a table. This one will definitely require a reservation but you can do so on their website as well.
Foodie tip: If you find a mostly empty restaurant in Venice at dinner time, stay away. As a back-stop I suggest checking the restaurant’s Google Map score rating. Anything less than 3.9 (out of 5) is a tell-tale sign of sub-par food.
Breakfast tip: If you’re staying in an Airbnb apartment, the most affordable breakfast will be one that you make. There are over a dozen small supermarkets scattered around Venice, the most popular chains being Coop and Despar. DIY cereal, muesli or eggs will go a long way to making your Venice trip affordable.
8:45am – Get away from the crowds on a 5-island tour
The best way to feel the authentic Venetian life is to explore the quieter and less-touristed islands nearby. Many of these islands have a single speciality, some grow artichokes, others produce wine, one makes lace, and famous Murano produces artisan glass.
To experience the best of the Venetian islands, I booked Take Walks’ Full Day Venice Island Boat Trip. We met our guide, Daria, at 8:45am and walked to the Nove Ferry Terminal, where our boat was already waiting. As we glided along the smooth waters to our first stop, Daria shared stories on the history of Venice, islands we passed, and the lifestyles of modern Venetians. We were the only passengers on the day of our tour (as it’s a brand-new tour), but the semi-enclosed boat can fit up to 20 people.
The first stop was San Francesco del Deserto, a quiet island containing a monastery dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, who visited the island in 1233 AD. The monastery is now home to 5 Franciscan friars, one of whom gave us a short tour of the monastery including showing the building’s Roman foundations and a chapel where St Francis is said to have prayed. Although the humble friar couldn’t speak English, he cheerfully shared stories of the monastery’s origins which Daria kindly translated for us.
Visitors are welcome to place a donation in the monastery’s offering box to support the friars but there’s no obligation. Take Walks provides a small donation to cover the visit.
Our next stop was Mazzorbo, for a wine tasting at boutique vineyard Venissa, which produces wine from the grape variety dorona, meaning “golden”. As the name implies, dorona is golden in colour and unlike most white wines, can be kept for up to 15 years. This medium-bodied wine released a bold aroma, almost like a sherry, but tasted drier with a mildly salty aftertaste. It was absolutely delicious, but it’s not an everyday wine. The vineyard cultivates 4,000 dorona vines which produce 4,000 bottles per year. Each bottle is adorned with a pure gold leaf label applied by hand and is then hand-engraved with its unique number out of 4,000. Yep, it’s a limited-edition wine, so it’s no surprise a small bottle costs €140.
After our tasting and watching a short video on Venissa’s wine production, we walked through the vineyard and across a bridge to reach our next destination, Burano. Burano is pretty much everything I’d hoped Venice would be. The picturesque island is full canals lined with colourful houses in hues of pink, purple, yellow, and blue, restaurants with friendly waiters waiving you inside, and shops selling hand-made lace – the island’s specialty.
We stopped at the Burano Lace Museum where Daria gave us 2 hours of free time to visit the museum, enjoy lunch, and shop at the many stores selling lace, clothing, textiles, homewares, and souvenirs.
Exhibits inside the Lace Museum explain the history and production process of Burano lace and show examples of different lace varieties. We even saw a sweet older lady embroidering lace by a window.
After our museum visit, we followed Daria’s recommendation and had lunch at Da Primo, a homey restaurant specialising in seafood and homemade pasta. They even offered gluten-free pasta for my wife.
Our next stop was Torcello, the first island inhabited in the lagoon and home to Venice’s oldest church. The plan was to walk about 10-minutes along a canal until we reached the Venetian-Byzantine basilica, but it was pouring with rain so we opted to retreat back to the boat instead. If you do wish to visit the basilica, entry costs €5 per person and is not included in the tour price.
Our last stop was Murano, the island home to respected glassmakers since the 13th century. According to Daria, some glass factories were originally located in the historic centre of Venice but moved to Murano to keep fumes and risk of fire away from the population. We visited Glasbläserei Estevan Rossetto where we watched a short glassmaking demonstration by a master craftsman. I was in awe as he effortlessly formed a small vase and then a horse statue out of molten glass in 2 minutes flat.
We then toured the factory’s showroom and saw stunning chandeliers, large glass sculptures, and homewares that fully deserve their rather high price tags. If you can’t resist the temptation, staff will offer their best price including shipping to your home.
We briefly stopped by the church of Santa Maria e San Donato before visiting the Murano Glass Museum, which uses the same tickets as the Burano Lace Museum, so be careful not to lose them during the day. Daria left us to explore the museum and glass stores, arranging to meet us at the boat after 1 hour.
The Glass Museum pleasantly surprised me with fascinating exhibits showcasing the evolution of glassmaking on Murano. I found the most interesting exhibit to be small beads with architectural designs and portraits inside. Simply amazing! Next to the exhibits are videos explaining the intricate processes used by glassmakers.
We then made our way back to the boat and returned to Venice around 5:30pm.
5:30pm – Indulge in an Aperitif of Aperol Spritz
After a full day on your feet, relax in one of the many Venetian bars that’s bound to be near your hotel or apartment, and enjoy a traditional Aperol Spritz as an aperitif. As the name suggests, the drink is made with prosecco and orange liquor, Aperol. A refreshing winddown to match an enjoyable day out.
6:30pm – Dinner
I suggest dining at 6342 a le Tole, a popular restaurant specialising in homemade pizza and pasta. Just don’t forget to book a table earlier in the day (or the day before). This can be done via Google Maps.
The Bottom Line
The picturesque Venetian canals place the floating city high on many traveller’s bucket list. Sadly, hordes of tourists make it challenging to enjoy your vacation while straining to hear your companions over the noise or trying not to bump in to people while walking down clogged gauntlet-like streets.
I discovered it is still possible have an authentic Venetian experience by focusing on outlying islands away from the city centre. That is where the authentic culture still lives today.
Sure, take a day to see the icons like Rialto Bridge, but if you have a few days up your sleeve, they’ll be best spent on food-loving Mazzorbo, beautiful Burano, or captivating Murano.
I’m happy to leave the clogged arteries of San Marco for everyone else.
Venice travel tip: Explore further via direct ferry and check latest prices to Croatia or Slovenia.
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