ExperiencePlus! tour leader Sara Verlicchi shares her secrets on how to get the most or your 36 hour stay in Venice.
We highly recommend that you take a few extra days prior to your Venice to Florence or Venice to Pisa bicycle tour to explore Venice, one of the most amazing places on earth. Founded on a series of islands in the 9th century by locals who fled the invading Franks, the city eventually found its niche in seaborne commerce throughout the Mediterranean region. By the 11th century it began to dominate trade and by the 15th and 16th centuries was already a cosmopolitan city famous for its opulent palaces, polyglot population, and rich commercial traders. Today Venice is unmatched for history, art, and romance, though the population of native Venetians has fallen to around 65,000, down from a post-World War II population that reached nearly 300,000. Our 36 hours in Venice will help you to explore and experiment with one of the world’s unique “pedestrian” cities.
3:30 p.m. Check into your hotel
4 p.m. Climb the tower in Piazza San Marco for an orientation view of the city.
6:30 p.m. Stroll from Saint Mark’s Square along the Riva degli Schiavoni, fronting on the large “bacino grande” (great basin) to Rio Terra Garibaldi for un “ombra” – a small glass of wine with appetizers before dinner (the “ombra” accompanied by Venetian style “tapas,” called cicchetti in Venice, is a tradition unique to Venice among Italian cities).
There are several places in Via Garibaldi for your ombra and cicchetti. Pick the one with the most shipyard workers who’ve stopped for a snack on their way home from work. Standing at the bar gossiping and talking about Italian politics and soccer, they’ll be there until 7:25 almost exactly. But by 7:30 they’ll disappear as they have to get home for dinner.
A bit of local lore. In the past a typical glass of wine was served in the shade of the clock tower in piazza San Marco. Ever since, an “ombra”, which literally means shade, in Venice refers to a small glass of red or white house wine.
8 p.m. Time for dinner
While you are on Via Garibaldi, head to the Castello district for dinner at Corte Sconta restaurant (Castello 3886, Calle del Pestrin). Though it is not easy to find (nothing is in Venice, but that’s the beauty of it!), it is well known among locals, so just ask directions. They serve very good seafood dishes and other typical Venetian specialties. Closer to Saint Mark’s Square another option is Al Giardinetto da Severino, Ruga Giuffa 4928 (phone 041 5285332). If the weather is nice, dine in the roomy courtyard under the grape vines that produce the fragrant, sweet “Fragolino” wine, made from Concord grapes (native to the Americas but a novelty in Italy.) The Giardinetto is frequented by Venetians as well as tourists.
10 p.m. Back to Saint Mark’s Square
Enjoy a stroll through St. Mark’s Square. There is always live classical music until late. Check out the world-famous Caffè Florian and Grandcaffè Quadri. If you prefer a more intimate atmosphere, why not check out Harry’s Bar – Hemingway’s favorite place in Venice. It’s not cheap but they own the original Bellini drink recipe, and if you still need dinner, they also serve food.
8:00 a.m. Try and have breakfast and get out before 8 or 8:30. You’ll find the Venetians are out doing their morning shopping until 9 or 9:30 a.m. after which they disappear behind closed doors and garden walls as they relinquish their City to hordes of tourists.
First thing, head straight to the historic Market Place of Rialto where you’ll find fresh fish, vegetables, fruit and flowers. Notice the varieties of tiny Italian lettuce grown on islands in and around the lagoon in almost every season.
11:00 a.m. Find your way from the Rialto Market to the historic Jewish Ghetto and Museum (the synagogue will be closed on the Sabbath but any other day it is open) and follow this walking tour until it is time for lunch.
An easy way (and also very Venetian) to cross the Grand Canal is to take the public gondola from the Rialto side (near the open market) to the other side called Ca’ D’oro. The cost for this little shuttle is around 2 euro. The traghetto, or large gondola, crosses every five minutes or so until lunchtime and it gives you a gondola experience for just pennies. The gondoliere will help you onboard and you stand as you cross. Exit the gondola and head straight down Strada Nuova to Ponte delle Guglie.
You’ll notice some similarity between the wide Strada Nuova and Rio Terra Garibaldi where you were last night. When Napoleon subjugated Venice in 1797 he filled the canal where Rio Terra (literally, “filled river”) Garibaldi now is and razed a number of buildings to create Strada Nuova (literally, “new street.”) His rationale? To move his army quickly and efficiently through the otherwise very narrow streets of a medieval city.
Continue your walk through the neighborhood of Cannaregio from Ponte delle Guglie. Head under the Sottoportego del Ghetto Vecchio (see if you can find the marks on the wall caused by the rings that were a part of the gates that were closed after dark when the Jewish population was required to stay inside the Ghetto).
Depending on your timing, if it’s lunch time you could try the only restaurant serving kosher food in Venice called GamGam. The small piazza, “campo” in Venetian, in the center of the Ghetto unites three synagogues and Jewish schools – the Spanish, Levantina and Luzzatto. The Italian school is in Ghetto Novo (Venetian for Ghetto “Nuovo” or new ghetto).
The Ghetto Novo was literally an island of its own, hence, easy to close off at night. It was so heavily populated that it has some of the tallest buildings in Venice since, as the Jewish population grew, they had no option but to build up rather than out.
Campo del Ghetto Nuovo: Note the holocaust memorial and bas relief on the Casa di Riposo (the rest home for Jewish citizens).
The word “ghetto,” which we’ve adopted in English, derives from the Venetian term “getto,” literally “throw” from a foundry located here in 1500. Venice welcomed Jewish merchants and moneylenders because of the importance of commerce to the city. But with the dramatic increase of immigrants after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the Venetian aristocracy elected to restrict the Jewish population to one neighborhood where they could limit their movements from sundown to sunrise. The Jewish Ghetto existed from the mid-1500 to 1798 and became the model for many ghettos throughout Europe. Napoleon opened the gates and brought an end to the isolation of the Jews in Venice.
Continue your stroll from the Ghetto through Cannareggio, Campo dei Gesuiti to Salizzada dei Specchieri. (Note the façade of the Church dei Gesuiti.) Fondamenta della Misericordia, on the other side of the Ghetto bridge towards Campo dei Gesuiti, is the perfect place for a break; during a quick lunch in one of the many restaurants and bars with tables along the canal, where you can breathe the real Venetian atmosphere. Continue along Fondamenta Nuove where you might like to have a coffee while you wait for the vaporetto. In the distance you can gaze at San Michele island with its red bricks wall and cypress trees, the old cemetery of Venice.
3:00 p.m. Catch the boat to Murano from Fondamenta Nove (take vaporetto number 4.1 or 4.2 which departs every 20 minutes). If you are interested in the famous Murano glass products and how they are made get off at the “murano-museo” stop which takes 20 minutes. If you are more interested in a typical island village, continue on to Burano (take vaporetto number 12, departing every 30 minutes), well-known for its traditional brightly colored fishermen’s houses and delicate handmade lace. If you are still in Burano for lunch or dinner check out the “Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero” on Fondamenta della Giudecca 88 (041 730120). It is frequented by Venetians for special celebrations. Try their fresh seafood, typical Venetian dishes, homemade pasta and cakes.
Beyond Burano is the island of Torcello with one of the oldest Romanesque churches in the lagoon. Torcello is a very small island with just 10 to 15 houses and one of the most amazing basilicas from the VII century, Santa Maria, the tower is worth the climb on a sunny day for a wonderful view of the Venetian lagoon. A cumulative ticket for the basilica, the museum and the useful audio guide costs 8.00 euro (2018).
Watch the time, since there are not many vaporetto rides, especially after 9 p.m.
9 a.m. Cross to San Giorgio and climb the tower; on a clear day you can see the Alps.
Continue by vaporetto to la Giudecca, one of the three largest islands of Venice (along with the Lido and Sant’Erasmo). The name “giudecca” has a double origin: from Giudaico (Jewish land) and/or Giudicato (judged) because of the presence of the jail of Venice. If you are interested in photography, right next to the Zitelle vaporetto stop, you can visit the Tre Oci Foundation, recently opened to the public with international photography exhibitions.
On the island of Giudecca be sure to visit the “Redentore”, church of the redeemer, designed by the famous Veneto architect, Andrea Palladio. The Redentore church hosts one of the great festivals of Venice, The Festival of the Redeemer, the third Sunday in July. Don’t miss it if you are in the area. The church of the Redentore was built by those who survived the plague of 1576 (as was the church of Santa Maria della Salute).
The “Festival of the Redeemer” includes the construction of a floating bridge across the Giudecca canal for two days, allowing pilgrims to walk to the church. The festivities begin on Saturday afternoon and end with great fireworks at midnight. Venetians line the Fondamenta della Giudecca, which is lit up as if it were Christmas, to dine, picnic, and party until late into the night. It is truly still a local festival. The basin of Saint Mark is filled with private boats and people eating and awaiting the wonderful fireworks at midnight.
Later in the morning head to the Museum of Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim collection which are both worth a visit, depending on your interest in art. Walk in the direction of Campo Santa Margherita, a meeting point for many Venetians, similar to Rio Terra Garibaldi. This campo is a good place for a mid-morning coffee or an afternoon drink if you need a rest or a light lunch. One of our favorites is “Caffè Rosso”.
Don’t forget gelato! To find gelato in Italy, just watch for the folks on the street with an ice cream cone. Follow the trail and you’ll find great gelato.