5 Days in Venice: A Comprehensive City Guide

Venice City Guide

Sometime last autumn, during a long afternoon walk in the park, Rory asked me where I’d most like to visit next. We had just gotten back from an incredible week in Santorini and we were both itching to make plans for our next holiday. “Venice” instinctively tumbled out of my mouth, although I’m not sure it was ever top of my list. My parents had honeymooned there over three decades ago and his mom had always spoken fondly of the city, so it was assumed that both he and I would visit together at some point. I can still picture him smiling as I explained that it seemed like a good time to visit before tourism picked back up. Little did I know, he’d already booked our flights and started planning our engagement in Venice for seven months’ time over the Easter holiday. (Honestly he’s a dream! Our engagement photos and video say it all.)

Needless to say, Venice will forever hold a special place in my heart. From the architecture to the canals, the colours and textures to the history– there is so much to love about the most romantic city in the world. We had the most wonderful five days together walking (and running) around as much of the city as we could.

Read on for my Venice city guide, including all of the details of where we stayed, dined, and visited.

To Stay

Cima Rosa

We planned our trip to Venice months in advance and did quite extensive research before making a choice about where to stay. It was important to both of us that we have a room on the Grand Canal for the full experience, but we also wanted to strike the balance between location and cost. I was determined to find something that met our criteria and was absolutely thrilled when I came across Cima Rosa, a stunning 15th century palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal.

Elegant and warm, secluded and quintessential, this boutique bed & breakfast in the Santa Croce neighbourhood made us feel as though we were living in our own Venetian palazzo. If you arrive by water taxi, and I recommend you do, the facade will take your breath away. The interiors have a more modern feel but are equally beautiful and befitting of the space. Our room was spacious with a window facing onto the canal, a plush queen bed, decorative table and chairs, a couch and antique wardrobe. Breakfast is included with your stay and the location makes it feel somewhat off the beaten path while still being very conveniently located just a 10 minute walk from the Rialto.

The staff are friendly and can help with booking water taxis, local restaurants and other activities should you need it. You may even meet the owners, Daniele, a Venetian architect, and his wife, Brittany, during your stay. We had the opportunity to speak with Brittany over our breakfast the morning after we got engaged, which was really quite special and felt a bit like being home.

Daniele and Brittany have curated a truly unique space that Rory and I can’t wait to return to on our next visit to Venice.

For more photos and details of our stay at Cima Rosa, click here.

To Eat

GLAM – Palazzo Venart

The best meal of our trip was, without a doubt, at GLAM Restaurant in the Palazzo Venart Hotel, just around the corner from Cima Rosa. With 2 Michelin stars, it is the kind of fine dining experience most reserve for special occasions. And for us, it made the perfect place to celebrate our engagement, which Rory had conveniently arranged for golden hour just ahead of our 8pm reservation that evening.

There are just six tables at GLAM and the meal can easily last 3.5-4 hours, so it makes for an intimate and deeply romantic evening. Together we enjoyed the Art, gardens and lagoon tasting menu – a playful masterpiece of dishes that are nearly too beautifully presented to eat. We started with a glass of brut Ruinart and later enjoyed the most fantastic bottle of wine I’ve ever had. Ask the sommelier to make a recommendation – the wine list is sprawling and bottles tend to start around EUR 80. We told him the kinds of wines we like to drink and his singular suggestion was immaculate. The decanting and tasting of the wine was an experience in and of itself so if you do visit, I highly recommend ordering a bottle.

The service was almost as impressive as the food itself. The staff were exceptional: deeply knowledgable and attentive, polished and professional. The whole night was a highlight and, we agreed, well worth the price. We have every intention of returning next time we’re in town.

Il Ridotto

We had a fantastic, Michelin-starred meal at the father and son-owned Il Ridotto near St. Mark’s square. With just nine tables, and a brick-clad interior, it felt warmer and more relaxed than GLAM. We were welcomed by Gianni Bonaccorsi, one of the owners, and seated near the kitchen, which reminded me of dinners at my Italian grandparents’ house years ago. There was a special Easter menu for the night, which included a range of seasonal dishes — all delicious though less elegantly plated by comparison. The service was good, but we got the impression the kitchen and staff were perhaps a bit rushed that evening. The meal lasted about 2 hours start to finish and left us satisfied but wondering how the standard tasting menu experience might differ. We will certainly visit again, but would recommend GLAM to anyone looking choose between the two.

Antiche Carampane

Our first night in Venice we visited Antiche Carampane — a delightful, local spot located between the Rialto fish market and Campo San Polo. In all of the research I did leading up to the trip, this restaurant had to have been one of the most frequently recommended places. It didn’t disappoint. True to venetian cuisine, the menu was brimming with seafood-filled dishes, which both Rory and I were happy about. Having had late afternoon cicchetti nearby, we didn’t overdo our order. We opted for a special antipasti dish with scallops to share, tagliatelle with spider crab sauce for me and the spaghetti with seafood sauce for him — classic dishes recommended by the server. Everything was very fresh and reasonably priced, making it one of the more affordable meals we had during our stay in Venice.

I’d definitely recommend it to those looking for a casual and authentic meal.

Al Covo

Al Covo is another popular Venetian dining establishment that kept cropping up throughout my research. The reviews were consistently complimentary, but what sold me is that the restaurant is owned and operated by Chef Cesare Benelli and his Texan wife, Diane. We popped in for dinner on Easter Sunday and were unfortunately rather rushed given the plans we had that evening. The list of wines by the glass is short and sweet and the menu is comprised of mostly seafood and meat-based dishes, which makes it a bit tricky for vegetarians. While I didn’t love my choice of wine in the end, the grilled fish skewer main was excellent and we both wished we had had more time to savour the meal.

Club del Doge – The Gritti Palace

I firmly believe that few things can beat the Club del Doge / Gritti Terrace when the sun is shining and your table is overlooking the Grand Canal. We were fortunate to have booked our table for the terrace on the Easter Sunday months in advance of our visit, although we nearly cancelled when we found out just a couple of weeks before our trip that they were going to do an Easter buffet at EUR 140 per person. Let me tell you, we were so glad to have kept our reservation. We spent three glorious hours on the terrace sipping bottomless Rose Ruinart, chatting and laughing over endless plates of fresh seafood, pasta and desserts. The service and presentation was fantastic, the Gritti Palace was absolutely beautiful, and the experience felt wonderfully indulgent while still offering fantastic value for money. For me, a visit to the Gritti palace is an absolute must when you’re in Venice.

Gio’s Restaurant – The St. Regis

The day of our engagement, we stopped into Gio’s at the St.Regis for a late afternoon lunch. We had spent a good part of the day at Palazzo Ducale without fully appreciating how difficult it would be to find a nice lunch spot after 2pm. Fortunately Rory had prepared a list of restaurants that extended beyond those we had booked for dinners. Gio’s was top of the list and just happened to have space on their terrace, as well as a late-afternoon lunch menu. If the Gritti Palace is opulent and traditional, the St. Regis is sleek and ultra modern. They are comparable in price and location, although the terrace at the St. Regis is slightly more picturesque, while Rory and I enjoyed the service and food at the Gritti palace more. They are both exquisitely beautiful and merit a visit if you’re passionate as I am about food, interiors, and luxury hospitality.

Caffè Florian

350 years old and an absolute MUST in my opinion. We stopped in after visiting Palazzo Ducale (as Caffè Florian sits in St. Mark’s square and had the most expensive Americano of my life, but it was WORTH it: immaculate service, a one-of-a-kind location, and live music on the terrace. It’s the kind of experience you won’t find anywhere else. Sit inside so you can admire the interior and feel transported back in time. They had the windows open in each room of the caffe so those sitting inside could enjoy the live band just as well.

To Do

Go for a sunrise run

I admit this may not be top of people’s lists on holiday, but it’s absolutely worth it when visiting Venice. For one, there is no better way to see the city than without the crowds and the only time you’ll get that opportunity is if you’re up and out before 8AM or out wandering late into the evening. Second, watching the sunrise over St. Mark’s Basilica and the Grand Canal is nothing short of magical. My favourite shots of the city were captured on our sunrise runs when the moon was still out and the sky was a wash of pinks, oranges and purples.

Rory and I managed to get out for a sunrise run on our first morning and last — both were unique and well worth the effort. Build in extra time to stop for photos as you make your way to the square. We recommend heading down to the Biennale gardens from there as you can track along the water all the way.

Attend midnight mass at Basilica di San Marco

We were incredibly fortunate to have visited Venice over the Easter holiday and coincidentally made dinner plans the Saturday night before Easter Sunday at Il Ridotto, just two minutes from St. Mark’s square. We left the restaurant around 11pm and decided to walk past the basilica to see what time it would open on Easter. Around the corner from the main entrance, which was gated off for the night, a side door stood ajar with a sign welcoming guests for midnight Easter mass. We joined a few guests making their way in and gasped a little to ourselves as we entered the basilica and looked up.

Attending midnight mass together was our favourite experience of the trip. While we didn’t get to see inside the basilica during the day, we had a far more intimate and special experience sitting in the pews for mass, watching the bishop and the processional make their way around guests and weaving in and out of the crowd that gathered after the service as we tried to catch every detail and corner.

Tour Palazzo Ducale & Bridge of Sighs

If there is one thing we would change about our trip, it was not booking ahead for Palazzo Ducale. While the line to get into St. Mark’s was far worse, we ended up waiting for over an hour to get into the Doge Palance our first day in Venice, which made for a slow start to the day. However, it was well worth the wait. The grandeur and sheer scale of the rooms in the palace alone was enough to make me glad we’d waited to get in.

Get the audio guide and plan to spend about 2 hours cruising through all of the rooms. Don’t cut out before touring the prison, which takes you over the Bridge of Sighs and gives you a unique perspective from inside the bridge.

Tour La Fenice Opera House

Perhaps my favourite tour of the trip, La Fenice Opera House is a marvel. You don’t have to be a fan of the opera to appreciate it either — the building has a very unique and unexpected history having burned to the ground and been rebuilt three times. It’s an excellent story and worth the visit as tickets are cheap and the whole tour can take less than hour if you’re on a tight schedule.

Attend a concert with Interpreti Veneziani

As a surprise for Rory, I booked us tickets to see Interpreti Veneziani, a classical music group, on Easter Sunday at 9PM in Chiesa San Vidal. The concert was at the top of the Telegraph’s list of recommended experiences in Venice and didn’t disappoint. The group is comprised of a mix of semi-professional musicians of all different ages. Together, they performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons against the backdrop of a beautiful Venetian church. I can’t tell you how many times Rory has mentioned how much he enjoyed that experience. If you get the opportunity to attend, it’s well worth the EUR 30 per ticket.

Visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum was near the top of my list of things I was most excited to do in Venice and while I’d still recommend the visit, the collection placed a lot more emphasis on surrealist works than I expected. However, the three Jackson Pollocks on display were exceptional and worth seeing in real life. We also spent some time outside on the terrace overlooking the grand canal, which was lovely in the sun. I’d recommend booking ahead, although you can swing by in person and add your name to a list to get in a couple of hours later on the same day. I’d allow 1-2 hours at most if you’re planning a visit.

Take a gondola ride

At EUR 80 for 30 minutes, some may choose to forgo the clichéd Gondola ride on the canals (we nearly did), but I’m glad we didn’t. In fact, we left it until our final morning in Venice, when we got up and out for a sunrise run, showered and packed up our room, had a quick breakfast at Cima Rosa and decided it was the perfect time to catch one of the first gondolas of the morning. We paid extra for a 45 minute ride that took us off the beaten path and past a few historic sites including Marco Polo’s home. Our gondolier was full of knowledge, chatting to us about the tradition and history of the industry, the construction and cost of gondolas, and the challenges of tourism is Venice. Rory and I agreed it was a great experience all around and worth doing first thing in the morning before traffic on the canals picks up. Try to avoid the grand canal altogether if you’re looking for a more peaceful experience.

Visit Santa Maria dei Miracoli

There are so many churches in Venice that it can feel a bit overwhelming to try and decide which to prioritise. For Rory and I, the decision was made a bit simpler by the fact that Santa Maria dei Miracoli is his mom’s favourite church in the city. It was important to us that we make the time to see it with our own eyes. In the Cannareggio neighbourhood, conveniently close to Vino Vero (more on a that in moment), the Santa Maria dei Miracoli or “marble church” stands on a canal in an area that feels considerably quieter and a little less touristy. The church was built by Pietro Lombardo between 1481 and 1489 and is incredibly unique in its design. Please pay the EUR 3 to go in and respectfully appreciate it; we witnessed some tourists stick their heads through the door, look around quickly and then leave so they could avoid paying!

Enjoy a glass of wine and cicchetti at Vino Vero

Our one bit of bad weather (light rain) hit Saturday afternoon after we’d visited Santa Maria dei Miracoli and popped into a couple of shops nearby. As it was time for an afternoon snack and glass of wine, we made the quick 10 minute walk to northwest to Vino Vero where we were able to find a table canal-side under an awning. It felt like a local hang out, which was a welcome reprieve from the crowds of tourists. Vino Vero pride themselves on offering one of the best selections of natural wines and being a ‘meeting place for producers and drinkers’. Pop in for a thoroughly enjoyable bite to eat and glass or two of wine.

Drink a Bellini at Harry’s Bar

We didn’t have a reservation, but tried our luck Easter Sunday evening to see if we could snag a spot at Harry’s Bar. In keeping with our streak of good luck, we just managed to get the last two seats available. We stayed just long enough to enjoy their famous pink Bellini (which really is all it’s cracked up to be) and a dish of meaty green olives. The place was packed and clearly a hotspot for both drinks and food, which we plan to explore further next time we’re in Venice.

Stop by La Scala Contarini del Bovolo

The famous staircase is named for its snail-like shape and appearance and is truly unique. No need to pay or go into the museum — according to a tour guide we overheard the museum is pointless — you can fully appreciate La Scala Contarini del Bovolo from the street in just a few minutes.

Cross the Ponte dell Accademia bridge at golden hour

Our engagement shoot took place in the Dorsoduro neighbourhood between 6:30 and 7:45pm when the light was just right over Venice. We crossed the Accademia knowing it would be packed, but hoping to get just a couple of shots at golden hour. Some of my favourite photos of Venice (and us) were captured on the bridge that evening. The view is unbelievable (probably my favourite overall!) and at that time of day it’s just breathtaking.

Other Tips

With just five days and four nights, we were keen to maximise our time and see as of the city as we could. We did a lot of walking, averaging between 20,000-25,000 steps per day, which meant we were able to see a lot of the city. I wore only flat shoes and spent most of my time in jeans, a nice shirt and light jacket. We skipped the islands to save time and focus on really seeing Venice; I’m certain we made the right call. So, particularly if you’re visiting for the first time, I suggest saving the islands for a future visit.

We left our shopping until the end of the trip as we had a fairly structured plan for each day. While I’m glad we did, I think we’ll build in a bit more time for wandering and window shopping next time. If that’s important to you, make sure you leave room in your itinerary for it.

We took a water taxi to and from the airport and while it was more expensive, it was so nice to start and end the trip on a high. I think it’s worth carving out the budget for it if you can, particularly when you arrive. We booked ours ahead of time through our hotel to save money and ensure we had someone waiting for us at the airport.

It was the trip of a lifetime…

We put our heart and soul into planning it and we left feeling so overwhelmingly satisfied with how we spent our time and money and the memories we made in the process. After all, you only engaged once! But more on that story next time…

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