“At the bridge I stood lately in the brown night.
From afar came a song: as a golden drop it welled over the quivering surface.
Gondolas, lights, and music — drunken it swam out into the twilight.
My soul, a stringed instrument, sang to itself, invisibly touched,
a secret gondola song, quivering with iridescent happiness.
— Did anyone listen to it?”
For adults, Venice is a dreamscape. A place to explore slowly and fall in love with. For kids it is the stuff of magic and fairytales.
With endless secret alleyways, bridges, dreamy palaces, family friendly squares and piazzas to explore, Venice is wonderful to visit, especially with kids.
It has great pizza, pasta and gelato and if that’s not enough, there are ferry rides to the islands of Burano, Murano, the beaches of the Lido, parks to play in, free musical concerts, museums, unique shopping and delicious regional delicacies to sample.
Our favourite thing to do in Venice is to get lost. To walk out the door (with a camera) and wander down hidden alleyways and venture without a purpose as far we dare.
Every visit we’ve discovered a new pretty flower filled square, ancient church, bell tower or a favourite new bacaro. You can’t help but revel in the mystery which captivates the imagination each time.
When you get tired of walking find a quiet spot. Sit and watch life pass by on the canals; see postman loaded with UPS parcels, builders with piles of wood and cement stacked high, coffins in boat hearses, crate loads of soft drink, couples canoodling in gondolas and people in suits zooming past with their smart phones glued to their ears.
Daily life is fascinating on the canals as the boats and gondolas pass beneath stern faced ladies beating rugs out window sills.
There is a beauty and rhythm in the everyday carried out on the water that the crowds cannot destroy.
I have listed below some of my favourite places which will easily fill 3 days of exploring the cities rich history.
It will help you dodge some of the crowds and let the magic of Venice seep into your soul.
I hope you are as enchanted with this city as much as I am.
3 Days in Venice
Day 1 – Markets, naval history and music
To see Venice at its best and to avoid the crowds, start the day early.
Begin at the Rialto Market . This 700 year old market is split into two sections, the Pescheria, fish market, is stocked full of crustaceans and every variety of fish from the surrounding sea.
The second section, the produce market, has mouthwatering fruit, cheese, vegetables, oils, grains, pasta and preserves and is still the place to see locals buying their groceries, gossiping and haggling for the best pick and price.
After you’ve stocked up on supplies, escape the day tripping crowds and walk through the district of – Castello (Eastern). It’s one of our favourite parts of Venice as it has retained a residential character.
While everything is less grand, it captivates with its rustic beauty. Apartment buildings and palaces line quieter canals. Washing strung on ropes between windows flaps overhead as ripples of light dance in the reflections between the moored boats.
Water and Venetian life afterall are symbiotic and Castello Eastern is a great place to explore the city’s seafaring history. It’s home to the Arsenale Venice’s historic shipyard.
Founded around 1104, the Arsenal bought great wealth to the city, it was once the economic beating heart of Venice and a powerhouse of industry that gave the Venetian’s naval dominance in the Mediterranean.
The Arsenale’s importance historically to Venice make it well worth a visit. Roger Crowley from Military History magazine has written a wonderful piece about it here.
It’s only open for exhibitions, however the imposing entrance and lovely surrounds are lovely to photograph and there is the Museo Storico Navale nearby which is one of Venice’s less-visited museums and is open most days.
Afterwards stroll down Via Garibaldi. Lined with restaurants, bars and boutiques, stop for chichetti and refreshments before seeing the imposing statue of Garibaldi and walking to Biennale Park, one of the the cities few green spaces.
If your feet aren’t aching stroll across to the island of San Pietro di Castello.
Take time to learn about the most recognisable icon of Venice, the Gondola.
A vital part of the cities transport system you can ride in one, then go see how they are made – Reids Italy have a list of tours that include Gondola making which is great for kids and adults alike !
If you don’t have time or the budget to do a tour Squero di San Trovaso is a 17th century boatyard located next to the San Trovaso Church, it is one of three (at the time of writing) remaining gondola repair yards in the city.
The Squero di San Trovaso boat builders originated from the Dolomites. The highly skilled gondola builders have been making the traditional Tyrolean style boats here for generations.
Today the boatyard is a piece of living history, the last workshop preserving a dying art, like many skilled industries, few younger Italians are spending 10 years of their life as apprentices to learn the craft. The boatyard is now used mostly for repairs and services the 350 plus gondolas which still travel the waterways.
Walk the small pretty canal of the Rio Di Dan Trovaso and look for a bacaro called Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi or Vini Al Bottegon, it is opposite a bridge that crosses the Rio San Trovaso. A mainstay for locals you can try different wines and order chicheti of salmon with chives and sour cream, tuna, salami and fish, or thick panini sandwiches filled with prosciutto wash it down with prosecco and ombra rosso sitting by the canal.
Once you’ve samples the regions favourite snack and immersed yourself in Venice’s seafaring history, it’s hard to go past a Gondola ride. The inner romantic in me just loves them. Kitschy yes, touristy for sure, yet there is something impossibly decadent about being rowed on the water in this magical city.
Trips last 30 minutes to an hour depending on your budget. Night time is an especially magical time to go. Read my night time experience here.
Gondolas hold up to six people (excluding the gondolier), and there are plenty of places to hire one on the canals (just avoid Piazza San Marco).
Tips – Haggle your price (within reason – remeber upkeep of Gondolas are expensive). Ask your gondolier to explore the smaller canals. Pick one that sings or plays musical instruments. Avoid the guys glued to their mobile phones.
If you can’t afford a Gondola take a Traghetto, which is a Gondola that acts as a ferry crossing on the Grand Canal. It’s etiquette to stand and you have to share with others but at a fraction of the cost it’s a cheap and fun experience and a good way to test your balancing skills on the water.
If that sounds too daunting, cruise down the Grand Canal by Vaporetto. Take the 40 minute Vaporetto ride on Line No 1. Crazy busy at peak times late afternoon is the perfect time to enjoy it.
Whichever mode of transport you choose, at the end of your ride, as twilight descends, visit the grandest drawing room in all of Europe. Enjoy a drink at one of Europe’s oldest cafes, Caffé Florian to absorb the atmosphere and romance.
Founded in 1720, by Floriano Francesconi, Cafe Florian has been frequented by Lord Byron, Cassanova and A-list Hollywood. Florian’s elegant rooms have borne witness to uprisings, revolution, war, art and plenty of passion.
The art deco decor, grand chandeliers and elegant rooms are part of Venices living history. Sit down and enjoy a glass of prosecco with some juicy green olives, listen to the beautiful music being played by the orchestras surrounding the square.
Sitting outside is more expensive, like every Venetian cafe, but outside you can enjoy the unfolding theatre as night descends on St Marks, watch couples dance and the square come alive with music, it is elegant and enchanting.
As the crowds begin to ebb away, continue the romance of the evening and visit the Rialto bridge. It is beautiful lit up at night as gondolas glide beneath. Dine at the nearby lovely Osteria Bancogiro.
If you are not too exhausted, there is good shopping in the back streets from the Rialto Bridge. You’ll find lots of treasures at reasonable prices; painted masks, bound notebooks, pens, glass puppets for the kids and silk laterns and bespoke products for the grown ups.
Day 2 – Island Tripping
Take a trip to the surrounding islands, it’s lovely to catch a ferry and cruise the lagoon. The distant Dolomites rise up out of the water, a natural fortress surrounding the lagoon. There are so many islands to visit outside Venice, it just depends on your interests.
Murano (a series of islands just to the north of Venice) is where you can watch the famed glassmakers at work.
Burano , which is my pick, is a tiny island located about 49 minutes to an hour from Venice. It is quaint, colourful and sleepy. Many of the shops sell lace, some handmade, some not, there are pretty tablecloths, sheets and bedspreads too.
Lido – if the heat is overbearing take a day trip to the Lido. From San Nicolò (the northernmost part of the Lido) down to Alberoni (the southernmost tip), the island offers a number of beaches, restaurants, ice cream shops and bike rentals for those who want a bit more of an active outing.
Fill the afternoon exploring a darker side of Venetian history in the world’s oldest Ghetto.
Now a pretty part of the city, the Ghetto is a sombre reminder of how quickly religious fervour can give way to fear, suspicion and exclusion. In 1516, by decree of the republic and to placate the Roman Catholic Church, around 700 Jews were moved into the area to create a ‘ghetto’.
Jews were required to remain inside the walls from sunset to sunrise; for protection and isolation. You can still see where the hinges on the walls held the large gates to lock residents in at night.
By the mid 1600s, the Ghetto became an important centre for trade for all Venetians.
Venice suffered economic and political decline in the 1700s until Napoleon‘s troops put and end to the Venetian Republic. The gates to the ghetto were torn down and the Jewish population enjoyed the same freedoms as other Venetians.
A shadow was again cast during the German occupation of Venice in World War II and many Jews were deported to the camps.
A short walk away, next to the Cannaregio Canal, is the Gam Gam Kosher Restaurant where you can try Venetian, Italian and Israeli dishes.
Walk back to St Marks and admire the beautiful Byzantine architecture of the 14th century converted palace of the Danielie hotel.
Once home to the Dandolis family, it is now part of a luxury hotel chain.
Artists, actors,writers and musicians such as Goethe, Charles Dickens, Byron and Harrison Ford have stayed here. Scenes for the films The Tourist and Casino Royal have been filmed here. Enjoy a drink at the rooftop bar for a fraction of the cost of staying there!
Finish the day with a classical concert – Vivaldi after all was born in Venice. The Four seasons is often performed for free at difference churches. Keep an eye out for the sandwich board signs out the front or ask your hotel.
Day 3 – Palaces and Art
Campanile di San Marco, the Doge’s Palace & St Marks
Get up early before Venice is besieged and walk to St Marks.
Climb the bell tower of the Campanile for spectacular views.
St Marks Basilica – arrive before it opens to beat the long lines, wander the treasures and marvel at the opulent interior.
Doge’s Palace (You can do a secret room tour which is good for kids) or take your pick of rooms, they are all beautiful.
Allow a couple of hours to wander around the Basilica and opulent palace, walk up the golden staircase, explore the numerous state rooms such as the map and court rooms, see a portion of the weapons from the armoury and look at famous artworks by Titian.
Walk across the Bridge of Sighs, see where Casanova, Europe’s infamous playboy and jailbreaker was held.
If palaces are not your thing and your are looking for something unique to do you could book a visit with a Mask Maker.
Venetian masks are as iconic as the Gondola, you can read a great article clevabout their history here.
San Polo’s narrow lanes are a good place to look. Alberto Sarria runs workshops and makes elaborate carnival masks, you can usually watch the mask-makers at work.
Ca’ Macana on Calle delle Botteghe off Campo San Barnaba in Dorsoduro holds classes too. If the scheduling is right, kids and adults can learn how to make them.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (704 Dorsoduro, +39 04124 05411, open 10am-6pm daily, closed Tuesday, under-10s free),is a gorgeous museum. Small enough so you can take in the amazing collection of art accumulated in her lifetime. The gallery is set in an old palace on the Grand Canal where Peggy resided on and off with her family.
She collected works by Picasso, Klee, Kadinksy, Dali, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock alongside her husband Max Ernst’s pictures,and many other artists.
The views of the grand canal, gardens and old photographs of Peggy and her family break up the priceless collections on the walls.
There is a modern art gallery which left Mr 77 feeling baffled as blurry photographs and artwork that look like they have been created by a blind chimpanzee are a stark contrast after the beauty of the 19th and 20th century masters.
It is also the final resting place of Peggy Guggenheim, she is buried in the garden alongside all her dogs. The museum has a peaceful garden which is a joy to explore.
Every Sunday from 3:00-4:30 pm there is a free “Kids Day” workshops for children ages 4-10. The Guggenheim hosts a series of other family events and activities throughout the year, so be sure to check their website before your visit.
After the museum walk along the Fondamenta delle Zattere, a long dock in the south area of Venice (Dorsoduro), paved in 1516. The whole path is 1.7 km long overlooking the Giudecca. Find a cafe overlooking the water, sit and watch the sun set in the distance. We enjoyed a drink at Gelateria Nico but there are plenty to choose from Zatterre cafes and restuarants
Wander the gorgeous streets back to Campo Santa Margherita Square. Campo Santa Margherita of the Dorsoduro district is one of the best areas to spend an evening in Venice.
The kids can run around while you sip Campari and cocktails at Margaret Du Champ, then take your pick either eat meat plates and cheese at Osteria Alla Bifora or enjoy a slab of take away pizza on a bench seat from Pizza-Al-Volo, then grab a final coffee at Caffe Rosso
For further reading on the issues facing Venice, Feargus O’Sullivan has written a great article entitled Venice Fights Back
For tours, accommodation, flights, further information, click on the links below.
Apertivo & Dining
In Venice the sky and water are a moody palette. Yellows,oranges, pale pinks, greys are reflected in the ripples of the water and mirror the surrounding houses.
You’ll often find your feet aching after the long walks. Apertivo is a great respite. It gives you a chance to people watch; locals walking their dogs, families venturing out for dinner and the hordes of tourists walking past squinting at maps or iphones.
You can often drink and eat alongside the canal, watch the post work crowd for pre dinner refreshment and enjoy a lively atmosphere.
For a full list and ratings of the most current bars, check out Tripadvisor
For the infamous white peach Bellini, you can of course visit the famed Harrys’ Bar
Other great 3 day itineraries
Children’s tours and activities in Venice
Arte al Sole – art classes and tours
How to get there
Venice is the capital of the Veneto region in northern Italy. It is a magical town made up of over 100 small islands connected by 400 bridges. Around 264,579 people call the region home. As one of the most beautiful towns in the world , make sure you stay in Venice itself so you can walk and get lost in the magic of the streets in the early or wee hours.
Plane – The Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) services the city of Venice, and welcomes flights from all over the world. Airline carriers that fly routes to this city include Alitalia, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.
The airport has a few cafes as well as currency exchange services, WiFi and ATMs.
Check out Skyscanner for great deals on flights.
Train – There are many intercity trains to Venice. Venice Santa Lucia is the main station in Venice, it is located on the banks of the Grand Canal, and is about a 30-minute walk to the major sites.
The Man in Seat 61 has the latest timetables, tips and train information in Italy.
Where to Stay
There are so many hotels to choose from in Venice it is hard to pick one.
Mr 77 and I have stayed twice at a lovely 1-star hotel called Hotel Al Vagon. The staff are welcoming and friendly and it is located only a 5-minute walk from the Rialto bridge in Cannaregio. Budget friendly, the rooms are decorated in Venetian decor, they are clean and tidy, our large double room had a comfy bed and lots of space and storage for our bags. It is a great little hotel.
We had a little balcony where we could watch life unfold on the canal and there were loads of cafes, restaurants and shops nearby and the major sites were all within walking distance too. The only downside is the upper floor where we stayed must be reached by a lot of stairs!
If you are travelling with your pooch, it is pet-friendly too.
For a full list and the latest reviews of the accommodation options in Venice, click on the links below:
Where to Eat
There are so many wonderful bars and places to eat, follow the crowds or check out a number of the best rated places to eat through Trip Advisor, Google and online travel forums.
Books set in Venice
There are over 200 novels set in Venice. Here are a few of my favourites !