Can you see Venice in a day?
Venice is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. (Maybe just a bit too popular!) But is it possible to see Venice in a day? With the aid of a bit of forward planning, a selfie stick and a trusty map, I set off to find out..
Where do you start in Venice?
The entry points for people arriving by land, rail and water are all very close together. The Piazalle Roma is the main square where all the buses arrive. My bus, the 4L from Mestre, costs 3 euros return and took just ten minutes to cross the lagoon and drop me off at the edge of the floating city. You need to buy your tickets before you get on the bus (or it costs twice as much!) and then ‘validate’ them by holding them against one of the scanners on the bus.
From the Piazzalle Roma over the bridge in front of you, is the transport hub of Venice. You will see the Santa Lucia Railway station on your left and the dock to access all the water taxis (vaporetto) on the right.
Venice – city of bridges
The bridge which crosses the grand canal in front of you is one of Venice’s busiest and newest bridges. The Ponte di Calatrava is a glass and steel arch which opened in 2008. It proved controversial with Venetians, as they felt its modern materials did not fit in with their city of stone and wood.
There are over 400 bridges in Venice, but only four of them actually cross the grand canal. If you cross the Calatrava bridge you will see the grand canal before you in all its glory. A view that has remained much the same for centuries. Go past the station on your left and take the second of those bridges, the stone Ponte degi Scalzi the ‘barefoot bridge.’ Cross the canal and head into the winding narrow streets of this ancient city.
Venice – towards the Rialto bridge
I was heading for one of the must see sites of Venice, the Rialto bridge. You need to walk in a generally left direction through the narrow winding streets. You will come across small squares, bars, and shops and trek over lots of little bridges crossing the narrow green canals. There is no logical pattern to these streets, as they were built for people who traveled entirely on water. In fact originally there were no bridges in Venice at all!
Navigation by smart phone is difficult here as the signal is blocked by the buildings, but there are helpful directional yellow signs on the corners of some of the streets. This has made things a lot easier for the Venice in a day visitor!
You will (eventually) arrive at the Ponte di Rialto an impressive stone construction which crosses the grand canal at its lazy bend.. The original wooden bridge collapsed in 1444 under the weight of excited festival crowds, later it got burnt down and it was finally replaced by this magnificent structure in 1592.
The current, 16th-century Rialto Bridge was designed by the aptly named Antonio da Ponte (“Tony of the Bridge”), but at the time he was not well known. His ambitious plans actually won a competition that was entered by every architectural heavy hitter of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo, Palladio, and Sansovino. He was definitely the underdog!
The bridge is lined with expensive little shops and is generally covered in a layer of tourists. There’s no need to feel self conscious with your selfie stick here! When I walked over the same bridge late at night when I first arrived, there were almost no people on the bridge, and it looked quite different!
Venice in a day – San Marco (St Mark’s) square
San Marco is another of Venice’s most visited areas. It is really quite a magnificent sight with buildings which are quite astonishing individually, and together almost overwhelming. The place oozes power, wealth and religion. This square is a huge area compared to the other urban spaces of Venice, with an open vista that leads towards the south East of the lagoon.
Legend has it that Napoleon called it the ‘drawing room of Europe.’ After you have marvelled at the architecture and if you have plenty of money and time you might try a tour of the Doge’s Palace. This Gothic extravaganza was the seat of government for almost a 1000 years. Or have a very expensive coffee in the ornate 300 year old caffe Florian.
Head down to the lagoon and you will see more boats and gondolas and have a great view out over to the other islands.
Venice in a day – the bridge of sighs
Turn left along the canal. Round the corner from the palace is another Venice in a day must see. The very modestly proportioned (by comparison) bridge of ‘sighs.’ This small corridor structure connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s palace to the prison next door. This limestone bridge was apparently so called because the criminals would sigh as they crossed it, taking in their last chance to look at the outside world before they were incarcerated for their misdemeanours. Take him down!
Venice in a day – the Aqua Alta bookshop
Hang another left (left is always best) up one of the narrow streets back into the interior of Venice and find the the Calle Lunghi which is the home of the most visited bookshop in Venice. Acqua alta gets flooded at high tide so the owner keeps his books in gondolas, bathtubs and wheelbarrows!
There’s even a staircase made of books out of the back of the shop which you can climb rather gingerly so you can look out down the canal. Loved the bookshop cats too!
Next I started to headed back, winding through the streets towards the Piazalle Roma on a different route. I was looking for a little local bar in which to try some cicchetti and an Aperol spritz. Eventually I found just the place – El Sbarfelo – which is as Italian as it gets. Cicchetti are small savoury snacks a bit like Italian tapas. I do love an Aperol spritz and even enjoyed the large green olive which was deposited in it. I struggle with olives usually.
Eventually I wound my way back to the bus station with more confidence, and boarded the 4L once more back to Mestre, after a satisfying whistle stop tour of Venice in a day! Lots more to see though on my next expedition.
You might like my post Venice in winter check it out here!