I found myself thinking about where to go for my next trip and how much time I would have to see the sights. I love visiting Italy and it’s difficult not to want to return to places that I have been. Venice keeps drawing me back. I started to wonder what I could see if I had to visit Venice in a day? I had already visited the city a number of times, each time for 3-4 days. Would I enjoy the experience or would it be too rushed? What would be achievable? Would I feel that I had seen enough?
The quick guide to Venice in a day
Many of the main attractions are centred in the San Marco area of the city. It is probably the most famous area and can be found in the northern part of Venice. The Grand Canal kisses its banks while the Rialto Bridge further down the canal links it to the San Polo district. Although this is also the touristy part of town, it is home to many of Italy’s beautiful sights.
Visit St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s as the name implies houses the remains of St. Mark. Having spent some time in Istanbul recently visiting the Hagia Sophia it was interesting to hear the other side of the story. Many of its treasures were plundered when Constantinople fell and taken to Venice where they found a home in St. Marks. The four bronze horses which were on display in the Hippodrome of Constantinople were part of the treasures brought back. There are always 2 sides to a story, but I am happy that they are still around today to be enjoyed and admired instead of having been destroyed.
The building is a testament to ornate Byzantine architecture. Look out for the mosaics and in excess of 500 columns in the basilica most of which date from between the 6th and 11th centuries.
Campanile di San Marco
Historically, climbing the bell tower to admire the view was reserved for a privileged few. Now it’s as simple as purchasing a ticket and waiting in a queue.
The tower is 99 metres tall and was first built in the 12th century. The one we see today is a rebuilt version that dates from the 16th century. Originally it was used as a lighthouse and alternately as a watchtower in times of war.
Apart from the stunning views of the city, you can also see the largest of the 5 bells in the tower. Each of these bells has a different tone and they played an important part in Venetian daily life. For example, when the Malefico rang it signalled an execution. Naturally, they no longer have the same significance.
The Palazzo Ducale, or the Doge’s Palace is one of the iconic buildings and is adjacent to St. Mark’s Basilica. It was not only the home of the Doge but also housed the prison and the courtrooms. This location, as a seat of power dates as far back as 810 but the original building was destroyed in a fire
The existing building comprises 3 large blocks. The oldest part of it was built in 1340 while the section facing the square dates from 1424. Venetian architecture has a style all of its own. Look out for the mixed pink Verona marble and the white Istrian stone that form the detailed patterns on the exterior of the building.
The interior is opulent as would befit a ruler of the time and the rooms are filled with art by many of the prominent artists of the time.
Walk over the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs or Ponte dei Sospir as it is locally known is another the Venice’s major sights. It only can only be seen be seen from two places: Canonica Bridge and Ponte della Paglia.
The bridge was built in 1600 and has 2 small windows in it. It was used to lead prisoners from the courtrooms to the prison cells. Regardless of its dark history today it is romanticised. Local legend says that if a couple, in a gondola, passes under the bridge their love will last forever. Has anyone tried this? Let me know how it worked out!
I loved the blue face of this gorgeous clock. It displays the time, the sun, the moon, as well as the planets revolving around the earth. Twice a year the numerals are replaced by Magi and an angel during Ascension week and at the Epiphany. During the rest of the year, they remain stored inside to tower.
You can only go inside the tower with a guided tour, but I still recommend that you swing past for a look at it even it even if don’t have the time for a visit.
Piazza San Marco
This is a fairly obvious stop if you have visited the sights above. St Mark’s Square is one of the lowest lying parts of the city and even a relatively small change in the water levels can result in flooding. It is called the Acqua alta or high water and is an age-old phenomenon which is at its worst when the high tide, the moons gravitational pull and the sirocco wind all occur together. The water from the Adriatic is pushed into the lagoon and it results in a flood.
If you avoid the floods make the most of the shops and beautiful cafes that line the square. It’s the perfect place to relax for a while and soak up the sights.
If you like beautiful buildings and history then you have to have a coffee or a hot chocolate at Caffé Florian. It has been around since 1720 and frequented by locals and tourists alike. There are a number of different rooms in the café, once more ornate and beautiful than the next. It is not going to be the cheapest drink that you have ever had, but I am sure that its memory will live with you for many years to come.
The Grand Canal
The canal starts at Santa Lucia railway station at one end and spills into Saint Mark’s basin at the other. It is about 4km long and most things are brought to the city along the waterway. I have seen fresh produce, beds and bikes as some of the items making their way along the canal to be delivered.
If you are not planning a gondola ride then the best way of enjoying the sights of the canal is to hop onto a Vaporetto which you can find at St. Mark’s Square. Take Line 1 which has several stops along the way and moves at a leisurely pace allowing you to enjoy the sights along the way. Try to get a spot outside so that you can move from side to side to make the most of your trip.
The Rialto Bridge
You couldn’t visit Venice in a day and not see the Rialto Bridge. It’s the most famous bridge in the city and one of only 4 bridges that cross the Grand Canal. It has linked the San Marco and San Polo districts for more than 500 years and is the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal.
It is lined with shops, mostly selling rather tacky tourist goods, but more importantly, it is a link to the Rialto market which has been around since the 11th century.
Staying longer? – See Venice in 3 days
Wander the streets
There are more than enough online sites to book tickets in advance. I always do this and recommend that you do the same especially if you are pressed for time. The queues can be very long and without advance ticket purchase what you will be able to see in Venice in a day will be dramatically reduced.
It can also be very crowded, depending on the time of year that you visit. I prefer winter when the city is blanketed in fog and mystery. It’s even better when the sun appears and you find that you have the city to yourself. Well, not really, but in relative terms, it is almost empty and is a pleasure to explore.
That was easier than I thought! You really can see quite a lot of Venice in a day if you plan it properly. It will be a bit of a whirlwind, but sometimes it’s all the time you have available so you have to take the opportunity and make the most of it. You will have seen some of the main sights and who knows the Floating City might even lure you back for another visit.
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