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Three days in Venice, Italy
Sipping on spritzes, seeing the opera, and visiting the glass island of Murano
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Venice is one of those places that you’ve seen so many pictures of to the point that they don’t really take your breath away anymore. But seeing Venice in person really did for me. I expected to like it... I didn’t expect to love it. It has the romantic charm of Florence with the east-meets-west cultural richness of Istanbul. Add on a backdrop of ancient waterways—my eyes were wide in wonder for all of three days. The architecture and the history of the city were beyond my imagination. And unlike a lot of coastal Italian destinations, Venice isn’t just a one-season town—it has the heartbeat of a working city where citizens live year-round.
Everyone might be to go to Ischia or Puglia (myself included) over the “tourist traps” these days, but Venice was a good reminder that touristy destinations become touristy because they are so special to begin with.
The city wasn’t teeming with as many people as I’d thought there would be, and I’ve since learned that there actually are far fewer visitors to Venice now than there were pre-pandemic. (Venice banned cruise ships in 2021 and added a tourist tax for day trippers, who make up four-fifths of Venice tourists.) While it was busy, the crowds were on par with destinations like Positano or Santorini. We were able to make last-minute restaurant bookings fairly easily, which these days, you can’t even do in Denver—it’s such a breath of fresh air to make a same-day reservation on holiday.
I found Venetians to be warm and welcoming, and service was top-notch everywhere. Prices for dining, shopping, and lodging felt very reasonable, too. The one thing I’ll note is that Venice was somewhat difficult to navigate—between the many unmarked alleys and the spotty cell reception, Google Maps doesn’t work particularly well there. We got lost ourselves quite a few times, but unless we were in a rush to get to a reservation, we didn’t really mind finding ourselves in random corners of the city. After we started using a paper map, things got exponentially easier!
We’d originally booked two nights in Venice, intending to overnight in Verona or Lake Garda on our drive to our next stop in Piedmont—but by the end of our first day, we knew we needed more time and marched ourselves to the lobby and added another night to our stay.
While I rarely hear anyone talk about the food and drink in Venice, we didn’t have a disappointing meal. We were pleasantly surprised that every time we ordered a pasta to share, restaurants actually split it into two servings for us. One of the most dangerous things about northern Italy is how much bread they gave us everywhere… especially because it’s typically served hot and crusty, and often with breadsticks.
Wine from the Veneto region doesn’t get the same fanfare as Tuscan or Piedmontese wines, but we were delighted by the wide range of refreshing proseccos and of course, the Amarone. Spritzes are the bar drink of choice nearly everywhere—while Aperol, Select, and Campari are on every menu, spritzes made with Select (a bitter aperitif that’s somewhere between Aperol and Campari in sweetness) were clearly the locals’ go-to.
Our walking tour guide’s best tips for dining in Venice: The shorter the menu, the better. Eat seafood Tuesday through Saturday (the fish market is closed on Sunday and Monday). And if there are dozens of pictures in the window, it’s probably not good.
Osteria Da Fiore: This was our favorite meal in Venice, and maybe even our favorite meal in all of Italy! The pastas were wonderful—we loved the calamarata with calamari and the spaghettoni with clams and mussels. It’s a Michelin star restaurant and on the pricier side of restaurants we dined at, but it wasn’t pretentious in the least. There’s a single canal-side table that looks over the water; you normally have to do the prefix menu to dine there but I suppose nobody booked it the night we went, as they offered it up when we arrived!
Trattoria Jonny: A simple trattoria for authentic Venetian food, this restaurant was a quick walk from our hotel and an easy spot to grab lunch on the terrace for our first day.
VERO restaurant (inside Ca’ Di Dio): On the day we departed, we opted for lunch at the hotel restaurant. While it doesn’t appear to get much daytime traffic—we were the only people in there at lunchtime—the food and service were excellent.
Harry’s Bar: Harry’s is famous for having invented the bellini in 1948 in honor of painter Giovanni Bellini. I’ve never been a big bellini fan, but these were delish—fresh peach puree and a bit of raspberry for color. While I thought it was fun to check out, they’re definitely capitalizing on their bellini fame—a bellini was 22 euro!
Enjoying cichetti (little snacks) at bacari (Venetian bars or taverns)
One afternoon we went bacaro-hopping to snack on cichetti—the vibe is similar to San Sebastian’s tapas/pintxo bars. You pick out a bite or two of finger food—most were some form of pickled seafood on a slice of baguette, with cod mousse being the most traditional. We saw people enjoying cichetti as both a late afternoon snack and a pre-dinner bite, always with a spritz, of course.
Unlike San Sebastian’s pintxo bars, I would not consider cichetti a culinary highlight of Italy, but it’s a fun part of their food culture to partake in. A couple of the ones we stopped at were Bacaro Risorto, Bacaro AE Brigoe, and Caminstorto.
That said, I didn’t find any to be particularly distinctive, so my best recommendation is to head to the district of Cannaregio, which was our favorite discovery: it feels local/neighborhoody and gets super buzzy as the day wears on. The canal is lined with bacari, and you can grab a little table right by the water to catch the evening show… AKA young guys peacocking down the canal with their boats. It was the best people watching!
A one-time monastery turned elderly home turned luxury hotel, Ca’ Di Dio was a perfect hotel choice for us. We booked this trip so last-minute that I didn’t do much research on accommodations. Grace from thestripe.com recommended Ca Di’ Dio, so I went with it.
We absolutely loved our stay! The decor featured beautiful touches of velvet, marble, and Murano glass. The staff was amazing and so accommodating. The location was a ~10-minute walk from the touristy attractions. Our booking came with a fab breakfast spread that you could eat in the courtyard and a 30-minute massage, which we ended up not being able to squeeze in.
When we extended our stay, instead of having us pay the current rate for the room we were in, they told me to book the lowest rate room I could find online and they’d just add a day to our (upgraded) room—such a little thing, but just the kind of touch that makes us raving fans.
A couple of our favorite activities below!
Opera at Teatro La Fenice
On our first night, we went to see Der Fliegende Holländer, a German opera about a Dutch seaman. It was about a 2.5-hour show with a 30-minute intermission—completely in German (but with English subtitles). We both agreed it was our favorite activity of Venice! Most opera goers appeared to be Italian; in fact, the other couple in our box with us were locals from Padua (a neighboring city) who said they came every week or so for date night. The cutest. Pro tip: Look up the plot synopsis to any opera before it begins… it’ll make it much easier to stay engaged!
The theater, Teatro La Fenice (the phoenix), is named as such because it has “risen from the ashes”—having burned down three times. Though the current theater is a more recent construction, it’s opulent and stunning.
The tickets were expensive at ~$150, but we booked them on the flight over—so you may be able to find more affordable seats if you start looking earlier. It was an early show (5 p.m.), so people weren’t super dressed up—more semiformal—but I’m told if it’s an opening night or a later evening show, attendees take it up a notch.
In my younger years, I was allergic to the idea of a tour but these days, I’m all about paying someone to tell me things. This walking tour would be great one day one of a Venice trip to help orient you around the city and absorb some insidery info.
Our guide grew up in Venice, and so it was fun to hear her share stories about how things have evolved, how old businesses have changed hands, where her parents went to school, etc. She pointed out so many little details, from special buildings to signage to statues, that we’d never have discovered on our own even though we’d walked right by them several times already.
Island of Murano
Murano is the famous glass-blowing island of Italy. It is said that in the 1200s, the Doge mandated that glassmakers move from Venice to the island of Murano to prevent fires in Venice—since most buildings in Venice were made of wood—and to protect industry secrets.
As glassware lovers, Murano was such a treat! We saw a glass-blowing demonstration by an artist who’s been doing it for 50+ years—and then meandered through showrooms displaying glass sculptures, stemware, mirrors, and the most intricate chandeliers.
We used Vogue’s guide to Murano glassware to guide our glassmaker visits, but we wished we’d done a little more research going in so we could have looked for specific pieces or styles that we wanted to collect. We ended up buying some amber Nason Moretti tumblers and a vase from ElleElle. (Things are also closed at what are probably normal hours in Italy, but unexpected hours for an American, so take note of opening hours so you can time your visits/lunch appropriately.)
Even in Murano, unfortunately, there are many shops selling counterfeit glass items imported from abroad. I asked one of the ElleElle shop girls which other authentic shops she’d recommend perusing, and she made a list that I noted for next time: Venini, Barovier & Toso, Cesare Toffolo, Simone Cenedese, and Salir.
Island of Burano
We’d originally intended just to visit Murano, but every time Burano came up, locals would light up and gush about how much they loved it. Burano is the fishermen’s island, known for lacemaking and its quirky, colorful houses—legend has it that fishermen painted their homes so that they’d remember which one was theirs after a long voyage at sea. Our concierge highly recommended Trattoria el Gato Nero for lunch, though unfortunately due to our poor planning and overzealous Murano window shopping, we arrived in Burano after it closed. We popped into the highly recommended La Perla Gallery, which had lots of special pieces, but I don’t love lace nearly enough to drop a lot of money on a lace tablecloth.
Our hotel offered a boat trip over to Murano, so we took their water taxi over and then found our way to Burano and back ourselves via public ferry. If you’re interested in visiting both, I’d dedicate a better part of the day to it—it takes a while to get from Murano to Burano and again from Burano back to Venice.
The Doge (“duke” in Venetian) was the highest official of the Republic of Venice, who was elected to his post for life. The palace, built in 1340, was the official residence of the Doge and also housed government affairs, courtrooms, and a jail. It is an architectural and artistic masterpiece—well worth a visit.