Unless you’re a millionaire it is pretty difficult to enjoy Venice. It can be an overwhelming experience, a labyrinth of identical narrow streets that all lead to the same anxiety-inducing tourist spot. The city can sometimes feel detached from reality, more like a film set, so immersing yourself in the local experience feels impossible. However, amongst the calamity, there are pockets of beauty and calm that I will walk you through in order to maximise your two day visit to the iconic Italian city.
Once you arrive, get yourself to a supermarket and stock up on food for the trip. Dining out is expensive and you rarely get value for money. Most restaurants are tourist traps, and will charge you €12+ for a microwaved spag bol, so be careful! Cynicism aside, it is still worth visiting Venice’s most iconic sites – the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge and Market, St Mark's Square and the Doge’s Palace. Luckily they are all fairly close to each other, making it easy to get these out of the way first if you want to check them off your travel list. Then the real adventure can begin.
Try and pick a time to go when there is something going on in the city. For example, when I went, mini art exhibitions were popping up at random locations around the city. Even better, they were free to enter, which felt like a treasure hunt whilst exploring Venice. If there are no events then I would recommend a visit to the Museo della Musica di Venezia, in the Campo San Maurizio area. Musical instruments sit in an old church, and tell the story of famous composers, such as Vivaldi.
If it is peace and quiet you are looking for, then head to Castello around the outer edges of the city for a relaxed walk around. Here there is the beautiful San Francesco della Vigna, a church that ensures tranquillity just looking at it. Castello also contains artistic graffiti which is refreshing in such a performative city. Cafes are also less expensive/busy around here, great for a coffee break.
Once you have seen all Castello has to offer, head back towards the centre, where the Rio Della Tetta area houses some gems. A visit to Libreria Acqua Alta is a must. It is a quirky bookshop, crammed to the rafters with books, there being so many they have to sit in a gondola. Browse to your heart's content and maybe pick up a gift for people back at home, as it feels more thoughtful than picking up something more touristy.
To achieve the full scope of Venice in one day, a visit to Sestiere Cannaregio is essential. You can also get good pictures of the narrow canals and buildings without tourists getting in the way. There are a few interesting shops around here, including mask shops with some wacky designs.
Hopefully, by now all of this walking has tired you out and you’re ready to chill for the evening. Unfortunately, Venice doesn’t seem to have much of a night-time scene, as the city is virtually empty by 10pm, making an early night seem likely.
It is easy to complete Venice on day one, so I would advise taking a trip to the islands that surround it: Murano, Burano and Torcello. They are a must if you are in Venice, and offer a change of pace from the city. You can book a guided tour to see these islands consecutively, however it does mean you get limited time on each one, making it difficult to make the most of them. Also, having to run to the boat is extremely stressful and resulted in us losing a friend for hours. If you are in a disorganised group this might not be the right option. It may be more expensive but instead, you could use the Vaporetto water taxi service to get to and from the islands.
Starting in Murano you could simply explore the island, the streets virtually empty, gaining a sense that real people actually live there. Alternatively, Murano is famous for its glassware, so you could have a look around the glass factory.
The real star of the island trips, however, is Burano. A technicolour delight, it puts Balamory to shame with its vibrantly painted houses. Be a little self indulgent and have your picture taken outside these aesthetically pleasing buildings. It also may be worth sitting by the canal banks with a Bellini, soaking in the visuals as the views can never get boring.
Torcello is the emptiest of the islands, but surprisingly still enjoyable. It is a wonderful escape into nature and has an excellent taverna with goats, and rabbits in the back garden. At the end of the island is the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta which is well worth the walk around the whole island.
By the time you have covered the three islands sufficiently, it will be late afternoon. Heading back into central Venice it may be nice to spend the last of your euros on a museum or a gallery. The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is an option, containing modern art from Picasso and Jackson Pollock. Tickets online are €16 to enter the fabulous building, which seems to embody a Venetian glamour.
Venice would not be top of my list of holiday recommendations, but the idea of visiting appeals to a lot of people, and can be difficult to resist. Hopefully, I have shown that you can avoid being completely sucked into the tourist aspects, and highlighted the lesser-known areas. If you struggle with crowds, then I would reconsider going as it can ruin your holiday. Perhaps a day trip would be better if you were staying elsewhere in Italy, as Venice cannot offer much more beyond 48 hours if you are on a budget. It is safe to say that Venice won’t be hiring me on their tourism board anytime soon!