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Venice, Italy City Trip

Cupole di San Marco in Venice, Italy
Cupole di San Marco

72 Hours in Venice

by James Martin and Mike Dunphy

On a clear summer morning, the "Most Serene Republic" is nudged to life by the very energy that undermines it. The network of canals that lap at the sinking foundations is also its life blood.

During the high tourist season, the Piazza San Marco can be frothing with the energy of tourists, who dodge ravenous pigeons on their way to Venice's famous cafes. Venture too far from the center and the romantic alleyways that spread like a spider's web become a labyrinth easy to get lost in — so don't forget a map. Happily, there are usually enough signs pointing to major attractions to turn any confused meanderings into delightful diversions.

Transportation between any of Venice's six districts, called sestieri, is also available by vaporetto. Buying a three-day card will eliminate the frustrating pay-as-you-go Euro coinage hunt.

Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy
Belmond Hotel Cipriani
However, fantasies of coasting the Grand Canal on a gondola might butt heads with another fact of tourism in Venice — cost. If there's one place in the world to lavish in luxury, it's Venice. The Most Serene Republic demands no less.

Hotels tend to follow suit, even the "cheaper" ones. At the top end, the Renaissance Belmond Hotel Cipriani on the east end of Guidecca Island and its annex, Palazzo Vendramin, will make you feel like one of the many celebrities it hosts. Another luxury option can be found steps away from the Basilica, the Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs at Hotel Danieli. Its gothic main structure dates from the fourteenth century. More boutique accommodations off the tourist beat, but just two minutes away from Piazza San Marco, can be found at the fifteen-room Locanda Orseolo, overlooking Orseolo Canal.

A more modest dwelling, however, in no way diminishes the enchantment of Venice. The Hotel Agli Alboretti, just over the Accademia Bridge, offers simple rooms and a pleasant garden, where breakfast is served. At the pension level, La Calcina, a former limestone warehouse offers reasonably priced rooms on the Zattere promenade in the Dorsoduro. For under $100, it's hard to do better than the Hotel Ca' Dogaressa overlooking Canale di Cannaregio.

VENICE DAY 1: San Marco

Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy
Doge's Palace
Begin your affair with Venice right in the heart of the city, at Piazza San Marco. The gothic jewel and symbol of Venetian civilization, Il Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), covers almost one whole side and is composed principally of the former political and judicial headquarters of the city, as well as the Doge's apartments. All are magnificently adorned with paintings and frescoes by Titian, Veronese, Tiepolo and Tintoretto. Equal testimonies to the renaissance artistry are the Scala dei Giganti and the Scala d'Oro — two lavishly carved staircases in the opulent courtyard.

Perhaps the second most famous sight of Venice is the nearby marble-encased Bridge of Sighs, which linked Europe's first state prison to the palace. Suspended high over a shadowy canal, the Ponte dei Sospiri was built in 1614 and later named after imagined sighs of prisoners who, through the tiny windows, supposedly glimpsed their last view of the city.

Caffe Florian in Venice, Italy
Caffe Florian
Have lunch or a late breakfast on the terrace of Caffè Florian before visiting Saint Mark's Basilica. A monument to the patron saint of Venice, Mark the Evangelist, the distinct landmark was once described by Mark Twain as "a vast warty bug taking a meditative walk." An amalgam of architectural styles, the most prominent being Byzantine, the magnificent multicolored marble façade is capped by five domes and adorned with mosaics of the passion and resurrection. The cavernous interior is almost overwhelming with its sparkling gold mosaics covering every millimeter of the vaulted ceiling. Don't leave without seeing the Pala d'Oro. The fantastically bejeweled altar screen is the world's only intact example of large-size Gothic goldsmithing.

For probably the best view of the city, ride the elevator to the top of the handsome brick campanile outside. It's especially stunning at sunset.

Not far north of the square is one of the top shopping spots — Camiceria San Marco. This custom tailor operating since 1954 has outfitted everyone from Joe DiMaggio and Katherine Hepburn to Ernest Hemingway. Owner Errante Parrino will see to it that you'll walk away with fine shirts and pajamas.

If you've still got time in the day, make a brief detour to the lovely fifteenth century gothic Casa Carlo Goldoni. The house in which the Venetian playwright was born in 1707 is now a museum showcasing the authentically preserved architecture of the former residence and his works.

Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy
Rialto Bridge
Spend your first evening around the massive, marble Rialto Bridge, the oldest on the Grand Canal. The current version dates to the seventeenth century. Today, the bridge and surrounding area is stuffed with boutiques, peddlers, cafes, restaurants and wine bars.

No doubt it's tempting to duck in one (or all of them) for a bite, but we suggest you save your deepest cravings for Ai Mercanti, located smack dab in the center of the district. It's common to hear customers breathe, "wow" upon tasting their creative takes on classic Venetian cuisine.

Afterwards, if you're feeling like a nightcap, check out the hip and minimalist hot spot Bacaro Lounge for cocktails and live jazz piano.

Continue to Day 2


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Venice Bridge

* Photo of Doge's Palace from Musei Civici Veneziani, photo of Cupole di San Marco from


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