A Surprising Vacation in Venice

Venice has been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember.  I had visions of gorgeous canals, and endless amounts of delicious gelato, wine and pasta.  However, every time I tried to research more on Venice I came across so much negativity!  They said, “Venice is crowded”, “Venice is dirty”, “Venice is too touristy to enjoy”.  It definitely left me discouraged, but since I had been wanting to visit it for so long I had to see for myself.

And, I am so glad that I did because Venice is spectacular, Venice has a soul unlike any other city and Venice is full of adventure and excitement if you look in the right places.

I really wish I had known about Venice what I do now because I would have planned to spend more time there!  We visited Venice as part of a trip to the Dolomites in Northern Italy.  That was the main attraction, but I felt that I’d be remised if we didn’t at least see Venice for a day.  So, without further ado, here are my top tips for 24 hours in Venice!

Our route to Venice and the Dolomites flying in/out of Milan

First things first, this may sound intuitive for a city that’s built on canals, but there are no roads once you cross the bridge over from mainland Italy.  There’s one road that leads to the city’s main parking garages and the train station and that’s literally it.  That said, it’s actually quite easy to navigate if you plan ahead.  We rented a car because of our drive into the Dolomites so we did our research and found a garage that we could leave our car in overnight. 

Venice has no roads so make sure to do your research before arriving!

Pro tip: If you’re driving in/out of Venice, make sure to pre-book a garage spot because they have a tendency to sell-out. We booked at Garage San Marco which ended up being a great option! Just don’t get weirded out when they tell you to leave your keys in the car – it’s totally normal.

Since time was of the essence for us, we actually pre-booked a water taxi to take us from the parking garage to our hotel, with a 2-hour canal ride in between.  We got a private, gorgeous wooden boat and drove the canals at sunset.  I had to actually pinch myself so many times during this ride because the whole experience felt otherworldly – the city of Venice is so surreal. 

We got dropped off at our hotel, the Gritti Palace.  Literally dropped off. This hotel has its own private dock! And this place certainly did live up to its name – it’s actually a palace from the 1500’s right on the Grand Canal.  There’s no way we could have afforded to stay at this place otherwise, but we used my Marriott points for a free night.  I seriously get SO giddy being able to use my points for this, especially considering a room was going for $1,500/night!  And it’s all thanks to my Marriott credit card – I earn points for my daily spend. I know I don’t talk much about my rewards game, but it is strong and I am happy to share my tips and tricks – just ask!

While I wanted to take advantage of the huge bath tub and curl up in bed, I knew that we had to make the most of Venice!

So, we checked Yelp and found a highly recommended local restaurant and gave ourselves a little city tour on the way, stopping at San Marco square.  This was another spot that I had read was just way too touristy to be enjoyed but I have to say, I thought it was just stunning.  Aside from the gorgeous architecture lit up at night, there were several restaurants that lined the square and they all had an outdoor orchestra playing to their diners (and us lurkers haha).  It was so romantic!

We made it to dinner at Trattoria Al Gazzettino and inhaled everything in sight.  They specialize in seafood pasta and gnocchi so obviously we were bound to fall in love!

After dinner, we went in search of the #1 rated gelato spot – Suso.  Of course, I had to get a double scoop – I mean, duh.

Pro tip: Pistachio is one of the most incredible (and popular) gelato flavors so if you see it, make sure to give it a try even if you aren’t a fan of nuts normally. I am not quite sure why pistachio ice cream tastes so different (and yummy) but it’s one of life’s great mysteries!

As much as I wanted to just keep roaming the streets and canals, we were exhausted and had a big day ahead of us.

The next morning we had booked a cooking class with the Gritti Palace’s cooking school.  What’s awesome about the class is that you actually accompany the Chef to the morning market, scope out what’s fresh for your custom menu, pick up all of the ingredients, stop for some aperitif’s on your way back and then learn how to cook everything you’re going to eat for lunch.  Oh, and did I mention there were also wine pairings with each course?  We figured it would be a great way to see more of the city with a local – and get in a fantastic meal.

We met Chef Franco and he took us to the Rialto Market where we watched him taste and figure out what was the freshest that day.  He consulted with us and created our menu on the spot.  We picked up all of the seafood and vegetables at the market – but had to stop for black truffles from a specialty shop on the way back.  Twist my arm! 

We also got to try an aperitif of Prosecco and some cicchetti – local Venetian tapas.  These were basically a slice of bread with yumminess on top, technically speaking 😉

We popped by the bar while chef Franco was getting everything ready and had a few cocktails (it’s 5 o’clock somewhere).

Once properly hydrated, we were ready to hit the kitchen!  What’s super cool is that this cooking school is actually in a special section of the hotel restaurant’s kitchen. I should also mention that this class usually has up to 8 people in it, but no one else booked so we just got lucky and had our own private class!

Here was our 4-course menu for the day:

  • Summer Gazpacho w/ Scampi Tartare
  • Squash Blossom Risotto w/ Black Truffles
  • Roasted Amberjack w/ Caponata
  • Lemon Basil Crème Brûlée

And here are some shots of the work-in-progress (left) and the finished dish (right).  So much yumminess in both the food and wine – I was ready for a nap.

But, no rest for the Nikki and Adam on this day! Our time in Venice was already over and we headed up north to the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, aka the “Queen of the Dolomites” for the next leg of our adventure.  Stay tuned!

Have you been to Venice? I am already excited to return and would love your suggestions for things to do, eat and see!

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