When visiting Venice, you should see much more than San Marco. For this reason, I recommend starting your sustainable itinerary exploring a more local side to the city. This sets the tone of a more mindful trip, away from the crowds, allowing you to see the diversity and charm of the city. The day will focus on hiring a local guide for an off-the-beaten-path tour, followed by some options to suit your tastes, and end with traditional Cicchetti and spritz.
Morning: Private Off-Beat Tour
The best way to start your three-day slow travel itinerary in Venice is with a private or small-group tour led by a local guide committed to sustainability. Doing so helps prevent tourism leakage by infusing money directly into the local economy. It also creates opportunities for cultural exchange, a pillar of sustainable tourism. Exploring the city with a local guide is the perfect way to find hidden gems, learn about modern life and the threats to Venice. Using your guide as a resource, you can also ask questions aligned with your travel interests to help you plan a multi-day itinerary that you love. For example, we used our guide to ask questions to help us find local breweries, art shops, and the best espresso, allowing us to spend our three days in Venice doing the kinds of things we love for an enjoyable experience.
We booked our private tour with Matteo from When in Venice. He is a former archaeologist who launched a tourism company with his wife. They are both life-long Venetians and entered the tourism industry to be part of the change. When they aren’t providing high-quality, sustainable tours, they are actively working with the local and national government, local businesses, and other tour guides to drive sustainable development in Venice. They offer several tours, including ones focused on food and wine, art, or architecture. The one we chose was the “off-the-beaten-path” tour. The best part about hiring When in Venice is they can customize any of these tours to suit your interests. Matteo crafted the perfect itinerary for us, and we spent a wonderful 4 hours exploring local neighborhoods and the hidden gems of Venice. We got espresso at the coffee shop he frequented while in university. We learned how to spot and identify authentic artisanal craftwork – even popping into some artist’s workshops. We learned about local life as we explored the charming side streets away from the main sights. I can recommend you take their off-the-beaten-path tour, as I think this experience is not often offered by many guides, and you can see some of the more main highlights on your own or with a different guide.
I 1000% recommend When in Venice, but if their tours aren’t your cup of tea, then you can search through a network of guides all committed to sustainable tourism in Venice. All of these guides have taken an oath to maintain the cultural authenticity of Venice and will be great options for your sustainable Venice itinerary.
Afternoon: Choose Your Own Adventure
Shopping, museums, exploring neighborhoods- you choose! But first, Lunch. We started our tour around 9:30 in the morning and finished about 1:30 pm – just in time for lunch. Depending on where you end your tour, ask your guide for a lunch recommendation. Since we are vegetarian and wanted something simple and quick, Matteo suggested Bacaro Risorto. I ordered a cold pasta with veggies and local cheese, and Ganesh got a vegetarian panini. We both ordered several rounds of beer brewed in-house. The servers were friendly and even customized some of our food and chatted with us about their beer. But again, ask your guide for a lunch recommendation that serves local food near where you end your tour. After lunch, you’re on your own to embrace some of the sustainable practices your tour guide bestowed on you. How you spend your afternoon can be somewhat flexible.
Make sure you take breaks throughout the day. Venice has free, and fresh water throughout the city flowing from water fountains. Pause and fill up your reusable waterbottle and take in your sights and surroundings. What can you see? Look at the architecture. What can you smell, feel, and what are you thinking?
This is a great time to shop and pick up a handcrafted souvenir. Avoiding cheap imported souvenirs and investing in the work of an expert craftsperson is one of the best things you can do to support a healthy tourism industry in Venice. We loved our souvenir from Wood in Venice. Each piece of wood tells the story of the Venetian poles you see in the water. The solo striped or plain wooden poles, called Bricola, are used for docking and navigation. Their story starts in the forests of Germany before making their way to the Venetian canals, only to be devoured by clams. I loved this story because the artist engages in the ultimate upcycling, repurposing wood scraps and Murano glass creating new life in beautiful pieces that honor Venice. Other suggestions for great places to shop are around the Calle San Bernardo and Calle Capperller in Dorsoduro, where you’ll find gems like Perla Madre Designs for hand-blown glass beads created by women and Ca’Macana for hand-made traditional Venetian masks. Process Collettivo sells creations from women at the local prison, which helps them develop practical skills. Another area for shopping is a store called Paperowl for sustainable paper jewelry and crafts and the surrounding area.
If you are not interested in shopping, you can explore some of the neighborhoods you missed during your private tour. We will explore Castello on day 2, so save that for later. If you didn’t see Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, or Giudecca, I suggest one of these as a starting point, depending on where your tour ended.
Cannaregio is home to the Jewish Ghetto. Here, some highlights include the ‘golden house’ and Campo di Ghetto Nuovo and Vecchio, filled with plenty of churches, synagogues, and exciting architecture. I recommend visiting the Museo Ebraico to learn about the Jewish history in the region.
Giudecca, which is technically part of Dosorduro, has a feel of its own in a quiet residential neighborhood and is the perfect place to lose the crowds. Artisti Artigiani del Chiostro, is a former monastery turned artist compound, making it another great spot to pick up an authentic souvenir. Chiesa del Santissmo is a catholic church built to celebrate the end of the plague. The Fortuny factory and museum are a testament to hand-made fabrics and a reminder of the importance of supporting such art. Other than that, the highlight here is to get lost.
We will be ending our day with an evening in Dorsoduro proper. Suppose you want to spend the afternoon exploring this area before an Aperitivo. In that case, some of the highlights here are Campo Santa Margherita for farmers markets and espresso, the floating produce market, Ponte dei Pugni, S. Maria’s Basilica, and unique art vendors.
You can also spend your afternoon visiting some of Venice’s numerous museums. I found St. Mark’s and Doge’s Palace scratched my museum itch just fine, but if you are a museum fanatic, some notable ones to see are the Peggy Guggenheim, Ca’ Rezzonico, and the aforementioned Jewish history museum.
No matter how you chose to spend your day, make your way down to Dosorduro; specifically, the lower part near the gondola shed toward the evening. I suggest a combination of walking and catching the public transportation ferries for a scenic boat ride. But, remember locals use public transportation to commute for daily activities, and this is not your personal sightseeing tour.
Evening: Cicchetti and Spritz
It is an important part of sustainable travel in Venice to experience the local food and drink. Spritz, or a drink that is cut with sparkling water, was created in the Venetian region, and it is typical to get an Aperol or other type of spritz in the later afternoon. It is often paired with Cicchetti, which is a Venetian style tapas. Cicchetti is small pieces of bread topped with nibbles such as cheese, olives, hummus, fish, or cured meats. You’ll find places all over Venice serving Spritz and Cicchetti, but this evening we will head to an authentic tavern in Dosorduro for a great evening of food and drink.
If you arrive in Dosorduro by ferry at Zattere stop, then don’t miss the gondola boatyard. This 17th-century boatyard is where the famous Venetian gondolas are built and restored. It is an excellent place for a photo and to appreciate the history and importance of the gondolas in Venice. While most locals get around in motorboats, the gondolas are still used as taxis, for tours, and Venetian rowing practice and competitions. Don’t worry, we will take a gondola ride tomorrow!
After viewing the boatyard it is time for Cicchetti and Spritz at Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi Enoteca Schiavi. This cozy and place is an authentic Venetian stop for late afternoon cocktails and snacks. Bottles of wine and spirits fill dark wooden shelves reaching from the floor to ceiling, giving the vibe of an old study. The first thing you’ll notice is there are no seats or tables. In Venice, it is customary to stand while eating and drinking. So, embrace the Venetian way of doing things – order at the bar and get comfortable standing.
I recommend selecting 3-5 vegetarian Cicchetti to start, pairing them with a traditional Aperol Spritz. The prices here are so cheap you can easily spend a few hours enjoying spritz and Cicchetti. If the restaurant is full they will let you drink and eat just outside the shop. However, if you choose to do this, your drinks will be served in plastic cups, so if you brought your to-go cup, this is the time to pull it out and ask for a drink made in your cup. A local left a helpful reminder on this post to not take your drinks to go and do a Spritz crawl of sorts or take drinks out to sit on steps or along the canals. Be mindful and respectful and only take the drinks just outside the restaurant in their allotted space. They also suggested trying a Sprissito, which I can also recommend. There are a variety of spritz style drinks, so make sure you try something other than the Aperol Spritz.
Enoteca Schiavi is a great place to end your day, especially if you’ve been walking all day since the start of your tour. You can head back to your accommodation to decompress, grab some dinner if you are still hungry, or catch an early night, as we will have an early day again tomorrow.
If you’re a spring chicken and still have the energy, you can enjoy the university vibe of Dorsoduro and see what the youths of Venice are doing. Caffe Rosso is a great local spot for a nightcap in the heart of the university district. It is also perfect for an early morning espresso to start day two.
In order to develop Venice, many natural wetland and seagrass ecosystems were destroyed, urbanized, or alterned. By doing this, the Venetian Lagoon lost its ability to naturally prevent flooding. There are ongoing efforts to restore these ecosystems as Venice experiences catastrophic flooding, which destroys historic buildings and modern day homes. Banning cruise ships from entering the lagoon allows for this restoriation to take place without contributing to flooding stressing the region.
Just because they aren’t the main focus on your sustainable three-day itinerary doesn’t mean the highlights of Venice aren’t worth seeing. In fact, St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace add crucial historical context to your itinerary in addition to learning about modern and local life on day 1. Don’t worry, though, because even after seeing the touristy highlights, we will, of course, include some local hidden gems for a well-rounded day.
This day should ideally be a weekday or at least part of an off-season itinerary. If you need to adjust your itinerary to ensure this lands on a weekday, please do so. Your experience will be much more enjoyable, and you can save hours wasted in line. If you do visit Venice in the summer or peak season, honestly I suggest skipping St. Mark’s and Doge’s Palace. Will you still have a great, time, absolutely. In fact, spending your holiday enjoying local highlights rather than waiting in line is critical to enjoying your stay. There is plenty to do and see in Venice and trust me, it is ok to skip these highlights.
Morning: Guided Tour of St. Mark’s and Doge’s Palace
It is, again, critical to hire a local guide to take you to see St. Mark’s and Doge’s Palace continuing the theme of supporting the local economy. In addition, our guide gave us significant local context about both locations that no audio guide or self-guided tour could offer. You should book your small group guided tour in English ahead of time. We met at 10 am at the San Marco ferry terminal and gathered with a few others before heading into St. Mark’s Basilica. Our tickets included access to the terrace and the museum, which in my opinion should not be missed. Our guide shared stories of how the flooding and unsustainable tourism impacted the church and his livelihood. Hearing these stories firsthand alongside a mix of modern local perspectives with technical history about the Venetians was wonderful.
After visiting St. Mark’s, our small tour group headed over to Doge’s Palace, where we got to skip the line. We had plenty of time to take photos and explore the gaudy and lavish rooms of the Doge’s Palace. We lucked out that our guide was a fan of renaissance painting and art and touched on everything from the colors used and the historical context depicted in each painting and room. Our tour took us over the Bridge of Sighs into the prisons before we parted ways.
Afternoon: Castello and Gondola Ride
Our tour was just over 3 hours, so we were on our own for lunch again. Matteo from our private guided tour had recommended Bar All’Arco, near the Rialto market. While it is a Cicchetti bar, I am sure, they say there is no such thing as eating too much Cicchetti in Venice. Bar All’Arco is located in a bit of a touristy area, so one might think this isn’t a great option, but it is a place frequented by locals for their authentic Cicchetti. It gets a sustainability stamp of approval for serving local seafood. If you are a vegetarian or looking for a more sophisticated sit-down lunch, then Ai Mercanti is an intimate slow food experience that requires reservations. They serve vegetarian (not vegan) food sourced from local farms along with local-caught seafood. For organic vegans, you can eat at La Tecia Vegana.
What you eat in Venice matters. Whether you are vegetarian or eat seafood, it is imperative to eat fish sustainably caught in the lagoon and produce sourced from Venice’s gardens. When the unsustainable tourism boom hit Venice, many restaurants began to cater to cruise ship clientele and began importing seafood and produce, hurting local fishing and agricultural industries. This, in turn, pushed Venice to continue relying on unsustainable tourism instead of a well-rounded economy while increasing the carbon footprint of the food you eat.
After lunch, take some time to explore the Rialto Market and Bridge before heading into Castello. The Rialto Bridge is ultra touristy, so while the views are great, I don’t recommend spending a lot of time here and do not buy any of the items for sale. Enjoy the view and drop into the Rialto market. Here you can see firsthand the effects of unsustainable tourism on the local produce and fishing industry. The fish market was once full of local stalls and vendors selling their seafood, but the stalls have dwindled to just a few fishers selling their goods over time.
Castello was one of our favorite places to wander, and we found it to be the least crowded and touristy area of our stay. I can recommend you just take some time to let your feet carry you down whatever alleyway strikes your fancy. Enjoy the fresh laundry blowing in the wind and locals saying hello to each other while out and about. I recommend stopping at Libreria Acqua Alta, which is a charming book store. Books fill vintage boats and bathtubs in this quirky store with canal front real estate. Enjoy petting the cats and picking up a used book or local postcard.
As you make your way down to the Venetian Arsenal, take time to enjoy the architecture, unique bridges, and museums. The Venetian Arsenal is a shipyard dating back to 1100 and it is an excellent place for photos and to learn about some of Venice’s powerful naval history.
If you still have a lot of energy, take the time to enjoy Venice’s gardens, including Giardino della Marinaressa and Bienalle. Visiting parks is a great way to enjoy a bit of nature and stay grounded while exploring Venice.
Evening: Gondola Ride and Local Dinner
For dinner, we are going to work our way back into the heart of Castello. To get there, it is time to take a famous gondola ride! When we talked to Matteo, about whether it was ethical to take a gondola ride, he said, “Of course! Venice was meant to be seen from the water. The entrance to the city and the many historical buildings were designed to be seen from a gondola along the canals. You are doing yourself and our city a disservice if you don’t ride a gondola!” He did have one tip for us though, don’t ride the gondola near the San Marco or Rialto Bridge. Getting into the more local neighborhoods means it is less crowded, and you get to see some hidden gems. So, Castello is a great place to catch a gondola.
UNESCO World Heritage Venice, Italy
Note: if you prefer to do a night or evening gondola ride, it is more expensive, and you can catch one after dinner and head to our restaurant on foot or public transportation.
Dinner is at a place called Local Venice. The curators of this restaurant are committed to sustainability and local food. ALL their food is locally sourced, which supports the local economy and reduces the carbon footprint of your food. It is highly recommended you make a reservation and prepare to have your mind blown!
After dinner, you can head home to rest and relax or catch an evening gondola if you opted for that option. For those looking for another nightcap in the form of a Spritz, I recommend heading back into the San Polo region around S. Maria, where you’ll find great Spritz at Adagio or La Bottiglia.