10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Venice
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In addition to being one of the top tourist destinations in Italy – and in all Europe – Venice is also an ideal base for visiting more of Northern Italy's top attractions. Padua, Vicenza, and Verona are easy train rides away, and the magnificent Dolomites form a wall to the north. Thanks to Italy's high-speed trains, even Florence is within reach.
Few foreign tourists go beyond Venice into the part of the Veneto region known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, nor do they explore the Palladian villas that lie to the northwest. But all these attractions weave closely into the story of Venice. Along the Adriatic coast to the east, you'll find the city's roots in the magnificent remains of towns from which early Christians fled from barbarian hordes before founding Venice.
You'll find suggestions for the best places to visit in this list of the top day trips from Venice.
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1. Murano and Burano
The closest and easiest day trip from Venice is to its islands of Murano and Burano, each a colorful mini-Venice with their canals and bridges, and each one a center for traditional Venetian art.
Murano is the home of Venice's glassblowing industry and has been ever since the glass furnaces were moved here to protect the city from fire. A darker purpose was to isolate the glass experts so they could not give away (or sell) the secrets that gave Venice the monopoly of fine glassware.
Farther away and isolated by distance, Burano was an island of fishermen, and their wives became expert lace makers, an art that survives today. Burano is especially colorful, with its brightly painted houses reflecting in the water.
An easy way to explore these islands is on a five-hour guided Murano Glass and Burano Lace Tour from Venice, which includes motorboat transport to the islands and visits to a glassblowing factory on Murano and lace makers on Burano. There's time to shop on both islands and to visit Burano's lace museum.
Beyond its romantic associations with the fictional Juliet, Verona is one of northern Italy's most beautiful and fascinating cities for sightseeing. The narrow stone-paved streets of its Centro Storico – historic center – are lined by Renaissance and earlier buildings, many of which show the distinct marks of Verona's long years as part of the Venetian Republic.
Arching over its streets are Roman gates, and in its center is one of the finest Roman arenas in existence. Lavishly decorated churches, a castle artfully repurposed as an art museum, and the house that commemorates Shakespeare's tragic heroine will more than fill a day here.
You can see most of these and skip the lines to enter the amphitheater on a small-group Romeo and Juliet's Verona Day Trip from Venice. After a minibus ride from Venice, you'll ride to the hilltop of San Pietro for panoramic views down onto the towers and bridges of Verona's historic center, before joining your guide on a walking tour through the city's many attractions.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Verona
- Read More:
- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Verona
3. Cortina and the Dolomite Mountains
North of Venice rises a landscape that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its grandeur, its history, and the way of life that survives in its mountain villages. Crowned by vast snowfields in the winter, these mountains are known for some of the top ski resorts in Italy, among them the famed Cortina d'Ampezzo.
High among the Dolomites are pristine mountain lakes that reflect their jagged rocky peaks, and tiny Alpine villages hide in the valleys that drop dramatically between ranges.
A good way to see this magnificent landscape and explore its villages is on a Dolomite Mountains and Cortina Small-Group Day Trip from Venice. The 8.5-hour trip is limited to eight people and guided by a local who shares the history and customs of the region as you travel. There's time for an espresso stop in the village of Pieve di Cadore, birthplace of the Renaissance painter Titian, to explore chic Cortina d'Ampezzo and even take a short hike along a mountain trail.
Or, for a more active experience, join a guided hike on footpaths in the Dolomites to learn more about local flora and fauna amid spectacular Alpine scenery.
Although the small city of Padua (Padova in Italian) is best known for the shrine and burial place of one of the world's favorite saints, it is known to art lovers for the extraordinary Scrovegni Chapel, completely lined inside by brilliantly colored frescoes painted by Giotto from 1303 to 1306.
Giotto was not the only major artist who worked here, and their works fill the city's churches. Inside the 13th-century Palazzo della Ragione is Europe's largest medieval hall, its walls covered by more frescoes.
Although the city's art and religious attractions get the most attention from tourists, don't overlook the outstanding collections in the Civic Museum, which include fourth-century mosaics and pre-Roman finds from as far back as the eighth century BC. You can reach Padua by train in anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Padua
The Renaissance, which inspired Venetian artists like Titian and the Bellini family to some of their greatest heights, began in Florence. Thanks to high-speed trains, you can get a sampling of the rich legacy of Florentine painters, sculptors, and architects on a day trip from Venice.
The city's most prominent – literally – attraction is Brunelleschi's towering dome on the great Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. You could spend a day just enjoying all the art treasures in that complex, which includes the Baptistery with Gilberti's bronze reliefs; the graceful bell tower by Giotto; and a museum filled with masterpieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, and other masters.
These are not far from the train station, but a good way to see these and other attractions is with an independent Florence day trip from Venice by high-speed train that includes not only the train ticket, but access to the handy hop-on hop-off bus tour in Florence. With this, you can ride quickly between the top attractions and popular things to do, including the Ponte Vecchio and three world-famous art museums: the Uffizi Gallery, Accademia, and Bargello.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Florence: Best Areas & Hotels
Between the attractions of Padua and Verona, Vicenza is often forgotten by tourists, but it's worth seeing for its multitude of buildings by the great 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio. His work, which has inspired architects ever since, was cited in naming the city a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Three of his major works are here. His masterpiece, the elegant Basilica Palladiana, forms one side of the main piazza, with its double row of colonnades. His last work, the Teatro Olimpico is a Renaissance version of the ancient Roman theaters, and with a clever optical illusion, it tricks your eyes into seeing a deep stage when it is actually very shallow.
Palladio's most recognized work to Americans is the villa La Rotunda, the inspiration for Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello. The nearby Villa Valmarana is lavishly decorated in frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo and his son.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vicenza
- Read More:
- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Vicenza
7. Brenta Canal
The section of the River Brenta between Padua and its mouth at the Adriatic Sea in Venice has been canalized since the days of the Venetian Republic. Wealthy Venetian families built palaces along its shore, where they fled the city's heat in the summer.
The Brenta is still a popular place to go in the summer, when an excursion boat makes daily trips, stopping at palaces along the way. The favorite of these is in Stra, just outside Padua, where the 18th-century Villa Pisani (also called Villa Nazionale) sits amid splendid gardens.
The highlight of its 100-plus furnished rooms is the ballroom with its spectacular ceiling painting by Tiepolo in 1762. The villa has a distinguished history, having belonged to both Napoleon and later to the Hapsburg emperors. Be sure to try your luck in the world's most puzzling garden maze.
The Villa Widmann-Foscari-Rezzonico is worth visiting, as well. In the summer, you can cruise the canal between Padua and Venice or for a more active adventure, join a half-day guided bicycling tour along the canal, with a lunch stop in the waterside village of Dolo.
8. Villa Barbaro
Not far from Asolo, Villa Barbaro may well be the most perfect marriage of painting and architecture of any Italian villa. Andrea Palladio, who gave his name to an entire new style of architecture that is a reference point for builders even today, designed a number of country estates and summer palaces in the 16th century.
For this one, however, he worked with the artist Veronese, and the lavish interior they created together showcases the genius of each. What appear to be architectural details are actually trompe l'oeil frescoes, creating sculpture, columns, balustrades, even windows, where none exist and adding a playful touch along with a sense of light and spaciousness. This is often called the zenith of artistic achievement in Veneto's villas.
On the grounds are the Tempietto, Palladio's only church outside Rome, and a carriage museum.
Address: Via Cornuda 7, Maser Treviso
Official site: http://www.villadimaser.it/en
9. Aquileia Cathedral
St. Mark is thought to have spread Christianity to Roman Aquileia, one of the greatest and wealthiest cities of ancient Italy. Its basilica has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its major role in the evangelization of central Europe, as well as for its astonishing fourth-century mosaics.
The star attraction of the ninth-century basilica is from the earlier one that Attila the Hun burned in AD 425. Discovered in 1909, the fourth-century floors are the largest Paleo-Christian mosaic floor known in Western Europe. But it's not just their sheer magnitude that will fascinate you: the bird and animal designs are so intricate and detailed that you can see the expressions on the faces of people and animals they depict.
As if this weren't enough reason to visit, below the sanctuary is a ninth-century crypt whose walls and ceiling are covered in Byzantine-style frescoes from the 12th century. Behind the church is a moving cemetery from World War I, beyond which is the excavated Roman harbor, the partially reconstructed Forum, and the Museo Paleocristiano with sculptures, mosaics, glass, and other Roman artifacts.
Location: Località Monastero, Aquileia
The Friuli region stretches northeast from Venice through scenic vine-covered foothills into the Dolomite Alps. Scattered in this lovely countryside are small towns and villages that seem remote from the busy tourist centers, and where you can gain a feel for the Italian countryside and rural way of life.
Don't miss beautiful Cividale del Friuli, hanging on the edge of a ravine of erosion-sculpted limestone cliffs and spanned by the graceful arched Devil's Bridge. Among its buildings from the Middle Ages, you'll find an eighth-century Longobard temple, a passageway leading to a Celtic burial chamber from the third century BC, and a masterful silver altarpiece in the cathedral.
Farther north, the towns lie amid ever-taller craggy mountains. The area is perfect for a leisurely driving tour when you tire of crowded city streets.
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More Places to Visit on Day Trips from Venice: For a relaxing small-town experience, refreshing after the busy streets of Venice, travel the short distance to Treviso, often called "Little Venice" for its canals and lion-guarded gates. The gardens at Villa Barbarigo at Valsanzibio, south of Padua, were built for a wealthy Venetian family, and are some of the most beautiful gardens in Italy.
Exploring More of Northern Italy: East of Venice, and not on Italy's main tourist routes, Trieste shows its history as a part of Austria, with its architecture reminiscent of Hapsburg palaces. And from here, you can make day trips into neighboring Slovenia. But luring tourists in the other direction are all the things to do around Lake Garda, an especially popular place to go for families.