It’s often hard to know where to start recapping our travels. I love all of our adventures so much. While we often to go back to many of the same places, we are actively challenging ourselves to add new destinations in the mix. My husband LOVES Venice, and we spend quite a bit of time there. For our Christmas trip in December 2022, we decided to spend some extra days further exploring the Veneto region of Italy. True story: I booked our Veneto itinerary while we were on the road. Very little was planned in advance.
While a lot of these smaller cities in Italy are often presented as day trips from Venice, I think they are worth staying for a few nights. (I also think its foolish to pay Venice hotel prices and not be in Venice.) We’re already planning to return to some of these towns later this year because we enjoyed them so much and feel that we barely scratched the surface of them.
With such little information available, I’m excited to share our Veneto itinerary, in hopes of making your trip planning easier. Our itinerary was slight different because we were continuing on to spend a few days in Florence. I am sharing the optimal itinerary for an open jaw flight within Italy.
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Veneto Itinerary Suggestion
Fly into Bologna (BLQ) or Verona (VRN)
3 nights in Lake Garda and/or the Valpolicella wine region
2 nights in Verona
2 nights in Padova
3 nights in Venice
Fly home from Venice (VCE)
Veneto Travel Tips
We were coming into Italy from Paris, so I looked at all the available flight options. I love to use Skyscanner to find all the smaller airports around a destination. Ultimately, flying into Bologna made the most sense for us in terms of schedule and cost. We waited until the last minute to decide whether or not to take public transportation to the Garda area, and ultimately chose to rent a car because we wanted more flexibility. We did not need a car, and you could do this itinerary entirely by train.
If you want to cut this itinerary down to a week, I would suggest choosing Padova over Verona (different feel – but it depends what you are into) and cutting off a night in Lake Garda. I don’t think that you can do visit Venice in two days and truly enjoy it.
Our Veneto Road Trip
The drive from Bologna to Villa Cordevigo took about 2 hours. The roads were in great shape, and it was an easy drive. It took us a little over 30 minutes to drive from Villa Cordevigo to Verona. Those roads are smaller, so driving is a little slower. It’s an easy drive though. The drive from Verona to Padua takes about an hour. And, the drive from Padua to Venice is about 40 minutes. We returned our car at the Venice airport and took a boat to our hotel. Trains take about the same amount of time as driving. The biggest challenge about driving in the Veneto is finding parking in these small towns. You also need to be comfortable navigating small roads within the old cities. As always, the smaller the car, the easier the driving in Italy will be.
3 nights in Lake Garda at Villa Cordevigo
I love to start a trip at a wine resort. I think it’s the perfect place to get acclimated to time zone changes, relax, and settle down. (It can also be a great way to end a trip, depending on your personality.) On our last trip at Borgo dei Conti, we made a commitment to ourselves that when we go to wine resorts, we will be AT the resort, instead of making tons of day trips. Villa Cordevigo was the perfect place to practice that.
Our trip to Villa Cordevigo started off with a sparkling rose from the hotel winery. We were upgraded to an elegance room with an incredible view of the gardens. We used our first afternoon to discover the beautiful grounds around the hotel and take advantage of the spa.
Things to Do at Villa Cordevigo
Days two and three featured wine tastings from the Valpolicella region with the hotel sommelier, Paolo. Paola is passionate about wine and excited to share more about the Veneto wines with us. There are 3 DOCG red wines from the Valpolicella area: Soave Superiore, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Bardolino Superiore. (I love an Amarone!) We tried all of these wines at Villa Cordevigo. Tom loved the Bardolino 50, and I loved the white passito.
The resort features two restaurants, including one with a Michelin star. We opted for the bistro, as I fell in love with their veal tortello, the braised beef cheek, and the cypress ice cream. Meals were leisurely and the service was impeccable.
Between our wine tastings and dinners, we spent our time enjoying the wellness walk through the vineyards, taking advantage of the hotel spa, and enjoying leisurely apertivo in the hotel bar. It was the perfect way to lead into some of the more busy areas of the Veneto, and we’re already planning a return trip.
2 nights in Verona
The second destination on our Veneto itinerary is Verona!
The staff at Villa Cordevigo was kind enough to allow us to work in the hotel bar until later in the afternoon. (I really can’t say enough about the amazing staff at Villa Cordevigo. It was hard to leave!) Our hotel in Verona had a fairly strict check-in time, and we didn’t want to make ourselves too tired, as we had a tour scheduled for our first evening in Verona!
Must Do: Walking Tour of Verona
We spent a lot of time walking around Verona. It is a gorgeous city. However, it’s so much more beautiful when you know what you are looking at and understand why it is significant. Please book a tour of Verona. Luisa is an incredibly thorough guide who loves Verona, its history, and its architecture. She’s approachable, knowledgable, and excited to share as much as you want to learn. Since we didn’t arrive in Verona with any pre-conceived notions about the city or unrealistic expectations about its role in Romeo and Juliet, she was willing to tell us everything!
Despite the fact it was a damp and foggy evening in December, Luisa led us through Verona’s history through a series of architectural highlights and gave us a greater appreciation for the beauty of the city. We visited the main sights, including Juliet’s balcony, but Luisa showed us many smaller courtyards with beautiful things to see. She was very happy to provide personal recommendations for further sight-seeing based on our questions and what she thought we would be interested in seeing. This tour of Verona definitely helps go beyond the surface of the city and better understand some of the things that make it even more beautiful.
PLAY: Verona Walking Tour
Verona Christmas Markets
We all know I love a great Christmas market. The Verona Christmas markets are the sister-city markets to the famous Nuremberg Christmas markets, so I jumped at the chance to visit Verona during Christmastime. And, the Christmas markets in Verona did not disappoint. Much like the Tuscany Christmas markets, they felt very local with a lot of traditional and typical food available for purchase.
The Christmas market in front of the Arena had a lot more toys and gift items, so if you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift that isn’t perishable, I would head there!
The thing I really love about the Christmas markets in Verona is that they are spread throughout the major squares, so it never felt too crowded or too busy. It was really enjoyable throughout the day. There were definitely times that were busier than others, but it didn’t feel too daunting. The atmosphere felt very cozy.
When we go back to Verona, I would love do this guided tour of the Verona Christmas markets just to learn more about the local traditions and specialties.
Verona Food and Wine Experiences
Although we couldn’t make a food tour of Verona work with our itinerary, we did have a couple of truly delightful meals at Scapin. We went to the Stonebridge bottega location, right across the Adige river from the old city. It functions more like a specialty grocery store (with a few tables for counter service). It was delicious, and I would go back to Verona just to try more of their food. (They also have a restaurant, which I expect is very good.) We truly enjoyed ordering a little bit of everything and re-ordering the things we truly enjoyed. They had very reasonable prices on wine and you can buy a bottle to enjoy in house.
It’s also the perfect place to pick up picnic supplies in Verona. The staff is very kind, and they appreciate if you try to use your Italian. On our last night, they gave us a small gift of a traditional apertivo snack. We were beyond touched. Love the Italian hospitality so much.
Where to Stay in Verona
I had a couple considerations when I was choosing where to stay in Verona. One, we had to find a hotel with parking since we were driving for this part of our Veneto itinerary. Two, I wanted to be within walking distance of the old city center of Verona. One of the things that we tricky when I was looking for a hotel in Verona is that some of the hotels had annex and/or off-site rooms that weren’t in the same location as the hotel I thought was booking. Make sure you read the details very closely. There are not a lot of chain hotels in Verona, especially in the old city, so I would make sure to read the reviews carefully and double check what you are booking.
Hotel Milano and Spa
I ended up choosing Hotel Milano because it offered both of those things AND it had a rooftop bar with a view of the Arena. I thought Tom would enjoy that. It ended up being the perfect hotel. It reminded me a lot of the Venice hotel we love, Palazzo Veneziano.
Knowing that most of our time would spent sightseeing in Verona, I booked a small room, which is advertised as suitable for two people. They upgraded us because our luggage “wouldn’t fit in the small room,” which was quite an awkward way to receive an upgrade, but we will take it. (We had our wine suitcase with us.) They upgraded us to a deluxe room, which was very comfortable. There was plenty of room for the two of us (and our luggage). Our bathroom was handicap accessible, so we had two showers. The water pressure was great and we had no issues.
Our room rate included breakfast, but we ended up skipping it both mornings. We did enjoy the Terrazza Arena Sky Lounge bar in the evening. Cocktails and wine were very reasonably priced. We met a lovely Australian couple and enjoyed chatting with them during our stay. (Fun fact, they were also headed to Florence for New Year’s Eve.) The views of the arena are incredible and it’s a great place for a nightcap.
We did not end up taking advantage of the spa during our stay, but the hotel does have an outdoor hot tub that overlooks the arena. When we go back, we will definitely take advantage of the sauna, jacuzzi, and relaxation area. A spa is rare find in Verona!
Hotel Milano offers valet service for parking. It is 25 euro/day, and it is in a secure garage. We were very pleased with the service.
2 Nights in Padova
The third destination on your Veneto itinerary is Padova! (We actually went to Venice and then to Padua, but we were heading to Florence, so it made sense within our longer itinerary.) Before I get too far, it’s important to know that Padova and Padua are the same place. (Tom and I are frequently trying to understand why the English language changes the names of places. Why don’t we refer to things in their native language or name??)
Things to Do in Padova
Padova was a last minute addition to our itinerary. I either booked on the drive to Villa Cordevigo or on the drive to Venice. Either way, we decided a few days in advance to go, which did inhibit our itinerary a bit. We did love Padova though. It felt lively and full of locals enjoying life, very similar Bologna. We enjoyed strolling the streets, enjoying a spritz on a square, and meandering through the markets.
When we return, I am absolutely adding cooking classes to our Padova itinerary. I really want to learn how to make arancini, risotto, and take a market tour.
Padova Duomo and Baptistery Tour
As I mentioned, we planned our trip a bit lat, so our tour and tickets to the Scrovegni Chapel fell through at the last minute. While disappointed, we decided to spend time visiting the Padova Duomo instead. When we visited the ticket office, they let us know that there was a tour of the Duomo and Baptistery we could join before they closed for lunch. It is 100% worth it.
The Duomo is fine, but the Baptistery is incredible. It makes me wonder how beautiful the Scrovegni Chapel is going to be, as the Baptistery is always overlooked compared to Padova’s more famous chapel. In 45 minutes, you are taken through the history of the frescos, and when you enter the Baptistry, each panel is highlighted and explained. The group size is limited, so you can easily move around to see it in greater details. The colors and artistry are stunning.
Because the Duomo and Baptistery are largely ignored by guidebooks, Tom and I were left wondering what other gems there are out there. We’re committing ourselves to double-down on itineraries including more off-the-beaten path Italy in 2023 and beyond.
Prato della Valle
I truly enjoyed our long walks in Padova. I feel like we ducked into every single small alleyway and strolled every single street at least three times. At the conclusion of one of those long walks, we found ourselves at Prato della Valle. It was a misty winter evening, and the entire thing felt surreal and magical.
I found this fascinating for two reasons. One, I had no idea this park was there (again, not in the guidebooks). Two, I was astonished by how beautiful it was. The elliptical park includes statues of public figures, beautiful bridges, and is surrounded by stunning architecture with Venetian and Roman influences. It showcases an intersectionality of history in an absolutely beautiful way.
It’s a great place to watch the world go by and it’s a great place for a romantic evening stroll.
Saturday is market day at Prato della Valle.
Where to Stay in Padova
We had a first in Padova! It is the first time that we rented a full-service apartment on one of our trips. Most of the hotels in Padova are outside the old city, and because we booked so close-in, most were fully booked. Tom has long romanticized the idea of washing his socks in Italy, so I booked an apartment near Piazza dei Fruitti, right in the heart of Padova.
We stayed in the Melagrano apartment, and it was incredible. With bright colors, modern amenities, and a comfortable bed, it had everything we needed. When we found veal tortellini at the market, I decided that I would make dinner in our apartment. (I made veal tortellini alla Norcina, and it was delicious. Maybe not regional or traditional, but it was delicious.) The kitchen had everything we needed to cook delicious meals from the market, including pots, pants, utensils… even salt!
The bathroom was large, particularly by European standards, and included a full-size bathtub. The only challenge we ran into was timing our use of the hot water. We did run into instances where the water would run cold, but that’s the reality of living in an ancient city and apartment building. It wasn’t a bad thing, it was just something that we had to think more about.
The windows of our apartment opened up to Via Boccalerie, which does mean that, at times, it could bit a bit loud. If you are a light sleeper, this might not be the apartment for you. I struggled a bit with the noise, but the positives far outweighed the negatives for me. As for Tom, he’s ready to come back and stay here much longer… and have me cook every day because everything we got from the market was THAT good.
3 Nights in Venice
The last stop on this Veneto itinerary is Venice! We’ve spent a lot of time in Venice over the last 8 years, and while I try to update content after each trip, I know there is so much more to share. For purposes of this post, I will share some of the specifics from this particular trip. I feel like I need to put together a post for one week in Venice because there really is so much to do and see.
We dropped off our rental car at the Venice airport and made our way over to the arrival dock to pick up the shuttle to the Hyatt Centric Murano. This was our fourth stay with them, and I knew it would be the most convenient way to get to Venice. You do have to make a reservation for the airport transfer in advance, and you can request it online.
Things to Do in Venice
Our Venice itinerary on this trip covered December 23-26. This was not our first trip to Venice for Christmas, so we knew a little more of what to expect and our trip was better because of that. What I love about Christmas in Venice is that it is generally quieter. Many restaurants are open on Christmas Eve (though you need reservations), and it feels very local. Most everything is closed on Christmas Day, though we did find some random glass shops and tourist traps that were open. December 26 is pretty quiet and many things remain closed. None of this is bad – it all contributes to a magical atmosphere, but it does mean that you need to plan in advance.
Christmas Eve Mass at Basilica San Marco
Let’s start with the best thing we did on this trip to Venice: attending the Christmas Eve service at Basilica San Marco. It is open to the public, as long as security can tell that you are there as a serious worshipper and not as a tourist. They remind you that you are expected to stay throughout the duration of mass. You are not able to just come and go. Unless you get in line really early, you should expect to stand. There is seating, but a lot more people attend. People do give up their seats for the elderly, and I saw many people do this.
This is a rare chance to experience the basilica after hours. The service was performed in Italian, with parts in German, French, and English. You can see the dates and times for holiday mass at the Basilica of San Marco on the liturgical calendar. It was an extraordinarily beautiful moment to share familiar Christmas carols with people from all over the world.
If you don’t want to attend mass, you can book an after-hours tour of the basilica. Availability is typically very limited, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
Venice Food and Wine Experiences
Venice Wine Tasting
If your trip to the Veneto doesn’t allow for time in the Veneto vineyards, you can book a wine tasting at a cicchetti bar in the heart of Venice. The bar, tucked on a quiet canal away from the tourists, is one of the best ways to experience a little bit of the magic of Venice and try of the Veneto area wines. What I loved about this wine tasting is that the bartender wanted to understand our tastes and what we liked and tried to build around that. We found that we were rewarded by leaving our options open to him, and we were able to experience an entire rainbow of wines during our tasting. Our wines were accompanied by a delicious meat and cheese platter, all of which were sourced from local area producers. The cheeses were especially tasty and not things that you can just find anywhere. He did point us to Casa del Parmigiano, which we used to source meat and cheese for our Christmas Day festivities.
Spritz Cocktail Class in Venice
One of the cool things you can do at the Hyatt Centric Murano is take a cocktail class focused on the Venetian spritz. You can see Murano and learn about the many different varieties of spritz. Did you know that the type of spritz you order may be specific to the city your visiting?? The Hyatt bartender, Stan, was our host, and he was very excited to share his knowledge about the different varieties of spritz!
In this hands-on class, we made five different types of spritz. We started with the basic Aperol Spritz, which I thought was my favorite until I tried the more traditional Select spritz. (It’s Aperol spritz in Padova and Select spritz in Venice.) Seriously, I noticed the nod of approval when I would order a select spritz after this class. When in Venice, do as the Venetians do!
Beyond the two more famous spritzes, we also tried a P31 green spritz, a strong Campari spritz, and an artichoke spritz with Cynar! I loved the P31 spritz and found the Cynar spritz surprisingly refreshing. The Campari was a little too bitter for me, but Tom loved. In this class, we learned the proper ratios for a spritz and garnished them with seasonal ingredients. A spritz is not a spritz unless it is an accompanied by an olive!
Stan provided several cicchetti to accompany our rainbow of spritzes. As with wine paring in Italy, the type of spritz influences the food you eat with it. It was incredible how the flavors were enhanced by what I was eating and drinking. Because this tasting is hosted in the hotel bar, we were able to take our time and enjoy our spritzes.
Book a Private Tour of Venice
Secret Venice Tours with Lucrezia
We have taken a lot of walking tours in Venice over the years. One of the guides that stood out to us is Lucrezia, a native Venetian. We had taken a group tour of the Cannareggio and Castello districts in December 2021, and she was so incredible that we booked her for a private tour. We booked the Libertine and Lavish tour, and even though we had visited Venice MANY times before, we saw many parts of the city that we had not seen previously. She has an extensive knowledge of Venetian history and shares it in a way that is approachable for everyone. She can customize a tour based on your interests, too.
Lu does a great job of exploring the city and getting you away from the crowds so you can truly enjoy Venice. She also has an extensive list of local restaurants that you should support.
Venetian Artisan Tour with Igor
The other private tour guide that we’ve enjoyed is Igor. We booked an artisan tour with Igor, and not only did he take us to visit Murano glassmakers and galleries, but he also took us to a stationer (my favorite) and a mask workshop. We spent a lot of time in the workshops and the artisans were excited to share more about their craft, answer questions, and demonstrate their work. This is a great way to find Venetian souvenirs that are truly traditional crafts, rather than mass produced stuff. Igor met us at our hotel on Murano, crossed the Lagoon with us, and took us to visit various artisans along the way to Rialto. He also went out of his way to show us some of the best cicchetti bars and local restaurants that he would recommend. This is important because there are a lot of terrible restaurants in Venice. Supporting good, local restaurants makes the experience better for everyone!
Where to Eat in Venice
I know I keep talking about this, but Venice is the most challenging when it comes to eating in Italy. There are so many terrible restaurants and so many tourist traps. We have spent a lot of time trying to find good restaurants in Venice, and we will remain on the hunt. This is not an exhaustive list of where to eat in Venice, but it is a list of places that were open over Christmas and where we had good experiences.
La Bottiglia Venice
La Bottiglia is a great wine bar in Venice. If you’re staying Dorsoduro, it’s an easy walk to La Bottiglia. If you’re staying in Murano (like we do!), it’s worth the hour walk. (We could make it shorter, but we like to walk in Venice.) They offer fresh, made-to-order paninis, as well as tagliere boards with meats and cheeses. Everything we’ve had here has been fresh and delicious. They offer a variety of wines by the glass and bottles to purchase. We love the wines by the glass because we are able to try different varietals from the Veneto wine regions.
La Bottiglia is NOT a large place. There are a few places to sit inside and a few tables outside. It gets busy, and it seems to be filled with locals. The staff is very friendly and happy to make recommendations. Plan to take it slow and savor everything.
Despite the long walk, we love Bacaro Quebrado in all its unassuming goodness. Quebrado is deep in San Polo, far from the beaten tourist path. Like La Bottiglia, Quebrado has a few tables inside and a few tables outside. They have a fairly extensive menu, offering cicchetti and various small plates, fresh pastas, and second courses. We usually order several rounds of cicchetti and a pasta or two. I LOVE their lasagne, especially in the winter.
Parts of Bacaro Quebrado remind me of Vini e Vecchi Sapori in Florence. The staff is always in a good mood and welcoming. We had our Christmas Eve dinner in Venice here, and they gave us cookies to end the evening.
They do take reservations, but we’ve never needed one. We try to come early to avoid disappointment.
Alliani Casa del Parmigiano
Casa del Parmigiano is wedged between the Rialto bridge and the Rialto market. It’s a small shop that specializes in fresh local products. We purchased a variety of salumi and cheese to enjoy on Christmas Day, and it did not disappoint. What particularly stood out is the time they took with each of their guests. We did not feel rushed to make decisions, even though the line was long. They allowed us to check out all the products and make thoughtful decisions. We also loved the atmosphere. The queue was filled with locals who were picking up provisions. The spirit was jovial, people were patient and kind, and it just felt good. It’s worth nothing that all of our trips to Venice at Christmas have felt like this. It’s downright magical.
Our only regret was not buying more cheese, as it was all very tasty. We will definitely be returning.
Where to Stay in Venice
I find choosing a hotel in Venice to be very tricky. Venice hotels can feel a bit overpriced compared to other cities in Italy, but fairly priced if you consider the cost of maintaining them. I’m a believer that you should stay in Venice to experience the magic of the city in the quiet of the morning and the beauty of the evening. It can be difficult to navigate the bridges and stairs with luggage, so I believe in finding a hotel near a vaporetto stop to make it a bit easier. And, I’m particularly sensitive to the AirBnB situation which has drained the city of affordable apartments for locals. As such, deciding where to stay in Venice can be complicated.
Hyatt Murano Centric
As mentioned, we have been to Venice several times. We’ve stayed on Murano four times now, and we really enjoy it. It’s quiet at night and feels more local after the daytrippers leave. The Hyatt Murano offers great rates, especially in the winter, and our Globalist status has given us an upgrade to a bi-level deluxe room, which is really nice. They have rooms with walk-in showers or bathtubs, so if you have a preference, make sure to let them know. The staff is very kind, and Stan, the bartender is amazing. There is a restaurant on-site, though we’ve never taken advantage of it.
There is a vaporetto stop right outside the hotel (and several more on Murano), and you can be on the main island of Venice within 15 minutes.
If this is your first trip to Venice, I recommend staying in Venice. Palazzo Veneziano, in Dorsoduro, is one of our favorite hotels in Venice. It offers a variety of rooms and suites and rates are generally very reasonable. The rooms are incredibly modern and comfortable. Like the Murano Centric, the marble bathrooms have walk-in showers or bathtubs, but they also have rooms with jacuzzi tubs. When we went to Venice for our anniversary, we were upgraded to a bi-level suite with a jacuzzi tub. It was lovely. The rooms have traditional Venetian decor with luxe fabrics with minimalist decor. It is definitely more romantic than the Hyatt Murano.
I love Dorsoduro because it is away from the crowds of Venice but still in a neighborhood that is fun to explore. There are also a lot of art galleries to visit, including San Gregorio, where we bought our Giovanni Pulze paintings that bring me SO MUCH JOY. You can be at San Marco or Rialto within 20 minutes, and there are vaporetto stops within two minutes of the hotel. It’s very easy to get around.
Final Thoughts on the Perfect Veneto Trip
There are a lot of incredible, smaller towns in the Veneto that you could link together to create a longer Veneto itinerary. Vicenza and Ravenna are all on our list of places to visit in Italy, but so are smaller towns like Montagnana and Treviso. There is so much to be explored that you shouldn’t just limit yourself to Venice. The towns of the Veneto are rich with culture and art, and you can experience the effects of the Venetian Republic in a number of towns in Italy (and Croatia)!
The best advice I have for your itinerary in Venice is to slow down. Get lost. Explore beyond San Marco (but enjoy it, too). Take a gondola ride. Watch the sunset over a bridge or on the fondementa that stretch along Dorsoduro and look across the lagoon.
It’s important to recognize that traveling off the beaten path in Italy requires you to go beyond a list of sights to check off. Traveling in the Veneto is leisurely apertivo, people-watching in squares, and ducking into living churches to see what treasures await. It’s finding locals who are proud of where they are from and asking them to share that with you. If you are constantly looking for the “big” things, you’ll miss the amazing miracles (like the baptistery in Padova) that everyone else ignores.
For more ideas on how to get off the beaten path in itinerary, make sure to check out my posts on some of the lesser visited regions of Italy, like Umbria, Puglia, and Emilia-Romagna.