As well as being one of the top tourist destinations in Italy – and in all of Europe – Venice is also an ideal base from which to visit more of Northern Italy’s top attractions. Padua, Vicenza and Verona are easily reached by train, and the beautiful Dolomites form a wall to the north. Thanks to Italy’s high-speed trains, even Florence is within easy reach. Few foreign tourists go beyond Venice to the part of the Veneto region known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and they also explore the Palladian villas that lie to the northwest. But all of 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 beautiful remains of cities from which early Christians fled from barbarian hordes before Venice was founded.
1 Murano en Burano
The closest and easiest day trip from Venice is to the islands of Murano and Burano, each a colorful mini-Venice with their canals and bridges, and each a center for traditional Venetian art. Murano is the birthplace of glassworks in Venice and has moved here since the glass furnaces to protect the city from fire. A dark goal was to isolate the glass experts so they couldn’t give away (or sell) the secrets that gave Venice a monopoly on fine glassware. Murano, further away and isolated by distance, was an island of fishermen, and their women 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 a five-hour guided Murano Glass and Burano Lace Tour from Venice, includes motorboat transport to the islands and visits to a glassworks on Murano and lace makers on Burano. There will be time to shop on both islands and visit Burano’s lace museum.
Besides the romantic associations with the fictional Juliet, Verona is one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in Northern Italy. The narrow cobbled streets of the Centro Storico – historic center – are lined with Renaissance and earlier buildings, many of which bear the obvious marks of Verona’s long years as part of the Venetian Republic. Roman gates run along the streets and at the center is one of the most beautiful 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 fill more than 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 Day Trip to Verona from Venice. After a minibus ride from Venice, drive to the hilltop of San Pietro for panoramic views of the towers and bridges of Verona’s historic center, before joining your guide on a walking tour of the city’s many landmarks.
3 Cortina and the Dolomites
North of Venice rises a landscape 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 winter, these mountains are known for some of the best skiing in Italy, including the famous Cortina d’Ampezzo. High below the Dolomites are pristine alpine lakes that reflect their jagged rocky peaks, and tiny mountain villages hide in the valleys that dip dramatically between ranges.
A good way to see this beautiful landscape and explore the 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 is guided by a local who shares the region’s history and customs as you travel. There’s time for an espresso stop in the village of Pieve di Cadore, the birthplace of the Renaissance painter Titian, to explore chic Cortina d’Ampezzo and even take a short hike along a mountain path.
Although the small city of Padua (Padua in Italian) is best known for being 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 great artist to work here, and their works fill the city’s churches. In the 13th century Palace of Reason is the largest medieval hall in Europe, its walls are covered with more frescoes. While the city’s art and religious sites get most of the attention of tourists, don’t overlook the remarkable collections at the Civic Museum, which include fourth-century mosaics and pre-Roman finds from the eighth century BC. You can reach Padua by train or cruise from Venice along the Brenta canalwith a stopover in the gardens of Villa Pisani.
The Renaissance that inspired Venetian artists such as Titian and the Bellini family to some of their greatest heights began in Florence. Thanks to high-speed trains, you can get a taste 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 soaring dome on the grand cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. You can spend a day enjoying all the art treasures in that complex, including 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 a day trip from Florence on an independent Florence high-speed train, which includes not only the train ticket, but also access to the convenient hop-on hop-off bus tour of Florence. This allows you to travel quickly between top attractions and popular things to do, including the Ponte Vecchio and three world-famous art museums – the Uffizi Gallery, Accademia and Bargello.
Between Padua and Verona, Vicenza is often forgotten by tourists, but it is worth seeing for its many 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. Three of his most important works are here. His masterpiece, the elegant Basilica Palladiana, forms one side of the main piazza, with its double row of colonnades. His latest work, the Teatro Olimpico, is a Renaissance version of ancient Roman theatres, and with a clever optical illusion, it tricks your eyes into seeing a deep stage when it’s actually very superficial. Palladio’s most famous work for Americans is the villa La Rotunda, the inspiration for Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello. The nearby Villa Valmarana is richly decorated with frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo and his son.
7 Villa Barbaro
Villa Barbara, not far from Asolo, is perhaps the most perfect marriage between the painting and architecture of an Italian villa. Andrea Palladio, who gave his name to a completely new style of architecture that is still a point of reference for builders even today, designed a number of country houses and summer palaces in the 16th century. However, for this one he teamed up with the artist Veronese and the lavish interiors they created together demonstrate the genius of each. What appear to be architectural details are actually trompe l’oeil frescoes, creating sculptures, columns, balustrades and even windows, where none exist, adding a playful touch along with a sense of light and spaciousness. This is often referred to as 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: https://www.villadimaser.it/en
8 Cathedral of Aquileia
Cathedral of Aquileia
San Marco is thought to have spread Christianity to Roman Aquileia, one of the largest and wealthiest cities of ancient Italy. The basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its important role in the evangelization of Central Europe, as well as for its stunning fourth-century mosaics. The main attraction of the ninth-century basilica is from the first that Attila the Hun burned in 425. The 19th-century floors, discovered in 1909, are the largest Paleo-Christian mosaic floor known in Western Europe. But it’s not just their sheer size that will fascinate you: the designs of birds and animals are so intricate and detailed that you can see the expressions on the faces of people and animals they depict.
As if this wasn’t reason enough to visit, beneath the sanctuary is a ninth-century crypt whose walls and ceiling are covered in 12th-century Byzantine frescoes. Behind the church is a moving World War I cemetery, beyond which lies the excavated Roman harbour, the partially reconstructed Forumand the Early Christian Museum with sculptures, mosaics, glass and other Roman artifacts.
Location: Monastery, Aquileia
The Friuli region stretches northeast of Venice through scenic vineyard-covered foothills in the Dolomites Alps. Scattered around this beautiful countryside are small towns and villages that seem far from the busy tourist centers, where you can get a feel for the Italian countryside and rural way of life. Don’t miss it beautiful Cividale del Friuli, hanging on the edge of a ravine of erosion-carved limestone cliffs and spanned by the graceful curved Devil’s Bridge. Among the buildings from the Middle Ages, you will find an eighth century Longobard-tempela doorway leading to a third-century BC Celtic burial chamber, and a masterful silver altarpiece in the cathedral. Farther north, the cities are set amid ever higher steep mountains. The area is perfect for relaxing tour if you are tired of crowded city streets.