Innsbruck and Venice in 48 Hours
Last weekend I did three things I’ve never done before – travelled through the Alps by train, visited Venice (somewhere I’d wanted to go for ages) and limited myself to just 24 hours in two amazing places. I’d like to caveat that third point by saying: stay longer if you can, but if 48 hours is all you have then you won’t be disappointed.
My 48-hour adventure began in Innsbruck as it’s the perfect place to break your journey from London to Venice. It also marks the start of the stunning journey through the Alps into Italy, where the mountainous terrain of the famous Brenner Pass gives way to the pretty Italian countryside.
Getting to Venice by rail really is the most special way to do it. It’s not just a romantic notion that travelling by rail is more relaxing, more inspiring and more interesting – it’s true. Zooming across Europe on the train allows you to take in dramatically different scenery, stop off in interesting cities on the way, and glide effortlessly into the heart of Venice island (in contrast, the airport is on the mainland).
Innsbruck itself is typically Tyrolean – a fascinating mix of Gothic and Baroque architecture, historical sites, hearty ‘mountain’ food, and warm and friendly service. Guarded on all sides by jagged mountains and with a pretty riverside lined with pastel coloured houses, it’s particularly picturesque. In my 24 hours there, we wandered around the Old Town and took in the Golden Roof, Cathedral of St James, St Anna’s Column, and the pretty pink and white Spitalskirche.
Also highly recommended is a beer at the top of the Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen cable car, which offers panoramic views across the Alps and down to Innsbruck. For dinner, head to one of the many Tyrolean restaurants such as Gasthof Weisses Rossl for hearty and homely classics like weiner schnitzel or spätzle, a traditional egg noodle often served with cheese and a side of sauerkraut.
We stayed at the 5-star Grand Europa Hotel, which is literally moments from the station and about a 5-minute walk to the Old Town. It’s a modern and very comfortable hotel with just the right amount of traditional Tyrolean hospitality.
After a leisurely breakfast and a final walk along the river the next morning we boarded the 13:27 train from Innsbruck to Venice. Once settled in your seat, head to the back of the train with your camera to catch the amazing views as you climb through the Alps towards Brenner.
The highlight of the journey is undoubtedly crossing the lagoon into Venice island and exiting the station into the bustle of Santa Lucia. From here, hop on a vaporetto for the best introduction to the city as you travel down the Canal Grand towards your accommodation. We were staying at the Ca Dei Conti, a charming 4-star hotel bordering one of Venice’s many side canals, so took the Number 2 vaporetto to St Mark’s Square and walked from there.
We arrived at the hotel around 7.30pm and had a full evening to explore Venice. This is the best time to wander the maze of streets and canals with no agenda other than to get your bearings and immerse yourself in the magic of the city. Head to the Metropole Hotel (where Vivaldi composed some of his finest masterpieces including The Four Seasons) on the waterfront for a pre-dinner cocktail in sumptuous surroundings and then follow your nose to a traditional ristorante or trattoria for dinner. Ristorante al Covo in Castello, a delightful family-run restaurant with an emphasis on locally sourced produce, is an excellent spot for dinner.
The next morning, we got up early and headed to St Mark’s Square before the crowds descended mid-morning. Visit St Mark’s Basilica and the Doges’ Palace, but if it’s busy don’t go up the Campanile (bell tower) – instead go to the one on San Giorgio Maggiore, a small and peaceful island just a few minutes away by boat, which is much quieter and offers serene views across the lagoon.
Once back at St Mark’s Square, we headed north on foot towards the Rialto Bridge passing through many pretty streets and piazzas on the way. Cross the bridge into San Polo to look in at the huge fish and vegetable market, then stop off in one of the district’s many excellent restaurants for lunch.
Continue along the canal-front into the Dorsoduro district and visit the Accademia Gallery (and Peggy Guggenheim Collection if you have time). Walk over the wooden Accademia Bridge back into San Marco and then dart back into the maze of streets for your final hour or two in Venice. If you have time, walk along the Grand Canal front towards Arsenale, or wander the streets with a gelato until it’s time to head back to the station for your return home.