Every now and then I get asked to give some Venice advice since I lived there for 5 months in 2000-2001. A fellow blogger, Miss Marie, recently asked for Venice tips, so I thought that I would make a blog post out of it. Venice is a magical, amazing, beautiful, smelly, frustrating tourist trap for a city and I know people who visited the city and returned home really disappointed! However, there are ways to limit the disappointments and this is what I usually recommend people to do:
- The locals drink spritz al aperol, not Bellinis. I know, I know, nowadays a drink famous all over Europe but let me tell you, in 2001 not even the Italian students in neighbouring Bologna had heard of the spritz!!
- Favourite places for drinks: Campo San Lio close to the Rialto bridge, there is a bar, L’Olandese Volante where we always used to go. Also Campo Santa Margherita which is the square where the students hang out. I usually go to some of the bars next to the “Pizza al volo” “hole in the wall” (by the way, great pizza to eat on a park bench on the square in the middle of the night).
- Another Venetian drink is to order a “ombra“, small glass of wine together with some snacks (Venetian “tapas”) in a bar.
- Tramezzini are triangular sandwiches that Italians eat for a mid-morning snack, sold in all bars
- You pay more if you sit down to have a drink / coffee. Be careful on Piazza San Marco (the only square that is called “Piazza” in Venice, the others are “Campo”) as the coffees are VERY EXPENSIVE, especially at Caffe Florian (they add more to the bill if there is live music). Have a coffee standing at the bar instead if you really want to have a coffee there.
- Visit the San Marco basilica and look at the mosaic FLOOR – it is beautiful and completely uneven after all the aque alte (when the water rises – an unforgettable experience if you ever have the “luck” to see it!)
- Piazza San Marco is the most romantic and magical in the middle of the night, no tourists, no pigeons, no peddlers trying to sell you cheap souvenirs…
- In general, avoid restaurants on the Piazza San Marco-side of the Canal Grande and go towards Piazza Santa Margherita (Dorseduro) as it is cheaper and less touristy, which means better food and better value for money. You will see more “everyday Venetian life” on the other side of the canal.
- IF you find it, and IF it still exists, check out the restaurant Arca, close to the church San Pantalon (Holy trousers?!) nearby Campo Santa Margherita. Nice pasta and pizza and not very touristy.
- The Peggy Guggenheim museum – great museum, great location in a small palace next to the Canal Grande. I always visit the museum when I go to Venice. http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/
- There is a nice ice cream bar on Fondamenta Zattere, and lovely views towards La Giudecca island – also a must for me!
- The restaurants around the Fish market, close to the Rialto bridge are quite nice
- You don’t go to Venice to eat well – just remember that! In general Venetian food is not as great as in other regions in Italy. Lots of polenta (I am not a fan)…
- You always get lost in Venice but it is part of the experience. Look for signs for Rialto, San Marco, Ferrovia (train station) etc, that way you always find your way eventually. Addresses are not used in Venice so ask for instructions how to find a place instead of the “street name”. Getting directions from a local is impressive: “cross two bridges and three squares, turn left, turn right…”, you will never remember it all! Bring comfy walking shoes as there is a lot of walking involved, up and down bridges…
- If you are looking for shoe bargains – il Gran Viale / Strada nova is the only “normal” shopping street in Venice, the street from the train station Santa Lucia towards Piazza San Marco.
- I never took a gondola ride, very touristy and expensive (and I was a single student ;-)). Take a vaporetto instead to experience the Venetian ”buses” (i.e boats).
- A really sweet place for a souvenir is the Itaca Bottega Art gallery, where a very friendly artist, Monica Martin shows and sells her pretty pictures of Venice http://www.itacaartstudio.com/ or more info here: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/19d299/ Address: Salizzada San Lio / Calle delle Bande, Castello (close to the church Santa Maria Formosa, kind of behind Piazza San Marco). I fell in love with her art and got one of her paintings as a graduation present from my parents (our graduation ceremony was in the Palazzo Ducale – the only time I have been visited the palace!)
- If you want to visit any other island, visit Burano for pastel coloured houses or Murano for the glass studios. Don’t bother to visit the Lido, not really worth a visit if you are short of time – believe me, I lived there for 5 months!
- Ponte Accademia – one of three bridges over the Canal Grande and the only one in wood. Cross this bridge towards Campo Santa Margherita, at one point you might pass a veggie boat where they sell vegetables directly from the boat
- Campo San Polo is a lovely calm “everyday” square.
- Literature: The city of falling angels by John Berendt and Out of this century by Peggy Guggenheim.
You can also read my blog post about an unusual hen party for a groom that my friends from my studies in Venice and I organised a few years ago!
A little anecdote which describes life in Venice quite well (and might explain why I keep insisting on “the not so touristy areas…): an Italian friend from Abruzzo (another Italian region) lived and studied in Venice for 7 years. He would always go to the same bar in the morning, have his coffee and chat with the other locals (as he saw it). One day he went into the bar with a friend, a true born and bred Venetian, and guess what: the coffee was suddenly cheaper than usual! It is not official, but apparently some places have local prices, “Italian” prices and the “tourist” prices… I have seen it in a restaurant where the menu was all of a sudden much more extensive when some locals came in for dinner than for us mere mortals (i.e tourists)!
Oh, writing about Venice makes me really want to go back…