It is impossible to sum up my hometown, Venice, on a web page, in any case there are plenty of well-made guides out there about its history and sights; but since I visit Venice regularly, I can at least hope to give you some interesting pointers on the thousands of beautiful sights in Venice. Since seeing Venice requires a lot of walking, and sooner or later you will be hungry, I also want to point out some of the many good places to eat in Venice, if anything to help you avoid tourist traps or, more insidiously, the faux "osterie" (nice looking place, balsamic vinegar on everything, huge wine glasses, terrible food) that now occupy every corner of Venice.
The best Venice restaurant and shopping guides are those published by Michela Scibilia: Venezia e dintorni Osterie (in english), e Venezia e dintorni Botteghe (in english). For an in-depth visit, the very best guide is Venice and its Lagoon, Historical-artistic guide by Giulio Lorenzetti, published by Lint in 1994, but can be found in Venice bookstores.
GUIDE TO VENICE
Places to visit
Once you’ve seen the Basilica of St. Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, you have hundreds of churches, bridges, buildings and "campi" to see. By the way, on sundays when the queues are too long in front of Saint Mark's, the trick is to go in by the side entrance on the "piazzetta" where the small lions are, and claim you want to attend Mass... I advise you to include in your path:
- the small but beautiful Renaissance church of S. Maria dei Miracoli, all colored marbles inside and out, situated in a quiet area of Venice.
- the great basilica of St. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venetian Gothic stlye, with its monuments (Tiziano, Monteverdi) and the extraordinary Assumption by Titian.
- The Church of Madonna dell’Orti in my native Cannaregio district, Gothic with a large number of extraordinary paintings by Tintoretto. See the Ghetto with its tall houses and the large Campo di Ghetto Nuovo. Also see the Sacca della Misericordia with its unconsecrated Abbazia, the Campo dell’Abbazia is a magical point of Venice, almost zen.
- The impressive Gothic Basilica of San Giovanni e Paolo.
It is also interesting to stroll through the Campi, Venice’s squares, and in particular the large Campi that are the meeting places of Venetians: Campo S. Margherita, Campo S. Giacomo Dall'Orio, Campo S. Polo, Campo SS. Apostoli, Campo S. Maria Formosa.
You must visit the Rialto market, where even today one finds the finest vegetables from the islands on the lagoon, and fresh fish from Chioggia.
The islands are interesting, I recommend:
- Burano - Venice in miniature with very bright colors (used to be pastel colours, now unfortunately replaced by garish Disney colours).
- Torcello - not one but two important Byzantine churches!
- San Lazzaro degli Armeni - Armenian monastery with cloister and church, an oasis of silence with an impressive library and museum including Armenians, Egyptian, Indian and Arab artefacts. There is one visit per day in the afternoon, corresponding to the daily special vaporetto from San Zaccaria.
Where to eat
You need to learn two words: cicchetti are small tapas-like appetizers, ombra de vin means a glass of wine.
Be careful where you eat, in Venice there are many ways to eat poorly and/or expensively. Places that I can certify as being good:
- Osteria Ca' d'Oro, also known Alla Vedova, near the Ca’ d'Oro. Once a simple osteria, it has been discovered by tourists so it is not easy to get a table. Despite the predominant presence of foreigners, service is friendly and attentive and the food excellent. If you speak Venetian, even better ... Excellent cicchetti (octopus, sardines, canocie, cuttlefish, meatballs).
- Ristorante da Remigio in Salizada dei Greci (between Campo San Zaccaria and Campo Bandiera e Moro), an ancient place that remains among the most pleasant restaurants in Venice, authentic Venetian cuisine and excellent service.
- Trattoria Al Vecio Fritolin, in Calle Regina near the Campo S. Cassiano, not far from Rialto, always good.
- Alle Testiere is good.
- At Mascaron in Calle Lunga S. Maria Formosa - despite the criticism I never ate anything here that was not really good.
- Alle Antiche Carampane is still very good.
- Ai Quaranta Ladroni, on the Fondamenta della Sensa.
- Vini da Gigio in Fondamenta San Felice is good.
I hear that Al Covo is great but I have not tried it yet. Corte Sconta apparently is still good, but I have not tried it recently.
For cicchetti and ombre de vin, try the classic:
- Alla Vedova, as above
- Osteria alla Patatina on the bridge between Campo S. Polo and Calle dei Saoneri.
- Aciugheta - if you continue on Calle delle Rasse you get to the very crowded Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo. Therestaurant serves pizza to tourists, but venture inside and you will discover a wonderful counter of cicchetti.
For a good cheap meal:
- Birreria Forst - for a beer and a typical venetian sandwich, simple food but good, in Calle delle Rasse near the vaporetto S. Zaccaria.
- Rosticceria Gislon - for a copious meal of venetian specialties (great baccalà) cheap but very well prepared, you order at the counter and hope you will find seating, in Calle della Bissa near Campo San Bartolomeo.
The pastry shops are not as good as they used to be, try Marchini in Calle del Spezier between Campo S. Stefano and Campo S. Maurizio. Apparently Pasticceria Bar Toleta is good. Even the gelati places have lost their former shine, so go to newcomers Grom on Strada Nuova and Campo San Barnaba, or Gelateria Lo Squero on Fondamenta Nani.
What to drink
You will be eating mostly seafood, so for white wines choose from the best Veneto whites such as La Biancara, or the Garganega by Le Fraghe, or the Soave by Fasoli... or a Friuli wine, avoiding those that are a little overworked, try Kante, Zidarich, Edi Keber, Vodopivec, La Castellada, or if you want extreme wines try Gravner or Radikon. Have a Prosecco sparkling wine for aperitif, from Bele Casel if available.
You sill soon succumb to the “spritz” craze, a spritzer invented by the invading Austrians in the early 19th century. 150 years after chasing the invader, Venetians are still dominated by this Austrian concoction which contains one third Prosecco, one third sparkling water, one third Campari or Aperol or Cynar or, for purists, Select.
Where to stay
If you have an unlimited budget, then go to the Danieli or the Cipriani. If your finances are challenged, I recommend Hotel Ai Due Fanali in Campo S. Simeon Profeta, not far from the railway station or the expensive Piazzale Roma car park (but not too close either), thus avoiding having to carry your bags for miles of “calli”, or on the crowded vaporetto. About Piazzale Roma, do cross the new Ponte della Costituzione over the Grand Canal, a magnificent bridge by Calatrava which is hated by most Venetians.
Personally I travel by car, so I prefer to take the Ferry at the Tronchetto (beginning of the Ponte della Libertà) to the Lido, where you can drive, and I stay comfortably at the Hotel Villa delle Palme. In this way you do not pay absurdly expensive parking and you need not worry about luggage, plus you are a 2 minute walk from the vaporetto to San Marco.
Do not stay in Jesolo or Mestre, if you really cannot stay in the city, try a beautiful place like Padova, 15 minutes by train.
If you plan to visit Venice regularly, get a IMOB Venezia card (you’ll need a 30x35 ID photo and a photocopy of your passport) and you will pay a fraction of the normal vaporetto price: 6.50 Euro one way via the Grand Canal, if you are a family of four that’s 52 Euro round trip! Or are there cheap tickets for 12, 24, 36, 48 or 72 hours. At least once take the vaporetto along the Grand Canal in its entirety.
Anyway, you can visit Venice by foot, you are never more than half an hour from your destination. Along the Grand Canal there are various "traghetti", minimalist gondolas that allow you to cross the canal for 50 cents, can be found at Santa Sofia, San Marcuola, Riva del Carbon, San Tomà, San Barnaba and Santa Maria del Giglio (check the timetables).
Gondolas? We Venetians would not be caught dead on a gondola tour, but if you insist go find one at a less crowded stall, such as at the bridge of the Maddalena along the Strada Nuova. Avoid those at the station, which take you for a ride around the prison. If you negotiate well, you’ll pay 90 Euro, less if you speak Venetian.
Arriving and departing from Venice, if you can afford it, take a private boat (taxi) and ask to pass by the Canal Grande, it will cost more than € 80, but it is well worth it and you will solve the luggage issue.