What an incredible city Venice is. It is one of those places in the world where each street is so charming, each bridge so romantic, each window shutter so perfectly askew that eventually you become numb to the oohing and awwing. You relent that you have never seen a place so divine and that you never will. Michael and I had been forewarned of two things about the Floating City: the food is terrible and no matter what you do, you will get lost. I relented to getting lost (that’s a part of my day-to-day life anyway), but I vowed that I would find the tiny espresso bars and cozy restaurants where locals ate and drank their Venetian days away. There was no way I was coming to Italy and missing out on the splendor of Italian cooking.
Eat lunch not dinner – dinner is twice the price and the locals don’t really go in for a big dinner. If they do, it’s late night, 8/9pm.
The local spots are less likely to have all the seating tax, service tax stuff that is so annoying.
Stand. Unless you need to rest. There is a seating charge most places and standing for your cappucino or glass of wine is the Venetian way.
Drink prosecco, it comes from the Veneto region nearby.
Go for cicchetti from 1pm onwards (it’s sort of the venetian version of aperitivo/tapas), it is maybe the funnest way to spend you afternoon. Wine is cheap and there are little bites of food – salted cod, sardines and onions, meatballs, squid salad, vegetables etc. for about 1 Euro each.
Drink a classic Venetian Spritz (prosecco, selzer, Campari/Apperol plus an olive and a slice of lemon/orange). If you like your drink bitter get Spritz all’bitter or Spritz Campari but if you like it sweeter go for a Spritz Aperol.
Osteria Alla Bifora. This restaurant is in Campo San Margherita and it is not touristy at all (which makes a change from the vast majority of spots in Venice). Be forewarned, it is pretty much all meat, and a great deal of the meat is cured pork. But these meat platters will outdo any sort of meat and cheese situation you’ve had anywhere else. (Get a small, there’s a lot). The whole experience was delicious and charming and wonderful. It feels like such a local spot; an Italian woman who speaks not a word of English seats you, there are no receipts, they write your total on the table, the wine flows, the people chat for hours.
Ca’ d’Ora. The best place we found for cicchetti. Tiny glasses of wine for 50 cents each and delicious salted fish, meatballs and cheeses for 1 Euro each. This place is right off of Strada Nuova (the main street) in Carnereggio and is easily missed (which makes it all the more special). Locals pour out of its doors with wine glasses and cigarettes in hand. Plus, their polpette (fried pork meatballs) will blow your mind.
La Zucca. This place was recommended to us by everyone we spoke to. Reservations are a must here and should really be done a couple of days before. Since it was New Years weekend, we couldn’t manage to get a reservation but word on the street is that this place has delicious food, fair prices and lots of vegetarian options.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection for your art fix. The building is beautiful and the art is spectacular.
Walk on the Riva Degli Schiavoni as the sun sets.
The Ghetto. They say this is where the word ghetto was invented. The Jewish people of Venice were forbidden to live outside of these few blocks, even as their population grew. As a result, the ghetto has some of the tallest buildings in Venice. The mood of the city really shifts here. It’s quieter and very beautiful, but because of all of the taller buildings it feels a little darker, as if all the buildings lean inward and loom over you.
Ca’ Del Sol. This mask store is a piece of magic that Michael remembered from his last venture to Venice. Unfortunately, it was closed whilst we were there. We did see the people who own it enjoying a long celebratory dinner on the shop floor on New Years Eve. If there was a party to go to, that seemed to be the one.
Wander. For us, the real pleasure of Venice was the wandering: finding tiny alleyways and hidden cortas, stumbling upon little bars for cichhetti. This sort of aimless adventure took up the better part of our time and it was the most memorable part of the whole trip.
This NYTimes article was recently written about Venice in the winter. It’s a magical city. Small but epic.