Warning: Some of these are tips you will see just about everywhere else. I figured if I issue the warning I can easily get away with it. But at the same time let some of this serve as a strong emphasis.
Stay for a while
I’ll start with the obvious, but perhaps the most important tip. There are many tourist cities that merit staying longer, but this place demands it even more. Venice is mostly enjoyed by day trippers and cruisers who spend the entire time in San Marco area, and then complain that Venice is way too crowded. And while they marvel at the San Marco area sights, they often miss Venice’s most important attraction, Venice. Venice’s main appeal is being one of the most unique places on earth. Being there in the morning, and at night helps, but staying at least 4 days with a day trips to Murano/Burano and perhaps Padua is key to give this place any justice.
No, its not a mistake. I’m listing half of the usual “Location, Location, Location” you see everywhere else because that is exactly what it deserves, half. Venice is compact. The only time we used the Vaporetto last time is when we had no choice but cross the canal to San Giorgio Maggiore, and to the islands. Granted we stayed in a very central location this time, but it was more coincidental, and not that important to us. You can walk from the train station to St Marks, which looks quite far on the map, in 30 minutes. While location can be important, half of Venice as the title suggests can be considered in a good location, maybe more. And going back to the previous point, you are walking in Venice after all, not Cleveland. But you need to stay in Venice and not Mestre or Cleveland
This one is very specific, but a tip nonetheless. Ca’ Amadi is a gem. Its the most central middle of nowhere place you will ever find. Its tucked inside the kind of courtyard that as a stranger you want to immediately turn around when you reach it, but as a guest, its a very welcoming and convenient retreat. Risking hypocrisy after the previous tip, this is really as central as it gets in Venice. You are within 20 minutes from just about anywhere. The rooms are roomy, modern, comfortable and mostly quiet (Yes, canal rooms are indeed romantic, but remember, their canals is the roads). And its also believed that Marco Polo himself used to live there as his family owned a few homes in the area. So dont be surprised if your food exploration sense gets a sudden shock, and you find yourself one day Cicchettiing like a maniac
There are countless of food blogs out there including I suppose the one you reading right now. But there’s only one blogger as of this writing that actually lives in Venice and understands the Venice food scene and dynamics better than anyone. And yes, some of the tips you’ll find in my blog came from the talented Nicoletta Fornaro of Naturally Epicurean.
This may be obvious to some but not all. Some may even elect to take it slow and skip it or visit just one of the islands like Murano, since its usually mentioned in the same breath. But the island of Burano is not only one of Venice’s best gems, its one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. There are very few places in Europe that I describe as “Movie Sets”. Sintra, Dubrovnik, Cesky Krumlov are some. A smack in the face as soon as you get off the boat, and you dont stop smacking until you get off the island or restrained. Have lunch at Trattoria alla Maddalena in the serene island of Mazzorbo just over the bridge. And then head to Torcello
Dont Get Lost
Its understandable what everyone means by “Get Lost”, and so I’m not exactly opposing that. Getting lost in the narrow callis of Venice can be fun and rewarding, but that magic can quickly disappear if you cant eventually find your way, risking that all too familiar look from the wife. Venice can be tricky to navigate. And if you havent made Google Maps your best travel companion by now, its not too late. You can download the map of Venice back at home and use it off-line. Its easy to use and it works. And its also effective with your water transportation needs in Venice. I could have made a beautiful collage of bridges with people standing on top struggling with their paper maps.
Explore Via Garibaldi
At some point these calles and bridges may start to all look familiar, until you get to eye popping Via Garibaldi. There’s nothing like it in Venice. A wide, very wide for Venice standards, street filled with local life and old charm. Like you suddenly stepped inside another UNESCO heritage site. This is that “Laundry Hanging” moment you’ve been looking for. But dont stop there. Go all the way and cross the bridge to the island of San Pietro where you may really be the only tourist there.
Do the Cicchetti thing
No, its not a special dance, but more of a way of life. Its the Venetian answer to the aperitivo, or Spanish tapas, but quite more than that. Its an important part of Venice that you can easily miss when you give Venice one or two days.
Do your food homework kids
Although plenty have done it successfully, this is not the place to explore and stumble on the first thing that looks good. Its an incredibly touristy town with a bad food reputation, perhaps for good reason. But the lagoon is rich with wonderful seafood, producing some of the best array of seafood restaurants we encountered anywhere. If you or your spouse is not a seafood lover, you have my condolences. But if any town can convert you, its this one. Its the only place where we eat non stop and never gain any weight. So, you can find hidden gems on your own, or take the safe route and let uncle Ziggy guide you. Here’s a good starting point….
Osteria alle Testiere
Osteria Alla Frasca
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Trattoria alla Maddalena in Mazzorbo (Burano)
L’Osteria di Santa Marina
Trattoria Da Jonny
Plan Sensibly, follow your instincts.
You dont have to follow the masses anywhere, but it especially rings true for Venice. Venice is loaded with hidden gems and mesmerizing monuments, and simply following the herd risks missing much of that. Doge’s Palace is stunning indeed, but that means you’ll be spending a lot of time indoors in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Instead, something like Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the nearby Frari may fit your plan better. Many flock to the Peggy Guggenheim museum just because it is very highly rated. But after two visit, I find the collection and building rather dull and just not for me (Let the comments commence…). Come up with a sensible plan that includes exploring some or most of the neighborhoods, and experiences like music in a church, or a food tour. See Venice from above from San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower, and Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store terrace. Visit Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the hospital next door.
Wear comfortable shoes, and remember to Enjoy!
Seriously Ziggy? Not really. This is the 11th tip that is not really a tip. The type of tip that normally makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I see it. Can someone explain what exactly “Remember to Enjoy” mean? If I can somehow click on a magical enjoy button, why do I need any other tip. Do you go to sleep sometimes on vacation thinking, “damn it, I forgot to enjoy”. And besides maybe aunt Betty’s house is there a place on this planet where you dont need to wear comfortable shoes? Two of the most overused travel cliches out there
I recommend going out walking early in the morning, before breakfast. You’re practically alone in St. Mark’s Square and along the lanes and canals. The vendors are making deliveries to restaurants and hotels in their gondolas. The markets are set up with mounds of seafood and vegetables. It’s just magical.