See the real Venice and avoid getting ripped off – check out these 8 insider tips and make the most of a visit to the beautiful city of canals…
Venice’s back-street bacari offer a cheap and authentic taste of the city. Do as the locals do, and pop in to one of these tiny hole-in-the-wall bars for a small glass of white wine (un ombre – literally a shadow, or a shade) and a plate of tasty, bite-sized snacks called cicchetti. The best bacari are super cheap, tiny and crowded – everyone stands at the bar or in the street socialising.
A couple of my favourites spots for ciceto e ombra are All’Arco near the Rialto Market, Al Squero opposite the gondola workshop in Dosodoro and Ca’ d’Oro in Cannareggio.
Venice’s sestieri (city districts) divide the city into six distinctive regions, each with its own character. San Marco is the touristic center of Venice with St Mark’s square at its heart. Dosodoro is a residential, bohemian area to the west of the Accademia bridge with the student hub of Campo Santa Margherita at its heart. It’s the largest sestieri known for the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. San Polo is the smallest sestieri and home to the Rialto Market. Castello stretches from San Marco, where expensive hotels line the bustling waterfront, to the quieter Eastern tip of the island. Santa Croce is the point of entry from the mainland and is home to the bus station. Cannareggio is a peaceful residential area which extends from the train station to the northernmost edge of the island. Find some cool neighbourhood wine bars along Fondamenta Misericordia.
As a city surrounded by water, fish is naturally the staple of any Venetian diet. Be sure to try the seafood risotto nero with black squid ink. Mixed fried fish, or fritto misto will appear on many menus along with sarde in saor or marinated sardines, which is a popular Venetian antipasto. My favourite seafood restaurants are Osteria Anice Stellato and Quaranta Padroni – both in Cannareggio.
You can hire a private boat to tour the islands, but the most common (and much cheaper) way to explore the emerald laguna is by vaporetto, or water bus. Tickets cost €7.50 one way, or you can pay €20 for 24 hours of unlimited travel, which is great for island hopping.
The island of Murano is famous for its glassmaking, and is one of the most popular day trips from Venice. Further into the northern Laguna is Burano, whose brightly painted houses, history of lacemaking and charming miniature canals also attract crowds of tourists from the mainland. Mazzorbo, across a bridge from Burano, is sleepier and has a very rural feel. Nearby Torcello is an intriguing marshland which is quieter again despite being home to one of Venice’s best restaurants Locanda Cipriani. It’s where Hemingway wrote Across the River and Through the Trees. Sant’Erasmo is the largest island in the lagoon. It’s predominantly agricultural and it is where much of the fresh produce is grown – a fascinating trip, if you have time. If you do fancy splashing out on a private boat, take a bottle of prosecco, two glasses and leave Venice around 5pm. It’s magical.
There are now fewer than 60,000 residents in Venice: a city trampled by 20 million tourists each year. As visitors, there are a few things we can do to be more sustainable tourists. Avoid cheap reproductions of true Venetian souvenirs – an authentic mask costs more than €30; buying a cheaper version is damaging to local craftsmen. Traditional mascarei include Tragicomica in San Polo and Ca’Macanà in Dosoduro – pick up your mask for carnevale here – see below! Similarly, Murano glass should be bought in the factory on Murano and not from cheap souvenir shops elsewhere.
For 10 days each February, Venice bursts into colour and life for the world-famous Carnevale. Traditional masks and elaborate costumes are donned ready for hundreds of events, from dancing in campi and parties in palazzos across the city. The whole city buzzes with an exciting party atmosphere and the official Baroque Ball attracts the Venetian glitterati. Tickets cost over €800 but there are much cheaper parties and many free events throughout the festival.
The tradition of the carnival mask lies at the heart of the celebrations. The masks concealed social class and gender, meaning workers could enter palazzos and royalty could mingle across the city with their identities disguised for the duration of the festival.
Venice’s Art Biennale began in 1895 as a showcase of the best contemporary art from around the world. The festival is based at the Arsenale in a restored navel building just a few vaporetto stops south from Piazza San Marco, giardini di biennale (a garden at the eastern tip of the sinking island which houses the national pavilions) and at temporary venues across the city.
The art Biennale takes place every other year, or every odd year. On even years, the more recently established Architecture Biennale takes over the Pavilion Gardens and the magnificent Arsenale. The Venice Biennale was the first event of its kind and has become the model for many other international arts festivals.
Acqua alta is a legendary phenomenon in Venice that occurs around 12 times a year during the cooler months. At high tide, water levels rise and the city floods. For locals this is simply a way of life. They go about their daily business in waders and wellington boots, splashing though streets submerged in water. Elevated walkways are constructed along the major thoroughfares. St Marks Square sits at the lowest point in the city so water levels are highest – there are great photos of visitors swimming across the piazza. Bucket list?
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- Hannah Frances