So, this is Venice Italy. How much could there possibly be to see?
Actually, there is more than most people imagine to see and do here...
Part I: "Seeing" Venice
Tip: You've heard that it's quite nice to take a boat ride down the palace-lined Grand Canal of Venice? It is! But, it's much nicer, and the views are better, from less-crowded boats. If you don't need to get off at a particular stop, consider trying a Vaporetto other than the line 1.
Tip: Piazza San Marco and the surrounding streets are the most crowded parts of the city. Unless you plan to visit the Basilica or Museums, choose to visit the square in either the early morning or in the evening when you will have the chance to see and appreciate more of it.
Finding a "center" in Venice? Tricky!
Tip: It could and should be true that the Mercato di Rialto is the place in Venice where visitors and Venetians collide more than in any other part of the city. Everyone should visit this spectacular place that many people call the "heart" of Venice. But, if you're not actually shopping, please do make room at the counters for those who are.
Tip: Even a first time visitor will quickly observe that Venice is a city with very limited and expensive seating. While it may seem incredible to those just joining the walking lifestyle, especially at the end of a long first day, when it comes to cocktail hour Venetians will remain standing and socialize with others on the squares.
Seeing Venice Right: Getting Lost and Loving It
Picky readers are going to notice what we said above, "If Venice had a center, it would be...". One could start a big political debate with that line. But in this case, we just want to point out to those who would like to wander off and explore Venice but may feel nervous about it, that no matter where you roam in Venice you will neither be lonely nor in want of services. Just as Venice has many city squares beyond Piazza San Marco, so does the city also have a series of what We're going to call micro-centers; concentrations of shops,bars and restaurants in each neighborhood of the city. One reason for this is historical. Venice always consisted of discreet neighborhoods and/or parishes each of which sustained its own populations.
There is a popular urban legend in Venice that, even today, one could happen upon an elderly resident who has never ventured out of his or her district. This is amazing to imagine in a city that one - though only one who knows the way - can actually cross on foot within 45 minutes. Meanwhile, there are wonders to discover - artisan workshops, lovely churches, galleries, family-run restaurants, secret gardens, quiet residential streets - and virtually nothing to fear, in every neighborhood of Venice. Wandering-off into the maze of Venice streets is an essential first step in seeing Venice.
Tip: Always eat while lost! While it is generally and happily true that the quality of food is improving all over Venice, it's still also true that, unless you're on a Michelin Star tour, the best meals you have in Venice will come from small out of the way places like Alla Frasca (shown above). Where you find no-frills decor, Italian-only menus and locals at tables, you will almost always find a tasty and authentic Venetian meal at an incredibly reasonable price.
Tip: Relax and let yourself explore. Venice is an island. The great thing about being on an island is that one really can't stray too far from home without swimming. It is completely natural to want to turn random corners and see what's "over there" in the maze of Venetian streets and canals. And, no matter where you roam in Venice, you'll never be more than a few minutes walk from a Vaporetto stop, or, even better, a micro-center of local businesses.
"The Islands" of The Northern Lagoon
Tip: Many people find a first visit to the showrooms on Murano overwhelming. There are massive quantities and varieties of fragile glass objects on display; many of them costly. To get the most out of your visit to Murano, do see a demonstration, even if it is only a quick one, and then visit galleries and showrooms well-reviewed for their hospitality and responsiveness to questions about glass arts. (Those interested in learning even more about Murano Glass and meeting some glass masters should take our Inside Murano Glass Tour.)
Tip: When you go to Burano, disembark one stop early on the Island of Mazzorbo. This only adds ten minutes to your walk towards the center of Burano, but gives you a chance to explore the lovely community garden and vineyard along the way. When on Burano, keep your eyes open for small shops wherein you can still find lace-artisans at work. Real Burano lace-making is a craft that has been practiced by Buranese women - wives of Burano fishermen - for centuries. And delicate Burano lace has been a sought-after luxury artisan product since the Renaissance.
Part II: Seeing more of Venice Italy
Where in the World is Venice Italy?: Exploring The Lagoon
If you remember all that when you're out splashing around at the beach in Venice, you can justifiably say that you're both studying history and having a good time all at once! But, what nature, beach, wetlands and watersports lovers really need to know is this: Venice is a very compact city that offers remarkably quick and easy access to its surrounding natural environment. No matter where you are in Venice, you can be out on a boat in fifteen minutes or less! These islands - very different from one another and from central Venice - are easily accessible by public transportation and an absolutely joy to explore:
Sant'Erasmo: The Garden Island
The Island of Sant'Erasmo, 35 minutes by boat from Venice, is the largest island in the lagoon. Its center consists mostly of lush farmland. On its perimeter there are villas, ruined fortresses, a beach, marinas and the largest operating vineyard in Venice. Sant'Erasmo is famous for its mouthwatering, some say slightly salty, lagoon produce, some of which is native only to this island. One can explore this island by bicycle, on foot, or even with a kayak rental. We offer, for those who really want to get a taste of lagoon produce, an Island Farms & Wine Tour on Sant'Erasmo which includes visits to the vineyard, a large farm and a lunch of local produce.
Mazzorbo: A Small-Town Paradise
Just across the footbridge from the famous island of Burano, lies the small Island of Mazzorbo. With equally colorful houses, less than 5% of the crowds, and lots of accessible green space, it is just a great place to go for a walk. For those who need a destination: In the small center, there is the medieval Church of Saint Catherine, whose bell tower houses the most ancient bell in the lagoon. For those who need a drink and a snack: On the edge of the public garden of Mazzorbo - with a garden and Vineyard of its own - there is the famous Venissa where one can feast almost entirely on island produce.
Certosa: Venice' New Island Park
Only a few minutes by boat from either Venice or Lido, Certosa is one of the most quickly accessible green areas of Venice. Though now a park and marina, Certosa was one of the monastic islands of the lagoon from the year 1199 until Napoleon ordered the Island given over to military use. The "Power Castles" dating from the 17th century are the only historic buildings remaining on the Island. Today, after many years of redevelopment work, Certosa houses a marina to the north, both forrest and canal side nature trails, a small hotel, a sailing school and restaurant. Tip: When you visit Certosa, keep your eyes peeled for Venice most unusual gardening crew.
Lido: Venice' Island of Beaches
The long narrow island of Lido di Venezia - ten minutes from Venice by boat - is one of the islands separating the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic sea. From the Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice, one can easily see the villa-lined Western shore of the Lido. Can you guess what's on the East? More than 11 kilometers of sandy beaches! Many parts of the beaches are operated as beach clubs or resorts. But, on both the north, San Nicolo, and the South, Alberoni there are large swaths of seaside nature preserves welcoming dune explorers. There are also bike, boat, kite surfer and paddle boat rentals easily available.
Shopping: Seeing Venice through Arts & Crafts
Murano glass is the most famous artisan product of Venice, but there are many more historic artisan crafts still practiced in city. There are the spectacular beaded designs of the impiraresse (such as that by Master Craftswoman Marisa Convento of Venetian Dreams shown above), there are mosaics large and small. There is paper-making, printing and book-binding. The hand-carved oar-stands unique to Venetian gondolas are made by Venetian master carpenters and are now also recognized and coveted as sculptures. Venetian luxury textiles remain in demand, not only for clothing and accessories, but also for home decor. Meanwhile, Venice remains both a fashion-forward city and global center of the arts. We have a large selection of independent clothing designers, fine jewelry designers and producers, and myriad artist shops and galleries scattered throughout the city.
However, an important truth about shopping in Venice is that the best artisan shops of Venice can be very tricky for visitors to track down. Retail space on the central streets and main thoroughfares of Venice is fairly equally divided between the international-brand shops homogenous to any major city, and cheap souvenir shops that specialize in imitation Venetian products. The true craftspeople, artists and artisans, are dispersed throughout the side streets, and can thus be challenging to find. On a first-time un-guided visit, those who venture enough to get lost will find some of them, but very few others will. For those interested in discovering real Venetian products, OG Venice recommends either taking an accompanied artisan shopping walk in Venice, or learning a bit about the artisans you'd like to visit or the types of products you'd like to see before taking to the streets. Some of what you might choose to look for:
Carnival Masks by Decima Musa are more than mere costumes. They are highly detailed sculptures.
More precious and beautiful jewelry. The completely unique precious jewels by Alessandro Palwer are each individually designed in his studio here in Venice.
These are not your Grandmother's millefiore. Murano Glass jewelry by Muranero is decidedly contemporary.
Igor Balbi is one of Venice' most accomplished contemporary glass masters. His gallery in Venice showcases his own, and the works of other contemporary masters.
Into the Community: Eating and Drinking in Venice
Meanwhile, shops are even beginning to offer Venetian specialties in quantities and packaging suitable for visitors to bring home. It is now possible to visit the farms and vineyards of Venice. And, regional food and liquors have finally made their way into local arts and retail events happening throughout the year. Do not wait until you leave Venice to start savoring Italian cuisine! We are the prosecco and grappa capital of Italy! We have 8 D.O.C. cheeses! The fish in our market are still flopping their fins. And, when it comes to ambiance, could there be a more beautiful place in the world in which to enjoy food and drink?
OG Venice travel guide includes a guide to Restaurants and Shopping for Food in Venice. We're confident that those who follow it will eat and drink well and in good company while in Venice. But, for those looking to experience even more of Venice through food, we also recommend:
Shop the markets. The Rialto fish market is the most famous market in Venice, but there are actually weekly markets in many locations throughout Venice. At the weekly market on Lido di Venezia vendors from all over the Veneto arrive with small-production specialty foods and produce form the Veneto and beyond. If you don't have a kitchen? Don't worry! You can buy quantities small enough for tasting and make yourself the best lunch in Venice. OG Venice now offers an accompanied shopping stroll through the Lido Market for those who's like to explore it in company.
Go on a specialty food hunt in Venice! Why not? People go on bar tours all the time, but it can be equally entertaining and rewarding to shop for local foods and wine! You'll certainly see lots of Venice while out hunting them down! Nestled in the back streets you'll find: truly fresh pasta, Veneto area wines, tiny pastry shops, artisnal chocolate, and, don't forget to stop for a gelato! Start here: Specialty Foods in Venice. Buon appetito!
Go directly to the source! Even at the Rialto Erbaria, you'll notice signs on produce that say "Sant' Erasmo". That sign means that you're looking at the freshest produce available in the lagoon because it was grown right here in Venice on the island of Sant' Erasmo. Only 35 minutes by boat from the center of Venice, it is possible to visit the farms and vineyards of Sant'Erasmo, feast on an organic lunch, and be back in Venice long before cocktail hour. This is a great outing for families and small groups and, of course, also provides an ideal experience of the lagoon countryside lifestyle.
Eat local! Venice and the Veneto are home to an enormous variety of specialty foods. Even the islands have foods particular to each Island. It would be a shame, for example, to leave the Island of Burano without trying their famous Essi Buraneli cookies! (Whereas, Venice has Pane del Doge.) Almost anywhere you go in Venice, be it a restaurant, bakery or even busy stand in a market. You'll be offered a taste of something particular to that place. Try it!
What's Your Venice?
Venetians, reputation to the contrary, absolutely do not hate tourists. What they hate is that so many tourists seem not to love Venice. It is understood, though perhaps unspoken, that one of the major reasons that so many tourists do not love Venice is because they have a superficial experience of the city during which they never touch upon the contemporary Venetian lifestyle and are thus unable to appreciate the genuine warmth of Venetian culture. Venice, OG Venice Travel Guide included, is responding to this challenge with myriad offerings of fun, contemporary and authentic experiences that give visitors access to the contemporary life of Venice. Many Venetians are offering to provide these experiences beyond the scope of their normal work because they have a genuine desire to show as many people as possible the best of Venice.
OG Venice would never accuse any traveller of having a "fake" or "inauthentic" experience of Venice. (Surely, whatever one does and whatever experience one has is really, their experience of Venice.) But, like so many others we do want to create access to the contemporary life of Venice for those who choose to explore it. What remains is for visitors to both understand that it is OK, even in an art and history packed World Heritage Site city, to ask yourself what you'd most like to do and to seek out those experiences in Venice. So, we're asking you: What's your Venice? If you tell us, we'll do our best to make sure you get to see it!