Each day during tourist season, about 10,000+ tourist fill the streets of Venice (more if there are cruise ships in the harbor) with less than 10% staying in Venice for the night. The Venetians take back their town after 5-7 p.m. when the tourist return to the cruise ships and tour buses. Early mornings and late afternoon are the best times for strolling. (Though now I see tour groups at 8:30 am already at Piazza San Marco.)
Tour groups staying outside the city never experience the real Venice. Staying in Venice allows you to wander the Strada Nova or take a walk in a deserted San Marco square near the close of the day, watch the older generations enjoying an ombra (a small glass of wine) together and listen to them “chiacchierare” (gossip) while the children play in the small squares.
The children play in the small squares until called home for dinner or sent home by the ever vigilant nonno or nonna (grandmothers or grandfathers). I love hearing the scolding from the stores as the kids zip by on their skate boards, “Did you do your homework?” “Did your mother say you could play?” While my Venetian born friends say Venice is too small, its this safety and security of knowing your neighbors, the kids on the street that also draws me to Venice.
Unless it is summer or carnival, plan to eat fairly early and then get lost in a city that in no way resembles the way it looked during the day. When the stores close their windows with the traditional metal awnings that roll down, the streets begin to look as they did hundreds of years ago. Its a city you can get lost in, but not for long as it encompasses only 2 by 3 miles (or 457 square kilometers). In the dimly lit streets you can imagine yourself wandering the small streets and alleyways as the Venetians did hundreds of years ago. When the fog rolls in, it cloaks the city in mystery. (Hint: Corte means it Court and does not go through. And many “streets” end up abruptly at a canal.)
Venice is vibrant and alive in the early morning as the workers stop by their local bar for a quick espresso, seldom needing to order as the baristia knows already. The locals get up early and grocery stores are open by 8, the fish market much earlier.
The colors are ever changing in Venice with the position of the sun as it bounces off the water. Early morning it is one of the best times to make pictures in Venice. I walk a different area each morning snapping shots.
The locals are busy setting up the vegetable markets, shopping at the fish market. If you love the little croissants or pastries baked right in the local bar, best get there early or you’ll miss your favorite.
Brenda’s Top 10 Things to Do in Venice
- Talk to the locals! They are wonderful people. Watch the vaporetto personnel gently assist the elderly, mothers with babies.
- Drink Prosecco sitting outside in Piazza San Marco listening to the orchestra. There are 3 or 4 playing on any given night in the summer. Its expensive but worth it, start saving your Euro as it will run about 50. If there are 4 of you, buy the bottle of prosecco, youll save in the long run.
- Ride the Vaporetto # 1 completely through the Grand Canal at night. Begin at Piazzale Roma or Lido to get the full effect At night you can gaze into the interior of the lighted palaces along the canal. If you are really into adventure, get off at San Marco and see if you can find your way back walking to where you are staying.
- Ride completely around the lagoon on a sunny day in one of the larger boats. If you have time, you can get off in Burano and wander through this colorful island, catching a later vaporetto to complete your journey.
- Go to Carnevale Venezia once in your life. Dress up, Enjoy the crowds and eat fritelle, which are only available during Carnival, from early January until the beginning of Lent.
- Eat Gelato in an outside gelateria on Lido along Santa Maria Isabella. We recommend also the little pasticceria by the fountain. It has outside tables and serves prosecco, wine, coffee and pastries, what more is there?
- Eat cichetti (small snacks) at your favorite bar with the locals. (Like the Vedova just off the CadOro Boat Stop .) There one in every neighborhood to be found by walking around and peering in the barcari (back street bars) until you see the locals gathering. I warn those of you who don’t like fish to just watch because Venetians eat fish and all types of seafood.
- Walk across the pontoon bridge at Redentore. Ok so you must be there on the 3rd Saturday of July to enjoy this tradition and the night’s fireworks with thousands of boats in the basin in front of San Marco.
- Take a trip across the canal in a traghetto (You stand up and are rowed across the canal. It saves time and is what all the locals do). The one at Traghetto di Santa Sofia near the boat stop Ca’d’Oro will take you across to the fish market or vice versa.
- Have a drink at the Bar on Hilton on Guidecca. It’s pricey and difficult to get to, but the view is pure art. (The Hilton occupies the old Mulino Stucky a flour mill built at the end of the 19th Century. It was built entirely of brick and employed 1,500 workers, closing in the 1950s. The restoration maintains much of the character of the old factory. )
- Visit the Fish Market, it is open by 7 in the morning which is when the restaurants and locals come to buy the seafood and produce for the days meals. (DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING! If you want to buy fruit, tell the salesperson what you want, you may point but Never Touch.)
- Order a Spritz with Aperol, the local truly Venetian drink. (Wine, aperol and soda) It will improve your day. More than one will make your day even more pleasant.
- Drink Cappuccino – everywhere. More pricey the nearer San Marco you are and if there are tables, it is more expensive because of the service. We just stand and an espresso is about .8 Euro, a cappuccino 1.5 Euro. If you are really game try a Caffè Correcto (that is an espresso with Grapa – just not for breakfast).
- Get a birds’ eye view of Venice from the top of the bell tower in Piazza San Marco. You can book your ticket online. It is open in the summer until about 10pm. Early morning and late afternoons are my favorite time….and while waiting for my booking time, I can have a Spritz at Bar Americano just across the square.
(Ok so there are more than 10 things to do in Venice! And there are so many more. Even after about 30 years exploring Venice, there are still places to explore and things to do.)
4 Things NOT to EVER DO.
1. NEVER: Sit on the steps anywhere, not on a bridge, not at a church, not on a boat (well you get it). These are peoples homes, businesses or religious buildings. And especially never lie down in any of these places.
2. NEVER: Block the boat stop entrance, too bad you don’t know if it is your boat. Locals know which boat to catch, but if you are blocking the way they cant get home to cook dinner, they cant get to school to pick up their children or they could miss their doctors appointment. Its their only method of transportation. The boat stop at Santa Lucia (Ferrovia) is the worst for this as tourist have just arrived clueless as to which direction to go. I’ll give you one BIG hint! Look at which way the boat is pointed if you dont want to go in that direction, its probably not your boat. There are a couple of exceptions on this, namely Fondamente Nove & Murano where boats run in two directions but only a 4.2 or a 5.2 will take you to Murano any other boat will take you on an adventure. (The 12 or 13 will also stop in Murano but you must catch it over the big bridge.)
3. NEVER: Throw ANYTHING into the canals! (Nevermind that some locals still do, perhaps we cant retrain them.)
4. NEVER: Block the aisles on the vaporetti, move inside. Yes I know you’d like to get a 2 hour video of the Grand Canal. If you want that, get up really early and take the boat – say 6:30am or and the lighting is perfect at this hour.
When you arrive in Venice, just remember Toto, you’re not in Kansas, slow down, and enjoy the lifestyle where the vaporetto controls the speed of life and walking 30 minutes a day wasn’t prescribed by your doctor, but necessity. Where weight lifting comes in the form of carrying your groceries over 3 bridges. But the fruit and vegies will come to you by boat if you are lucky.
Where bridges don’t always go anywhere.
Where sunsets and evening skies are paintings in the sky.