La Bussola – Free walking tours of Venice
I cannot recommend this free walking tour company enough – La Bussola free tours of Venice were by far our favourite tours of the whole trip. They went beyond the typical sites that you can see on your own and opened up a whole new view of the beautiful city, unveiling many hidden secrets of Venice that we would otherwise have never found. The spots we were shown on this tour ended up becoming some of our most favourite locations! When we took the tours (we ended up taking both the morning and afternoon tours – you can do either or both as they take you to different parts of the city) our tourist guides were young, engaging, extremely knowledgeable and clearly very passionate about the city of Venice. As these are ‘free walking tours’ there is no pressure on how much to pay the tour guides at the end. They were honest and said they work hard because obviously this is their job and they want to impress their tour group to tip them well at the end of the tour, but we were never felt pressured into this, and ended up being very impressed by a tour that we felt the tour guides had put a lot of heart and effort into. The tour guides claimed they do not work with any partnerships with restaurants or places of interest, but instead we found they recommended their own personal favourites spots in the city and places they go to themselves and take their friends to. This was proven the next day when we just so happened to bump into one of our tour guides on his way to meet his friends for drinks at one of his own favourite bars, one he recommended to use the day before. The tours were extremely insightful but at the same time, comfortable like meeting up with a friend and having them take you around their home town.
Cicchetti – (Venetian style tapas – small appetizer servings of finger food like variations of bruschetta usually eaten with an Aperol spritz and potato crisps!) Trying cicchetti is a great way to tap into the Venetian lifestyle. Most Venetian bars will serve cicchetti from late morning to until well into the afternoon.
Jewish Ghetto – If you have a spare afternoon or morning this is a beautiful residential area to walk through. It is moreso a residential area but there are beautiful homes and canals to see.
Calle Priuli Racheta, 30121 Venezia, Italy
Great spot for apéritifs / drinks before dinner – Aperol spritz for €2, need I say more.
Calle della Bissa, 5453, 30124 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy
My favourite gelateria in Venice, serving seasonal flavours. I can’t go past their specialty flavour, the ‘Manet’ Pistachio with Salted caramel and Gianduia (the Italian dessert spread made from chocolate and hazelnut).
Ristorante Al Giardinetto da Severino
Salizada Zorzi 4928, 30122 VE, Italy
Stumbling upon this place on my first night in Venice was wonderful, such a beautiful setting and delicious, traditional Venetian home style cooking served in a beautiful courtyard. Reasonable pricing, good servings and excellent service.
Al Ponte Del Meggio
Santa Croce, 1666, 30135 Venezia, Italy
Very picturesque location perfect for a beautiful night when you can enjoy a table outside. Serving homestyle pasta and meat dishes. This is also nearby the extremely popular restaurant ‘La Zucca’ which I heard recommended multiple times but was unable to try myself as it was booked out, so do book La Zucca if you can, otherwise if you turn up and don’t get in like I did, I am sure that Al Ponte Del Meggio will not disappoint.
Bar la Toletta
Dorsoduro, 1191, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
Wonderful inexpensive sandwich place – 1.60 euro for a sandwich. Just be aware they sell sandwiches containing horse meat but have these clearly identified!
Liberia Acqua Alta
Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5176/B, 30122 Venezia, Italy
Probably the best example of creatively embracing the unique environment of the city of Venice.
Unmodestly dubbing itself as ‘the most beautiful bookshop in the world’ I am happy to say that so far I would not beg to differ. During Venice’s period of high tide that causes flooding throughout the city, also known as ‘acqua alta’ this charming second hand bookshop designed the bookstore in a way to embrace the high tide occurrence by cleverly shelving books higher than usual above the ground in addition to stacked in bathtubs and gondolas within the store to keep the books afloat during floods. This store is a maze of books which lead to outdoor areas featuring piled up books that had been the victim of flooding, now used as decorative walls and steps. The friendly resident cats quietly strut throughout the store and make sure you head to the back of the store to see their creative fire exit – an entire outdoor staircase made out of old books which lead to the top of the wall to overlook the back exit onto a canal. A magical and creative place to visit and get lost amongst the books (maybe even literally).
Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5183, San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy
Upfront I will say that this place was my all-time favourite ‘fancy’ restaurant on my whole Italian trip. Our wonderful travel guide suggested this place to us as this was one of his all time favourite places. It did not disappoint, it was one of my most memorable meals in Italy (the others being in Sorrento and Santa Margherita as well as my relative’s home cooking of course!) Partner your meal with a gin and tonic, as not only does Enoiteca Mascerata serve up amazing meals but they also specialize in serving the best range of gin.
The lovely Paolo came over and asked what tastes we like to drink and magically whipped us up 3 completely different but equally extraordinary gin and tonics each featuring different flavour varieties whether it was citrus and spice, berry and floral or peppery and tart. Our main meals also featured Venetian specialties including baccala, ox cheek and polenta.
Top three viewpoints of Venice:
1. Campanile di San Marco
2. Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (told to watch the church change colour during sunset)
3. Scala Contarini del Bovolo (not for the faint hearted or anyone who isn’t whiling to trek it up the long spiral staircase to the top!
Where to ride a gondola in Venice
Venice now has a fixed rate of €80 for a half an hour gondola ride, but the fixed rate does not mean that all rides are equally as enjoyable. There are many overcrowded and not so friendly spots and gondeliers you may see on your walk through Venice, but from what we saw and heard, one of the best (more quieter) places to catch a gondola ride was right in front of the Querini Stampalia in the Campo Santa Maria Formosa – one of the best places to catch a gondola (a bit of a more quieter spot with less traffic, but always ensure to ‘interview’ your gondola driver before you choose them to ensure they are going to provide you with a worthwhile experience and not just ignore you and use their phones during the whole journey. As you are selecting a driver for a memorable (and expensive) experience, there is no shame in taking the time to select a gondola driver, you might want someone who will talk (or sing!) to you during the ride or may be able to provide you with some local knowledge and travel tips for the city or is at least friendly enough to make your €80 half an hour trip an enjoyable one! Alternatively, if you are not too fussed on travelling on a gondola ride for half an hour but would still like to enjoy an even more authentic water travel method in Venice, read on about taking a quick trip across the Grand Canal on the Traghetto below.
Travelling around Venice
I learnt the hard way and lugged my suitcase around for the half an hour walk from the train station to my hotel, across a total of 10 bridges. I would not recommend this. Of course this is dependant on whereabouts you are staying but instead of paying for a gondola I recommend looking into another two different methods of public water transportation:
The Traghetto is a public gondola that offers short rides across the Grand Canal. There are only four stations along the Grand Canal where you can take the Traghetto which travels to and from stations across the Grand Canal continuously throughout the day for approximately €2 per single ride each way. The functioning stations and their daily times vary depending on the season so it is advisable to check which stops are in use as well as the hours of operation during your stay in Venice.
2. Il Vaperetto:
The Vaperetto is the Venice ferry which takes the most wonderfully scenic route via the Grand Canal. I would recommend taking the Vaporetto for the entire route the whole way through from the St Marks Square through the 40 – 60 minute ride it takes via the Grand Canal to the train station at least once. It is a beautiful ride where you can enjoy the best views of the front entrances of all the places situated on the Grand Canal, what is technically the ‘main street’ of Venice. As the front entrances in Venice face the canals, this ride offers you a beautiful different point of view as opposed to walking through the laneways.