Venice seems to stand still in time. Not in a bad way: there are no cars to spoil the experience, the centuries-old streets still bear their secrets, and the gondolas cross the water like they always did. La Serenissima is a city with many faces and switches between them as easily as you’d change a mask.
The winding alleys are a maze – there’s nothing to do about that, we don’t even want to. Our Spotters give away their most local tips though, which means you’re not just stuck at Piazza San Marco like the other tourists. We help you discover the real gems in a time where mass tourism is an actual issue. Get lost in Venice, you won’t regret it for a second.
Where it all began
The Murano and Burano islands are very well-known by visitors coming to Venice: they’re commonly considered to be a “must-do” day trip, and you definitely can’t argue with that. However, Torcello’s charm deserves much more recognition. Despite its small dimensions and fame, it is often underrated. Just a five-minute vaporetto trip from Burano, this is one of the most ancient settlements of the lagoon. The beautiful Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, as well as the Santa Fosca church and other archaeological remains, are there to testify for it.
When I have spare time, or better, when friends come visit me, I usually take the chance to take them to this place. Not only for the “countryside” atmosphere of the sparsely inhabited island but also because of the magnificent big Byzantine mosaic inside the Basilica, representing the Last Judgement. Which is just beautiful.
There are a couple of restaurants on the road towards the Basilica square which are quite affordable and have friendly staff. Don’t miss the “Devil’s bridge” on the right (Ponte del Diavolo), as there are only two of its kind still standing in the whole Venetian lagoon. It might be fun to try and find the other one while wandering through Venice. — Matteo Giarraffa
Coffee straight from the roastery
I am one of those people who find it really difficult to start the day without a good charge of caffeine. The best way to do it is heading straight to Torrefazione Cannaregio – thank God it’s on my way to the university!
As you may know, Italians have quite discriminating taste when it comes to coffee. But I can ensure you that even the pickiest ones will be fully satisfied trying the coffee here. While walking in the always-crowded Strada Nuova you barely see the shop if you’re not looking for it. Once inside, the smell of freshly roasted coffee, the small size of the workshop and the retro and old fashioned interior design, jute bags and exposed beams, immediately bring you to another world far away from the busy people outside.
Torrefazione Cannaregio, founded in 1939, is the last coffee shop with an in-store roasting license. The higher quality coffees from all over the world are processed each day and mixed in front of you. You can even taste them just toasted in steaming cups releasing such an overwhelming perfume that I always take at least 5 minutes to enjoy my coffee. Together with your coffee, it’s always a pleasure to eat some small pastries and cookies or brioches. If you’re staying in Venice for a while, I really suggest you get the membership card: 10 coffees for € 8.20 – which is super cheap compared to the quality of the product! — Annamaria Bergamo
Spectacular Venice views from above
Talk about a hidden gem! This architectural phenomenon has re-opened after generations of restoration and squabble. I have always enjoyed touring first timers around the city… bobbing and weaving through narrow calles and then suddenly stopping here. Surprise! Welcome to the visually stunning cylindrical tower of Scala Contarini del Bovolo! A ‘bovolo’ in Venetian dialect is a snail shell.
Venice is filled with the rich history of wealthy families outdoing one another in home design. Just take a ride down the Grand Canal to enjoy the visual game of “I have more money than you do”! The uniqueness of this particular palace is that it is located in a dead-end ‘calle’ (street) genuinely hidden from any passerby. The design is purely aesthetic, a unique combination of Gothic, Renaissance and Venetian-Byzantine.
The purpose, apparently, was to decorate the plain palace which it conceals. The stairs spiral up to a ‘loggia’ (covered terrace) with the most spectacular views of the city I have ever enjoyed. I literally feel closest to the core of the city here, pivoting above the lagoon, ticking off each campanile by name. The views from the top floor are so stunning…words simply can not do this spot justice! — Stacy Gibboni
Discover all the great literature
The Marco Polo bookshop is a magic place. This little bookshop has fulfilled the desire of its friends and customers to read and learn for years, with an assortment of independently published books and a large section of illustrated books for children and adults. The owners carefully choose both the publishers and the books. They mainly sell books which they’ve read themselves.
I like to see that the window of the bookshop is often updated with a sense of humor and imagination, displaying different books each time. The new selection can be based on issues discussed at a local or international level, on new or special editions, or even on the creativity of the bookseller. Besides selling books, the Marco Polo bookshop is also a cultural meeting place and it often hosts book presentations and literary events.
The books of Marco Polo bookshop are kind of a treasure. Sometimes they find the right reader and other times it’s the reader who has the chance to finally find that long-desired book. I love the Marco Polo bookshop because it’s a part of the city that is so alive and courageous that everyone should experience it. — Nicoletta Bortoluzzi
Take a walk along the water
Venice is well-known for its narrow streets and its fascinating hidden corners. Little space, super-full paths. Nevertheless, an exception does exist: Fondamenta Delle Zattere, also simply called Zattere. This street is very long and wide and looks at the Giudecca canal. It brushes almost the whole south side of the city. The name Zattere, ‘rafts’ in English, likely derives from the large wooden platforms that people used in the past to transport salt.
Walking along the Zattere is pleasant and relaxing; in the morning the bright sunlight spreads and reflects in every direction like nowhere else in the city. During the last hours of the day, beautiful sunsets light up the horizon toward the mainland. There are bars and restaurants all along the way, perfect places to have dinner or a drink after work while enjoying an amazing view.
During daytime lots of people come here and sit on the ground, chatting and chillin’. It’s easy to find musicians or even painters; nearby Giudecca‘s island and the distant shapes of the city’s buildings offer inspiration for both of them. Zattere represents Venice’s soul well: cheerful and joyful. If I want to have a good conversation with a friend while sunbathing and sipping a beer, this is the perfect spot! — Filippo Muraro
Mouthwatering ice cream
When someone says “Gianduiotto” in Venice, someone else answers “Nico”. That’s the reason why it’s hard to call this spot a hidden place in Venice. But for the same reason, you can’t leave Venice before tasting at least one Gianduiotto on the Zattere.
Forget calories and your diet because Gianduiotto is probably one of the most caloric things you will taste here. But come on, ice cream is always a good idea! What is Gianduiotto? A gianduja bar poured into a cup of whipped cream, which nowadays we would probably hashtag as #foodporn.
Nico is located on the Zattere, the panoramic boardwalk of Venice which runs from San Basilio to Punta della Dogana. Actually, it’s not only a historical ice cream shop but also a bar where you can have your aperitivo. Even if it’s famous for the takeaway Gianduiotto, it’s sort of a ritual to welcome the spring season whilst enjoying this delicious ice cream and sunbathing on the Zattere. But of course, it’s good comfort food throughout the entire year. — Enrica Pressanto
Europe’s first Ghetto
Past and present collide in a unique and often overlooked quarter of La Serenissima, Venice’s Jewish Ghetto. A vibrant community throughout history, the “ghetto” is a must-see destination for those who seek the true spirit and diversity of Venice.
The origin of the word ghetto comes from this place, Europe’s first marginalized community. In Venetian dialect, iron work foundries were called “geti”. The foundries were located here as the area is completely encircled by canals. Isolating the island, thus minimizing the threat of potential fire risk while simultaneously offering a convenient location to contain a rapidly growing community in the early 1500s.
The first individuals to live here were Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. In their native tongue, the word “geti” (foundry) became “gheto”. Which evolved to our present-day use of the word “ghetto”, defining an area of a city who’s members are of a particular socio-economic or minority group.
Upon entering this community, take notice of the height of the buildings, the tallest in Venice. Hosting up to seven floors, they were built to accommodate the growing number of people emigrating to the islands. Today, the campo is brimming with playing children. The smell of fresh baked bread and pastries waif through the calle (streets). Antique shops, furniture restorers, art galleries and Kosher restaurants mingle with typical Venetian merchants. My favorite activity here is a visit to the Museo Ebraico di Venezia (Hebrew Museum) followed by a canal-side lunch at Gam Gam Kosher restaurant. — Stacy Gibboni
Pasta as it’s supposed to be
Looking for the typical Venetian taste? Osteria Ai Promessi Sposi is one of my favorite spots in Venice when I want to have such a dinner. Actually, the first reason to fall in love with this place is the location. It’s close to Strada Nova but in a little street far away from the masses of tourists.
When I say “typical Venetian osteria”, I mean something like Osteria Ai Promessi Sposi. Basic furniture, a small room, wooden tables (small of course) and a traditional menu which never changes. And that’s the point: here you can taste what Venetian cuisine has to offer. The best and delicious way to start this experience is by ordering a mix of “cicchetti” (starters) such as “sarde in saor” and “baccalà” (a kind of marinated sardines or codfish).
The atmosphere is cozy and a little bit crowded. People go to Promessi Sposi not just to have dinner or lunch but to have a glass of wine (no spritz served here) and to eat cicchetti. If you book in advance you’ll get the chance to have dinner in the nice little garden. — Enrica Pressanto
Experience the local Venice
If you want to escape the crowds and enjoy a wonderful view in peace, you should definitively reach the island of Giudecca. To get there you have to take the vaporetto (water bus). No bridge connects Giudecca to Venice. Since the price of the vaporetto is quite high for non-residents, many tourists are discouraged and the island is mainly occupied by locals. Make sure you have planned your vaporetto trips well or buy a daily ticket.
As a local, I like Giudecca because I feel that it’s still real and authentic. Compared to other areas of Venice, certainly more picturesque, in Giudecca you won’t find many tourist shops. Rather old people playing cards, children playing and some cats enjoying the silence.
The island is also home to one of the most important churches in Venice. The Church of Redentore is tied to a special feast celebrated every year in July. If you happen to be there you can’t miss it! On the island you can also find Palazzo Tre Oci which usually hosts beautiful photography exhibitions. Molino Stucky, a former mill, is now converted into a luxury hotel with a terrace and a stunning view from the Skyline Rooftop Bar. But Giudecca is even more. The view over Venice is worth a long walk. My advice: do not forget your camera and enjoy wandering as much as you can! — Nicoletta Bortoluzzi
Save water, drink wine!
Vino sfuso, literally wine from the cask or demijohn, is a delicious staple in the Italian diet. Daily, families take their empty bottles down to the local cantina for a refill of their preferred grape.
Throughout history, wine and beer were consumed by all, as it was often safer than drinking water. Your enemies could easily poison the water supply you know! Drink vino (wine) instead! Table wine usually hovers around the eleven percent alcohol level, making it light enough for lunch. In Venice, each neighborhood has at least one cantina to choose from. These are genuine local businesses that do not cater to tourists. So, be prepared to practice your Italian and pay in cash.
In each region of the country, you will find this type of shop. It’s usually conveniently located near the butcher or baker. Regionalism is a predominant cultural element of the Italian lifestyle. So, in Tuscany drink Chianti and in Venice drink Prosecco! My wine guy, Carlo, greets me gratefully when I donate a surplus of plastic water bottles to the shop. You don’t have to bring your own bottle for a refill but it is appreciated. Glass or plastic are equally acceptable.
I love the quote hanging above the demijohns here. It less poetically translates into English as “there is no moonlight without the sunshine and there is no wine without the coin!” Vinaria Nave de Oro also offers a small selection of DOC and DOCG certified wines for purchase and on occasion local salami too! — Stacy Gibboni
Cross that bridge
Forte Marghera is a beautiful spot just at the end of the bridge that connects Venice to the old city Mestre – its mainland. From May to September it’s perhaps one of the most-visited places by locals and, even in winter, it offers something special.
Forte Marghera is the biggest former military fort of the area, with buildings dating back to the Napoleonic and Austrian period. It’s now a large public space that brings together associations of the city of Venice. It is a perfect place for a walk, to have a drink with friends, to dine in conviviality, but also to listen to a free concert and see exhibits of local artists. I love this place because you can feel the passion of the associations, the artists and the people who live it every day with their ideas and hard work.
Among others, Forte Marghera hosts three different restaurants (Gatto Rosso, La Dispensa, and il Bagolaro), managed by a cooperative of local youngsters ControVento. You can have good and reasonable local food and it also houses two associations for the protection of cats, which make this place even more magical. In other words, be brave, cross the bridge, Venice is also the mainland! — Nicoletta Bortoluzzi
For a livable Venice
Perhaps many aren’t expecting it, but Venice has a rebellious and combative soul. It tries to resist the undeniable trend in the city to only show its “postcard” appearance, perfect for day trippers but not for citizens. Venice is, in fact, a city that fights to allow its residents to have a bakery and a grocery store, not just mask shops – most of them unfortunately not authentic. Laboratorio Morion is one of the symbols of Venice trying to resist the barbarization tied to the mere tourist business.
Laboratorio Morion is an autonomous, self-managed space, located in a popular area, far from the tourist and commercial parts of Venice. The building was restored through a process of recovery, re-design and self-construction by the local activists and volunteers that are part of Laboratorio Morion. It is animated by activists and volunteers who seek to use the space as a place of aggregation of locals for social and political debate. Recently it became a reference point for the city’s battle against the passage of the largest cruise ships in the Venice lagoon.
It is a space open to collaboration with local residents, associations, committees and working groups. It’s sensitive to cultural, linguistic, musical and gastronomic contamination. Concerts, dinners, and debates are often organized to support the activities of Laboratorio Morion. — Nicoletta Bortoluzzi
For more hidden gems, check out Spotted by Locals Venice.