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.
Our Spotters give away their most local tips though, which means you’re not just stuck at Piazza San Marco like the other tourists. 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.
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.
Coffee straight from the roastery
The best way to get your caffeine shot is heading straight to Torrefazione Cannaregio according to our Spotter Annamaria.
As you may know, Italians have quite discriminating taste when it comes to coffee. Even the pickiest 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, you can get a membership card: 10 coffees for € 8.20 – which is super cheap for to the quality of the product!
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!
Discover all the ancient art production
The Orsoni furnace (active since 1888), is the only one still in the historic center and it has the merit of having revived the city’s sublime Byzantine mosaic art production and the Renaissance technique of Murano pure enamels.
If you book in advance, on Wednesday morning you can visit the furnace with a guide for free, to discover how the mosaic tiles are made and the various phases of the process: I learned that the first step is the crogiolo(where they melt the raw materials to form the opaque white body, to which are then added metal oxides to obtain the various colours), then there is “rullata” to realise “pani” of glass, until the insertion in the oven at slow sliding door, that gradually takes the glass plates at room temperature, so they can be cut in pieces with a machine. The most impressive thing is that the processes are handmade by Venetian people who keep the tradition alive.
The real gem of the furnace is the “Library of the colors”, the result of a long research work: it is a picturesque archive which preserves cataloged over 3,000 gradations of tones, and offers endless color combinations that are sold all over the world to either big company for architectural projects and individual people for private use.
The place also offers private mosaic lesson for 3,5,7 or 10 days where you can learn all the mosaic techniques and create your own work of art!
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!” writes our Spotter Filippo.
A dive into antique Venetian markets
The Antique Market in Campo San Maurizio has been the most bountiful market in Venice since it first started in 1970. It takes place in a spot close to the most crowded areas of the city, Although there you can still breathe authenticity and intimacy.
If you happen to be in Venice during one of the five weekends when the historic San Maurizio antiques market takes place, a visit is a must.
There are many exhibitors and they come from different cities in Italy. Each of them exhibits various goods, objects and curiosities from the past: books, furs, pipes, Murano chandeliers, old postcards, vintage shoes, pocket watches, leather bags, carpets and sunglasses, tea and coffee cups and plates, cutlery and jewellery.
There are pieces from the 1600s to the 1900s, beautiful and precious on display on typical wooden stands, and they attract many collectors and discerning experts. The stands are stormed by all sorts of interesting characters: from fashion-forward shopkeepers to local grandmothers.
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. Our Spotter Stacy’s 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.
A quick Island getaway
During summer, the big walking crowds in Venice, slowly marching through narrow streets and under a boiling sun, can make you feel like you’re suffocating. There are days when getting out of the huddle becomes indispensable, that’s why you shouldn’t think twice and head to La Certosa Island.
Looking at the Venice map this island is located right in front of San Piero di Castello, and it’s actually easy to reach by vaporetto lines 4.1, 4.2 or 5.1 and 5.2. In the past centuries, the island used to host convents and military structures, until massive renovation works took place beginning in the late 90s, mostly thanks to the initiative and passion of several local citizens associations and EU funds.
The island is now freely accessible and has been transformed into a wide green area where people can enjoy sunny days lying on the grass, watching the dogs and children running free and breathe some fresh air. Local people often reach la Certosa by boat, as a long dock surrounds it, and eases the access by water.
Party like a local
When our Spotter Filippo discovered campo san Giacomo dall’Orio he was very impressed about the festive atmosphere with a lot of kids running and having fun while energetic music was playing nearby.
Campo san Giacomo has one of the most ancient and beautiful churches in the city, probably built in 976 AD and known to be lived and always filled with locals. I love the trees spread in the square’s space, very rare for Venice. Here there are red benches all around to relish the trees’ shade during warm days and enjoy a drink from one of the close bars.
Filippo comes here by night when he’s looking to meet random people with whom to have fun, play guitar or sing and dance. This activity is in fact one of the most appreciated around here: in the middle of July there is a beautiful traditional festival that lasts 10 days called Sagra di San Giacomo. Furthermore, there are tango events every Tuesday starting at 21:00, from May 31 to October 1.
In a city that is invaded every day by thousands of tourists, it is necessary to have spaces in which to have some rest and carry on with our normal life. In Campo san Giacomo Filippo can see it and live it.
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! You don’t have to bring your own bottle for a refill but it is appreciated. Glass or plastic are equally acceptable.
Stacey loves 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.
Cross that bridge
Forte Marghera is a place you get affectionate about! Having lived in Mestre for a few years, during summers our Spotter Cecilia often finds herself spending evenings with friends in the fortress, surrounded by the hundred or so cats that live here.
The entire bay has recently been restored: many renovations have been made, although there is still much to do. The result for now is a large, well-organized area, with fields, canals, bars and exhibition areas that result in a mix of nature, history, culture and food and drink.
You can go there for a walk during a sunny day, immerse yourself in the green and sit next to the lagoon, or have a drink and eat at the restaurants there. There are bars and beer gardens, which are quite rustic and handy. During the summer, they organize exhibitions related to the Biennale, events and street food festivals.
If you want to add a precious gem in your day plan in Venice, I suggest you visit Santa Maria Dei Miracoli Church (Holy Mary of the Miracles). Even if am not a devotee, this small church fascinated me for its architecture and because it always reminds me of a treasure chest. It is an authentic treasure of Venice from a historical-artistic point of view, but also from a sentimental point of view for Venetians.
Built in the 15th century, it has remained practically untouched, unlike all the other churches in the city. The architecture is extraordinary, with both interior and facades sculpted and redressed with multi-colored marble. Three sides are visible from the streets, whereas one side directly overlooks a little canal crossed by gondole.
This small gem is hidden in Castello Area, the most authentic district of Venice. Once you have visited the church and admired the details carved into the marble, I suggest you stroll along the narrow streets and dive in all the off-the-beaten paths. There you will see clothes hanging out to dry, butchers and greengrocers. Cecilia suggests you to go the large field of San Giovanni e Paolo, to admire the majestic basilica and the wonderful entrance of the hospital with the same name.