Venice is undoubtedly a very beautiful city, everywhere you look there’s another wonderful piece of architecture, frescoes or simply the privilege of walking through renaissance Palladio streets. That’s before you think of gondola rides and fabulous food. Here are my top ten tips for navigating the crowds and seeing some of the Venice that isn’t in the big guide books..
One Street Over
The streets around St Marks Square, the Rialto Bridge and the Strada Nova are always very crowded. Be brave, move one street over – running parallel and you often find it’s much quieter. This is how the Venetians get around and avoid what they call ‘Zombie Street’.
Walk Like A Venetian
The impossibly narrow alleyways between the buildings in Venice were never intended for walking through. Hundreds of years ago when the buildings were erected these were simply the spaces between one plot and another. Once the spaces were paved and walking was as popular as getting about by boat, it was necessary to have a protocol to make navigating these narrow passages. Walking on the right is the Venetian way that keeps people moving and not bumping into each other, or constantly dodging oncoming pedestrians.
Explore On Foot
Talking of paved alleyways – walking is really the best way to see Venice. A small city with paved or cobbled streets and no cars, this is the fastest way of getting around. On the way you’ll discover beautiful squares, intimate coffee shops and Bàcaro – more of those later.
Do Drink The Water
Water fountains are common place in the Campo (squares), often decorated with a lion’s head and some intricately carved. The water gushes from a brass spout and is perfectly safe to drink. The clear mountain water comes from the Dolomites.
As a regular tourist battling your way down ‘Zombie Street’ map in hand, checking every few metres that you’ve made the right turn, you’ll have missed a whole other Venice. Look UP! There are frescos in the colonnades that house the most mundane shops. Fabulous carvings on the sides of structures and gardens spilling out over the sides of buildings, casting bright flowers into the space below, all above your head.
Throw Away The Map
Now that you know what you could miss, throw away the map. Get lost and then you’ll really discover Venice. You might have to double back to find a bridge or you could take that tiny alleyway, Venice is very safe so there’s nothing to fear in the passages. Even tiny churches have beautiful works of art in them, anything from stunning frescos and alter pieces to the sheer simplicity of a gracefully crafted wooden ceiling. Explore the Campos (squares) and feel the real Venice.
Wine On Tap
As you pass the local shops on your map free walk, you’ll see signs for wine sold by the litre or litre and a half at very cheap prices, if you bring your own plastic bottle to be filled. Enjoy a Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet or Rabosso Rose for just a couple of euros.
Cut Price Gondola
A Gondola ride can be quite expensive at 60€ for 30 minutes your ride can go in a flash of cash. You can take a Gondola Traghetto ‘Bus’, an extra long boat with two gondoliers, that you stand up in or, if you get to the running boards in time you can perch. Forget the plush cushions, gold decorations and possibilities for romantic moments, this is a purely to get you from A to B – standing up. Venetians use them when the next bridge is a long walk away, for a quick nip across the Grand Canal, 70c for locals and 2€ for everyone else.
Bàcaro – Eat Like A Venetian
Food in Venice can be very expensive and not always as good as you might hope. In the small back streets in the San Polo and Cannaregio areas of Venice the bars Baàcaro serve Chichetti (Chee-Ket-eeh). Little bites of food similar to Tapas, often featuring traditional Venetian recipes or new twists on the old favourites for a mere 1.50€ – 3.50€. This is where Venetians meet after work for a glass of wine and a crisp fried stuffed courgette flower or creamed salt cod bruschetta. The variety is enormous and the atmosphere friendly and welcoming. Be prepared to eat standing up, as many don’t have tables or are so popular that the customers spill out onto the street in a noisy babble.
Ombre means shadow, years ago the Venetians used to store the wine bottles in the shadow cast by the barrels in the strong Italian sunlight. Ombre has now come to be the small tumblers of wine that you can order at the local cafes and bàcaro. Try an Ombre – red, white or rose and finish your trip like a Venetian.