A city built on water: the home of gondolas, spritz and cicchetti culture; winding alleyways and some stunning vistas of some seriously old architecture. This is your Venice Travel Guide for everything to do, see and the best food and spritz in Venice.
I was worried I would find Venice overrated and it wouldn’t live up to the likes of Florence and Bologna – surely somewhere in Italy had to be all hype? How wrong I was. Venice is absolutely wonderful – probably one of my favourite cities in the world – and it’s truly as pretty as the pictures make out, around every corner. My first trip to the Floating City was during Carnival in February; an absolute dream to see everyone dressed up in their opulent Venetian costumes, and a brilliant chance to practice my photography. It also happened to coincide with the Italian outbreak of coronavirus! At the time I didn’t take it overly seriously (little did I know…) and continued to drink as much spritz and eat as much cicchetti as I could in lieu of missing out on the attractions that had “temporarily” shut.
I recently had fortune to revisit this brilliant city on the water, and not only do the things I missed out on last time, but experience the city in the summer months instead. I’ll drink spritz any time of year (the Venetians certainly do), but it hits differently in the sunshine!
FOOD AND DRINK
Venice is historically a city of fishermen and merchants who worked hard, had little time for a meal but would drink frequently. Wine would be steadily drunk at bacaros (small wine bars) throughout the day and night – even now it’s common to see locals standing outside a bacaro at 10 or 11am with a glass of wine in hand. Given this drinking culture, bar owners started to serve small bites to eat to help soak up all the wine, and so – cicchetti was born! Usually served on a slice of sliced baguette, common toppings include plenty of seafood, salami, cheese and the most famous of all the Venetian cicchetti – bacala, or creamed cod. It’s absolutely delicious!
Cicchetti is still a huge part of Venetian culture, and honestly my favourite way to do Venice is to graze my way around the city, snacking and drinking as the locals do. It’s cheap – most cicchetti will range between €1.50 – €3.50 a piece. San Polo is one of the very best areas for the small wine bars serving cicchetti. Bear in mind a lot of these places will be standing only, with people drinking and eating propped at the bar along the wall or spilling out into the street – even in the winter. I’ve listed below where I know there to be seating.
San Polo, 436, 30125 Venezia
First time I ventured here I was able to easily grab one of the few tables outside and order quickly – turns out since then All’Arco has been featured on Stanley Tucci’s Searching For Italy. But hey, at least the queue I was faced with this time around shows I know what I’m talking about! All’Arco is open from 9am to mid afternoon only – arrive in the morning to beat the lunchtime rush. There are a handful of tables on the street to sit at.
Ca’ d’Oro Alla Vedova
Ramo Ca’ d’Oro, 3912, 30121 Venezia
Without question the best polpette (meatballs) in Venice. Ridiculously good, plenty of people come to Alla Vedova to purely eat the polpette with a glass of something outside the restaurant, buying extra to take away. Alla Vedova is also a restaurant though, and the pasta they serve is absolutely fantastic – also about €10 cheaper than other mains at most Venice Osterias. Highly recommend. Standing for cicchetti only – and totally worth it.
Enoteca Al Volto
C. Cavalli, 4081, 30124 Venezia
One of the oldest wine bars in Venice and another fantastic stop for cicchetti with both inside and outside tables. You can also grab a proper sit down meal here.
Sotoportego del Bancogiro, 130, 30125 Venezia
Slightly more expensive spot for spritz and cicchetti but the terrace is on the water, so it’s worth paying extra for the view of the gondolas sweeping past on the Grand Canal in the sunshine. Also a restaurant. Seats and tables available.
Osteria dai Zemei
San Polo 1045, b, 30125 Venezia
Osteria dai Zemei is a fantastic all day and evening spot where you can easily spend hours on end drinking spritz and making your way through their wide range of delicious cicchetti. There are a lot of tables outside this otherwise small bacaro, which is a much needed reprieve.
Cantina Do Mori
Calle Do Mori, 429, 30125 Venezia
One of the oldest bars in Venice, Cantina Do Mori dates back to the mid 1400s. The bar is covered with copper pots, serves a huge range of wines and plenty of cichhetti. Standing only.
C. Crosera, 3771, 30125 Venezia
Tiny wine and cicchetti bar with a range of natural wines in the Dorsoduro area. The real pull to this place for me was the wooden jetty you can sit on outside whilst sipping your drink. I saw the sky turn a magical hazy pink here as someone played the violin on one of the streets over. It doesn’t get more Italian.
Calle Stretta Lipoli, 3027, 30125 Venezia
Yet another wonderful spot for good espresso, cheap drinks and an abundance of delicious cicchetti. Bar Sundays this spot is open from morning until midnight, so if you’ve accidentally timed it wrong for some of the other spots, Adagio will get you out of a bind.
Cantine del Vino già Schiavi
Fondamenta Nani, 992, 30123 Venezia
A short walk from Ponte dell’Accademia, this cicchetti bar is set on the canal. It’s a down to earth place – cicchetti is served on plastic plates and drinks in a plastic cup! Even in February this place was heaving with people standing outside, perching their drinks and food on the wall and chatting endlessly.
Sestiere Santa Croce 1762, 30135 Venezia
A great choice if you’re a veggie looking for an excellent meal in Venice – lots of seasonable vegetables are used in their ever changing menu. Bookings highly recommended.
L’Bacaro de Bischeri
Ruga dei Oresi, 57, 30125 Venezia
Grabbing a sandwich to take away for the plane ride home is a favourite thing of mine to do when away – taking a little bit of the place home with you (and avoiding rubbish plane sandwiches) is always a good idea. L’Bacaro de Bischeri is the place! Firmly on my list for next time is grabbing one of L’Bacaro de Bischeri’s epic sandwiches, a bottle of wine, and sitting one on of Venice’s many quiet jetties on the water with my book. Idyllic.
Sotoportego de la Bissa, 5453, 30124 Venezia
A gelateria so famous at this point that the queue can get super long down the alleyway – but trust me, it’s worth the wait. They had a special that spoke to my heart – gianduja (chocolate hazelnut) with pistachio cream on top. Oh good LORD.
TOP TIP: Walk around the corner and eat your gelato on the bridge, watching the gondolas go by.
Salizada S. Lio, 5727, 30122 Venezia
I missed this gelateria but the ratings are ridiculous – definitely going to hunt this one down next time! In the meantime, can someone do a reccy and report back on the pistachio for me please?!
Fondamenta dei Ormesini, 2804, 30121 Venezia
This artisinal coffee spot in the Cannaregio area of Venice is a must if you’re into coffee. The staff really know what they’re talking about here, and you can buy beans to take home with you. They do a really good pain au chocolat, too!
Calle S. Pantalon, 3764, 30123 Venezia
A fantastic spot to get your pastry fill in the Dorsoduro are, Pasticceria Tonolo are famous for their Carnevale pastry, fittele, a fried doughnut filled with various flavours. But that’s not to say if you’re there at another time of year you shouldn’t seek out Tonolo, because you absolutely should!
You’ve probably already heard of Harry’s Bar, birthplace of the bellini and favourite haunt of the rich and famous. Brace yourself, because you’ll pay €20 for the privilege of drinking a Bellini at Harry’s, but this one to do for the experience of drinking in the same place as Hemingway.
I see this as more of a ‘thing to do’ rather than a food and drink recommendation per se, but to avoid confusion I’m listing it here anyway. Based on Piazza San Marco, stepping into Caffe Florian is like stepping back a few hundred year in time. It’s beautiful, but it’s also outrageously expensive – as in €12 for a coffee expensive. I did drop a week’s salary on an extremely velvety hot chocolate when I visited during Carnival, and seeing people in costume in Caffe Florian was worth the price tag, but for me once was enough.
Popular spot in multiple locations around the city for a quick lunch of big, delicious pizza slices. Not a Venetian speciality as wood fired ovens are illegal in the city after Teatro la Fenice burnt down, but Farini does it well!
THINGS TO DO
Venice has less to see than Rome or Florence, and I quite like that about it – it’s much easier to do a long weekend in Venice without feeling like you’ve missed something, and it allows for a slower pace of travel, which I prefer. It also allows more time to spritz my way around the city…
Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square)
Particularly cool during Carnival with everyone dressed up and posing for photos, Piazza San Marco is a huge, sweeping square that houses Basilico San Marco, the Campanile and famed Caffe Florian. Certainly worth a wander through, but I’d stick to the less obvious areas to stop for spritz, as you’ll be paying at least double in Piazza San Marco.
St Mark’s Basilica
Dating back over 1000 years, Basilica di San Marco is one of the most unique churches to view from the outside, with five domes atop of it and beautiful mosaic inside. It’s only €3 (€6 in advance) for a ticket to explore inside, but if you part with €7 you can visit the Museum and Loggia – or outdoor corridor/terrace that overlooks St Mark’s Square.
San Marco Campanile
I hate stairs, so it was a delight to find I wouldn’t have to tackle some rickety old stairs to reach the top of the bell tower for sweeping views over Piazza San Marco and Venice beyond – there’s a lift! €10 to buy a ticket when there or €12 to book in advance, this is well worth the visit for the beautiful views. If you go at the right time of year you could easily time a visit for sunset, which would be quite something.
TOP TIP: Book entry to the Basilica and Campanile online in advance to ensure you don’t get stuck in a long queue! Super easy and definitely worth it in such a touristy city. I managed to book the day before.
The oldest of Venice’s famous bridges, Rialto is a popular tourist spot. Certainly worth seeing, and there are lots of really great cicchetti places in arm’s reach over in the San Polo area. People often line the bridge to watch the sunset over Venice.
The view from Accademia Bridge makes this one of the best and most popular spots to watch the sun set – or rise! – over Venice. Looking across to the dome of Santa Maria della Salute and watching the boats and gondolas pass through the Grand Canal is my favourite vista in the city.
TOP TIP: Grab a takeaway Aperol Spritz and enjoy it on the bridge as the day comes to a close.
Gondola Ride on the Grand Canal
The most cliche thing you can possibly do in Venice is, of course, take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal. Fun fact: there are nearly as many gondoliers as bridges in Venice – over 400! Their gondolas are beautifully carved and furnished with plush seats. It also costs a minimum of €80 (€100 at night) to enjoy said beautifully carved gondola with plush seats. This is advertised as being for 30 minutes, but when you get to it they state it’s between 20-30 minutes “depending on traffic”. They will then also indicate that price will take you down the main Grand Canal only, but it will be €20 more to go down the smaller canals too (which to be honest, you do kinda wanna do). So yes, it’s a bit of a rip off in the way it escalates. But I can’t lie, I absolutely loved it. However, I wasn’t paying (thanks for the treat, Mum)!
Good news is you can fit 5 people in one gondola, so if you can fill a boat you’re looking at approx €20pp for a quintessentially Venetian experience. Is it a must do? Only if you’ve got the money – otherwise take the vaporetto to take in Venice by boat.
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo
This old palazzo is a stunning piece of architecture by way of its open spiral staircase on the outside of the building, with arched open windows all the way up. The views at the top span across Venice, taking in St Mark’s and Santa Maria della Salute in the distance. A must do.
T fondaco Rooftop Terrace
I love a rooftop bar, but Venice’s offering are expensive, there are few of them and they are not necessarily easy to get to – namely: on surrounding islands away from Venice itself, or part of an exclusive hotel. This well kept secret is a rooftop terrace/observation platform at the top of a department store. The view overlooks the Rialto Bridge and the sweeping vista of the Grand Canal. There’s no bar up there, but the great news is to visit is free! Make sure to book online in advance as you will get turned away in busy periods if you have not booked a timeslot.
The Bridge of Sighs
The legend goes that if you kiss your lover whilst passing under the Bridge of Sighs, you’ll always be in love. You’d think that would be where the romantic notion of the sighing element comes from, but history tells us that prisoners passing from the prison through the Doge’s palace to their deaths would look out of the window of the enclosed bridge and sigh at their last glimpse of beautiful Venice.
Oh beautiful Burano! All of the buildings are painted a different bright colour on this small island – it’s a must see when visiting Venice. Catch the vaporetto from Fondamente Nove, and 45 mins later you’ll be wandering the quiet, colourful streets of Burano. Combine with a stop in Murano for a full day out.
Larger than its colourful cousin, Murano is famous for glass making, and whilst you can pick up Murano glass in Venice itself, a trip over to the island will allow you a visit to the museum that tells the history of making this unique glass. The church is also worth a visit.
The Doge of Venice, or Duke, used to reside here before the palace later became a government building – including a prison! It is now a museum, and a wonderful example of gothic architecture. If you want to cross the bridge of sighs, access to the Doge’s Palace is the key. Worth a wander round if you’ve got time for some Venetian history.
Teatro La Fenice
Beautiful old opera house that has been rebuilt to its former glory after a fire in the 90s. You can pay to access a tour here, but it would be really something to see a performance in this amazing space!
The cheapest and quickest option to getting from Marco Polo airport to Venice itself is the coach, which costs about €8 each way and takes around 20 min. However, there is something pretty cool about hopping on a boat from the airport to city! It’ll set you back €15 one way (€27 for a round trip) and take anywhere between 45 mins and 1 hour 15 depending whereabouts along the Grand Canal you’re being dropped. It’s fun and unique and for many people it’ll get you closer to where you need to be in Venice, as otherwise you will need to take the vaporetto from the bus station to your stop along the Grand Canal.
Venice is a bit of a maze, with narrow winding streets that look like they could be dead ends and over 400 bridges connecting the streets over the canals. The good thing is Venice is pretty small, so you can easily get around on foot with the guidance of Google Maps or MapsMe. Every so often gondolas will take you across the river for approx. €2 euro at a time to save you time and backtracking.
Private water taxis run 24 hours in Venice, but as you would expect, they’re pricey. The vaporetto is a must. Download the AVM Venezia app for timings of the boats and to buy a ticket via the app. Don’t panic, if you don’t manage this and there isn’t a ticket machine at your stop, you can purchase onboard the boat – cards accepted. You will need to remember to validate your physical ticket before use at the jetty (same as with train tickets across Italy).
The vaporetto ticket valid for 75 minutes is a lot at €9.50 , but if you plan well, a 24 hour pass for €25 or a 48 hour pass for €35 will be a great investment for your time in Venice. The pass is by number hours rather than by date, so if you plan it across multiple days you’ll get a lot out of it. The pass is also valid for the outer islands such as Burano, Murano and Lido.
TOP TIP: Got time left on your vaporetto pass? Hop on a boat for an hour and take in the sights as you go down the grand canal at sunset.
THINGS TO NOTE
There is a lot of signage for public toilets around the city, so you’re never caught short. There’s a small charge for usage – take cash.
Narrow alleyways and stepped bridges mean that Venice is not a good city to tackle if you’re not fully mobile or have a pram. There is step free access to the vaporetto boats, but I think it would be a challenge overall.
WHEN TO GO
As with anywhere in Europe, summer is high season so it’s going to be very busy with tourists. Carnival is also a peak time for tourism, so prices for accommodation are going to be higher even though it’s winter (I actually stayed in Treviso and took the train into Venice each day in order to be able to afford the trip). Shoulder season would be bliss, and I’d even go in full winter, but be warned that if it’s a time for heavy rainfall Venice can regularly flood.
Want to receive travel inspiration, tips and recommendations straight to your inbox? Sign up below!