Anybody who has been to Venice will tell you that the vision of Gondolas sliding down calm waters and gondoliers serenading passengers with songs is but a myth to lure naive tourists.
Reality is very different – thousands of tourists crowding Rialto Bridge, roses being peddled to unsuspecting couples at the bridge, milling crowds at San Marco square trying to get a photo with the pigeons, and insistent vendors hounding tourists. In order to pander to the myth of the ‘romantic’ city, some parts of Venice seem to have been converted into some sort of cluttered theme park (a European Orlando if you may!).
But then there are pockets of Venice that we love. Venice is divided into 6 districts and it’s quite ironic that most of them don’t see too many tourists. Yes, you heard that right! If you wander outside the popular and over-crowded San Marco District, you will be hard pressed to find more than a dozen tourists at any given time. Here locals go about their daily chores, canals flow at an unhurried pace, and there are piazzas laden with history.
Our Top 5 Things to do in Venice range from culinary experiences to historic ones, but there is a common thread running through them. All of them showcase Venice the way it was supposed to be – historic, decadent, and gorgeous. Here are our 5 favourite things to do in Venice along with tips that will help you enjoy the city. As always there is a LOT of food involved – hey it’s Italy, we couldn’t possibly explore it without sampling the food could we? 🙂
#1 WANDER AND GET LOST
Did you know that Venice is an archipelago of 117 islands interconnected by bridges. Tourists have the option of commuting using private water taxis (from €30/per head) and public water buses (€7/one way ticket). But the best way to get around is to walk, just like the locals. Skip the water buses and water taxis (unless you have luggage on you – Venice’s narrow alleys are a nightmare with luggage) and explore this city on foot.
Venice’s alleys and bridges look the same and you will definitely get lost but that is the fun of it. Reward yourself with a gelato at a gelateria you might never find again 🙂
#2 EXPLORE CASTELLO
Of the six districts of Venice, Castello is the one closest to San Marco District. It might be just a 10 minute walk away from San Marco square but it’s a world away from the overpriced food and grumpy shop owners of the touristy areas in Venice. Avoid the main road and wander into the little alleys and piazzas of Castello – here friendly shop owners and gorgeous canals take centre stage.
This is also the perfect area for renting an apartment in Venice – it’s close enough to the heart of Venice without feeling cluttered or overcrowded. We rented a really spacious apartment in Castello with Gowithoh.
It is easy to spend a leisurely afternoon exploring Castello. We suggest picking some sun-dried tomatoes, olives, salad from a deli or supermarket and picnicking by the canal under the Italian sun. Well, that’s what we did 🙂
#3 GO FOR AN INDULGENT MEAL AT AMAN CANAL GRANDE
If you’re in the mood to indulge yourself or you’re celebrating a special occasion, drop by the Dining Room at Aman Canal Grande, Venice. George Clooney got married there last week and if it’s good enough for Clooney, it’s good enough for us eh 😉
Aman Canal Grande is one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. The historical building is actually a Count’s palatial mansion which has been refurbished as a hotel. The intimate dining room resembles the Count’s private dining area with intricate frescos and ornate chandeliers. Make sure you ask for a seat by the window, so you can spend your evening sipping vintage wine and watching gondolas float past on the canal 🙂
As for the food, it’s downright amazing. There are no pretentious portions here – the sharing plates on the menu are an obvious ode to Italian mamas’ rustic style of cooking. We loved the in-house smoked salmon and the fennel and orange salad. The latter was such a simple dish but its delicate flavours made the tongue dance.
This nuanced play of flavours was the highlight of the entire meal for us. We opted for a pasta dish and lamb cutlets for our main course. Chef Riccardo’s food comes straight from the heart – so the meat was succulent and the pasta was cooked to the perfect al-dente consistency. We wrapped up our meal with a platter of mini desserts and Chef Riccardo’s signature caramelised fruits – glistening fruits that seemed to be inspired by Murano’s glass bubbles.
This is food so exquisite that it’s almost sensual. Go for it – it’s an experience you won’t forget 🙂 A 3 course meal with a drink or two costs around €100/head. More information on their website www.amanresorts.com
#4 GO FOR AN EARLY MORNING/LATE NIGHT ADVENTURE
It might be cluttered, overcrowded, and disturbing during the day, but the area surrounding Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square is definitely worth a dekko. Make sure you drop by late at night (and we mean REALLY late at night) when crowds have dispersed or early in the morning before most tourists get in. The difference might shock you.
If you make it to San Marco Square early in the morning, then do climb atop the San Marco Bell Tower – it offers gorgeous panoramic views of Venice. Try reaching before 9.30 am to skip queueing up. We also love watching gondolas bobbing on peaceful waters at the pier by San Marco Square late at night. The midnight moon peeking out from the clouds with the majestic San Maggiore cathedral lit in the distance can be quite a vision 🙂
#5 EXPLORE CANNAREGIO AND THE JEWISH GHETTO
Cannaregio is definitely one of our favourite districts of Venice. It’s next to the main train station of Venice, but it’s the Jewish Ghetto, a part of the Cannaregio District that makes it so special. Here you won’t find a single shop selling souvenirs or catering to tourists. Instead there are synagogues, old money lenders’ shops, museums, historic water wells, and much more. It’s almost like a giant open-air museum – a perfect introduction to Venetian history.
We opted for a wine tour with Dark Rome in Cannaregio that provided the perfect introduction to the area with bits of food and drink thrown in for good measure and when was that ever a bad thing ?! 😉 This tour introduced us to a variety of Cicchetti (Venetian tapas/finger food) that is served in local bacari (bars) in Venice. We tried local specialities such as fried sardines, fried mozzarella, smoked riccotta cheese with black grapes, and cod cooked in milk accompanied with different kinds of wine at three different taverns. The tour offers a comprehensive introduction to an offbeat part of Venice, frequented by locals. What’s more we learnt 3 different Italian words for Cheers within 3 hours – Chin Chin, Prosit, and Salut. Now that is quite the accomplishment 😉
The tour costs €35/person. More information on their website www.darkrome.com
And that is how we like our Venice. There are no gondolas, red roses, or pigeons involved in Bruised Passports’ ideal vision of Venice! But there is enough luscious Italian food to fuel your wildest culinary fantasies and it’s served with a sizeable dollop of Venetian history. We know you’ll love it! 🙂
Do you love Venice ? Share your favourite things to do in Venice in the comments below 🙂
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