It was January the day I saw Venice again after several years of forgetting about the existence of this city. Zaira invited me to visit her, and I clearly remember the foggy day we met, walking around in a sort of first-date happiness. Maybe I fell in love with Venice in winter after that day. I have visited this city in great company, with Betty and Skye, and with Valeria and Valentina… but ever since meeting Zaira, and after visiting in all four seasons, winter remained my favorite time to enjoy Venice.
One of the best things to do in Venice, especially if you only spend a day there, is to just walk around and breathe in as much of the city as possible. This little guide was born from my personal experience with the best local guide one could possibly hope for, and I hope it will be of some use to you, as well. Check the bottom of the post for some useful link love and venetian recipes to try at home!
Venice is split in half by the Canal Grande, and divided in neighborhoods or, in Venetian, ’Sestieri’, to the north and south of it. The northeastern sestiere is Castello,mostly occupied by the Arsenale, a mighty shipyard from the XIIth century, and by the only gardens in Venice, all the way south.
The most central sestiere is San Marco, which hosts the famous square and basilica, as well as the Theater La Fenice, the Fortuny Museum, the Bridge of Sighs, and many other famous sights. Moving north, on the same side of the Canal Grande, is Cannaregio, my favorite: its narrow, confusing alleys are not as attractive to tourists as the rest of the city, and the Jewish Ghetto is one of the most beautiful areas to just get lost and walk in. Cannaregio is also where the train station is. Moving south of the Canal Grande, you will find Santa Croce to the west, the part with the bus stop that connects to the land; then Sestiere San Polo, the bustling heart of the city there the Rialto Bridge and market are. Finally, all the way south, Sestiere Dorsoduro, with its beautiful air bohemienne, the Art Accademia, and many other incredible museums of art.
(Venice rendition by Tintoretto)
- Winter mornings in Venice are crisp and shrouded in the almost exoteric aura of an early fog, afloat above the canals. The sounds of the water splashing against the walls and your steps echoing in the ‘calle’ caress your ears.
As you wake in this magical atmosphere, set out on a hunt for breakfast.
You can stop at one of the several Rosa Salva pastry shops, and enjoy the most traditional Italian breakfast of cappuccino with pastries. Or, since you’re on vacation, stop at one of the many ‘pasticcerie’ and grab a local delicacy like ‘pan del doge’, a thick sweet bread loaded with dried fruit, nuts and honey, or ‘Baci in gondola’ (gondola kisses), two fluffy meringues glued together with dark chocolate.
- Get lost amongst canals and Calle and, when ready, head to Rialto, where you will find the wonderful seafood and produce market, open until 12 PM. There, you will witness old Venetian ladies searching for ripe fruit, locals and fishmongers talking and shouting in Venetian dialect, and a variety of Italian seafood you might not have witnessed before.
- With all that food and walking, you will probably be hungry now. Venice is a place of street food and wine, with many bacári (local rustic eateries) offering quick bites and cheap yet great glasses of wine. Right there, close to the market, you can have the most traditional stand-up lunch at the bacáro Al Mercá: you will find several cicchetti (finger foods) to choose from, but do NOT miss the panini with baccalá mantecato (salted cod, slow cooked in milk and oil until as creamy as a dip)!
- Slightly more to the west there is another excellent bacaro called Cantina Do Mori, with its old, characteristic hanging polenta pots and large wooden wine vats on display, where you could stop for just a drink as well. While you are in Venice, do try some world-famous Veneto whites, such as Soave, or Recioto ‘della Valpolicella’ or ‘di Soave’, or sweet Moscato, three of my favorites.
- Time to cross the bridge – which will not be crazy crowded in the winter – and head to Gelatoteca Suso and enjoy some of the most delicious gelato ever for dessert. Their forte is Gianduja with salted pistachio, which is every bit as good as it sounds and it would be worth the detour even if you were not in the area.
- At this point, you could pay a visit to Fontego dei Tedeschi, an ancient palace-turned-luxury shop, which would be of no special interest if it weren’t for the fact that its rooftop terrace, with a view on all of Venice, is absolutely worth the trip. This beautiful palace right on Canal Grande is packed on weekends, so make sure to book your spot. Me and Zaira just dropped by there on a Monday afternoon and found but a very small crowd, and enjoyed a wonderful sunset over the rooftops, altane and crips breeze.
- You are very close to one of the most wondrous places in Venice: Libreria Acqua Alta. Here you will find old books and prints stacked in piles, in old gondolas, in messy heaps that smell like mold and sea and paper and is absolutely magical. There is no place I would recommend visiting more than this one.
- Let us take the large walking tour, and head down south to San Marco. When the days are short, the sight of Piazza San Marco sparkling over the water, with its porticos and huge lamp posts, is absolutely breathtaking. At this point, you can double up on coffee and stop at one of the Rosa Salva here, if you didn’t already try it for breakfast. Or, if you have a good amount of disposable income, you can try sitting at one of the fanciest cafés in Italy, the fresco-ed, gilded, baroque Café Florian, right under the porticos of St. Mark’s place.
- Head all the way west to Ponte dell’Accademia, and cross over to reach Dorsoduro. If you like art (and if you do you are in the right place), consider visiting Gallerie dell’Accademia, a beautiful museum home of paintings by Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Veronese, Tiziano, and all the most important exponents of the Venetian School. I, who have such deep love for art and have been studying it my whole life, have not been here yet and dying to go.
- It is aperitivo-time. Do not miss your chance to try a good Spritz (a Venetian cocktail made with Campari, Prosecco and Seltz), or a really good Prosecco, at yet another bacaro. In this area, try one of the oldest in Venice: Bottegon giá Schiavi. You will immediately recognize its tattered wooden front, and might incur into a small crowd at the entrance.
In case you feel like doubling your gelato intake, head all the way south to the coast – the area known as Le Zattere – to Gelateria Nico . This gelato shop is not just any gelato shop: aside the classic flavors, you can order a tall cup of Gianduja with cream: a thick slab of solid Nutella-like creamy chocolate, topped with fresh whipped cream. I decline any responsibility for any clothes you might not fit into after this one – wear loose pants.
(Pardon the flare in this photo!)
- If you’re longing for a nice sit-down dinner, do your research first and beware of the many unfortunate tourist traps Venice is famous for. Seafood will definitely rob your wallet, but it is a nice experience if you decide to go for it. For something more chill, try Osteria Bancogiro back in Rialto, or Al Mascaron, a place Zaira told me she really wants to try at some point. Wherever you decide to go for dinner, make sure to book your table in advance.
- In my numerous trips to the city, I have never stayed overnight, but if I did, I would definitely look up the concert and opera program at La Fenice, or the shows at Teatro Goldoni, or – my dream – a concert in one of the churches where camera ensembles play Vivaldi.
- End your day with a nice nighttime stroll through the lights floating above the water and the silence, as the lull of the waves etches the very soul of this ethereal city into your heart.
~ Valeria Necchio wrote a *wonderful* guide to Venetian eats, which you should check here.
~ Read Emiko Davies‘ article about the ‘Art of Cicchetti-ing‘ to eat vicariously through her words and photos.
~ Again by Emiko, a little guide to walking through Venice (with little ones) with more ideas and suggestions.
~ A beautiful guide to shopping and eating in Venice’s Sestieri by Skye McAlpine.
~ I have no doubt that the most beautiful photos of Venice belong in the gallery of Marco Paris, on Instagram @ilchiaroscuro_ .
VENETIAN RECIPES TO TRY AT HOME
~ A Classic Venetian Risotto (Recipe coming soon!)
~ My Winter Fennel Risotto
~ ‘Scartosso de Fritolin‘ (fried seafood in a paper cone) by The Freaky Table
~ Mussel Gratin & Venetian Style Octopus Salad by The Freaky Table
~ Venetian-style Artichokes by Valeria Necchio
~ Bigoli in Salsa (long pasta with anchovies and onion sauce) by Betty Liu
~ Giulia made Zaletti (corn cookies) from the same book I took my Venetian Risotto recipe from, so they are sure to be a hit.
Have any suggestion for places you loved in Venice? Have you ever been? How was your experience like? Leave a comment below!