On your own in Venice, you will get lost — no matter how good your map or how finely attuned your sense of direction. But go ahead and lose yourself. That is part of the joy of being in Venice. Just make sure to carry a few Euros (the currency used in Venice). No doubt, you will want to refresh yourself with a snack or a glass of wine as you walk through Venice’s six districts, called sestieri.
Follow our walking itinerary, with suggestions from the Veneto branch of Slow Food (an international organization that promotes food and wine culture), to visit Venice’s best kept secrets — quaint osterias, wine bars, specialty restaurants, markets and bakeries, and typical art and crafts shops.
Recommended restaurants: Da Remigio (behind the Chiesa dei Greci), a no-frills favorite among the locals, featuring specially prepared fresh fish; al Covo, a gourmet restaurant situated at Campiello della Pescheria; and Serenissima, in salizada dei Greci, known for its gnocchi, fresh pasta and ravioli stuffed with fresh vegetables, cheese and fish.
Stop in at Vino … e vini, located at Fondamenta dei Furlani for gourmet specialties and great wine. On Via Garibaldi visit Bianchi and Al Garanghelo Inn, for a selection of cheese and sausages; and for sweet-lovers, Pasticceria Canonica features Pettinò chocolates and pralines.
In Campo San Zaccaria browse Mejorin jewelry before stopping at the bridge Ponte della Paglia to look down the canal at the Bridge of Sighs. The covered bridge links Doge’s Palace with the old prisons.
In San Marco sestieri, take a seat at Café Florian (the French novelist Balzac used to watch the world pass from a table here) or Café Quadri, two of Venice’s most renowned cafés, situated in St. Mark’s Square. Take a seat outside and be prepared to pay a little extra for a glass of wine or coffee here for the privilege of admiring Venice from this perspective. When you’re done, proceed to Bacino Orseolo to browse books and art catalogs, even those out of print, at Sansovino.
Enjoy gelato (Italy’s delicious ice-cream) in Piazzetta San Marco at El Todaro, the city’s oldest gelateria, then visit the Byzantine Basilica San Marco. Crowned by five huge domes, it is the third church to stand on this site (the first, built in the 9th century, was built to enshrine the body of St. Mark). Best to visit in the afternoon. You won’t avoid the crowds, but the wait will be shorter than in the morning. Adjacent to the basilica is the colonnaded Doge’s Palace, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
For a bird’s-eye view, visit Campanile della Piazza San Marco, a 320-foot-high tower that offers views of the San Marco basin and the islands of the lagoon. Before leaving the area, don’t miss the Venini glass shop gallery in Piazzetta dei Leoncini.
Just west of Piazza San Marco is a labyrinth of alleys that pass shops like the Camiceria San Marco in Calle Vallaresso for tailored shirts and blouses. Stop at the Monaco Grand Canal restaurant overlooking the canal and Harry’s Bar, a favorite watering hole of the late American writer Ernest Hemingway. Try the house cocktail: Bellini, made from prosecco and peach liquor.
After refreshing yourself here, proceed to Calle Frezzerie to browse antique beads and jewelry at Paropamiso. Also nearby is Ghezzo (formerly Rolando Segalin) for tailored shoes, and Fescina for ornate gold and pearl necklaces and bracelets.
Stop at the Moretti glass shop in Campo San Moisé. Also nearby: Venetia Studium for scarves, lamps, bags and cushions in silk.
Campo Santo Stefano is the doorway to the next sestiere, Dorsoduro. Find frames, mirrors, traditional Venetian doorstops or lamp-holders in the gilding and lacquering workshop Cavalier and paper decorated using the “ebru” technique and marbled effect from Valese. Stop for an ombra (glass of wine) at El Bacareto in Calle delle Botteghe, a street also known for its antiques shops and art galleries: Zanutto, Antiquus, Kleine Galerie and Antichità San Samuele. Proceed to Palazzo Grassi to gaze upon the wooden hyperrealist sculptures by De Marchi.
It’s an easy walk from Campo Santo Stefano across the Grand Canal via the Accademia Bridge to Dorsoduro. At the foot of the bridge is the Gallerie dell‘Accademia, featuring the largest collection of Venetian art ever collected. Heading left takes you to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (you may dine here too — at the cafeteria or at Ai Gondolieri restaurant serving meat-based cuisine in Fondamenta Ospedaletto).
Stop in Campiello Barbaro to admire the hand printed paper at Carta da Cassetti. Proceed to the Baroque church Santa Maria della Salute, marking the southern end of the Grand Canal. Behind the church, walk along the Giudecca Canal where you may have lunch or dinner at Locanda Calcina restaurant on the terrace overlooking the canal. Or have an ice-cream specialty such as the Gianduiotto at Gelateria da Nico.
Continuing toward Campo San Barnaba you will pass bistros and restaurants such as Quatro Feri and La Bitta (Calle lunga San Barnaba) or the Antica Locanda Montin (Fondamenta di Borgo). Visit the lute maker Francesco Trevisin; L’Angolo, for brightly colored velvet bags; and Da Annelie for nightshirts, sheets, tablecloths, curtains and baby clothes of embroidered linen. For an eno-gastronomic souvenir to take away, stop at Gastronomia Pantagruelica for a selection of Marcomini cheeses and salami specialties, or lard made by a small Friulan producer.
From here, board a vaporetto (northbound Ca’ Rezzonico stop) to travel the Grand Canal to the next sestiere, San Polo and disembark at the Rialto Bridge, the most famous bridge in Venice, crossing between San Marco, San Polo and another sestiere called Santa Croce.
At the foot of the bridge begins the Rialto Market, a fascinating maze of shops and stalls where Venice has congregated for centuries. Here, you will see green grocers and fishmongers, cheeses from Aliani and alla Casa del Parmigiano, spices and tea from Mascari. Parked along the street Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni is a cart of handmade wooden crafts: spoons, ladles and Pinocchios; hand-stitched made-to-measure shoes from Gabriele Gmeiner, in campiello del Sol; chic necklaces and earrings from Attombri located in Sotoportego degli Oresi.
The best inns in the market area: the tiny All’Arco; the more spacious Ruga Rialto and Bancogiro, which features a wine-bar with kitchen; and Alla Madonna, an ideal inn for large groups.
Caffè del Doge features fine coffees, hot chocolate, fresh fruit juices and pastries. For lunch or dinner in Calle della Regina, Al vecio Fritolin is known for its refined Venetian cooking (you may also stop off before dinner for an ombra and a scartosso di pesse frito — fried fish fingers). You’ll want to allow at least an hour here, before crossing the Rialto Bridge going to the Cannaregio sestiere at the northern end of the Grand Canal.
Beyond the Rialto Bridge: la Bottega della solidarietà in Campo San Bartolomeo specializes in teas, honey, chocolate, spices, sauces, coffee, furnishings and accessories from the fair trade network. For a good ombra and a tasty sandwich, stop in Campiello del Tentor at ai Rusteghi.
Historically, the most fascinating part of this quarter is the Ghetto of Venice, the world’s oldest ghetto, with its museum and two synagogues, still open to service. To find it, walk along Strada Nuova. On your way, stop in Campo San Felice at La Cantina for ombra and tasty crostini and mini-rolls.
Nearby is one of the city’s best value restaurants, Vini da Gigio, for good food and fine wines. In the Old Ghetto don’t miss Panificio Volpe for unleavened bread and Jewish sweets, and Gam-gam, a kosher restaurant with tables along the Cannareggio Canal. Also visit the Orsoni mosaic tile workshop (Sotoportego dei vedei).
A trip to Venice is one you’ll never forget — even if you choose to do nothing more than sit at an outdoor cafe and watch the world pass. If you’re staying a few extra days in Venice, there’s lot more to explore — not only in Venice itself but also in the outlying region known as Veneto.