Venice is easily the most unique city on earth. Beautiful beyond belief, it is dreamy, romantic, and unfortunately often full of tourists. The bad news is when the cruise ships are in port they literally dump thousands of tourists into the city center. The good news is few of them venture beyond the stretch from the Rialto Bridge to the bridge of Sighs.
That means 95% of the city is wide open for you to explore, experience and fall in love with.
Supposedly the bigger ships will no longer be allowed in the lagoon, but the cruise industry has been able to snake their way around this for years, so I’ll believe it when I see it. In the meantime let’s look at 5 things that ensure you get an amazing Venetian experience, while avoiding the fanny-packed crowd.
1. Wander In Castello
Castello is the largest of the 6 neighborhoods or sestieri and delightfully, one the cruise ship crowd don’t seem to know about.
Technically the neighborhood begins when you cross the bridge at the Doge’s Palace. (Ponte della Paglia) The first couple of blocks still get the big tourist crowds, but from then until the uppermost edge of the lagoon you can see a much lesser traveled part of the city.
Castello is absolutely beautiful, and gives you a chance to experience a more low key, casual side of Venice. The neighborhood or sestiere is full of wonderful bars and restaurants, calli with houses that are hundreds of years old, and waterways with gondolas gliding by. You can find the Arsenale at its upper tip, and the beautiful city hospital building along the fundament nove. Between them there are loads of lesser visited sites, museums, churches filled with sensational art and picturesque little campi or city squares.
From the fondamente nove at the upper edge you can take the vaporetto across to Murano and Burano.
It is easy to spend an entire day wandering and exploring this neighborhood, and it will make you fall in love with Venice.
2. Pop Over To Isola San Giorgio
Just 3 minutes by vaporetto from the Doges Palace, the little island of San Giorgio affords you the very best views of the Doge’s Palace and Venice. The view from the campanile (bell tower) is without equal. Better still, not that many people come over here. There is loads to see on San Giorgio and it makes a wonderful pitstop on the way to the next place on the list:
3. Lunch On Giudecca
Giudecca feels like a world away from the crowds in Venice, but is only 3 minutes by vaporetto from Isola San Giorgio. Exit the vaporetto at the first stop then wander the length of the fondamenta, stopping at one of the fabulous eateries along the Giudecca Canal. Giudecca island is directly opposite Dorsoduro, so you look across the canal to another gorgeous part of Venice. This is the perfect view to enjoy with a chilled out vibe, some incredible seafood and a glass of frulane. Or a caffe macchiato with a view!
Giudecca is a really artsy island, so at a leisurely pace you can enjoy a photo exhibition, and artists’ retreat with showrooms inside a medieval cloister (to die for) as well as one of the few remaining gondola workshops in Venice. Giudecca is best enjoyed with no set agenda, just wander and take loads of photos.
Two of Venice’s most spectacular bars are here on the island, the Skyline Bar with its incredible views over Venice, and the Cipriani, the place to be for a madly chic early evening drink.
4. Have An Aperitivo Along The Zattere
Directly opposite Giudecca, across the Giudecca Canal is the waterside promenade called the Zattere. Lined with bars and restaurants, the Zattere is a gorgeous place for a late afternoon aperitivo. (Or to eat at any time of day or night.)
Wherever I am in Italy I always make sure I am somewhere beautiful for aperitivo hour, that fabulous time at the end of the afternoon when Italians meet for a pre dinner drink. I make sure I have an aperitivo on the Zattere every time I’m in Venice. Again you are away from the crowds, it’s mellow and beautiful, and you have a wonderful view across the canal to the Redentore church and the length of Giudecca.
5. Eat Cicchetti Away From The Crowds
Pronounced chi-kett-ee, these Venetian finger foods are paired with un Ombra, a shadow of wine, and are enjoyed normally standing at a bacaro, or little wine bar. Perfect for aperitivo hour they are also available all day, and make a tremendous snack, or even a light lunch.
Most bacari change out their Cicchetti menu throughout the day, so there is an endless assortment of food options, all of them are just fantastic. Drop by the same bacaro a couple of hours later and you’ll often find all new options behind the glass case.
No trip to Venice is complete without eating Cicchetti. Avoid the highly touristed areas, and find little neighborhood bars full of Venetians and authentic, delicious finger foods. You will find authentic, non-touristy bacari all over Venice. Just look where the crowds are and head a block or two away in any direction. If completely lost (which happens in Venice all the time) just ask any Venetian on the street, in a shop, or even a gondolier walking by, where you can get some great cicchetti without the tourists and they’ll point you in the right direction!