Every corner of Venice is chock-full of historical sites and overflowing with little shops and restaurants. Which are truly worth a visit? You won’t be able to plan your visit without this little guide. Here are our tips for the best times to visit the big-name landmarks without getting stuck in a crowd and our list of the best that the city has to offer – everything from neighborhood pastry shops, to beautiful churches, to artisan boutiques for glass jewelry.
Libreria Acqua Alta
This might just be, as the sign out front boldly proclaims, “the most beautiful bookshop in the world.” Piles of books overflow from bathtubs, wagons and even a full-size gondola that stretches through the shop. A set of stairs made from books in the backyard leads to a gorgeous view of the canal. The place is a perfect reflection of Venice – old, crumbling, haphazard, and somehow incredibly beautiful.
Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto
This church is a bit out of the way but that’s all the more reason visit, so you can venture out into the parts of Venice that most tourists never see. The church is full of gorgeous artwork from the Renaissance greats, especially Tintoretto, whose gloriously dramatic paintings line the altar. The church is named for the gorgeous statue of the Madonna and Child, which has a kind of strange magic about it.
This beautiful cafe in the center of Campo Santa Margherita is marked, quite simple, “caffe.” It is a neighborhood institution and certainly the best place in the city to sit over a drink and take in the sun.
The tower of San Giorgio Maggiore
This is a view of Venice unlike any other, from the tallest point in the city so you can see the entire lagoon. Try to go early in the morning, when the colors are incredibly picturesque and the crowds are thin.
This is the heart of Venice, where vendors sell fresh seafood as well as produce. It’s the best way to see the city’s vibrant social life, especially on Saturday mornings, as everyone comes to do their grocery shopping. Pick up some fruit to munch on and have a snack at the nearby bar, Al Merca’.
Chiesa di San Pantalon
This church looks quite unremarkable from the exterior, as you cross over from Campo Santa Margherita, but it will surprise you. The church features an incredible ceiling that’s actually a large-scale canvas painting stretching overhead.
This restaurant along the Fondamenta della Misericordia is frequented by locals, who come by foot and by boat to turn this place into a great party in the evenings. Make a reservation for dinner or stop by for a drink in the evenings. If it isn’t open, check out the restaurant on the same street called Paradiso Perduto.
Even people who don’t normally like museums might enjoy themselves here, as they get transported back in time to Renaissance Venice. It was a city that was the New York of its day, full of cultural mixing, sensual pleasures and incredible wealth, all of which will be right there in the paintings.
This unusual and delightful ice cream shop is located near Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, a place full of local life in the afternoons. The gelateria is called Alaska and the owner, Carlo, makes incredibly inventive flavors, like turmeric or orange-arugula, using ingredients from his own backyard.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
This museum is the former home of Peggy Guggenheim, an avant-garde art collector who pushed the envelope in every way. She mingled in bohemian circles in wartime Paris, discovered American greats like Jackson Pollock and amassed a really comprehensive collection of modern art that spans Europe and the US. The best works are the early paintings of Jackson Pollock, right before he began to drip, in which you find an incredible energy straining for release.
This is a gorgeous island to the west, easily accessible by public transportation. If the weather permits during your trip to Venice, you might spend a day relaxing in the sun and taking a dip in the Adriatic Sea. The best gelateria on the island is along the main street that leads from the vaporetto stop to the beach called Magiche Voglie, or magical desires – their ice cream is magical indeed. If you’re feeling really peckish after a swim, grab a bite at the sandwich bus (literally a double-decker bus) parked just outside the beach called El Pescador.
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Piazza San Marco
This is the most famous square in Venice and also the most touristic. It’s often packed like rush hour in the subway. Anyone who’s been in Venice long enough would only suggest coming here at night, after dinner perhaps, when the crowds have thinned and the quartets are still playing. Have a stroll through and listen to the undeniably lovely music, as night falls over the beautiful buildings of the square.
Early morning gondola ride
Visiting Venice without having a boat ride is like having a salad without the dressing. The city was meant to be seen from the water and the gondola is constructed in such a way that it can pass through all the most beautiful, narrow canals that make Venice unique. Go out very early in the morning so that you’ll get to see Venice without the crowds.
Everything at this delicious pastry shop is homemade by the couple behind the counter and the place is a neighborhood institution. Have a cappuccino and a baba, a sponge cake soaked in rum and watch the rotating cast of neighborhood characters come in and out.
This is one of the best artisanal boutiques in the city, featuring Murano glass jewelry with a Senegalese twist. The artist behind the beads is Moulaye, a glass artist who trained with the Murano masters and a staple in the Venetian music scene. The necklaces are designed and strung by Emmanuela, a warm lady with a punk-rock edge.
A typically Venetian snack is the tramezzino, which is two triangular pieces of white bread with all kinds of inventive fillings inside. Here, they are filled to maximum capacity, bulging out delightfully in the middle. You can have something standard, like prosciutto cotto and artichokes, or something strange, like shredded radicchio with stracchino cheese.
Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni
Home to a gorgeous cycle of paintings by Carpaccio, this church is a hidden treasure. They line up across one room of the second floor like a glorious Renaissance comic strip and each painting is a masterpiece. Don’t miss out on visiting the artist’s workshop right across the bridge from the church.
Here’s a lovely little vintage shop that’s been open since the 70s. It’s full of carefully curated, seasonal items. You’ll always find something special here, especially if Aldo the shop owner steps in with his suggestions.
Chiesa di San Zaccaria
One of the loveliest Bellini altarpieces can be found in this church. Bellini painted his colors in thin, translucent layers, so that the end result would be glossy, rich and glowing. You’ll never see colors as beautiful as those in his drapery.
Serra dei Giardini
This gorgeous little coffee shop is located inside Venice’s greenhouse, in a park on the eastern edge of Venice. Since gardens are a bit of a rarity in the city unless you happen to be blessed with a private courtyard, this a great place to have a tea and take in some greenery.