Visit when it’s cold
Wintertime Venice is deeply poetic, almost as if the streets growing emptier and lonelier cause the city to develop in beauty. There are deep silences, morning mists, evening fogs and the high tide that swallows up much of the city. Venetians will be at their most relaxed and friendliest, as it is their off season. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll have no excuse not to drink grappa (for warmth!).
Pick the path less traveled
The loveliest parts of Venice are tucked away in the furthest corners of the city. Try to wander far from the center of the city, especially the areas around Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and the train station. There are a few well-trodden paths leading through the city, with big yellow signs all along the way pointing you towards important landmarks. Many tourists never really step outside those paths, but you won’t make that regrettable mistake. Perhaps you might do as the 19th century Parisian flaneurs did: reject the idea of a destination and wander aimlessly. That’s an almost certain way to find yourself somewhere marvelous.
Seek out the summer sagra
These parties are held out in the public squares on hot summer nights, with a roster of mostly neighborhood people. There will be fried food, cheap drinks and a band playing something to dance to. They are by no means regularly scheduled, nor are they well-publicized events – both inevitable parts of their charm – so check out this guide and this schedule for a sense of when and where to find them.
Shop at the markets
If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen where you are staying, you might do yourself the favor of picking up some fresh seafood at the Rialto market on Saturday morning. That’s the perfect way to insert yourself into a slice of everyday life in Venice. There will be serious old ladies negotiating their choice of clams, friends meeting up for drinks after shopping and fishermen butchering squid with practiced perfection. Also check out the barge at the southern end of Campo Santa Margherita laden with fruits and vegetables – some of the produce comes from local farms in the Veneto.
Buy from artisans
Whether you’re looking to get a piece of Murano glass jewelry, a paper-mache mask, or a watercolor of Venice to take home, be sure to support those who are creating original and unique pieces. Many places all over the city simply buy cheap products made in exploitative conditions and resell them. Part of this means being willing to pay higher prices, but it also means paying fairer prices, as you will be buying from those who aren’t looking just to rip off unsuspecting tourists but to practice their craft.
Go to the islands
The lagoon around Venice is full of gorgeous islands, each with its own unique flavor. Murano and Burano are the most well-known, home to the crafts of glass-blowing and lace-making respectively. But why not check out Lido, the beach island, or Torcello, which has the oldest church in the Venetian lagoon? If you are here in early summer, you can go to the festival of the artichoke at Sant’Erasmo, an agricultural island. In the fall, the island hosts the festival of must, which is a deliciously sweet young wine. Best of all, these places are all accessible by public transport and you’ll certainly escape the tour groups.