The best time to have a gondola ride is before the tourists wake up and start their day, when the streets are nearly empty except for Venetians starting work. At least one boat ride is necessary when you’re in Venice, because the city was built to be seen from the water. Unassuming buildings can have palatial marble facades canal side. The gondola is made to be able to pass through all the narrow alleyways and low bridges that are the loveliest.
This little pastry shop is run by a lovely couple who make their pastries by hand right upstairs. You can get chunks of luscious, dense chocolate cake that’s almost like a fudge, ricotta cheesecakes topped with tangy fruit, sweet cannoli filled with mascarpone cream and bite-size tarts with strawberry and kiwi.
Close to the bakery is a series of great little shops, selling masks, jewelry and art. There’s Banco Lotto N. 10, a clothing store featuring impeccably tailored women’s fashions, handmade by the women imprisoned at Giudecca. Just around the corner is an old world artist’s workshop, the Galleria d’arte Stefan Popdimitrov, where he makes everything from huge oil paintings to bronze sculptures to tiny etchings on paper. Further along, in Campo Bandiera e Moro, is the jewelry boutique Muranero, where they make Murano glass beads right there in the shop. Pick up a souvenir for someone you love that’s truly one-of-a-kind.
This cafe is hidden away behind many twists and turns, but that’s part of what makes it so charming. Once you’ve managed to find it, you’ll take a seat in the little garden out back and reward yourself with a drink and something good to eat. There are delicious sandwiches made to order, as well fried goodies such as arancini, the rice balls stuffed with different fillings. Best of all is the lasagna, made by grandmothers in the campo.
Acqua Alta is arguably the most Venetian bookstore there is, with its crumbling, intimate aesthetic, where all the books are piled abundantly high into water-proof containers like bathtubs, wagons and even a full-size gondola. Best of all are the lovely furry cats that wander through the store. This delightfully eccentric place is always worth a visit.
Crossing over the Rialto bridge, you’ll pass through a very busy set of streets, full of other tourists. But alas, it’s a necessary route that will lead you to an unusual and delightful gelateria. It’s located near Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, a lovely place full of local life in the afternoons. The gelateria is called Alaska, and the owner, Carlo, makes incredibly inventive flavors, like orange and arugula, or turmeric, using ingredients from his own backyard.
Close to the campo is a little bar called Osteria da Filo, known to locals as La Poppa. It’s a lovely place frequented by people in the area, with live music some Wednesday nights. This is the occasion for your spritz, a absolute necessity when in Venice. A spritz is made with prosecco, club soda and a dash of either Aperol, Campari, or the Venetian specialty, Select. It’s a refreshing drink with a bit of a punch and the perfect thing to start your evening.
One of the best restaurants in town, La Zucca, is just across the campo. Calling to make your reservations a few days in advance are a must, as it fills up regularly. There are seats both in the cozy restaurant and out on the canal. Their specialty is the savory pumpkin flan, but they also make some incredible pasta.
If after dinner you want to see a bit of life, Campo Santa Margherita is the place to go. All the youngsters and bohemians will be here, having a drink at any of the bars along the side of the square. A particular staple of the scene here is Caffe Rosso, in the heart of the campo. Another is Pizza al Volo, where late-night food cravers will find true satisfaction.