It’s fair to say that the rustic colours and elegant canals that make up the city of Venice, Italy, are not so much a hidden gem as the crowning jewel of Southern Europe.
Around the world, visitors flock to its narrow alleyways, so laden with tradition and history, in the hope of experiencing some of the city’s iconic magic for themselves.
You’ll all be familiar with the wide, bustling Canal Grande, the decadent Piazza di San Marco, and the wonderfully chaotic Mercato di Rialto; Instagram certainly has no shortage of pictures taken in these coveted spots.
But beyond the crowds and the glamour which sit atop the surface of this floating city lies a deep-rooted culture known only to Venice’s long-standing residents.
Cast aside your guidebooks and uncover the city of Venice from a local’s perspective with this guide!
A largely quiet, residential area, the Ghetto Ebraico (or Jewish Quarter) of Venice is possibly the best place in the city from which to get a taste of local life.
A small part of the larger neighbourhood of Cannaregio, the Ghetto Ebraico was historically home to the city’s Jewish population under the Venetian Republic.
Now, the Ghetto Ebraico is a vision in peaceful, shaded alleyways and slowly-strolling locals, with small cafés and bars dotted along the narrow canals.
To discover more about the history of Venice’s Jewish population, pay a visit to the Museo Ebraico.
Libreria Acqua Alta
Admittedly, this unique, peculiar bookstore can no longer be considered a local’s secret.
We’re sure you’ve seen the Instagram pictures of this one-of-a-kind independent bookshop, which is nestled into a quiet, unsuspecting street in the warren of Venice’s city centre.
Made famous by its quirky decoration and haphazard charm, the Libreria Acqua Alta is an unmissable stop for all bookworms, with books displayed in piles, on chairs, balancing precariously on old shelves, and – amusingly – heaped into bathtubs and gondolas.
While this may appear simply a whimsical way to attract curious passers-by, there’s logic behind their displays: they protect the books from Venice’s notoriously destructive flooding.
Make sure not to miss the bookstore’s terrace, which features a staircase made entirely from books, allowing you a unique view along one of the numerous canals which weave through the city.
Oh, and they also have a number of resident cats napping in unexpected places throughout the store.
When it comes to visiting nearby islands, most visitors look no further than Murano and Burano.
Whilst these two neighbourhoods are undeniably charming, with their vibrant architecture and unusual geography, Venice is actually formed of over 120 different islands, spattered across its picturesque lagoon.
One of these islands is nearby Giudecca, which is little-known to visitors due to its largely residential and peaceful nature. Home to a number of small boutique hotels and hostels – such as the trendy Generator Venice, whose rooms offer an uninterrupted view across the canal and onto St Mark’s Square – this island is also the location of a handful of striking buildings and monuments.
Spend an afternoon wandering around this island, which is easily accessible by Vaporetto – and if you choose to find accommodation here, too, then you are guaranteed a quieter, more local experience.
Bacareto Da Lele
If you ask a local their favourite thing about Venice, they are unlikely to name the imposing Basilica di San Marco or the often-crowded Rialto Bridge.
Instead, true Venetians take solace in the long-standing tradition of the ‘Bacaro Tour’: essentially, a bar crawl around a number of the city’s more understated, traditional bars.
Most famous of these – and frequently used as a starting point – is the compact Bacareto Da Lele, located in the shaded Fondamenta dei Tolentini.
You may be initially surprised to find that this bar is so small, in fact, that it offers no seating. Instead, make like a local, and take your wine in a plastic cup, to be enjoyed along the banks of the nearby canal.
Ristorante Due Colonne
Prosecco on tap. Pasta served in pizza-dough bowls. Charming Italian waiters. If all these things contribute to your idea of the perfect evening meal, then make sure to stop off at Ristorante Due Colonne, settled at the heart of Venice’s labyrinthine city centre.
As well as a range of more unusual dishes, this restaurant offers the finest of northern Italian cuisine, with a menu that includes fresh seafood pasta, summertime salads, and traditional pizzas.
Whilst the food here is, undeniably, the main attraction, the restaurant’s warm, tirelessly welcoming staff will ensure you always leave a little piece of your heart – and your appetite – here.
Palazzo Grassi Contemporary Art Museum
Unsurprisingly for a city so enchanting, so steeped in otherworldly magic, Venice is widely celebrated for its art.
Although often overshadowed by the city’s numerous other museums and art galleries, such as the infamous Guggenheim Museum, the Palazzo Grassi is Venice’s beloved contemporary art centre, offering a range of exhibitions that showcase some of the globe’s most talented modern artists.
The building itself is classical, elegant, and typically Venetian, overhanging the bustling Canal Grande, and was initially known during the 1950s as the International Centre for Arts and Costume.
Among its exhibits, the Palazzo Grassi has been known to house the works of trailblazing artists such as Damien Hirst and Bruce Nauman.
Far from the heaving crowds and extravagant spectacle of Venice’s city centre lies the Dorsoduro: an unpretentious neighbourhood towards the South of the main island.
Home to most of the city’s student population, the Dorsoduro is adored for its authenticity and its vibrancy, coming alive most notedly after dark.
Lose yourself in the tangle of its streets, ducking in and out of compact bars and eateries, to truly get a feel for local, everyday life.
This is also one of the best areas in the city to try typical Cicchetti: the Venetian equivalent of tapas. Each of these bite-sized appetizers are to be enjoyed with an Aperol Spritz or, more traditionally, a glass of local wine.
It’s also home to one of Venice’s only remaining gondola workshops.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Venice, Italy. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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