For a long, long time I’ve wanted to go to Venice. I couldn’t believe the time was finally here! (September 2016) But once we arrived, I also couldn’t believe the ratio of local Venetians to visitors that arrive every day in Venice (56000:75000 according to our walking tour guide).
This made me a little bit sad! And determined to find local restaurants. Especially after despite not normally being a shopper and buying what is likely to be a fake Murano glass bracelet for 10 euros at a tourist shop, meant I was contributing to the success of tourist shops and not locals. Which leads me to Tip Number 1 – Seek out local authentic Venetian restaurants and shops to support the locals because a scary but very real possibility is that Venice will become an island for tourists in the near future! Blah! Around 85% of shops selling souvenirs and gifts, particularly that beautiful Murano glass, are fake. Please, make the effort to find restaurants and shops that are locally owned and operated so that we can visit the REAL Venice in the future.
How do you recognise a local restaurant?
Not always the case, but the main things to look out for (according to our walking tour guide) are:
- If there’s someone out the front encouraging you to go inside
- If the menu is translated into lots of different languages
- If there are pictures on the menu
- If the people dining there appear to be tourists
- If the coperto (cover) charge is significantly higher than normal
Other tips for your weekend in Venice are:
- Go on a free walking tour, you learn a lot and the best part is the price is up to you!
- Don’t go in winter unless you want to live in gumboots, it floods!
- Make it clear if you want a pepperoni pizza because it may literally be a pepper (capsicum) pizza (still delicious in Italy!)
- Wondering what the extra charge is on your restaurant bill? Coperto is a cover charge for sitting in the restaurant and ranges from next to nothing to a few euros per person
- When you visit Burano (because it’s a must), walk deeper into the island to get away from tourists, especially for lunch spots
- Try a Spritz ‘Select’ (instead of Aperol or Campari – why? It was ‘born’ locally in Murano in 1920)
- If you want certainty of a gondola ride during your visit, book before you arrive
- Don’t dip your feet into the canal, it’s waste water
So what did we get up to?…
Friday – flight to Venice and first impressions
An early departure from work! Happiness! Well 30 minutes early but it still felt good! And it was necessary to get to Gatwick South Terminal on time for our flight with Easyjet. Ooh another tip – don’t eat at the Flying Horse. The food took over 1 hour to arrive and without sounding like a snob, the bangers and mash tasted like cardboard. Sad! I love a good pub meal! And wouldn’t even say I’m that picky! (lucky I’m not a food blogger)
It was a bumpy flight due to storms both in London and Venice so I just about squeezed Harry’s hand off (my partner). We arrived around 11:30pm and had our bus tickets (13 euros each) ready for the 11.50pm bus. It didn’t turn up so we waited in hope for the last bus for the night, the 1:20am bus. Success!
The bus ride took about 20 minutes in which I managed to sleep (aka drool on Harry’s shoulder) before I dropped my water bottle and woke myself up. We didn’t have our bearings yet and weren’t sure about the water taxis at this time of night so decided to walk the 25 minute Google Maps journey. This was slightly challenging with staircase after staircase, puddles and not much light while trying to hold an umbrella, the guiding phone and wheeling our bags along behind us.
Our first impressions
- Super clean! Not one piece of rubbish on the ground
- It was so quiet! In the 25 minute walk we saw 1 person
- I felt like I was in The Neverending Story, surrounded by water
- We both felt safe
When we arrived at our hotel, the Ca’ Santo Spirito, Harry entered the code that he had arranged in advance due to our late arrival time. Everything went according to plan and we were soon in bed, excited about waking up in Venice!
Saturday – Burano Island, exploring Venice and the famous gondola ride
After our late arrival to the hotel, we slept in all the way through breakfast. Thankfully the hotel kept some food aside for us when we woke up and checked in properly.
As we stepped outside the hotel we discovered a sunny day with clear blue skies! Perfect to wander the streets of Venice and take it all in. We found an ATM to get some euros and nearby there was a man ‘playing’ glasses. The sound was so beautiful! Almost emotional. I included some footage in my Vlog here.
Our first activity for the day was to find our way to Burano Island. On the map showing all the water boat stops, you can see which ones have a ticket machine where you can purchase your tickets. At the Academia stop, we opted for the 1 day (24 hour ticket) for 20 euros each, but if you’re staying longer, the 2 day ticket for 30 euros pp may be more suitable.
We caught boat number 1 from Academia to Ca’D’Oro which whilst this was where we needed to go for our trip to Burano, was also perfect to experience going under the famous Rialto bridge. Once you’ve arrived at Ca’D’Oro, there is a short walk to boat number 12. Along the way I had the pleasure of making friends with a dog standing in a shop doorway who as soon as I crouched down and said hello, wagged his / her tail and appreciated a few pats. If you’ve read my other blogs you’ll know that these kind of interactions absolutely make my day.
Our boat 12 journey was squishy and felt like forever (really only around 40 minutes) but it was worth it for Burano Island. One of my earlier tips was to just – keep – walking until you get to an area of Burano that isn’t completely dripping with tourists. At this point in our adventure we hadn’t learnt about the importance of eating at authentic restaurants and our only condition was finding an outside table to enjoy the view. We ended up inside Su e zo restaurant (hanger stage) with a menu filled with pictures, getting a pepper (capsicum) pizza instead of a pepperoni pizza that I had my heart set on (yes despite the picture menu and yes it was still good, it’s Italy), and feeling like just another transaction for them. Sadly therefore I wouldn’t recommend stopping here. To give you an idea of cost though, it was 30 euros total for both our pizzas and a Spritz each (commonly served in Italy). Post trip returning to work (drinks company) I was asked if I tried a Spritz Select. See earlier tips!
Burano is beautiful so make sure you allow yourself enough time to wander around aimlessly and just enjoy it. The colours are stunning and our walking tour guide on the mainland told us that the history of the different coloured houses is so that the Venetians could find their house after a few drinks. I’m not sure if that story is true but I like it.
We had a gondola ride booked for 6:30pm back on the mainland so caught the boat back around 4pm. It was so busy! Allow time to wait for another boat if you don’t make it onto the first one you’ve lined up for. I’d compare it to catching the tube in London at peak hour. Only this time Harry was quick enough to nab a seat which meant I had a seat too – Harry’s lap.
Once we arrived on the mainland we realised we still had plenty of time to make it to our gondola ride so we relaxed into sightseeing mode. Waiting for a water boat stole some of this excess time though and we decided to walk after two boats came by, filled up with people and left. On our walk we discovered Harry’s Bar and added this to our mental list of things to do later. If you’re into cat paintings (I realise this is quite specific, but we LOVED them!) and other funky trinkets with animals on them, then there are a few shops in Venice just for you. Not sure about their authenticity but it definitely wasn’t your usual tourist shop. But the most important and impressive discovery along the way was Basilica di San Marco – a must see.
It was soon time to get in line for our gondola ride at the Santa Maria del Giglio gondola station. And of course this was the moment I really needed to pee. No toilets in sight, I walked somewhat confidently into the Hotel Gritti Palace which I realised at that moment was a very VERY posh establishment. My face gave it away and when I asked someone where the bathroom was they apologised and said it was only for guests. So 12 euros later for 1 Peroni beer, we were relieved and actually in the end it was worth the 12 euros for the ridiculously good view and olives, chips and nuts that came with the beer at no extra cost.
There were lots of others lined up for the gondola ride. We had pre-booked but then so had everyone else. During our walking tour on Sunday we discovered that we could have booked a gondola ride when we arrived for 80 euros for just the two of us. Instead we paid 82 euros to share our gondola ride with 4 other people. Oh well. It was still amazing! Definitely a bucket list item. And we got the best seats in the house! The others had to sit across from each other and knock knees. The gondola ride went along narrow canals and out into the Grand Canal where we were serenaded by a man singing in the gondola next to us accompanied by a female accordion player.
Thirty-five minutes later our gondola ride was over. We walked back to our hotel to get changed and map out a plan for the evening. First on the agenda was a tumble down the stairs for me and I hadn’t even had a drink yet! Girls – wear shoes that do not have a slippery sole otherwise you might end up in the canal. Second was a 20 minute walk to Il Profeta (or Al Profeta) restaurant which has a large spacious courtyard out the back hidden from the main walkway, filled with locals. We didn’t find this place on our own. We’d been given a hot tip before our trip. To be honest I’m not sure we would have found it on our own because even the surrounding area was really quiet. The food was amazing even though I ordered calamari expecting it to be the usual deep fried calamari you get in London or Australia. Nope! This was fresh. And there were so many sardines scattered through my dish, I couldn’t help but stare at their heads and think how could anyone eat these whole? I tried one (without the head) and that was the extent of it. The calamari and scallops were fresh and delicious though and Harry enjoyed a duck breast salad. Cost? Bit more extravagant than our usual – 80 euros (including tip) for both of us including a bottle of wine.
After dinner we ventured towards the famous Rialto bridge in search for Bacaro Jazz, another hot tip. Bacaro Jazz is an interesting bar that’s for sure, with lots and LOTS of bras hanging from the ceiling. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Some of them are even signed by the person who donated their bra to a new life at the bar. I had a Bacaro Dream cocktail and Harry had a Birra Moretti. The cocktail was very tasty, like a pina colada mixed with fresh coconut. The staff were really friendly and the place had a great vibe. Fun! But we still needed to stop by Harry’s Bar.
No! Harry’s Bar was closed! That’s not the kind of Harry I know! So we decided to walk home. Along the way I ended up with a rose in my hand and a man standing next to me telling me ”oh don’t worry, free, free’’. He then walked along beside us until I said to Harry oh we should give him something. Harry pulls out 10 euros and starts to hand it over. So I ended up with the whole bunch in my hand before returning all but 4 roses that I of course treasured until Sunday.
Also along the way I decided to take a break and dip my feet into the canal. Some little fish came up to say hello and I felt content with this moment and the 4 roses in my hand. See my tip re: canal water. Didn’t know this at the time…
Sunday – Walking tour, cicchetti and a Bellini along the canal
We knew the rule on breakfast so we were there between 8:30am and 10:30am. Plus we had to check out today. Breakfast included options like toast, eggs, salami, gherkin, cheese, fruit, biscuits, cereal, orange juice, coffee and tea.
Today we opted for a local walking tour, starting nearby in Dorsoduro at 11am. There were 29 people there ready to learn about Venice and see the sights they hadn’t managed to find on their own. Our tour guide was very informative and shared the following with us:
- Venice population is 56000 and there are 75000 visitors a day
- There are 118 islands in Venice
- The squero (where the gondolas are built) has been there since the 1500s
- Gondolas take 2 years to build
- The water in the canals is around 1.5 metres high, 4 metres high in the Grand Canal
- Around 85% of shops in Venice sell fake Venetian products like Murano glass
- Masks are a big part of Venice’s history, worn for Carnivale and other times to hide their identity and social status
Around midday we had a short 15 minute break. Harry and I found a café to buy water and use the bathroom, then lined up for a takeaway calzone. So many options but we were happy with our choice of spinach and fetta.
The walking tour took around 3 hours which seems like a long time but all of it was interesting enough to keep our attention. Some of the highlights included walking through the narrowest path between two buildings in Venice, seeing the ceiling of the church of San Pantalon which houses the biggest ceiling canvas painting in the world and learning about the history of Venice with a full day ahead to see Venice in a new light.
It was at this point I thought it would be a great idea to interview each other on the best thing about Venice, what we’ve learnt and hot tips for new visitors. You can watch our interview here. Our search for the famous cicchetti at a local authentic restaurant was long but fruitful when we found Vino Vero. This small bar has tables set up along the canal, is full of locals (always a good sign) and was the perfect setting for us to enjoy a glass of wine and the range of flavoursome cicchetti bites that you select yourself from the glass cabinet in the bar. And just when you thought the setting couldn’t get any better, there’s a gelato shop next door – hello dessert!
Harry’s Bar was still on the list so we made our way there. It was packed! And a much higher standard than I expected. Too high and formal for us so we were out of there in a matter of seconds. But it was all worthwhile for Harry to get a photo with the ‘Harry’s Bar’ sign.
The Corner Bar along the canal was more our style. We had a beer inside and during this time it started getting busy outside the bar with people sitting on the stairs above the canal and along the canal itself. This is more like it! Originally we thought we’d try a place closer to our accommodation for a final drink, but the Corner Bar won our hearts with this setting and lots of happy people around so we got a Spritz and Bellini and made ourselves comfortable along the canal with our feet dangling above the water.
I wasn’t a big fan of the Spritz, but really enjoyed the Bellini. Both local drink choices. We were given a complimentary bowl of chips (crisps) that tasted like paprika nachos to snack on with our drinks, and I decided to share some with the very brave but cute pigeon that kept popping his head around the post in the hope of a crumb. He even ate a few of the crumbs right out of my hand! I don’t want to go back to London! We are just starting to settle in to the REAL Venice.
I really hope Venice clings onto its authenticity for our next visit one day! Fresh pasta anyone?