Venice: an insider’s guide to the city

20 April 2022
Written by Sara Magro
Insider's Guide


Because beneath all that’s known of Venice, there is a whole world to discover. Venice is the city of art, of craftsmanship, of culture and of traditions. To live Venice like the locals takes your perspective of the city onto a whole new level. It’s about living the lagoon, exploring the neighbouring islets, tasting cicchetti whilst sipping on a spritz at sundown. It’s about viewing the city from above as much as viewing it from afar. It’s about living the streets, diving into the traditions and meeting the locals. Here, a world of things to do, see, where to eat and where to sleep during your trip to the city.

Venice
Venice by boat. Ph. Marco Valmarana
Venice at sunset

What to see

Museo Palazzo Grimani

Palazzo Grimani is the only Renaissance Roman mannerist-inspired house in Venice, it is the former residence of Antonio Grimani who became a dodge in 1521 who later donated the palace to his grandsons. It remained in the hands of the Grimani family until 1865, becoming a state property in 1981 and later opening up as a museum in 2008. The palazzo is a representation of a Roman residence, in fact, it was decorated with frescos and stucco work by  artists from Rome and Central Italy such as Giovanni da Udine, Francesco Salviati, Camillo Mantovano, Francesco Menzocchi and Federico Zuccari. Hence, the palazzo combines Tuscan and Roman elements. It was the first time white stucco work and mannerist frescoes were used in Venice. The Palazzo is a collection of magnificent works, each with their own meaning: you will find stuccos based on ancient cameos and gems owned by the family, sculptures including Greek and Roman works and pieces of contemporary art. WEBSITE

Scala Contarini del Bovolo

what to do in Venice
Scala Contarini del Bovolo. ph. Leonard Von Bibra

A miniature tower of Pisa hidden among the Venetian calli? No, it is a bizarre spiral staircase (bovolo in Venetian) which was added to Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo towards the end of the 15th century. It looks like a gothic loggia that wraps around itself, and turns, similar to that of a surreal drawing by Escher, from where you can see the whole city. WEBSITE

Museo Fortuny

Museo Fortuny. Ph. Massimo Listri

The Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei was a magical setting for the creative genius of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo and his wife and muse Henriette Nigrin has just reopened in Venice. Two years after the Acqua Granda, the home and studio of the artist, who at the beginning of the 20th century chose Venice for his eclectic experimentation, is being handed back as a permanent museum celebrating his memory. The fascinating museum layout re-evokes the atmosphere of one of the city’s most iconic palaces at the dawn of the 20th century. WEBSITE

Dorsoduro Museum Mile

Launched in 2015, the Dorsoduro Museum Mile connects four museums along a mile long path in the Dorsoduro district, between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal. On an itinerary of eight centuries of world art history, visitors can admire masterpieces of Venetian painting from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the latest contemporary production on display at the Punta della Dogana. On the way, visitors can also explore the former homes of great collectors such Vittorio Cini and Peggy Guggenheim and view their respective collections. The first benefit for visitors is the possibility of a special discount on admission to each of the museums on the mile. WEBSITE

Negozio Olivetti

It goes almost unnoticed in front of the magnificence of Piazza San Marco and its arcades. Yet this shop, owned by Adriano Olivetti, once served as a showroom for his typewriters and calculators, is a hidden jewel of 1950s Italian architecture and design. Ahead of decades, the Ivrea-based entrepreneur had commissioned this exhibition space, more like a modern Apple Store than a shop, from Carlo Scarpa, one of the greatest architects of the twentieth century. There were no budget limits, only time limits: the project had to be completed in one year, and inaugurated in 1957. Today the space, intact and perfectly restored, is open as a museum. In 30 minutes you can visit a masterpiece of modern architecture with all its original pieces. WEBSITE

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Constructions for the Basilica began in 1631 and it was designed by the same architect of Ca Rezzonico: Baldassare Longhena. It’s one of the most majestic buildings in the city, situated along the Grand Canal. It symbolises the Venetians’ gratitude to the Virgin Mary for having freed the city from the terrible plague of 1630 and still today, on 21st November each year, Venice pays homage to the Virgin Mary by performing the rite of pilgrimage to the Church. It is one of the most beautiful works of Venetian and Italian Baroque and inside it houses important works of Tiziano and Tintoretto. 

La scuola grande di san rocco

It was built as the seat of a powerful confraternity, which called Tintoretto to fresco the walls and ceilings with episodes from the Old and New Testament. To finish the cycle of frescoes, comparable to a Sistine Chapel in Venice, the painter took 24 years, from 1564 to 1588. In addition to Tintoretto, one can admire the works of Tiziano, Tiepolo, Giorgione and the engravings by Marchiori, who sculpted the twenty-four wooden doors of the Chapter Hall. WEBSITE

Venezia
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Ph. Marco Valmarana

What to do

What to do in Venice
Venice. Ph. Mao Yuqing

Bacaro Tour

It is not a tourist package, but a ritual that Venetians have always practiced. At aperitif time, before lunch or dinner, you’ll find them in the wine bars (here they are called bacari) for a glass of wine (even spritz is always welcome from 10.30 am onwards) and some snacks (a local version of tapas). First stop, head to the Erbaria area at the foot of the Rialto Bridge. Other recommended addresses are the recent Bakarò, in Campo Santa Margherita (Spritz Campari from the textbook) and the ancient Cantina Do Mori (San Polo 429, Calle Do Mori), with the wooden demijohns in sight. It seems that here Casanova gave the first date to his lovers. For other addresses, visit bacaro tour Venezia (you can also download a pdf with the most authentic addresses for € 1.39).

Bottega Cini

As in the Renaissance, this shop, that sells exclusively Venetian artifacts, also has a guest craftsman. In a beautiful room, recently renovated, you’ll find the works of Marisa Convento, one of the last Venetian impiraresses. Traditionally it is the women who strung glass beads to make bunches to be exported to the East. With those tiny fragments of glass or with artistic beads blown in Murano glass factories, Marisa today creates elegant bijoux and decorations.

Day trip to Burano 

The picturesque island of Burano is renowned for its bright coloured fishermen’s houses and little restaurants that serve fresh fish from the lagoon. The island is also famed for it’s lace, in fact, if you have time, stop at the Lace Museum which illustrates the development of lace making in the area, and perhaps pop into local shops to buy typical lace items such as bed sheets, table cloths and dresses, as well as the “bussolai buranei”, typical butter biscuits. Also a ‘must’ is the Martina Vidal shop: every day there is an over 80-year-old lady who embroiders the famous Burano lace, a precious art that is being lost. The island is only one hour away from Venice and it can be reached by taking the vaporetto: number 14 from S. Marco / S. Zaccaria or number 12 from Fondamente Nove.

Campo Santo Stefano

It is amazing to sit and enjoy breakfast outdoors at the Paolin Café, under the sunshine in the morning. A coffee, newspaper and the comings and goings of the Venetians. The homemade ice creams are also to die for. Campo Santo Stefano is also the place to be for your daily spritz: at Terrazza Aperol with their creative cichèti, or at Le Cafè, another historic place where they serve coffee with clotted cream. Do not miss the windows of Piedaterre, the most glamorous Friulian shop, also with the brocades of Tessitura Bevilacqua

Edipo re

If you want to discover Venice from a different perspective, book the Edipo Re boat, upon which Pier Paolo Pasolini and Maria Callas spent beautiful days on the lagoon. Today it has been lovingly restored and offered as a gourmet experience: book and sail around the islands tasting delicious menus cooked on board. Chefs and itineraries change, so be sure to get on board when there is Donato Ascani, two Michelin starred chef. WEBSITE

Burano
Laundry hanging from one of the little houses in Burano
What to do in Vencie
Edipo Re

Punta Contarie

Punta Contrarie Venice
Punta Contrarie. Ph. Maris Croatto

A new multitasking space: gallery, bar, restaurant, florist, design shop, haute cuisine and Filipino chef. The sandwiches on the panoramic terrace on the top floor are also delicious.

Where to Eat

The Venetian culinary scene has suddenly become more interesting. There are three new starred restaurants: Local, Wistèria and Zanze XVI. Also new to try is Il Refettorio which focuses on the quality of local suppliers and on interior design. Then there are the evergreens, such as the popular Osteria Ca’ d’Oro alla Vedova, unbeatable on meatballs, and the sumptuous Club al Doge of the Hotel Gritti: with both spaghetti with spider crab and Daniele Turco’s cream and raspberry tartlet are incredible, as are the views of the Grand Canal flowing through the windows.

Other restaurants we propose are:

Tenuta Venissa 

The estate is an escape from the city center and transports you to the countryside in Torcello, a tiny islet connected via a bridge to Burano. It’s home to a unique vineyard of the Dorona grape, a native vine that was in danger of being lost after the great flood of 1966. It was recovered and transferred here by the Bisol family, who made Venissa a truly enchanting combination of a Wine Resort, a Michelin starred restaurant, an osteria and guest rooms. Ideal for a weekend escape or, a simple day-trip for an exceptional enogastronomic experience. The Michelin Starred restaurant led by Chiara Pavan and Francesco Brutto is tightly bound to the terroir of Native Venice and features unique, seasonal dishes closely connected to the surrounding environment: vegetables and herbs from the estate and fresh fish caught by the fishermen of Burano. There is also an Osteria that has recently inaugurated a new Chef whose menu is a reinterpretation of the traditional regional cuisine. But, before dinner, make sure you head to the outside bar on the canal for an aperitivo under the sunshine. WEBSITE 

Osteria Anice Stellato 

Osteria Anice Stellato is situated in the Cannareggio district close to the Jewish Ghetto, along the canal. The interior decor evokes a rustic, modern atmosphere that compliments the contemporary take on Venetian traditional cuisine. All the ingredients used are seasonal and local, therefore expect to find lots of fish combined with fresh garnishes. In fact, one of the unique aspects is the play on sweet and savoury, where many dishes combine citrus fruits or berries to give that fresh, alternative taste. A special mention must go to the presentation of the dishes, almost a shame to dig in. WEBSITE

Antiche Carampane 

Since 1983 this family-run restaurant has been dominating the Venetian culinary scene. A traditional, historical venue that is nestled among the charming, narrow streets moments from the Rialto fish market. The menu is based upon the seafood and seasonal produce found in the neighbouring Rialto market, to which Francesco, owner, and Adriano, chef, visit every morning; therefore you can expect the menu to vary. The Carpaccio of raw wild Fish is a starter I would highly recommend, as it is a fresh, delicate start to the meal, followed by the traditional creamed cod served with the heart of the artichokes to taste Venetian tradition. As for the mains, Tagliolini with spider crab sauce or Venetian style Cuttlefish with soft white polenta are exceptional choices. WEBSITE

Venissa Venezia
Tenuta Venissa

Where to sleep

The St. Regis Hotel 

The St. Regis hotel in Venice is tactically hidden at the end of a narrow alleyway allowing maximum peace and tranquility during your stay. It overlooks the Grand Canal offering a picturesque view of the boats and vaporetti driving down from the early hours of the morning. As you step into the hotel, you are immediately greeted with a modern, contemporary and elegant interior that creates a pleasant contrast to the historic provenance of the St. Regis. There is a theme that runs throughout the hotel and that is the combination of pastel coloured, avant-guard decor combined with works of contemporary art spread throughout both the communal areas and the rooms. In fact, inspired by the Venetian masterpieces of former guest and Impressionist painter Claude Monet, the interiors showcase a distinctive colour palette that represents how light changes throughout the day from dawn to dusk. WEBSITE

casa Flora

Run by the Romanelli family for over fifty years and three generations, Hotel Flora is a small, charming hideaway located near St. Mark’s Square. Located within a 17th century palazzo, its history has been reflected throughout the choice of vintage decor in the 40 uniquely decorated rooms. The building encloses a beautiful internal courtyard with cast iron furnishings and luscious vegetation, ideal for an intimate drink or a quiet afternoon reading a book. As the concept is more of a b&b, there is no restaurant, however the breakfast certainly makes up for this, A rich selection of home made cakes and pastries coupled with freshly brewed coffee whose smell oozes into your room every morning. Truly delightful. WEBSITE

Courtyard at Casa Flora

Ca Di Dio

Located within a 13th century building of great historical value signed by Jacopo Sansovino, Ca’ di Dio is an evocation of an unconventional Venice combined with a highly refined design concept thought up by the talented Patricia Urquiola. 66 rooms & suites that house precious objects that highlight the refined Venetian craftsmanship from textiles to murano glass lamps. On the culinary front there are two restaurants: the Essentia Restaurant, located within the internal courtyard that follows an ‘all day dining’ concept, serving light snacks. The second, the VERO Restaurant overlooks the laguna and is a charming setting to enjoy sophisticated cuisine that draws inspiration from typical local dishes. Ca’ di Dio also features a reading hall, two private courtyards and a SPA & Wellness centre for those seeking a moment of zen from the busy city. WEBSITE

Ca Di Dio Venice hotel
One of the rooms at Ca Di Dio

Venice Venice

A wonderful hotel with a unique concept: it is a fashion and design shop, restaurant, bar with 20 rooms that will soon become 40 as soon as the renovation of the second building is completed. Perhaps the most glamorous place currently open in the city (also because the owners are the Gallo, entrepreneurs of the Golden Goose sneakers fashion brand). The waiters wear uniforms reminiscent of gondoliers, with striped shirts and Friuliane shoes on their feet. The menu is chichèti-style: small bites of many Venetian specialties: meatballs, sardines in saòr, creamed cod and an original cocktail menu (try the Americano with orange foam: super!) WEBSITE

CA’ MARIA ADELE

One of the sweetest locations. Less than twenty rooms in a Venetian style-decor, with brocades, Murano glass chandeliers (the owners come from there) and Baroque-style furnishings. Upon arrival, they offer you coffee and whipped cream and breakfast is ordered in your room the night before to be ready on the table the next morning. The place for those who love to be pampered. WEBSITE

Isola Santa Cristina

Isola Santa Cristina is a private island at 40 minute boat ride from Venice. Set in secluded scenery, far away from the crazy crowds, it had been bought 30 years ago by Gernot Swarvoski together with the island as a family retreat. There is nothing more, apart from a villa, a tiny ancient chapel amidst lovingly tended grounds cradling organic gardens, orchards of plums, apricots, figs, olive trees, vineyards and fish valleys. René Deutsch, one of the youngest members of the family, and his wife Sandra decided to turn it to a retreat to practice yoga and meditation, and live according to the rhythm of nature. In 2015, they restored the villa following their new ecological philosophy based on simplicity, which is now enjoyable with minimal furniture, valuable artworks and historical design. There are no TVs in the nine rooms, only windows to frame the spectacular and lively nature. Common areas are generous, with custom made crystal chandeliers and lit fireplaces both inside and outside on the patio, in front of the swimming pool. There are no restaurants on the island, but a personal chef, even Michelin-starred if required, arrives with staff and groceries to prepare a sumptuous dinner. WEBSITE

Breakfast at Venice Venice
Ca Maria Adele
Terrace at Ca Maria Adele
Ca Maria Adele
Aperitivo outdoors


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