A non-exhaustive and entirely subjective guide to Venice
Hello! I’m living in Venice for a little while. People tend to come to Venice on holiday. It’s one of those places. I’ve begun to know it reasonably well so I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I know.
I — Food
Venice has a bit of a reputation for being the worst city in Italy food-wise, which is sort of fair and sort of isn’t. It is basically like most tourist-heavy places, in that there are 1) horrid little restaurants that will rob you of your money and give you terrible food 2) decent enough restaurants where you will have a pleasant time even though you are not, let’s be honest, having the single best pasta dish you have ever eaten in your life, and 3) Very Good Restaurants.
The only issue, I guess, is that there are a lot of 1) around and sometimes it can be harder than you’d think to differentiate between a 1) and a 2) if you’re just walking past with no prior knowledge. Also, the 3), the VGR, do tend to be, for the most part, very expensive. Not all of them! But quite a lot of them. In short: in Venice you can either have a lot of money, low standards, or addresses given to you by people who know their way around the city.
I am obviously going to give you some names in a moment but would like to caveat them by saying that I really am quite easily pleased when it comes to food, so if you go to one of the restaurants and you think that really, it is fine but it is a 2), then I can only apologise. This is not a guide for people who are very serious about their food. I am not very serious about my food. I just like having a nice time. Also I have not been to any of the very fancy places because I can’t afford any of them.
Before I get into the list I also wanted to say something which may seem quite obvious but which definitely shocked me a bit when I first came here, and which shocked the friends who came to visit me: Venice is not a cheap place to eat in. There are many cities in Europe and indeed in Italy where you can have a lovely if unfussy lunch with a small glass of house wine for nine euro, but Venice is not one of those places. For lunch especially, you can only really get a panini or similar from a student-friendly place for about four euro or you can sit down in a restaurant and blink and spend a minimum of sixteen euro. There is no in-between. It is, if I’m being entirely honest, a bit annoying, but also not the end of the world.
Oh, and finally — you need to book tables in Venice. If you want to charmingly rock up at a restaurant at 8pm you are allowed to do that but it is very likely that they will laugh in your face. Also, restaurants are closed between lunch and dinner so it’s usually a good idea to pop by a place at around noon to check that they have space that evening, at the very least.
Right, now we’ve got this out of the way, these are the restaurants I have been to and enjoyed in Venice. Some are well known, others are less well known, some are a bit spennier than the others though none of them are horrifically expensive, and nearly all of them are near Dorsoduro because that is where I live, and I am lazy:
Trattoria Anzolo Raffaele
Lovely place in a very quiet bit of town — definitely on the spennier end of my spectrum but amazing food.
Osteria Da Codroma
Same neighbourhood as the above, tiny little place, everything is good there but the desserts are especially wonderful, and I don’t even have a sweet tooth normally.
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Also on the slightly spennier end but worth it — menu changes every day, I think. Very very small place, in a charming way.
Birraria La Corte
One of the only places in town that does very good pizzas, also on a square with a nice big terrace so you can eat outside in the sun.
Pizzeria Ristorante La Profeta
Also a rare place that does very good pizzas. Quite quaint in a lovely way.
Osteria Ai Promessi Sposi
Quite famous I think? But very good. Menu changes all the time. I once had their homemade pasta in a white goose ragu and briefly saw god.
Also a classic! It is very well-known but it is great. Quite messy and very jovial, has live music on sometimes but not in a way that’s a nightmare.
The only time I’ve ever had “contemporary” (or “experimental” or whatever) Italian food. It was outrageously good. I ate spaghetti with beef tartare and truffle shavings and mountain butter, whatever that is. It was so good.
Had lunch there once and it was a delight — no menu, the waitress just tells you what they’re making that day and you pick one of them. Nice little terrace also.
If you stay here for long enough you will, believe me, get tired of Italian food. If and when that happens, I would recommend going to Frary’s, which does Persian/Greek dishes, and is very nice. Although: I was very drunk the one time I went there so it is possible I would have found anything delicious at that stage, so who knows.
A fancy restaurant! Quite spenny but does fun things with food — had a deep fried soft egg there which was very pleasing, and my friend had asparagus ice cream, among other things. A good time if you enjoy “experimental food”, which to be honest I don’t, really, I’m a simple woman with simple tastes, but maybe that is your thing, and in that case you should go.
Trattoria Da Ignazio
So just before the Biennale I tried to book a table for six on a Saturday night and was laughed at — laughed at! — by all my usual restaurants and eventually I walked into the first restaurant I could see that looked semi-decent and made a booking. Da Ignazio had space on that night and was, it turns out, entirely decent! Was it the best food I’ve had in Italy? No! Was my pasta with spider crab perfectly pleasant? Yes! In conclusion: if you’re in Venice at a very busy time of the year, I would recommend Da Ignazio.
To conclude this section! Some miscellaneous thoughts on food in Venice:
- If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan then you will probably struggle a bit, I’m sorry: I mean it’s not not doable, but absolutely look at menus before you book somewhere because I have been to numerous restaurants that did not have a single vegetarian main on their menu, which I sort of respect in a way? Unaccomodating queens.
- This is going to be very specific but traditional dish sarde in saor — sardines with pickled onions and dried raisins — sounds utterly foul but is actually wonderful. I didn’t try it for ages because I thought I’d hate it but it’s great. Further tip: gamberi in saor is even better, in my opinion.
Not really a Going Out Out place, Venice! Which is fine. It would be weird to go to Venice to get smashed. It’s just quite obviously not the local vibe. It’s still a very boozy place though: you can see old people drinking their spritz basically everywhere from about 9am.
Still, the main form of drinking here is the aperitivo, which is usually a few glasses of prosecco or spritz, drunk alongside some cicchetti — the little canapes that you find everywhere here. If you find a place that serves either of those drinks for more than, oh, four euro, just run away — it’s a tourist trap. Wine and spritzes should only really cost three euro at most. You’re getting scammed otherwise. Or you’ve decided to go to a fancy place, I guess, but I can’t help you with those.
A lot of bars will also serve tiny little glasses of house wine for one euro, which feels very quaint and lovely even though it is often not very good wine, but that’s fine, it’s one euro.
Anyway — as far as I know there are basically no late night bars in Venice, and if you’re there during the summer you’ll find some nice places that stay open until 1am but in the winter and early spring everything will be done by 11pm. Also, this may be a c*vid hangover still but people don’t really drink indoors here; you drink outside on the street or sat on a terrace and if it’s too cold for that you’ll just have to deal. Mediterranean culture, baby.
Here are some bars:
I mean, where else? It’s one of those places that’s included in every tourist guide but is still absolutely worth going to. I have been to Schiavi approximately one million times. They do the best cicchetti in town. They’re on a canal so you can drink your prosecco outside by the water. It’s cheap. You can people watch. Obviously go to Schiavi. Although: they close down once they run out of chicchetti, with no warning. Sometimes it happens at 9pm. Sometimes it happens at 3pm. There is no way to know when it will be. I have turned up there and found it closed on so many occasions I cannot count them. But…
…That is fine because Al Squero is an approximately one-minute walk from Schiavi, and has a similar deal. Prosecco; spritzes; cicchetti. Less good cicchetti, if I’m honest, but cicchetti nonetheless. Quite a student-heavy crowd but they’re rarely rowdy.
Osteria Da Filo
Bit more of a scumbaggy vibe, Filo. I mean this in a neutral way, by the way: sometimes it’s nice to go to scumbaggy places. Does good cocktails. Slightly rowdier crowd. Just quite chilled and unpretentious — you know, a bar.
Can neither confirm nor deny that I like going there because I like saying “Corner Pub” in a heavy Italian accent. The inside is not very nice but it has some tables out the front, and a decent selection of beers, and sometimes that is all you can ask for.
Osteria Al Ponte
A bar! Not in my literal neighbourhood! Incredible. Unbelievable. More seriously — I found this place kind of at random by walking around and it does cheap wine and these amazing cicchetti that are courgette flowers wrapped in smoked provolone then deep fried for one euro fifty each and I could have simply eaten thirty of them. Also you can take your drink outside and sit on the bridge and look at the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, which is unbelievably good.
Il Santo Bevitore
Il Santo Bevitore is, in a very real sense, a pub. If you would like a wide selection of beer and a nice terrace that is where you should go. They have many beers, which few places do here. That is all.
Okay so this is one of those quite famous Venetian places that I ended up only going to precisely once so this isn’t really expert advice but: Vino Vero is a good bar in a good bit of town. Medium fancy, I’d say. Must note: does not do spritzes. They are very serious about being a Wine Bar, which, you know, fine. The clue is, quite literally, in the name.
Miscellaneous thought on drinking in Venice:
- If you like aperol spritz you should absolutely order at least one spritz select, which is allegedly like aperol but nicer. I do not like aperol spritz so cannot personally confirm or deny this.
- Do not have a spritz cynar even if you like spritzes, or perhaps think that the idea of an artichoke liqueur is quite chic, as I did. A friend and I tried it and it was utterly foul. As she put it at the time, after wincing, “it tastes like pickled soil”. Still, it’s the proper local drink so you know, you can try it as a one time thing if you really want.
EDIT: apparently my friend and I are more or less alone in intensely disliking cynar. Some people apparently even “like” it. I do not trust them, but here we are.
- Re. cicchetti, you should definitely have baccala mantecato. You can google it if you want to know what it is, I can’t be bothered explaining it, but I can tell you that it’s extremely good.
III- The Islands
So my personal view is that if you’re here for three days or under, you do not need to do The Islands. Vaporetto passes are stupidly expensive and honestly there’s more than enough to do on the main island, but obviously you are free to disagree with me and do The Islands. Italy is a free country. These are my thoughts on the islands:
San Giorgio Maggiore
I mean it barely counts to be honest, takes like two minutes to get there and it’s tiny. Still, the church is very, very beautiful so it is worth it overall. There’s also a campanile you can climb to the top of to look at the city but please be aware that it is, or at least was last time I was on SGM, six euro and cash only.
Hell on earth! I’m sorry but I just think Murano is hell on earth. It’s chock full of tourists. The restaurants are basically all tourist traps. Most of the Murano glass they make these days is — it bring me no joy to say — horrifically tacky. Simply not a fan of Murano.
So cards on the table, I’ve not been to Burano since 2019 so I can’t remember what it’s like. They make lace there, I remember that. They have colourful little houses, which I seem to recall are quite nice. It’s less hellish than Murano but still on the hellish spectrum, I would say. That is all.
The OG Venetian island! As in, literally — it’s where the first Venetians moved when they arrived in the lagoon. Very good vibes, Torcello; has the oldest church in the area, which is very cool. Very quiet, feels quite rural. Also there’s apparently a very very good but very expensive restaurant on there. I can’t remember what it’s called because I assumed I’d never get to go there. You can google it, if you want to have a Fancy Boy Day in Torcello.
Quite like Lido! Very different from all the rest. Has cars though, which is foul and wrong. It’s where Venetians go when it’s sunny and warm as it has several beaches; been told it’s entirely dead in the winter. Also been told that if you go there on a sunny day in the summer and try to get back at around 6pm you should definitely get a takeaway spritz for the queue because it’ll take you a good long while to get space on a vaporetto back.
I have…no strong feelings either way on Giudecca? I would say don’t bother unless you’re here for over a week. There’s a bit at the back that’s quite cool as it’s got all the boats from the people who actually fish etc in the lagoon. There’s a restaurant called La Palanca which is meant to be very good. There’s apparently some cool artsy stuff that happens there sometimes. Apart from that it’s kind of more of the same, to be honest. That is all I have on Giudecca.
The cemetery island. It does what it says on the tin. It’s an island with a cemetery on it. I went there once and I was quite excited and you know what? It is, in a very real sense, just a cemetery. Unclear what I was expecting. Do go if you like cemeteries, I guess.
You know, I never did go to Sant’Erasmo. It’s a bit out of the way, and it’s meant to be quite nice, as it’s basically the vegetable patch of Venice, but somehow I’m just yet to make it there, so I have nothing more to say. Should you go to Sant’Erasmo? Who knows.
One (1) miscellaneous thought on the islands:
- I would not recommend trying to do the Murano/Burano/Torcello combo on a weekend. I tried that once, somewhat resentfully, when my relatives were in town and we got to Murano fine but the queue to then get to Burano was the longest I’ve seen in my whole time in Venice. That is my warning to you.
IV- Generic tourist stuff
Would recommend getting the boat from the airport to the island if it’s your first time and you have a bit of a budget; it’s pricier than the coach but also, crucially, extremely cool. On a more day-to-day basis, I would say that you really do not need a vaporetto pass that covers your entire trip. Basically all of Venice can be done by foot — it’s a small place, and to be honest, the vaporetto isn’t even that convenient most of the time. Maybe get a 24 or 48 hour pass if you want to do the islands at some point but otherwise, your feet are your best bet.
Extremely worth it! Unbelievably beautiful. Amazing history. Simply a huge fan of the Palazzo Ducale. Entirely worth the entry price which, believe me, is a rarity here. Also definitely buy tickets beforehand because otherwise you will *queue*.
The Jewish ghetto
Not worth the guided tour, I’m afraid. It costs eleven euro and is quite short and sort of just explains what Judaism is about? Which is, you know, fine, if you are after some basic facts about Judaism. In fairness you do also get to visit one underwhelming synagogue, which is maybe cool if you are Jewish yourself? I am not Jewish, I wouldn’t know. It is definitely worth going to the Jewish quarter itself but, in my opinion, you’re better off just doing that by yourself and reading the Wikipedia page as you do it.
The Peggy Guggenheim museum
I mean I don’t like contemporary art and only went because there was a private view and I thought there was going to be free wine, so I am probably not the right person to ask. Still, I would say, in my entirely biased opinion, that I would have been quite angry if I’d paid sixteen euro to get in. Quite small, the ol’ Peggy Gugg. But then again, you do you.
Now *that’s* something I can talk about. The churches of Venice are excellent. The smaller ones tend to be free but you usually have to pay three euro to get into the bigger ones. My tip would be to buy the Chorus Pass as it’s absolutely worth the money if you’re a big church person as well, it’ll 100% pay for itself. Also I hope you like Tintoretto paintings because ohhhh boy, you will see a lot of Tintoretto paintings. My guy really got around, church-wise.
The…other touristy stuff? idk?
Honestly I did all the tourist things when I first came here a while back and I’ve not done any of them again since so I can’t really help you. What I will say is that, in my humble opinion, unless you’re coming here for over a week, you’ve definitely got enough to do if you visit the Ducale, approx. one thousand churches, spend a day doing the islands, then the rest walking around. Walking around is the best bit of being in Venice. You’ll find paintings everywhere else. Just walk around and eat cicchetti and drink spritzes and have a nice time.
Oh lol, my friend. Lol and, furthermore, lmao. Rofl, even. Lovely place, Venice, but just extremely bad if you would like to go shopping. I mean, unless your plans involve “literally one (1) Zara, H&M and Mango”, “shops with precisely seven pairs of shoes, prices beginning at 300 euro” or “the worst dress you have ever seen, near the Rialto bridge, for somehow still fifty pounds”, then do not go shopping here. The only thing I can offer is that there are some churches around the city that have some little charity shops, which are very good, but they seemingly open and close willy-nilly and appear and disappear like fairies, so there wouldn’t be any point in me listing the ones I’ve found. If you walk past one you should stop to have a look though, I got a three-piece suit with the tags still on for 45 euro in one of them and I still feel very smug about it.
So this is a very time-specific bit of advice as it’s a festival that’s only on for like three weeks a year but if you are going to Venice in April while Homo Faber is on, I cannot recommend their In Citta stuff enough. TL;DR you can book tours of artisans’ workshops, for free, and go snoop around a side of Venice you just wouldn’t see otherwise. I went to see a furnace! A blacksmiths! A costume maker! A shoemaker! All extremely good fun and, crucially, again, free.
V- Bonus round
Hello yes these are things I couldn’t quite fit in anywhere else.
Weirdly a place that took me three Venice trips to finally go to, but now one of my favourite spots. Lovely great bit of pavement facing the massive canal opposite Giudecca, especially nice if you’ve spent the day trying to navigate the labyrinths of San Polo and San Marco. Get a gelato at Nico then go for a drink at the Chioschetto, or a fancy cocktail at the Experimental Palazzo, and watch the sun set from there.
Campo Santa Margherita
The student square! It’s lovely and full of both decent enough restaurants and little bistros that will do you a decent sandwich for a fiver, so ideal to go to if you have time to spare and no real plans. It is hell after 10pm because it is the student square, unless you are a drunk student or, somehow, enjoy being around drunk students. Caffe Rosso is an institution.
Basically the only free thing you can visit in Venice I think? Now the offices of the Institut Francais. You have to email to get a slot. It is very small but some bits are very beautiful and, again, it is free. Worth doing if you’re here for a while and you’ve basically run out of money but you still want to look at beautiful things, which is very much where I am at currently.
Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium
The proud home of Venezia FC! One of the only stadiums in the world where you can watch both a game of football and the beautiful, soothing lagoon at the same time. Maybe the only one, I have no idea. Tickets are twenty euro; it’s definitely worth it. Also this is Italy so you can actually drink pints in the sun while watching said football. A delight.