Going to Venice in the winter may surprise the summer traveler, but it may actually be the best season to visit: it is not crowded with tourists, it does not smell like stale water and fish, and if you’re lucky enough to be there with the fog you will have that added mysterious charm! Best of all, there isn’t a high number of cruise ships docking yet. Just dress warmly and wear waterproof clothes, jackets and shoes.
To visit in the winter, keep in mind that there are periods of “acqua alta”, where parts of the city are flooded with water from an exceptional high tide (usually due to intense rain). To be informed about this, visit these sites: http://www.comune.venezia.it/archivio/EN/22795 and http://www.veniceforyou.com/highwater.html.
Ready? Start your walk from the train station (or the parking) and get lost, it’s the best way to discover the town! Do not solely follow the signs for Rialto or Piazza San Marco but walk along the small, empty alleys. Sometimes they’re a dead end, some others may hide unknown wonders waiting to be discovered, a hidden garden, a beautiful vista, or a small family restaurant.
Take a break to pick up some energy at one of the bacari, typical Venetians bars that also serve tapas-like portions of food, listed here: http://www.scattidigusto.it/2015/04/22/bacari-migliori-venezia-sestieri/ it is divided by Sestieri or Venetian neighborhoods. Another source to use is http://www.dissapore.com/grande-notizia/bacari-venezia-mappa/. I recommend trying one of them out for the cheap prices and the real, non-touristy atmosphere. Be adventurous and try the Spritz (in Venice, white wine with a splash of carbonated water) or a glass of white or red wine, along with some cicchetti (food samples). A small gem that I recently stumbled upon is the Hostaria Vecio Biavarol, where a small portable tray was fixed to the railings along the canal right in front, so I could enjoy my wine and food by the water. Note that bars in Italy are usually family friendly environments: they’re not solely for drinking alcohol, but also for food and social gatherings.
If you prefer a proper restaurant, Al Nono Risorto has seen me going back as a loyal customer for 15+ years. It has consistently served traditional Venetian dishes at honest prices: http://nonorisortovenezia.com/. Another good, safe choice is Pane, Vino & San Daniele: http://www.panevinoesandaniele.net/en for traditional food from my region, Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the Italian North-East.
Be careful what you choose as a sit down restaurant. Venice is, unfortunately, full of overpriced places with poor service – and a service charge that is unique to the city and can raise the bill unexpectedly. Checking this blog, or Tripadvisor, for suggestions is a good idea. I always avoid “Tourist menu” blackboards or signs. 🙂
Besides getting lost, my favorite past time in Venice is visiting the Ghetto. The Jewish ghetto of Venice was the first one in the world – the word ghetto comes from the Venetian dialect. This area of town is underrated, very quiet, free from mass tourism and simply beautiful. A visit to the synagogue is a step back in history. This is also the place to find a non-touristy restaurant, with “Gam-Gam” being reviewed as an excellent Kosher restaurant.
The Arsenale is another place worth seeing. It’s where the Serenissima (Venetian Empire) kept their weapons and dried the ropes from their ships in long warehouses. They often organize art expos inside one of them, and if it happens, I suggest you take advantage of the beautiful setting.
A boat trip not only to Murano, with the glass factories, but also to Burano, with the ancient lace making craftsmanship, and Torcello, with the leaning bell tower, is an unforgettable experience. I’ll cover these better in another post.