Each year, millions of tourists visit Venice, a northern Italian jewel box of city nestled into a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. In the summer months, tour groups and cruise-ship masses overwhelm the tangle of ancient streets, armed with cameras to document its gilded palaces, mosaic-tiled churches and high-end cafés. But whether you visit during the high season or the less-trafficked winter months, you can enjoy the region like a true Venetian with this guide.
Escape the crowds in Venice proper
There’s certainly no shortage of exquisite luxury hotels throughout the city, but many of them are just steps away from the most populated areas. Instead, book off the beaten path at the Bauer Palladio Hotel and Spa, a serene and stunning hotel set in a 16th-century convent on Giudecca Island. Suites feature garden or lagoon views and convenient boat transportation is provided across the water to St. Mark’s Square.
Another peaceful retreat is the San Clemente Palace Kempinski, a plush hotel located on a private island that can only be reached by water taxi — but is also just 10 minutes from the bustle of Venice’s most desirable sites.
St. Mark’s Square, the city’s only true piazza, draws a ton of visitors, as it is home to the mosaic-laden St. Mark’s Basilica and the ornate Doge’s Palace. If seeing these is a priority, go early to avoid a massive line (but be sure to stay until 11 a.m., when the church’s mosaics are illuminated).
Afterward, a peek inside Caffé Florian, the world’s oldest continuously operating café, is essential.
From there, you can easily take a stroll to The Gritti Palace, where the white peach and prosecco bellini blend is poured tableside with a perfect view of the Grand Canal.
The best way to experience food and drink in Venice is with a giro d’ombra (loosely translating to “wine stroll”) or cicchetti (“small bites”) crawl. Mingle with locals as you sample snacks in bacari, which are wine bars similar to the pintxo and tapas bars of Spain.
Located near the Rialto Bridge is Cantina Do Mori, the city’s oldest bacaro bar (allegedly a favorite of Casanova’s).
A stone’s throw from there you will find All’Arco, another beloved bacaro, which gets busiest at lunchtime.
Follow the bend of the canal toward Cà D’Oro alla Vedova, where locals line up in the alleyway for orders of the bar’s famous polpette (meatballs).
For more modern experience, head to Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso, which features a fully stocked bar that crafts cocktails, aperitifs and creative cicchetti like savory cupcakes.
Just down a narrow walkway, I Rusteghi is an intimate bacaro tucked away in a courtyard. You’ll find more than 450 types of paninetti (little sandwiches) filled with things like wild boar pâté, culatello with truffles, smoked trout and more.
Wind your way over bridges and along canals, watching the foot traffic dissipate as you head to Cannaregio. This hip neighborhood hosts the lively Fondamenta Misericordia, a treasure trove lined with canal-facing restaurants and bars like Vino Vero, where they forego traditional spritzes in favor of natural and biodynamic wine selections served alongside fresh, creative crostini.
For a sit-down dinner, visit Enoiteca Mascareta, where the lovably quirky chef-owner, Mauro Lorenzon, will saber bottles of his private label prosecco to accompany his signature risotto and fresh-off-the-boat seafood.
Retreat to native Venice
While Murano is a popular Venetian island well known for its glass, nearby Burano and Mazzorbo (two islands connected by a footbridge) are ideal for a tranquil exploration of the other side of the lagoon. All the islands are a brief ferry ride from Venice and provide picturesque views of the skyline as you come and go.
The fishing village of Burano is known for its vivid spectrum of houses along the water, as well as the handmade lace produced on the island. An overnight stay is essential to fully experience the quaint village, which empties out by sundown.
Stay at Venissa, an idyllic wine resort opened by vintner Gianluca Bisol after he salvaged some of the last remaining dorona vines. He uses the native Venetian grape to craft just 4,000 bottles a year of rare Venissa wine.
Venissa Restaurant, easily the best fine dining on the island, is helmed by a team of four chefs who collaborates to create elegant dishes using local ingredients. Choose to stay in one of the 19 rooms at the Mazzorbo vineyard, or one of 13 newly renovated luxury apartments in Burano (the only accommodations on the island) known collectively as Casa Burano. Guests from both sites are welcome to enjoy the lavish breakfast spread at Osteria Contemporanea.
While in Burano, you’ll likely see gondoleros practicing in the lagoon — or a regatta, if you’re lucky. Guests of Venissa can be a part of one-of-a-kind experiences like fishing in the lagoon with the Burano Fishermen’s Cooperative or gondola-rowing lessons with the Burano Rowing Association.
Just a quick boat ride from Burano is Torcello, which is one of the smallest and oldest islands in the lagoon. It is home to the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, an 11th-century church filled with gilded Byzantine mosaics adjacent to a bell tower with panoramic views of the lagoon. Afterward, enjoy a bellini at Locanda Cipriani, a restaurant and inn opened by the late Giuseppe Cipriani.
Back on Burano, reserve a booking at Trattoria el Gato Nero, which has odd hours but exquisite seafood that you’d be hard-pressed to find in Venice proper (much of the seafood is imported to accommodate the quantity of tourists).
After your meal, visit one of the lacemakers (like Dalla Lidia) upholding the delicate dying art form and make time to stop by the Lace Museum. You’ll also find several family-run glass shops (New Arte Fuga) selling authentic Murano glass, handcrafted in the store.
Make an appointment to tour Berta Battiloro, the Venetian studio where battiloro (goldbeater) Mario Berta uses heavy mallets to pound precious metals into paper-thin leaves to be used in jewelry, cosmetics, mosaics and the golden label on each Murano-glass bottle of Venissa’s wine.
Explore the prosecco DOC
Venture outside the city for a day trip — or better yet, a weekend — to explore the Veneto region, where prosecco is produced in nine different provinces. The charming province of Treviso is just over 20 miles from the center of Venice and easily accessible by train or car (but the latter is much more convenient to reach estates big and small). Here, you’ll find shops, osterias and the same cobbled streets and bridges of Venice, minus the swarms.
Stop for lunch at Gambrinus in San Polo di Piave, where noted chef Adriano Zanotto crafts dishes like Muscovy duck ravioli and roasted guinea pheasant with roasted vegetables and local biancaperla polenta. End the meal with a chilled glass of Elisir Gambrinus, a liqueur made in house using a secret recipe and the hyper-local roboso grape.
Be sure to make appointments ahead of time at prosecco DOC wineries like San Simone, where the fourth generation of the Brisotto family crafts sustainable wine using green practices, and Villa Sandi, where you can tour the estate’s Palladian villa before heading to the tasting room to sample its prosecco.
Tour the vineyards of nearby Borgoluce before having dinner at Osteria Borgoluce, where the kitchen makes its own mozzarella, yogurt, ricotta and panna cotta using milk from onsite water buffalo.
The homegrown experiences continue with charcuterie from the farm’s naturally raised pigs and olive oil from the property’s groves. Stay overnight at the agriturismo, which showcases a natural pool, gardens and sprawling views of the countryside.
Head to the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene to dig further into the realm of prosecco at estates like the green-certified La Tordera, where it crafts both prosecco DOC, made with glera and a touch of chardonnay, and prosecco DOCG, made from grapes hand-harvested from older vines grown on steep vineyards. Enjoy sweeping views of the prestigious Cartizze vineyard seen from Salis Ristorante Enoteca while nibbling on aromatic risotto made from the grand cru prosecco.
After a tour of the cheese cellars of PER, a food research center, school and cheese bar in San Pietro di Feletto, conclude your visit to Veneto with dinner at Cà del Poggio. Marvel at the breathtaking vistas of Conegliano over a seafood feast with specialties like Venetian-style spider crab, queen scallops and salt-baked branzino.
Feel free to eat and sip bubbles to your heart’s desire before retiring to one of the resort’s plush rooms overlooking the prosecco hills.