While there is no denying the magic and beauty of Venice, the other thing that is impossible to ignore is that it’s basically over-run with tourists (and yes, I know I’m a tourist too). There are only about 55,000 permanent residents in the historic city of Venice, and thanks in large part to the cruise ships, about 60,000 visitors descend on the city each day.
So if you want to find a way to enjoy Venice, without getting too overwhelmed by all the visitors, check out the things we enjoyed the most.
1. Eat like a local
Eating like a local might mean cooking a meal from produce picked up the Rialto Market, like we did with Gioia who runs her own small cooking school in her apartment, or having a bite canal-side, or in a back street, at small restaurant like Il Refolo near Santa Croce.
2. Watch an opera in a private palace
Surfing around the web, I found out about Musica a Palazzo (literally: music in the palace) – a tiny production company that puts on two or three different operas a week to an intimate audience. We were lucky enough to see The Barber of Seville, a comedy, which kept Monkey enthralled throughout. We moved to different rooms in the palace for different acts, and enjoyed a complimentary glass of bubbles overlooking the Grand Canal during the intermission.
The talented actors/singers took great pleasure in building a rapport with the guests. Monkey became the apple of the lead soprano’s eye, she serenaded him and even kissed him on the cheek during one act! He didn’t stop grinning for hours.
Apparently this is for tourists-only, but seeing as there were only 70 of us in attendance, it didn’t feel too touristy, and for sheer entertainment value, I’d give this a ten out of ten.
Book in advance. Tickets were 85 Euros for adults and 30 Euros for children.
3. Visit the sights at night
After around 5pm the crowds tend to clear out, partly because the cruisers go back to their ships, and partly because folks take a break before dinner. This is a great time to see some of the sights. St Mark’s Square was practically empty when we got there around 6pm. And as mentioned in my previous post, a few of the key attractions stay open as late as 11pm during the summer (check schedules), so it feels like you have an entire palace to yourself.
4. Take the river bus at sunset
If you’ve bought an ACTV pass, hopping on and off the river bus feels like it’s free – and there’s no better time of day to enjoy the view of Venice from the water than around sunset. You could plan a trip, or you could make a mistake, like we did, and hop on a boat without checking its number. We assumed that it’d stop at the last Venice-side stop: S. Elena, only to find ourselves at Lido at midnight! Fortunately, 15 minutes later here was a boat back to Venice so we weren’t stranded for the night, and we got to enjoy the twilight view twice.
5. Pretend you’re old money at Harry’s Bar
The people-watching at Harry’s Bar—the street-level bar of the Cipriani, made famous by peach Bellinis and Ernest Hemingway—is to die-for. Especially when you witness the old Venetian “money” strutting their stuff, and being greeted like the regulars, they unquestionably are, by the white-jacketed staff.
Harry’s Bar is immaculate. You can see your reflection in the thick lacquer of the wooden tables, that is, until 8pm when the white tablecloths come out for dinner-time. Be warned, this place is at the opposite end of the spectrum from cheap.
After our highly enjoyable opera experience, we were hungry at 11pm and found ourselves right outside Harry’s. Comforting rice and bean soup was a mere 30 Euros (#wtf,) and Monkey’s club sandwich barely raised my eyebrow at 39 Euros.
We just had to go with ka-ching sounds and enjoy the impeccable service, the convenience of the late hour dining and the scene.
Be sure to check the dress code. Dinner is served until 11pm.