This past winter we spent a glorious week soaking in the pastel majesty, the delicate elegance, and the rich history of Venice, and I’m not sure I will ever fully recover from the heartbreaking beauty of this city. As a Venice wedding photographer, I spent a lot of time in the floating city during the busy summer months. However, seeing Venezia in the winter – quiet, authentic, nearly empty of tourists – was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. Scroll down for my favorite places to eat, stay, and explore in Venice.
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Water Taxi. Instead of taking the Vaporetto (the Venetian waterbus), splurge on a water taxi to take you from the airport directly to your hotel. Trust me, this is not your standard taxi. You will be whisked through the lagoon and down the Grand Canal in a gorgeously restored wood speedboat – an experience that will make even the most seasoned luxury traveler gasp with delight (and feel like you’ve stepped into a James Bond movie).
The Gritti Palace. My absolute favorite hotel in Venice is the historic Gritti Palace. Overlooking the Grand Canal in the heart of the city and dating back to 1475, this noble palace feels more like staying in a private residence than in a hotel. Filled with priceless art and antiques, every single detail is elegant and welcoming. Even if you don’t stay at the Gritti you can still enjoy a bit of its majesty at Club del Doge – their fine dining restaurant set on a terrace above the Grand Canal.
Bar Longhi. While at the Gritti Palace, be sure to visit the historic Bar Longhi which was a favorite of Hemingway and plays a major role in his novel ‘Across the River and into the Trees.’ During the daytime the terrace offers some of the best views of the Grand Canal (and equally sumptuous people-watching opportunities).
Cicchetti. A trip to Venice isn’t complete without enjoying the famed cicchetti – Ventian finger foods (many of which are crostini) that are served at the bars and tavernas at happy hour. Cicchetti are inexpensive, delicious, and offer a great way to surround yourself with local Venetians. Three of my favorite destinations for Cichetti are All’Arco, and Cantina do Mori, Cantine del Vino già Schiavi.
Osteria Alle Testiere. Simply put, this is the absolute best place for fresh seafood in the city. We loved it so much that we went back for lunch the next day and ordered the exact same thing – Grilled Razor Clams and Pasta alle Vongole. This tiny restaurant only has eight tables, therefore reservations are a must.
San Giorgio Maggiore. This island is one of the most iconic sights in all of Vencie, yet many only are able to glimpse it from afar. Instead, take a five-minute ride on Vaporetto No. 2 from San Zaccaria to the stunning Palladian church. Be sure to ride the elevator to the top of the bell tower for the most incredible view of Piazza San Marco and the surrounding Venetian lagoon.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and Punta della Dogna. The walk from the church of Santa Maria della Salute to the eastern tip of Dorsduro is my favorite in Venice. When you arrive to Punta della Dogna, hang your legs over the edge and watch the gondolas and boats float by.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Also located in the Dorsoduro neighborhood is the incredible Peggy Guggenheim Collection, an absolute must for any modern art lover.
Harry’s Bar. Another one of Hemingway’s Venetian haunts, Harry’s Bar serves the best Bellini in town and is a fantastic place for people watching.
Iconic Cocktails. Venice is filled with iconic places to grab an aperitivo – my three favorites being Harry’s Bar (another one of Hemingway’s haunts), the Aman, and Hotel Danieli, which played a starring role in Angelina Jolie’s film ‘The Tourist’.
Ristorante Quandri. Located inside of St. Mark’s Square, one might think that Ristorante Quandri would simply be an overpriced tourist-trap. Expensive, yes, but this restaurant offers a true fine dining experience that is made even more outstanding with it’s exquisite Philippe Starck decor (though I’d prefer less taxidermy) and spectacularly romantic views of the square. The truffle tasting menu is impeccable. Or, for a more casual experience, visit the historic Caffe Quandri on the first floor during the daytime for the most delicious cup of hot cocoa imaginable.
Basilica San Marco & Doge’s Palace. A trip to Venice isn’t complete without a visit to the city’s most famous site – the cathedral of San Marco – and to the adjoining royal residences at the Doge’s Palace. To really get a good understanding of the city and its unique and complex history, I highly recommend hiring a private guide.
Shop. Steer clear of the tourist-trap shops that line the streets leading to Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, many of the masks and velvets aren’t even made in Italy. Instead, I recommend visiting Barena Venezia for chic Italian fashion, Legatoria Piazzesi for beautiful handmade paper, and Bevilacqua Mario for the most stunning Venetian velvets and textiles.
Ca’ Rezzonico. This beautiful palazzo is a museum that is dedicated to the art and architecture of 18th century Venice. Admire the stunning frescoed ceilings and the fact that this is actually how privileged Venetians lived.