Venice may be one of Europe’s most popular destinations for tourists, getting around 23 million visitors each year, but it’s still a living-breathing city inhabited by Venetians (around 59,000 when I was last there) so it is possible to experience Venice like a local – if you know how.
Here are my tips:
1. Rent a palazzo – okay, so it doesn’t have to be a palazzo, but at least rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel, to really know what it’s like to live like a local in Venice. My husband and I stayed at a 17th century Grand Canal palazzo with views of gondolas gliding by, and it was just magic!
2. Use My Local Guide – the first thing you should do is buy a copy of the compact My Local Guide to Venice (venice.mylocalguide.org), available from most bookstores in Venice. Published by Venetian husband and wife team, Matteo Bartoli and Mara Sartore, it has loads of local tips on places to eat and drink and things to see and do – by locals!
3. Walk – the vaporetto (public ferry) is expensive; most Venetians we met walk everywhere in Venice – and they can tell you exactly how long it takes them to get from point A to B – and they walk fast! They say the fastest way to get anywhere is to ride the wake of a Venetian!
4. Explore local neighbourhoods – avoid the tourist haunts and get to know local neighbourhoods like Cannaregio and Castello instead, where you’ll see fewer tourists and can still find kids playing ball in the back streets and old people gossiping outside their homes.
5. Shop the markets – head to the Rialto markets early in the morning to buy locally caught seafood and fresh fruit and vegetables. On Mondays, go to the organic market at Piazzale Roma where most of the produce comes from the islands in Venice’s lagoon. Not sure what to buy? Watch the little old ladies – they know what’s in season and what the bargains are.
6. Learn to cook Venetian cuisine – enrol in a cooking course with Countess Enrica Rocca, who runs classes in her light-filled Dorsoduro home. We did and we loved it! We shopped the Rialto markets for ingredients, enjoyed a post-shopping spritz, had a lesson in Veneto wine from Lorenzo at wine shop MilleVini, then spent a full day cooking, eating and drinking. www.enricarocca.com
7. Eat in the backstreets – avoid the restaurants on the Grand Canal and main squares, especially those on and around St Mark’s, and head into the backstreets where the locals eat. Prices will be lower and the food will be fresher and more authentic.
8. Eat local – the sign outside our favourite Venetian restaurant Trattoria Antiche Carampane (Rio Tera de la Carampane, off Ramo del Tamossi, San Polo) says it all: "No pizza, no lasagne, no menu turistico". This is one of those backstreet eateries I’m talking about. It’s tricky to find but it’s worth it. Owner Francesco and his chefs shop the markets each morning to make the freshest seafood-based Venetian dishes. antichecarampane.com
9. Drink with the students – the best place in Venice to sip a spritz or down a beer is with the local university students in the evenings on Campo Santa Margherita. The square has so much more atmosphere and prices are lower than the bars on the more touristy piazzas.
10. Buy a local memento – souvenirs don’t get more local than a handmade journal, photo album or personal stationery or business cards by bookbinder Paolo Olbi, one of Venice’s last great artisans. Paolo has two lovely shops on Campo Santa Maria Nova and Calle della Mandola where you might find him working in the backroom, embossing patterns onto leather notebook covers.