Within minutes of your first steps through the narrow streets of the canaled city, you’ll realize why it’s the romantic capital of the world. Couples abound, cuddling on guided gondola tours, sipping glasses of wine at canal-side trattorias, or hugging tight while taking a vaporetto ride across the lagoon. And you? Well, your backpack will have to be company enough.
The romanticism of Venice is evidently present in the minds of those who visit: with 20 million visitors coming each year, Venice is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy (and the world—Venice is even considering instituting a tourist cap to limit the number of annual visitors), making many of the city’s squares feel alarmingly like mosh pits rather than the far-flung getaways they were designed to be. In fact, the city was established by Romans for the very purpose of being inaccessible and inconvenient: they were fleeing from Barbarians (specifically, the Huns), and, upon reaching the area that would become Venice, they decided to start building on top of a seemingly-uninhabitable lagoon. By pressing wooden posts into the marshy wetland, they created the foundation of what would become one of the most powerful cities of the Middle Ages.
Thankfully for you, you’re not in danger of an Attila attack, but you may still need to flee from other tourists. Strolling through St. Mark’s Square is a must—the Palazzo Ducale, the Royal Palace, and the Campanile are unquestionably the city’s most awe-inspiring landmarks—but you’ll need to do a bit more digging to discover what it is that makes Venice so special. Put your map away and roam, far away from the crowds. You may find it in the twisting alleys of Cannaregio, on the nearly-uninhabited island of Troncetto, or on a lagoon-side park near the Arsenale.
Nothing in Venice is cheap, especially not the food. We realize that budget travel is hard, but if there is a place to splurge it’s here. Dig a little deeper into your wallet to afford the unsurprisingly, pesce-driven Venetian cuisine. Everything that comes into city must do so by boat, jacking up the prices of all goods (inflation alert!). You can find the tourist-oriented pizzerias and cheaper cafes serving mediocre food for decent prices as well. But how can you pass up scallops and squid purchased daily at the Rialto fish market and served up fresh for you later that evening. As long as you’ll eat just about any sea creature from shark to crustaceans, non-English menus shouldn’t be a problem. Just employ our point-and-choose method for the true experience. Antipasto misti, black-ink squid, and risotto di pesce are popular dishes, and spritzes are the drink of choice! Rule of thumb: if you don’t know what you are ordering, have a friend order something simpler so if things go horribly wrong and it turns out you don’t fancy shark, at least you’ll have a little nibble. The pizza is good, calzones are better, but fish is best, so try it! We know you can pick out the tourist-catered restaurants, which are more or less the same, so we picked some special restaurants serving up traditional Venetian cuisine for a delicious, dining experience.
MEET THE RESEARCHER-WRITER
Joseph immersed himself in the culture of Northern Italy, a major departure from his small town Washington State roots. Clad in thrift store shorts, a pair of sneakers, and a T-shirt from the clearance section at REI, Joseph mispronounced his way through Versace, Gucci, and Gianfranco Lotti stores. “Dolce and Bananas?” he sputtered in Milan. “Giorgio Armonkey?” he stammered in Florence. By the time he got to Venice, he decided to get onto a gondola and keep his mouth shut about fashion. Interestingly, though, he had no problem saying “gelato,” “gnocchi,” or “biscotti” when placing his order in an Italian “ristorante.” Apart from his linguistic misadventures, Joseph toiled through the extensive Let’s Go “requirements” like seeing Michelangelo’s David or da Vinci’s The Last Supper, making it through the month mostly in one piece, despite only managing to memorize 114 of the 650 kinds of pasta he encountered.