Any destination is greatly enhanced with a little local knowledge. Getting insider tips on the best places to go, current happening events and hanging out in good company all stem from meeting the local ‘natives’. Traveling to Venice may have its differences than other main cities because of its unique walking culture and the high tourist traffic that seems to flood the city like its notorious acqua alta (flooding tide).
Most Venice travel guides will direct you towards the main tourist area to take in the attractions such as the Doge’s Palace, Accademia Art Museum, Basilica San Marco and Rialto Bridge. While these are all worthwhile places to visit, they are overloaded with non-locals and tourist traps. Here are a few ideas on how to get into the ‘in-crowd’, wherever you may find yourself.
Most visitors imagine sleeping in a Venice hotel along a quaint canal or quiet alleyway, but I suggest staying at a B&B, apartment or residence. While larger hotels may offer more amenities, these latter options will provide a homier and more traditional environment. Also, the staff is usually more willing to share their insider info with their guests than some hotels which just direct you to places where they get kickbacks. The one-on-one cultural exchange is part of the charm of staying in a smaller and more intimate establishment. Pensione Guerrato (located near the Rialto Mercato stop) is a renovated Venetian palace dating from 1288. Today it is run by Piero and Roberto who have renovated it with simple Venetian décor and charge nightly rates as low as €90 for a double room with a shared bath.
On the Town:
Another good place to meet locals is the public squares. There is only one piazza in Venice and that’s Piazza San Marco (technically, in Italy, a piazza is where there is a Basilica and Venice only has one). The rest of the squares around town are considered campi. The one with the hippest crowd is Campo Santa Marguerita which is located near the University Ca’ Foscari. Here you will find college students hanging out every day sitting on the old water wells or grabbing a drink at one of the many café’s. Even if you don’t speak Italian, there are usually plenty of English-speaking students hanging around to get talking to. A good ice-breaker is to ask for recommended good places to eat or where to go in the locality. You don’t need to take the advice, but people are usually happy to impart their local knowledge. The other benefit is that you can get the cheapest drinks at this square, starting from €2 for an ombra (small glass of wine). In the summer, there are jazz concerts at Rialto Mercato where many locals just hang with friends over drinks and enjoy the show.
Drinking & Dining:
My rule of thumb is to stay away from any restaurant facing any of the main attractions in Venice. It’s always best to get off the beaten path and find those hole-in-the-wall restaurants beginning with the words osteria or trattoria, which are more traditional restaurants. Some of my favorites are Osteria La Botte (just behind Campo San Bartolomeo) and Trattoria alla Madonna (near Rialto Bridge).
Pubs and clubs are an obvious hang-out for everyone, but in every place there are bars for tourists and bars for locals. You definitely want the latter, and in Venice that is usually either in the square adjacent to the Rialto Market or Campo Santa Marguerita. You’ll notice that there will be many small clicks, but don’t be shy and introduce yourself. Usually someone from the group will be curious enough about the ‘new kid on the block’ to ask a few questions and start a conversation.
Venetians have their daily happy hour from 6pm to 8pm and you will find many of them with a red or orange drink in their hand known as spritz all’Aperol or spritz al Campari. It’s Venice’s cocktail made of prosecco, soda water, ice, and one of the liquors, Campari or Aperol. Campari is the bitterer of the two and red in color. A great pub where there is an eclectic crowd and live music on Wednesdays is Hosteria alla Poppa (located near Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio). Another local favorite is Al Timon (located near the Jewish Ghetto) where locals grab cicchetti (Venetian finger foods) for €1 and then sit over the canal bank gossiping over wine.
Following these few tricks will certainly lead you to have a more authentic stay in Venice and hopefully get you to meet some Venetians. Whether you are shy and prefer the one-on-one talks with the receptionist at the B&B or need to get in a couple glasses of wine to muster the courage to introduce yourself, once you make a Venetian friend, you will soon be introduced to their circle, so no doubt you’ll find a local buddy to attach yourself to come Friday night.
How and Where to Meet the Locals in Venice| Venice Local Travel Guide