We Share the Sights in Venice only the Locals Know

by Darya Boronilo

Ah, Venice. The mere mention of its name conjures up images of beautiful architecture embraced by waterways. Perhaps your imagination carries you even further, as if you were transported by a gondola across a canal of memories. Whether you’ve actually experienced these moments or desire to, you are mentally there, traversing the cityscape. With the bow in front of you and your smartphone in hand, you can’t help but want to sneak a picture of a loved one taking it all in.

You desire to capture the moment. To preserve it. You find that you, too, are enamored with where you are and who you are sharing it with. Your vision is clear, and your mind validates that you know this city. You can literally see Venice. Let’s just enjoy the moment a little longer before we transport you across the canals and waterways, past the picturesque architecture, in the imaginary gondola we fabricated together. It is an excellent place to be before returning to this space and time. Yes?

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be Venetian? To be on the other side of Venice, the non-touristy side. A special place that tourists don’t often experience. This city will surprise even the most seasoned traveler when they see it the ‘See Italy’ way. From hidden bars to fascinating workshops, the cozy streets of local neighborhoods are transformational. Like the ancient waterway connecting to Padua! Seeing Venice, the real Venice means boarding a magical gondola where you leave behind the “tourist” name badge and arrive as one of the locals. In essence, to become Venetian. Are you ready to take that journey with us?


Venice canal at sunset

Venetian Tapas & Secret Wine Bars

Let’s start our adventure in the Cannaregio area, one of the few remaining residential areas in the city and a popular after-work meeting place for Venetians. Stroll down the picturesque streets that reflect over a 1000 years of history, small fishing boats, vintage balconies, and quiet canals reflecting the soft evening light. Far away from the pace of the tourist crowds, you can self-determine how long you will pause to soak up the atmosphere of this cozy part of Venice.
As you breathe it all in, you will note the musky smell of the canals. Your senses will also observe the ripples on the water from the gondolier’s oar and hear the clink of glasses in an open bar nearby. Each evening, Venetians gather with friends in the neighborhood wine bars, called bacari, and share their stories of the day. This retelling of events while sipping a glass of wine or drinking a spritz cocktail is as much a cultural institution as the establishments themselves. Having abandoned the touristic zones for Venice’s side streets and quiet canals, you’ll discover that many bacari dot the area. Almost as if beckoning you to come in and nibble some cichetti, a traditional Venetian tapas, while you blend and socialize with the locals.

Bars & restaurants next to Venice canal

Cross the Canal to the Other Side of the River

At this point, you have emersed yourself in experiential local living. You are refreshed and ready to board a traditional traghetto gondola and cross the Grand Canal, the way a Venetian would, to reach the adjacent neighborhood. You will land in the Rialto area and join a foodie tour with friends who await your arrival! This is not a guided tour for tourists; it is a guided adventure for those who wish to indulge in the culinary arts. This means some of the locals, and you will be bonding over the tastings as you share the experience.
Perhaps it will be an osteria, owned group of young locals passionate about experimenting with traditional recipes in a modern way. This will become the unforgettable stop as you morph into a Venetian. Its charismatic chef entices your tastebuds as he describes dishes such as black ink calamari, seafood polenta, and seasonal vegetables served in gourmet dishes. Your minds are knocked unconscious by your stomachs, and your group decides to order everything he suggested!

Restaurant next to canal

Why not… When in Ro… Venice, Right?

The table gets filled with bright, stylish plates of mouth-watering snacks, and a jovial waiter pours sparkling Prosecco into glasses. You can’t help but say, “La vita e Bella” aloud – you raise your glass of bubbly and catch the eyes of a neighboring patron. They nod and warmly smile with an approving grin. You are becoming one of them. Your table collectively watches as the city plunges into a magical evening atmosphere. The thoughts of imagining somewhere better have entirely vanished. There is talk of a secret watering hole.
As a group, you raise your glasses and decide tonight’s main objective is to continue savoring the authentic tastes of Venice, including finding that water hole. A friend nudges you and says they can not believe you are just one street away from the tourist crowd and how it feels like you are oceans away from them. You can not help but smile – that you and the people with you – have a piece of Venice all to yourselves. Not only that, the experience has transcended any language barriers as the locals consider you one of their own.
Restaurant tables next to canal at evening

Mosaic-Making Workshop (Kid-friendly)

Alright, you quelled your hunger pangs, satisfied your curious inner cat, and got a good night’s sleep. Morning is here. You and your fellow adventurers are still talking about the secret watering hole over a comforting frothy Cap’. Mixing with the locals has inspired all of you to conquer a little more of that traveling shyness that plagues us all. It’s time to get creative. After all, there are gobs of people at the tourist sites, and one of the locals you befriended last night spoke of another secret doorway. “A must!” he says if you want to respect and be respected in your newfound community.

Being a mixed generational group with varying ideas about what is fun or exciting can be trying. But you’ve been given a unique opportunity to unlock an activity you all will enjoy. You announce that it’s time to head back to Cannaregio, but you provide no details as to why, just that it’s a surprise. Having spent some time there the day before, you feel confident you know where you are going. After momentarily questioning your location, you assure your companions, take a deep breath and pass through a secret door. A hidden courtyard opens up before you. It is as if you’ve entered another world where fire and furnaces take center stage.

Local artisans move harmoniously with the dancing flames, creating timeless masterpieces out of glass. As your senses absorb the heat, smell, and noise, you cannot help but notice that these artisans are multi-generational, just like your little group. A family who has been crafting glass works of art for generations, since the 19th century, actually. Inside the cozy studio, viewing the process of melting glass and assembling mosaic masterpieces is wow-worthy. But that is just the beginning because now it’s your turn to try mosaic craftsmanship.

The creative process of building the mosaic together is so immersive. Your kids take it seriously, eager to be authentic Italian mosaicists themselves. They study prepared sketches, and begin to try different materials and techniques. They are thrilled to have creative decision-making regarding the materials, methods, and color combinations. Even having input on which rules they will follow. Everyone is collectively focused, so focused, in fact, that three hours have flown by.

Three hours were filled with interest, laughter, learning, and rule-breaking. Even you broke your traditional role of the parental observer by becoming an active side-by-side participant. And now, it is time to reveal the fruits of your effort. The masterpieces are ready. Praise and applause abound. But more importantly, a family memory has been seared in your hearts and minds. One whose flame will always be stoked when you gaze upon your “Made in Italy by my own hands” souvenirs. The day you became one of Venice’s glass-blowing artisans.

Kid on a Mosaic-Making Workshop

 Brenta River Cruise & Picturesque Padua

It’s a *yawn* new day! And your Venetian transformation is almost complete. The activities you have made are paying off. Your travel planner was right; to connect to a city’s heart, one has to be willing to embrace its people and lifestyle. You’ve eaten with them, adopted their retelling of the day’s event over food, and done a little work with a family of artisans. What more is there to do to complete your adoption? Well, to be a true Venetian, you must do what every one of them regularly does.

What’s that, you ask? Why get out of the city? The place is flooded with tourists! And that means boarding a traditional wooden boat and enjoying a leisurely cruise along the Brenta River. Your destination? The crowd-free gem of Padua. Home to many Ancient Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance marvels. The greenish water of this ancient waterway connects Padua with its sister city Venice.

However, you are more fascinated by how it elegantly reflects the magnificent facades of noble villas dotting its shoreline. Like the Italian aristocrats who have gone before you, you take a sip from your glass of wine. Closing your eyes, you imagine sailing to the luxurious comfort of your country residence. The boat passes beneath low bridges, through green tunnels of coastal forests, and past the docks of impressive palazzi (palaces) until you arrive at the elegant city center of Padua.

Your eyes behold a unique atmosphere that no photo can fully capture. Having heard whispers that Gallileo Galilei used to live here, you become excited to see the country’s oldest University. Time passes quickly as you stroll through the lush Botanical Gardens, marveling at well-planned labyrinths and a picturesque greenhouse with rare plants. From afar, you see a large building with mesmerizing beauty. Its domes, columns, and arch-shaped passages fascinate all of you. Upon approach, you discover it is the Basilica di Sant’ Antonio, and you cannot help but learn about him. You have seen so much today. The Palazzo della Regione, the Prato della Valle. Perhaps, Giotto’s fascinating frescoes, and as an art lover, the Capella degli Scrovegni.

Tired but brimming with all the memories you’ve made, you finish your day sitting in the sunny piazza at the historical Caffe Pedrocchi. Stendhal, a famous French writer, once wrote, “It was in Padua that I began to observe life in a Venetian way…. Cafe Petrocchi is the best in Italy”. Sipping the cafe’s extraordinary espresso while making observations about life, you realize just how Venetian you’ve become.

Cruise on Venice river

Venice from the Local Perspective

Few places are as popular as Venice. Millions of people head to the city to experience its unique charms. And who can blame them? It is a must-see destination. However, suppose you’re the type that finds a plethora of tourists to be a bit much. In that case, we’d love to guide you into a more enjoyable, more authentic local’s perspective type of experience. Exciting activities and deep connections await in the city’s less well-known districts. When you venture outside the tourist traps and take the time to get to know the city, you can have a much richer and more rewarding experience in the Venetian way of life.
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