A drink lover’s guide to Venice

From bustling canal-side bars and osterias to old-world opulence, Venice has something for everyone provided you deviate from the beaten tourist track

Words by David Kermode

Vino Vero bar in Venice
Vino Vero in the northernmost district of Venice is a great place for cicchetti and wine (Photo: Karuna Clayton)

So much has been written about Venice that expectations can be as high as the tides that frequently flood its famous landmarks, yet it never ceases to impress. Enchanting, romantic, unique… the City of Canals is the capital of superlatives and its reputation for food in the UK has been enhanced in recent years by restaurants showcasing Venetian cuisine, most notably Russell Norman‘s Polpo, and visitors’ discovery of the city’s cicchetti culture.

Venice certainly struggles to contain the massive influx of daily visitors, who outnumber locals two-to-one, and its tacky tourist restaurants outrage every Italian, so it’s a case of knowing where to go to get the best out of a weekend break, safe in the knowledge that you are bound to get hopelessly, helplessly and happily lost.

Supposedly shaped like a fish, some say a snail, you really need a satellite to make out the S-shaped Grand Canal that winds through the middle of Venice’s six sestriere (districts): Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo, and Santa Croce. Each is different, so start where the crowds converge, in the Piazza San Marco, make a beeline for the basilica, then set off in search of the cicchetti, the savoury snack that’s a Venetian staple (flavour-charged mouthfuls, not unlike Basque pintxo), washed down with a carefully curated selection of natural wines.

Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco and the Basilica at its eastern side

Things to see and do in Venice

Forget the organised walking tours, it pays to wander Venice at your own pace, criss-crossing its canals and their tiny tributaries, meandering through the narrow streets, encountering unexpected campi (the civic squares) while marvelling at the fusion of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture that defines this ancient merchant city that must once have felt like the centre of the universe.

Art is at Venice’s heart, with Titian, Tintoretto and the Bellini brothers among the roster of great names that once called it home, as they competed to capture its extraordinary atmosphere on canvas. The Gallerie dell’Accademia offers an impressive collection of Old Masters, while the Peggy Guggenheim Collection provides an alternative for lovers of modern art and avant-garde sculpture. It also boasts a beautiful garden.

Rialto market
Rialto Market sits by the Grand Canal

The Rialto Bridge is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable structures but it is best to admire it from a short distance (the gondolier stop at Riva del Ferro is the perfect place), before walking across to the Rialto market, a Venetian institution that has celebrated seasonal produce since the 11th century.

Harry's Bar
Arguably the most famous drinking spot in Venice, Harry's Bar opened in 1931 and remains worthy of a visit

Where to eat and drink in Venice

Katherine Hepburn, Joe di Maggio, Ernest Hemingway… it starts to sound a little like the lyrics to Madonna’s Vogue but it merely hints at the full list of patrons at Harry’s Bar, a stone’s throw from St Mark’s, which retains its allure, despite being a bit of a cliché these days. Named after the visiting American who stumped up the cash to open it, the Bellini (Prosecco with peach) was created here, as was Beef Carpaccio, so it certainly warrants its place in the history books. However, I would ditch the Bellini and opt for another Venetian institution instead: the Select Spritz.

Select is a Venetian bitter about three quarters of the way from Aperol to Campari and makes a delicious aperitivo to be enjoyed in one of the city’s bustling canal-side bars, such as Ai Pugni, which also offers a compelling wine list.



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Though there’s fine dining in the famous hotels, to really capture the spirit of this ancient culinary destination, you should eat like a Venetian in one of its tiny neighbourhood restaurants, where whatever’s in season is made star of the show.

At the foot of a bridge, a few steps from Campo San Giacomo Dall’Orio, La Zucca is a tiny, wood-panelled treasure that feels faintly Alpine but specialises in regional cuisine. Though not a vegetarian restaurant per se, veggies take centre stage, so expect the likes of pumpkin flan or lasagne of Treviso radicchio, depending on the time of year.

Venice’s location in a lagoon means that seafood doesn’t come much fresher. Osteria alle Testiere is another intimate establishment bursting with locals enjoying whatever was landed at the fish market that morning.

Hotel Cipriani
Hotel Cipriani has its own Michelin-starred restaurant called Oro

Where to stay in Venice

Venice is synonymous with some of the greatest names in hospitality: the likes of the Cipriani, the Danieli and the Gritti Palace. Of these, the Cipriani, a Belmond hotel, on the island of Giudecca, is the most famous, its olympic-sized swimming pool a poser’s paradise and its restaurant, Oro, boasting a Michelin star.

For something opulent but also discreet, the Aman Venice occupies the former Palazzo Papadopoli, a grand Baroque building with a small spa, private garden and even a hidden entrance jetty to avoid prying paparazzi.

It’s worth considering that many hotels in Venice close during the off-season, so check the specific dates of your break if you have a place in mind.

Vino Vero food and wine
Cicchetti and red wine at Vino Vero (Photo: Karuna Clayton)

The ultimate drinking destination in Venice

Those seeking an authentic slice of Venetian life should head up to Cannaregio, the northernmost district, where locals seem to outnumber visitors and this city’s richest culinary tradition, cicchetti, is observed with aplomb.

Vino Vero is a tiny bacaro, a traditional tavern, brought bang up to date with an enticing range of natural wines that are listed on a blackboard above the bar to accompany a simple but delicious offering of cicchetti. The scintillating sparklers, made using the ancestral method, are worthy of investigation but the best bet is to trust those behind the bar to lead you on an energising voyage of discovery.