polaroids of italy (canal, spritzes, gondola seats)

We’re talking Italy, not California—and here’s everything you need to know about the enchanted, floating city. Where to eat, shop, stroll, and see art; so much art.

Meandering canals lined with bobbing boats and a labyrinthine network of streets and narrow alleys (getting lost among them is part of the fun) lead you to beautiful piazzas, Rococo churches, and ornate palazzos that feel sprung from a storybook. It’s city-as-fantasy full of surprise and delight—if you’re lucky enough to make the trip, here’s our guide to soak up everything the iconic destination has to offer.


Ai Mercanti

Though it’s not far from the throngs of San Marco, this small gem of a restaurant feels worlds away. Billing itself as a gastrosteria, the setting is serene and elegant, and the menu conjured by chef Nadia Locatello offers inventive, but approachable, modern takes on classic Venetian dishes—anyone for baccala swimming in lemongrass broth?

Trattoria Antiche Carampane

The various daily catches procured from Venice’s bustling Rialto fish market (which is itself worth a morning visit) are at the heart of the menu at this perpetually bustling favorite in San Polo (the Prada Foundation and the very underrated Natural History Museum are both a short walk away if you want to bookend your meal)—not to be missed are the daily raw fish plate, the fritto misto, tagliatelle with spider crab, spaghetti with prawns “alla busara,” and jet black cuttlefish with polenta.

Osteria Alla Frasca

You’ll find most of the tables at this shoebox-sized eatery in the upper reaches of Cannareggio outside beneath a swath of grapevines. A true local gem where the neighbor-watching (on my recent visit, a local woman in curlers, a slip, and red lipstick smoking out her window, felt straight out of a Fellini movie) is as enticing as the wine list and menu, which includes the signature featherweight gnocchi with local prawns and zucchini.

Osteria Al Squero

Venice is a cicchetti (tapas-like snacks) culture and this buzzing, standing-room-only spot along the canal in Dorsoduro is an ideal place to experience them. Enjoy bites like sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines), baccala mantecato (whipped mousse-like salt cod), and polpette with a spritz.

Gelatoteca Suso

OK, gelato may not make a meal, but intake of it while in Venice (or anywhere in Italy for that matter) should happen daily, or, dare I say, twice daily. Gelatoteca Suso (which also has vegan and gluten-free options) lives up to the social media hype (my favorites were coconut, dark chocolate, and the caramel toffee blend) and while the line outside is ever-present, it moves along quickly.


L’Armadie de Coco

Treasures abound at both of the boutique’s locations in San Marco—one is for more approachably priced vintage and the other is devoted to luxury pieces. Recent finds include a camel MaxMara blazer, cheery ‘70s cotton circle skirt, and an oversized ‘80s pinstriped Fendi jacket.


Another second-hand treasure trove in San Marco with an array of thoughtfully curated options for men and women. Here you will always find eye-popping pieces by designers like Robert Cavalli, Marni, D&G, and Moschino (I spotted their CD-printed skirt and shirt set on my last visit).


Italians are masterful with all things leather and this chic store in San Polo is proof. Its locally designed and hand-crafted bags (the shopping bag style makes for an excellent work tote) also come in unexpected colors like cobalt blue.

Alberto Valese

The swirling paper marbling technique is something distinctly Venetian and this little stationery shop in Campo Santo Stefano is the place to stock up on special bound notebooks and wrapping paper.


The spot to score a pair of traditional “Friulane” Venetian slippers which are on display here in a kaleidoscopic assortment of colors and fabrics.


Ocean Space

Since 2019, the enormous Church of San Lorenzo has been devoted to the work of Ocean Space, a center for research and environmental advocacy through the arts. The rotating exhibits here, all centered around pressing global issues, make interesting use of the singular space.

Fondazione Querini Stampalia

The house museum founded in 1869 by Count Giovanni Querini holds the collection belonging to his noble family (that includes works by Tiepolo, Bellini, and Pietro Longhi) is as much of a destination for architecture buffs who come to see the ground floor and garden which were re-imagined by Carlo Scarpa in the 1960s.

Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogana

For contemporary art, these two spots—the former is close to the famous Accademia bridge, while the latter is at the very end of Dorsoduro—house the collection of billionaire Francois Pinault and are absolute must-sees.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

The onetime residence of the iconic outre art collector (you can visit the graves of her Lhasa Apso dogs in the courtyard) is now a public venue where you can appreciate pieces (many from her collection) by some of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Look out for the Calder mobile which Guggenheim was famously photographed beneath.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Your neck will hurt from straining to look at the exquisite ceilings here which are adorned, along with all the available wall space, with the work of Renaissance master Tintoretto.

Island of Burano

While Murano, the island for traditional Venetian glass blowing, gets the bulk of the tourist traffic, Burano, while a bit farther, is just as worthy of a visit. Known for its lace-making tradition, the tiny isle is characterized by its rainbow-array of buildings (expect plenty of Instagram photo shoots).  

Giardini Biennale

When Venice plays host to the Biennale, a renowned international gathering of the art world every two years, these gardens are packed with pavilions dedicated to the participating countries. But, considering the lack of green spaces in the city, even when it’s not a Biennale year they’re worth a visit for an afternoon stroll. If you get hungry, stop for pizza beneath the maritime pines at Vecia Gina.

San Giorgio Maggiore

Hop the vaporetto from San Marco to this nearby island and go up to the top of the bell tower at the Andrea Palladio-designed church San Giorgio Maggiore, for a postcard-perfect view of the city. Also worth checking out on the island is the Fondazione Cini.

Palazzo Fortuny

The opulent Gothic palazzo is a showcase for the equally opulent Fortuny Fabric textiles which you’ll find throughout the rooms alongside gorgeous antiques and massive frescoes.

Fiorella is a writer, editor, creative, and brand consultant. She is a contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal, her writing has appeared in Vogue, Town & Country, Allure, and New York Magazine, among others; and she has worked with brands like Google, La Mer, and Madewell. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner, daughter, and dog.