Venice by day is a tourist machine, but at night there is a transition. The gaudy facade vanishes, the streets empty. Venice has taken off her stage makeup for the day, and beneath she is yet more beguiling, dark and mysterious. So how can you enjoy this special time of day to the full?
What to do in the evening in Venice
Sunset is a truly magical moment in Venice, with handsome monuments silhouetted against fuchsia skies, or deep orange reflections gilding the lagoon surface. Below are three of the best places to appreciate Venice’s fiery skies.
Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
Once a warehouse and living quarters for the German population of Venice, this vast building on the Grand Canal has been transformed into luxurious fashion store. While well-known international brands are on offer, it also offers classic Venetian products such as handmade masks during Carnival period. Its crowning feature is a spectacularly positioned roof terrace right on the bend of the Grand Canal providing a view down both ways.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Rialto Bridge is right beneath. It’s free, so naturally, it’s very popular. This means you are only allowed 15 minutes up there. Get your free tickets earlier in the day and then turn up for your assigned slot. In accordance with the period of the year, time your visit according to sunset for some magnificent photographs. During Carnival, some masked models also pose there.
Calle del Fontego, 30100, Venice
Riva Degli Schiavone
The sun sets artistically behind the Santa Maria Della Salute church, and the Riva provides ample classic Venetian foregrounds: gondolas, the charming oriental arches of the gondola stations, and ornate lampposts. Take a stroll along this wide promenade and admire the Redentore church by Palladio on the Giudecca opposite, the white façade rosy with the setting sun.
From the Water
Take a Vaporetto (water bus) from the Lido to St Mark’s Square and, if timed correctly, you can appreciate the myriad of colours reflecting off the lagoon surface.
Aperitivo – Happy Hour
In summer the sunset coincides graciously with the aperitivo hour (6.30 pm onwards). On the main street connecting the railway station with St Mark’s Square there are countless bars, but all are packed with tourists, overpriced and lacking atmosphere. Below are three of the best aperitivo locations in Venice.
Fondamenta Della Misericordia
To have an aperitivo at a reasonable price with great snacks amongst students and locals make your way to the Fondamenta Della Misericordia. This long canal-side street is lined with ‘bacari’, the traditional bars of Venice. Their interiors are dark, wooden and generally pretty tiny, so the crowd spills out onto the wide pavement outside, resting their drinks on windowsills.
One of the highlights of the street is Paradiso Perduto. A classic dark wooden interior and a bar piled high with a mouth-watering range of Cicchetti (little pieces of bread with toppings or other little snacks, also known as the Italian tapas) particularly featuring fried seafood. Order a plate of freshly fried prawns, baccalà (a Venetian specialty) and calamari with your prosecco or spritz and then settle down beside the canal on the sun-warmed stones.
Paradiso Perduto (Fondamenta Della Misericordia), Cannaregio 2540, tel. 041720581
Near the end of the Fondamenta is the unmissable Al Timon. The Cicchetti here are laden with intriguing flavours and the wine is good, but the highlight is the boat ‘terrace’ on the canal outside. Balancing glasses of prosecco and plates of snacks, step (carefully) from the pavement and finish the evening sitting carefree cross-legged on a wooden boat.
Osteria Al Timon (Fondamenta degli Ormesini), Cannaregio 2754 tel. 39 041 524 6066
The Ghetto of Venice, just a bridge away from the Fondamenta Della Misericordia, is another less-touristy area. Here you can find fascinating antique shops, bakeries selling special Jewish bread and sweets, and a burgeoning contemporary art scene. In Calle Ghetto Vecchio you can find the bar Majer which offers a delicious range of pizzas and panini to accompany your aperitivo. You can sit outside in the square and enjoy watching the ordinary activities of daily life, so much more fascinating for their performance on the stage of Venice.
Calle Ghetto Vecchio, 1227, 30121 Venezia tel. 0415246737
Skyline Rooftop Bar
For a very special aperitivo you can head over to the rooftop bar of the Hilton Molino Stucky hotel on the western end of the Giudecca. Stretching before you is the skyline of Venice, accented with spires and domes. Directly beneath you is the canal of the Giudecca shimmering with the colours of the setting sun.
Booking in advance is highly recommended not only because it is a very popular location, but also because with a reservation you can take the hotel shuttle boat service to reach the Giudecca island from the Zattere opposite. Drinks may not be cheap (glasses of wine from 8 euros) but it’s worth paying a little extra for a view like that!
Giudecca 810, Fondamenta San Biagio, 30133 tel.00390412723311
Getting there: Vaporetto stop Palanca or Sacca Fisola
Venice is set apart from other European cities for some obvious reasons, but one to remember is how safe it is. Wandering around after dark is not dangerous here, in fact, it is recommended! A silent canal is suddenly disturbed by the soft splash of a gondola oar, a dark street echoes with disembodied footsteps. It is magical to meander, without direction, around these winding alleys, feeling like the only visitor in Venice.
Even better, however, is visiting the sites that, during the day, are packed with tourists taking selfies and tour groups barging their way through the crowds. St Mark’s Square at night is unrecognizably tranquil.
Stroll around listening to the restaurant orchestras and gazing at the Basilica without being jostled by other tourists. Having a coffee in one of the bars lining the Piazza is certainly costly, but at night you’re paying as much for the atmosphere as for the drink.
Caffè Florian is the most famous, where secret conspiracies were devised over coffee and romantics like Lord Byron dreamed. The notorious Casanova even found it convenient for his particular exploits as Caffè Florian was the only meeting place at that time that admitted women.
Luxury in Venice
With the opulent palaces of the Grand Canal, the golden mosaics of St Mark’s, and the elegance of the Piazza’s cafes, Venice has always had a strong streak of luxury running through it. If you want to follow in the footsteps of centuries of prestigious residents and visitors you can do no less than taking a gondola ride at night. Glide softly down the dark canals at night listening to the rhythmic splash of the gondolier’s oar without the bustle of daytime traffic and roar of motorboats.
Mingle with high society and have an evening in the dazzling La Fenice theater. Although having burnt down in 1996 it was restored to its former glory of gilded sculptures, lions and a magnificent chandelier (just imagine the challenges of bringing materials and construction machinery to the theater by canal and boat!). Don a chic dress or smart suit and enjoy the performance as much as your surroundings.
About the author: Rebecca is the writer behind the website La Brutta Figura, which shares unusual destinations in Italy from luxury hotels in caves to the last remaining lemon groves on the Amalfi Coast. Travel to villages frozen in time, follow a bar crawl around Venice’s traditional pubs and find complete guides to where to eat the best of the local specialties.
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