If you're arriving at San Marco airport, do splash out the 12 euros to get the blue line Alilaguna boat to your nearest stop. Day or night it's the only way to arrive, but once you're there, enjoy Venice most by just walking and getting lost in the quieter backstreets, and seeing a glimpse of what's left of the life of a diminishing non-tourist resident population. Small shops, bars, galleries and markets will welcome you.
Try Arsenale or around Campo Santa Margherita and the beautiful Del Frari Church for a start. If it's raining or misty, so much the better. If it's December, the Christmas market near Accademia Bridge will warm you up. For half a euro cross the canal by shared traghetti gondala and stand like the locals.
Then have a map handy for use in emergencies only
Although there are around 450 bridges in Venice, only four cross the Grand Canal. The most famous is the Rialto, the district around it once the most important financial centre in Europe when the Republic was at the height of its power. Although the banks and bordellos of the renaissance have gone, what makes the Rialto worth visiting, apart from the bridge itself, is the market concentrated around a few tiny alleys and on the quayside. For a thousand years, housewives, servants and chefs have bought their daily supplies here, from a handful of scampi from the lagoon to fresh fruit from the Veneto. This colourful and animated spectacle has to be the best free show in Venice and is open every morning apart from Sundays and holidays.
It's an island with a far more vibrant and less touristy atmosphere than the main part of the town. The shopping around St. Marks Square is in places spectacular and glamorous, but most of the glass (for instance) is Chinese tat. The market on the South side of the Ponte Vecchio is something like the real thing - almost like a French country weekly market - fresh veg, people buying food instead of just eating out.On the other hand, St. Marks Square at night is one of the most stunning places I have ever seen - even when it's flooded!
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