I am a fan of the holiday sleep-in, but I can be persuaded to be an early riser if the reasons are good enough.
It is a bit of an understatement to say that Venice is popular with tourists. Venice is small (and expensive), many visitors come in on day trips and stay outside on the mainland overnight, therefore from about 9am to 5pm it is even more crowded. If you are lucky enough to be staying in Venice itself, make the most of both ends of the day, and her charms will be easier to enjoy.
5 reasons to get up early in Venice
1. The Rialto Markets. The markets are open from 8am – these are produce markets that the locals still treat as their local grocery store. The stalls are piled high with deliciously fresh fruit, veges and fish, and the surrounding small shops have bread and cheeses and meats of all descriptions. Every stallholder displays their produce in beautiful and creative patterns, they take their design ethic seriously here. Getting here early before the crowds means the stallholders have time to chat to you, and offer you tastings of their wares. At 8am only the produce market is open, the souvenir stands open later, and the Rialto bridge is almost empty. And you can stock up on supplies for your breakfast or lunch as well.
2. Photography. Get your camera and head outside, the light will be softer and your photos will show the tones and shades of Venice so much better than in the midday sun. And there will be less crowds to shoot around. In a place like Venice, where clichés like “beauty around every corner” seem very true, I am guilty of getting carried away snapping every thing I see, every minute. So to slow down and get some perspective I signed up for a photography tour one morning (starting early). For two hours I had a photo guide show me new ways to capture the iconic views, as well as hidden corners I may never have stumbled on by myself. More than just photography tips, I also learned interesting tales of history, geography, and how it was as a city to live in now. Great for a holiday snapper or a keen enthusiast.
3. Avoid the crowds. Once I’d seen the shoulder to shoulder crush in St Marks Square at lunchtime, I finally understood how good it is to be in central Venice with no crowds. See the Bridge of Sighs without peering over someone else’s shoulder (if only it wasn’t covered in scaffolding and advertisements). Wander around St Marks Square, get right up close with the detail on the arches on the front of the Bascilica, then stand way back and get the whole vista. Lie on the ground and peer up at the Campanile (not recommended in the months when Venice is flooded). Gaze on the rows of gondola tied up together in front of the square, gently bobbing in their bright blue covers, and step back to get them in a panorama shot without anyone walking in front of your camera. Watch the city wake up and come alive. And then when the crowds do arrive, breeze past them to all the best sights with entry tickets and skip the line passes purchased in advance, for the first timeslot of the day.
4. Gondolier Spotting. Go grab an early morning expresso in a hole-in-the-wall café and watch the gondoliers turn up in their black and white striped jumpers, see them throw back their own coffee at the counter, and then head outside to watch them polish up their boats ready for the day. How to find them? Go (early) to the edge of any canal (not the Grand Canal, go somewhere smaller) where there are gondolas tied up for the night, pop into the nearest coffee shop you can see, stand at the counter with your own caffeine fix and they will be there.
5. Earning my siesta. By the time it’s the middle of the day, crowded and hot, it’s easy to justify taking a siesta, or at least a very long lunch under a shaded umbrella, with a good view over the canal. Watch everyone else get hot and bothered, and then head out again late afternoon, all refreshed, as the crowds start to thin.