Getting out of bed early in Venice is well-rewarded. For starters, you’ll have the narrow streets almost to yourself before the thousands of daytime visitors swarm into the city. (And notice how fast all the locals walk – a Venetian explained to me that this stops their feet getting sore pounding those hard stone streets; all the tourists linger and get foot sore. I tried it – it seemed to work.)
Another good reason for early rising is to tour the Rialto markets. This is the heart of the city, the place everyone comes to get fruit, vegetables and fish. The barges pull in and noisy, frantic trading starts around 7am. Cross the Rialto Bridge from Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) and head right.
Along the front of the Grand Canal you’ll find the markets which have been here since the 11th century, when all the ships tied up here bringing Venetians their daily needs. The buildings, squares and colonnades you find in this part of Venice now were built after a fire razed the area in the 16th century.
These days much of the area is taken over by souvenir shops, but the market continues if you push through the tack to the canal edge. The fish market, the Pescaria, is housed in a 1907 neo-Gothic pavilion, and the fruit and veg market is, confusingly, in the Campo de la Pescaria, where the fish market used to be.
Other streets are still named after their old functions, such as Campo dell’Erbaria, which was once an herb market; Riva del Vin, once the dock for wine-carrying ships; Naranzaria, which was once the citrus warehousing street; and Caseria, the old cheese street. A good cheese shop is still here, Casa del Parmigiano, and on the street Ruga degli Speziale, the old spice street, there is Drogheria Mascari specializing in spices.
Keep an eye out for stalls selling fruit and vegetables from Sant’Erasmo, a nearby island which has supplied Venice for centuries. Now you’re eating local, cheap, and fresh, like a true Venetian.