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Visitors have long been enthralled by Venice’s floating palaces and fabulous art. But its seafood-rich lagoon and garden islands also provide a taste of Venetian life – from cicheti (tapas) and fish dishes to rich, creamy gelati.

Best for seafood
Alongside the Rialto fish market, deli-diner Pronto Pesce specialises in crudi (Venetian-style sushi) and seafood salads. Grab a stool and a glass of wine with folpetti (baby octopus) salad, or enjoy yours dockside along the Grand Canal. Saturday lunchtimes are all about the much-lauded fish risotto (Rialto Pescheria, San Polo 319; closed Sun & Mon; fish salads from £7).

Neighbourhood restaurant Ristorante Ai Do Farai in Dorsoduro was once one of the oldest wine bars in Venice; now a small restaurant, regulars pack into the wood-panelled room hung with football scarves. Try the tris di saor sarde, scampi e sogliole (sardines, prawns and sole in a tangy marinade) or the tasty pasta with clams, mussels and prawns (00 39 041 277 03 69; Calle del Cappeller, Dorsoduro 3278; closed Sun; mains from £15).

Take the vaporetto to Mazzorbo – a garden island that’s home to small hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant Venissa. Chef Paola Budel creates magical dishes with produce from the lagoon, such as a single roasted scallop on a black espresso reduction, or a main of minuscule whole octopi served on fava bean purée. Sit out on the patio overlooking the vineyard (Fondamenta di Santa Carerina 3; closed Mon and Dec–Feb; meals from £50).

Best for cicheti
Francesco and his son Matteo of All’Arco invent Venice’s best cicheti with Rialto market finds. On Mondays when the pescaria is closed, Francesco might wrap asparagus in rare beef with mustard; when Saturday’s seafood haul arrives, Matteo might create tuna tartare with strawberries and balsamic (00 39 041 520 56 66; Calle Arco, San Polo 436; closed Sun and Jul & Aug; cicheti from £1.20).

The zemei (twins) who run Ostaria Dai Zemei in San Polo create small meals with outsized imagination: octopus salad with marinated rocket, duck breast drizzled with truffle oil, and crostini loaded with radicchio, speck and gorgonzola. Arrive early, grab a stool and consult the twin gourmet masterminds Giovanni and Franco for ideal wine pairings (Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni, San Polo 1045b; closed Tues; cicheti from £1.50).

You could make several trips a day to café-bar Zenzero, one of the best quick eats in Venice. Start with a super-strength espresso with a freshly baked pastry – the profiteroles are good – lunch on filling cicheti such as fresh-baked wholegrain croissants with mortadella and pistachio salsa, and return at sundown for an aperitivo in the square (Campo Santa Marina, Castello 5902a; closed Sat eve and Sun; sandwiches from £1.60).

Best for gelato
Off the beaten track in Santa Croce, the hole-in-the-wall Alaska Gelateria sells organic gelato in gourmet flavours invented on site by owner Carlo Pistacchi. These include cinnamon, fig, tangy Sicilian lemon, artichoke and the popular house-roasted local pistachio (00 39 0 41 71 52 11; Calle Larga dei Bari, Santa Croce 1159; 12pm–8pm daily; gelato from 80p).

With three branches in Venice, outlets throughout Italy and stores in the US and Japan, Grom’s philosophy for using seasonal, Fairtrade ingredients has made it famous. Choose from flavours such as bacio (chocolate with hazelnuts), tiramisu, granita siciliana (slushy ice), or the flavour of the month, which ranges from mango to panettone (Strada Nuova, Cannaregio 3844; 11am–11pm daily; from £2).

At some point in Venice you’ll find yourself wedged among the throngs at Rialto Bridge – beat an escape to Gelateria Suso for locally made creamy gelato. The signature ‘doge’ – mascarpone laced with fig sauce and chocolate-covered almonds – has restorative powers. Otherwise, a cone of hazelnut and dark chocolate could easily pass for dinner (Calle della Bissa, San Marco 5453; 10am–10pm daily; from £1.60).

Transport
Marco Polo airport, seven miles from Venice, is served by BA, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch and Thomson Airways, from eight UK airports (from £80 from Gatwick). Ryanair flies from Bristol, East Midlands, Leeds and Stansted to Treviso, an hour from Venice (from £70). Bus services link both airports with Venice’s Piazzale Roma (singles £5). The Alilaguna ferry runs from Marco Polo airport (singles £12) and ATVO’s Eurobus connects to Treviso (singles £6). The city’s main public transport is the vaporetto (singles £5, 24-hour ticket £16).

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