Venice is not only the city of canals, gondolas and mysterious costume parties. It is a premier shopping destination for people from all over the world where bargains can be found and prices can be haggled and where the sky is the limit for couture luxuries.
There are weird and wonderful things to be found, and bought, in Venice. We’ve come up with some suggestions before embarking on your trip.
1. Purchasing from Street Vendors and Hawkers
As in any major tourist city of the world, you will find street vendors and hawkers plying their wares all over Venice. Unfortunately, many of them are illegal and they sell parallel goods which look every bit ‘the real deal’ but may land you in a spot of trouble when you try to get them through Customs. Call them copycat, counterfeit or parallel; they are usually poor imitations of luxury brands.
You’ll find fake designer handbags – think Fendi, Gucci, Prada – and you might possibly be tempted to purchase one, but stick to the mantra: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”. Same goes for fragrances and clothing. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
2. Vintage shopping in Venice
Not your average op-shop outlets, that’s for sure. In Venice, vintage shopping involves some pretty dazzling brands and lavish fashions. At Laura Crovato (2995 San Marco), women’s vintage clothing comes in styles that seem like a catalogue of textbook classics over many decades, designers and price points. Try and leave without a purchase…. La Maison de La Sireneuse (2614/A San Polo) may sound like a French boutique but it is thoroughly, wonderfully Venetian.
It is a compelling Pandora’s Box of intriguing trinkets and covetable delights, waiting to be discovered. A larger store in the Campo Santa Maria Nova is L’Armadio di Coco Vintage Lab where you’ll find a big selection of high end authentic vintage women’s wear, and the prices are said to be quite reasonable. Fancy a pair of labelled crocodile shoes? How about a 1920s vintage coat? There is even a selection of menswear such as leather goods, silk ties and jackets.
3. The Old World Bookshop
Unless you’re racing through Venice at breakneck speed, try to find yourself a little pocket of time to enjoy this treasure. Shopping in Venice should include the quirky, hidden treasures that tourists don’t typically know about. The Old World Bookshop is a trove of rare Italian and English language books curated by British owner John Francis Phillimore.
The ambience alone is worth the visit, with its faint musty odour and imperfect arrangement of shelves. You may find out of print books, used books and a smattering of new ones but you will find them on the floor, stacked on surfaces and looking somewhat unloved (when the opposite is the truth). The Old World Bookshop is also known to be a fairly decent place to spot local poets, artists and other romantic folks. Add it to your must-visit list if you love books, the written word, history or an authentic local shopping experience.
4. A true Venetian shop
Monica Daniele is a traditional outfitter specialising in exquisitely elegant fashions. The range includes felt hats, including a style that was inspired by the classic homburg worn by expatriate American poet, Ezra Pound who moved to Italy in the 1920s and died in Venice one day after his 87th birthday, in 1972. Daniele has also returned to fashionable favour the ‘tabarro’, a classic Venetian wool cloak, as worn by the notorious Casanova. Ladies can purchase fascinators and couture hats at Monica Daniele as well. Find your way to this icon of Venice situated between Campo dei Frari and Campo San Polo.
5. Venetian Glassware
Stop by the Carlo Moretti showroom in San Marco and salivate over the stunning modern glassware at L’Isola. All handmade to exacting quality, the products range from drinking glasses, vases, bowls and plates to lighting and sublime art pieces. Some items are clear glass while others make the most wonderful use of colour. The bead plates have to be seen to be believed and the art pieces, which are all signed, dated, named and numbered are worthy of family heirloom status.
6. Delectable Handmade Chocolates
Visit VizioVirtù, between Rialto and San Marco Square (“right where Marco Polo lived”, as the website tells it) to pick up a comparatively inexpensive souvenir of Venice … if you can stop yourself from devouring it before you arrive home! This is a cioccolateria where art meets skill meets decadent ingredients. Select from a divine assortment of handmade dragees, fruit gelées, truffles, pralines, brittles, bars and even spreadable creams (like Nutella but in an entirely different class of their own).
Travellers’ tip: Beware of pickpockets
Venice is one of the most famous pickpocket havens in Italy due to the high population of tourists and the crowded places like Piazza San Marco where it must seem like a veritable smorgasbord of riches. Be vigilant at all times including on public transport, not just for pickpockets but in case you are followed or watched. Report any suspicions to authorities immediately. Equip yourself with adequate travel insurance* and if you do happen to make an expensive purchase, contact your insurer to find out if it is indeed protected on your existing policy.
Given the millions of tourists who visit Venice annually, it seems that the criminal element of the city is not a detractor. It is simply up to you to keep a close eye on your belongings. Also, if you are approached and demands are made upon you to surrender your possessions, do so without hesitation. Your insurance is there to protect you after the fact; look after yourself and your companions and the possessions can be replaced.
Finally, while you’re in Venice, do yourself a favour and take that gondola ride. You will simply kick yourself if you get home and have no evidence that you travelled the world’s most famous waterways!