What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Venice? If you’d asked me that before I visited I’d have probably said ‘bridges’, ‘canals’, ‘Bellini’ or ‘St Mark’s Square’. Now that I’ve returned, the one word that sums up Venice or me is most definitely ‘cicchetti’. You might not be familiar with cicchetti (I wasn’t until I found myself eating it) so let me tell you all about it and where you can find the best cicchetti in Venice. Before I continue, if you’d like to read more about what I got up to in Venice, you can click here and read about how I fell in love with Venice away from the crowds.
What are Cicchetti?
Cicchetti are Venice’s answer to tapas – small snacks that can usually be eaten in one bite. You’ll find them all over Venice in traditional bàcari (wine bars) or cicchetti bars, where you’ll find locals standing at the counter with a small glass of local white wine (known as ‘ombra’) in one hand and a cicchetto (the singular word for cicchetti) in the other. These bars are usually very small, and some don’t even have any seats! Even when seats are available, you’ll still see the locals standing as it’s often more expensive to eat and drink at a table – some places I visited listed different prices for ‘at bar’ and ‘at table’.
It’s thought that the word cicchetti comes from the Spanish word ‘chico’, meaning small, as cichetti are very small! More interestingly, the accompanying glass of wine, the ‘ombra’ translates to ‘shadow’. This relates to when wine would be sold in shaded stands located at the base of the Bell Tower of Saint Mark’s Cathedral – as the sun changed position, the stands were moved so they could continue to stay in the shade, or shadow. Rather than wine being served with cicchetti, it’s more the case that cicchetti is served with wine, with the aim of preventing unintentional tipsy-ness.
There’s a huge variety of cicchetti in Venice, with the most common form being bread topped with meats, cheeses, fish or vegetables. You’ll also find arancini balls, meatballs in tomato sauce, artichokes, stuffed squid, grilled anchovies, polenta topped with herring, sardines in a sweet-and-sour onion sauce, teeny tiny sandwiches and much, much more. Whatever you choose, they should be freshly prepared and usually created with seasonal and local produce.
You’re unlikely to find a written menu when ordering cicchetti in Venice, as the dishes don’t just change seasonally but often daily or even hourly. Your best bet is just to point at whatever looks the most appealing – and there’s no need to fear ordering something you might not like as they’re pretty cheap, usually between 1€ and 3€. So be adventurous!
When and How to Eat Cicchetti in Venice
The real answer to this question is: whenever and however you want! It’s your holiday so don’t let anyone boss you around! Traditionally cicchetti is eaten just before midday or in the evenings as an apertivo, so as a result this is best time to find the freshest cicchetti in Venice. You could have one or two as a snack, or you could order several to make a meal.
Or… you could do what I did and embark on a cicchetti crawl around the city. Not only will you get to experience different styles of cicchetti and different wines, but you’ll see so much of Venice whilst hunting out your next cicchetti stop! When I was in Venice it rained heavily all day, which meant that we couldn’t spend all day outside sightseeing (unless we wanted to look like we’d been swimming around the city). Hopping between cicchetti bars was the perfect way to immerse ourselves in local culture and see Venice in just a day.
Impressively, we made it to twelve cicchetti bars during our one day in Venice! We had absolutely no plan to do this, but it all started when we hopped off the water bus from Burano onto Venice and within a couple of minutes stumbled across a cosy looking bar which looked perfect for drying off from the rain. This was the moment that I discovered the wonder of cicchetti bars! Wondering whether it was acceptable to wash down our snack with an ombra at 11am, we were reassured when several locals came in just after us for a glass of local wine each.
Having finally dried out from the rain, we continued our journey towards the main sightseeing spots as planned – buying sexy ponchos on the way. However, we couldn’t resist popping into another cicchetti bar just moments later, and before we knew it the sun was setting and we’d inadvertently spent the day discover cicchetti in Venice instead of ticking off our bucket list sights. It turned out to be the perfect way to spend a day in Venice and I have no regrets at all here.
The Best Cicchetti Bars in Venice
So, you want to try our this wonderful snacking culture for yourself – where are the best places? Although you should definitely keep reading this blog post, I wouldn’t worry too much about marking everywhere on Google Maps and making sure you visit them. Wander around the backstreets, get lost, and I can guarantee you’ll find a fantastic cicchetti bar! Here’s my guide to the best cicchetti in Venice based on where we visited.
I’ve written down on my phone notes that this was my favourite of all of the cicchetti bars that we visited in Venice. A big part of this was probably that it was the first we went to and therefore where I discovered what a cicchetti bar actually was. But aside from this I loved that this place was absolutely tiny, with just a couple of stools available, felt utterly authentic and was clearly a local’s jaunt based on the fact that english wasn’t really spoken in there.
Food-wise, I couldn’t really tell you what I ate due to the language barrier (it was a point and nod situation), but it was bread topped with some sort of fish mix. Whatever it was, it tasted fantastic and had clearly been freshly made moments before consumption.
Address: Calle Buranelli, 5068, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy (about a 30 second walk from the F.te Nove water bus stop)
My notes about this one were ‘nice toilets’ so I clearly didn’t want to forget that! El Magazen was one of the larger cichetti bars that we stopped at in Venice, but it still managed to feel intimate. There were plenty of tables at the back, but we sat at the bar and enjoyed bread topped with thinly sliced (and melt-in-the-mouth!) beef, parmesan and sun-dried tomato. We also tried polenta topped with herring, but I wasn’t too keen on the texture of the polenta.
Address: Calle Larga Giacinto Gallina, 5402, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
We didn’t actually eat an cicchetti at Dolceamaro but did stop here for a glass of wine. It’s a wine bar with a wine and chocolate shop at the back, and its owned by a lovely man who has a super cute puppy! The local wine that we tried was gorgeous, and the American couple that we got chatting to over our drinks reported that the Aperol spritz was spot on too.
Address: Campiello S. Canciano, 6051, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
Again this was a slightly bigger cicchetti bar, but it was definitely a locals’ bar with a lovely rustic feel, full of old boys enjoy a lunchtime snack together. It’s directly opposite Dolceamaro, so perfect in the heavy rain! This was where I had my first miniature sandwich which was oh-so-cute, and Billy had a small tomato topped pastry.
Address: Campiello S. Canciano, 6032/6044, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
Un Mondo Divino
Un Mondo Divino featured swords for opening champagne bottles, a blackboard listing the local wines on offer, hats hanging from oars along the ceiling and a bookshelf with various recipe books. I found great joy in reading a book all about cicchetti whilst I enjoyed my glass of wine! Once again the food was freshly made with high quality ingredients, and ranged from those little sandwiches I’ve written about to arancini balls, stuffed filo pastry and various fried deliciousness.
Address: Fondamenta Trapolin, 5984A, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
My favourite moment of our entire trip happened here. We were quietly enjoying some authentic cicchetti and a glass of Prosecco when the music suddenly changed (mid tune) from an acoustic version of Don’t Stop me Now by Queen to… Scatman John. A club mix of Scatman’s World – if you don’t know what this is please, please, please click here to listen and understand. Even better, the elderly man sitting next to us knew all the words (ba-bo-bey ba-ba-ba ba-bo-bey) and took great pride in singing along. I don’t know why but it made me so, so happy!
What about the food? I don’t have a clue what I ate here as I was so distracted by Scatman John but it looks great according to the picture to took (below)!
Address: Salizada S. Canzian, 5905, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
Bacaro Bar Tabalotto
This is a really small one – it only fits two people! It’s right next door to a Burger King which makes it easy to find and the food here was gorgeous. We focused on ham here with a little ham sandwich and a piece of bread topped with salami and mushroom paste – one of the best things I ate all day! Even better, we were given some complimentary crisps (always the way to my heart). They even sell cigarettes here if that’s your thing.
Address: Cannaregio 5693 s, Salizada S. Giovanni Grisostomo, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
Ostaria Dai Zemei
By the time we got to Ostaria Dai Zemei we were nearing the Rialto Bridge, which meant that the prices were beginning to go up. However, compared to some of the other nearby eateries this was still very reasonable and we were able to sit outside where the atmosphere on the streets was perfectly balanced between buzzing and overcrowded. The food here was excellent too – I had bread topped with cured ham and red onion cream, which was packed full of flavour. If you’re looking for somewhere to stop for a snack in the heart of Venice I would highly recommend this place.
Address: San Polo 1045, 30125 Venezia VE, Italy
We didn’t eat here, and it’s more of a restaurant than a cicchetti bar, but the reason I’m including it on this list is because of the drink prices! We’d found ourselves in a very pricey area of Venice where a glass of Prosecco had gone up from around 2.50-3€ to 6-8€. This meant skipping a lot of places on principle of not paying over double for something we’d been enjoying all day.
We entered Osteria Leoni because it looked cosy and romantic, lit by candles, and when we found that Prosecco was just 2€ we absolutely ordered a drink! It wasn’t strictly Prosecco in that it was on draft, but it tasted good. Don’t go out of your way to find this place just for a drink (the restaurant looked great having said that!), but if you’re in the area and struggling to find somewhere to stop for a drink that doesn’t break the bank, head here.
Address: Fondamenta dei Tolentini, 187, 30135 Venezia VE, Italy
Al Portego was slightly more expensive than other places we’d been, but the food was excellent. We were both drawn to the bruschetta topped with cured ham, curry sauce and a roast potato! Before we even ordered we knew it would be good, as the place was packed with locals spilling out onto the street, and we had to squeeze through the crowd to find a little spot to enjoy our food and drink in. The atmosphere was buzzing, and this place shouldn’t be missed.
Address: Calle de la Malvasia, 6014, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy
Osteria Al Bomba
Going back to my phone notes again, I’ve written that Osteria Al Bomba had the best bruschetta I’ve ever eaten. Whether that was because I’d had a lot of Prosecco by this point I’ll never know, but this hidden cicchetti bar had a lovely family-run feel with it’s long benches, checked table clothes and welcoming staff. Home-cooked food didn’t just include cicchetti, but also salads and pasta dishes. Alongside the bruschetta, we had some fried gorgonzola which was rich both rich and comforting.
Address: Fondamenta Trapolin, 4297/98, 30121 Venice VE, Italy
The things I loved about this place were that a) it was full of locals again; and b) we were given complimentary cicchetti! However, I wasn’t too keen on the complimentary cicchetti when I bit into what looked like juicy prawns but turned out to be fake prawns. I’m not sure whether this is a traditional cicchetti dish in Venice, but it definitely wasn’t my favourite! Not wanting to dismiss the food here as not being to my taste, I had to order something else and this time had some pickled herring on top of bread. It was fresh, perfectly balanced as turned my frown right around!
Address: Strada Nova, 2208, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy
Vino Vera was our final cicchetti stop, and it was a miracle we could still read the menu after drinking wine and Prosecco all day long. The cicchetti were clearly doing their job of absorbing the alcohol! I would describe Vino Vera as a classy cicchetti bar, with modern dishes and a long list of fine wines. We sat outside right next to the water and enjoyed a glass of red sparkling wine (AMAZING!!) and some seared tuna. It was a fabulously romantic spot and the perfect end to our day in Venice.
Address: Fondamenta Misericordia, 2497, 30100 Venezia VE, Italy
If you’ve been to any of these cicchetti bars in Venice, or any amazing ones that I’ve missed, please do leave a comment. You can also read more about how I spent my time in Venice here.