With an age-old artistic legacy and enchanting watery beauty, it’s easy to understand why Venice is one of Italy’s most famous attractions. During the summertime, there can be up to 20 times more tourists than locals walking (or cruising) along the Venetian canals. However, even on its busiest days Venice never loses its ability to spellbind, especially when a more secluded part of the city is only ever a bridge or narrow alley away. To see this secret side of the iconic floating city all you need to do is pack away your guidebook and let this blog post be your compass instead. Are you ready to learn the hidden secrets of this Italian classic? Here are 12 Venice attractions you won’t find in any guidebook that are sure to float your gondola.
Embrace your inner bookworm at Libreria Acqua Alta
Have you ever dreamt of a world where books fill old gondolas, canoes, bathtubs and barrels? Where old encyclopaedias line the walls and become steps in an amazing staircase? Maybe not, but doesn’t it sound like a dream? This book-filled world is actually a real place that you can visit in Venice called Libreria Acqua Alta! The store sells a huge selection of books in all languages that cover every topic from art and cinema to sport and food, and of course the city of Venice itself. As you search through the ‘shelves’, you may even find one of the stray cats that live amongst the books. Pop in and say buongiorno to the store’s affable owner, Luigi, any day between 9am and 8pm.
Libreria Acqua Alta 📷: @little.terrariums
Visit the candy coloured island of Burano
The island of Burano is the perfect place to visit in Venice for escaping the crowds, and an ideal test for colour-blindness. Whilst the island is known for its trademark lace and fish restaurants, its most notable feature is the colourful houses that line its canals. There are many legends about why the fishermen coloured their homes so brightly. One story says that families painted their homes in bright colours to designate where their family’s quarters began and ended. Whatever the reason, the brightly coloured houses are an unmissable attraction in Venice – not to mention an Instagram dream come true.
Burano 📷: @clementia__
Take a mask-making workshop at Ca’Macana
Are you a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, or perhaps ‘Fifty Shades Darker’? Well, the masks used in these films were made by a family-owned store in Venice. Ca’Macana’s craftsmen are internationally renowned for their exceptionally imaginative designs that stay true to the authentic craftsmanship tradition.
The store also offers one of the oldest mask-making workshops in the city, which is an unmissable thing to do while staying in Venice. Try it and you’ll leave with a unique Venetian mask and the best souvenir of all – an iconic and memorable experience. Book your mask-making workshop on Ca’Macana’s website.
Ca’Macana 📷: @koolafaisland
Get dizzy climbing the Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Imagine running up and down a spiral staircase, with amazing scenic views – and no tourist crowds. If this makes you excited, then you’re not going to want to miss the Scala Contarini del Bovolo (Bovolo staircase) off your list of things to do in Venice. The staircase, which forms part of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, is hidden inside a small court, minutes from St. Mark’s Square. If you’re wondering what it looks like, just picture a 26m tall Leaning Tower of Pisa in a Venetian alley. Atop the staircase, there’s also a belvedere that provides breath-taking views over the rooftops of Venice.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo 📷: @k_iinga
Go for aperitivo at Al Timon
Similar to the Spanish concept of tapas, aperitivo refers to the Italian tradition of going out for a pre-dinner drink to socialise and whet one’s appetite. When in Venice there’s no place more magical to experience aperitivo than at Al Timon. Whilst the occasional tourist stops by, most of the people that you’ll meet at Al Timon will be locals of Cannaregio, as well as students and other young people from across Venice. A unique drawcard for the restaurant is that you can choose to enjoy your aperitivo aboard a wooden boat anchored directly outside. I recommend visiting at sunset time, ordering a spritz or glass of Prosecco, and taking in the sunset and vibrant vibes. Al Timon is open daily from 6pm through to 1am.
Al Timon 📷: @living_daylight
Take a guided tour inside the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous bridges in Venice, and perhaps even the world. Each day, tourists flock to take pictures of it and lovers kiss in gondolas as they pass under it, but few actually go inside the bridge. However, the whole significance of the bridge is the views it gives out over Venice. In case you didn’t know, the Bridge of Sighs acquired its name as it provided the route that prisoners walked towards their execution in St. Mark’s Square. Through the bridge’s tiny lattice gaps, prisoners were offered final glimpses of Venice. This view is said to have prompted the prisoners to sigh at the city’s beauty, hence the name. To see inside the Bridge of Sighs, book the Secret Itineraries Tour on the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) website.
Bridge of Sighs 📷: @silitanja
Visit one of the narrowest streets in the world
Whilst you may consider the entire city of Venice to be a labyrinth of narrow streets, Calle Varisco will make you reconsider your definition of narrow. With a width of only 53cm at chest level, you’ll actually need to walk sideways to pass through the street! The street’s mysteriousness is furthered by a legend that says that if a murderer walks the street they will be crushed by the walls. According to the legend, the walls would close in until they kill the murderer, thereby punishing their impure soul.
Calle Varisco 📷: @marianocervone
Visit the Gondola mechanics at Squero di San Trovaso
When your car needs repairing, you take it to the mechanics. But what do you do when your gondola needs repairing? Turns out, you go to a gondola mechanic! All of Venice’s gondolas are built and repaired at one of three boatyards in the city. The oldest and most famous of these boatyards is the Squero di San Trovaso. Whilst the boatyard is not open to the public, there is a bar on the side of the canal where you can get a spritz with a cicchetti (small snack) and watch the craftsman at work.
Squero di San Trovaso 📷: @nataliegerty
Get an adrenaline rush crossing the Ponte de Chiodo
Whilst this bridge is nothing architecturally outstanding, its uniqueness lies in the fact that it’s one of the last Venetian bridges without guardrails. Located in Venice’s Cannaregio neighbourhood, the bridge shows visitors how the city’s bridges used to be up until the 19th century. So if you’re looking for a boost to wake you up, skip the espresso and walk across the Ponte de Chiodo instead. Crossing without the safety of guardrails is sure to give you quite the adrenaline rush!
Ponte de Chiodo 📷: @comancarmen
Avoid the queues for St Mark’s Campanile and climb San Giorgio Maggiore’s Campanile instead
Did you know that the famous Campanile (bell tower) in St. Marks’ Square has a twin brother? That’s right: just a 4-minute boat ride from St Mark’s Square is the island of San Giorgio Maggiore whose campanile is a direct replica of the one in St. Mark’s Square. Whilst visitors queue for over an hour to see the views atop St. Mark’s Campanile, few journey to San Giorgio Maggiore’s Campanile. Not only is there no queue at San Giorgio Maggiore’s Campanile, but the views from atop the tower are considered by many to be even more impressive than from its better-known brother.
San Giorgio Maggiore’s Campanile 📷: @back_to_square_
Visit San Zaccaria’s flooded crypt
With its ornate facade decorated in a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles, there’s no denying that San Zaccaria is a church worth visiting for its architecture alone. However, what truly sets the church apart from the 200+ other churches in Venice is its permanently flooded crypt. The water acts as a mirror, enhancing the solemn beauty of the crypt by making the columns appear twice as long and tombs appear to be floating.
San Zaccaria’s flooded crypt 📷: @nat_leee
Visit the world’s first ever ghetto
Established in the early 16th century, Venice’s ghetto was one of the first places in the world to forcibly segregate people based on their religious difference. During its peak throughout the 17th century, 5,000 Jews from across Europe lived within the one-and-a-quarter acre area. It’s here the term ‘ghetto’ originated, with the area having been previously used as a foundry (which is ‘getto’ in in the Venetian dialect). It’s one of the more sombre attractions in Venice, but well worth visiting to learn more about the history of the area and how it’s evolved over the years.
Venezia Ghetto 📷: @somewhere_over_the_rimbaud
❓ Have you visited Venice? Which off-the-beaten-track place did you love? Comment below and let us know 👇
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About The Author
Elle Gillard is a world-wanderer, animal-lover and meteorologist in the making. When she’s not busy studying the Earth’s climate at her home in Sydney, she’s off experiencing it first-hand all around the world. So far, Elle has experienced 40 countries and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. You can follow her colourful adventures on her Instagram, Facebook and Blog.