Top Things to See in Venice (That You Won’t Find in Guide Books)

While Venice, off the east coast of the mainland of Italy, is famous for a great many things, one of the things it’s most famous for is its insane crowding problem. In the high season, throngs of tourists are crammed shoulder to shoulder among the historic buildings to see the famous Rialto Bridge or Saint Mark’s Square.  While Venice has made moves to lessen the strain on their ancient streets both with banning cruise ships from it’s port and harbor, and instating a fee for day trippers, I still believe that the essence of a city is better absorbed through its local streets.  With that in mind, hop on a flight, throw out your standard itinerary and find the real city through these top things to see in Venice that you won’t find in your guide books.

Colorful houses in Burano along a canal
The Colorful Houses of Burano

The Lesser Known Islands of Venice

Everyone will tell you that one of the top things to see in Venice is the Island of Murano. Yes, BUT, that’s the same advice everyone gets. While the rest of the tourists board ferries to jam-packed Murano, consider checking out some of the lesser known islands surrounding Venice.  Burano is a bustling fishing village filled with bright, colorful houses.  Hub to Venice’s second most famous export, Venetian lace, you can find a museum dedicated to lacemaking here. There’s also it’s own leaning tower on Burano Square. With the local fishing industry, be sure to dine on some fish in one of the local restaurants. 

For a quieter day, and to see the history of the region in a more untouched manner, head out to Torcello.  Formerly home to around 20,000 people, only about a dozen residents remain.  Sweeping views of Burano can be had from the top of the bell tower.

Rosticceria Gilson

A general rule of thumb, when visiting a foreign country, if someone is out on the street luring you in to eat, you probably don’t want to eat there.  The food is almost always going to be sub-par, and almost always overpriced.  For a quick bite, if you’re sightseeing close to the Rialto Bridge, seek out the local’s favorite Rosticceria Gilson. Tucked into the tiny Calle de la Bissa off of the jam-packed Campo San Bartolomeo, a mere block off of the bridge, you’ll find this deli-style spot with quick bites that are a sheer delight for the taste buds AND your wallet.

Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Campo Santa Margherita

Tucked into the Dorsoduro neighborhood, close to the university sits the Campo Santa Margherita.  Still relatively unknown to the majority of tourists who tend to stay in the San Polo and San Marco neighborhoods, it’s a place to experience a classic Venetian square without the press of tourists clicking away on their cameras around you.  By day, an open air market, and by night, it’s a lively scene with locals’ bars and restaurants (read: not overpriced and crammed with tourists).

The Back Patio at Libreria Acqua Alta
The Back Patio at Libreria Acqua Alta

Libreria Alto Acqua

While this is less unknown these days, it’s still a bit tricky to find, and is well worth the effort to seek this one-of-a-kind spot out.    Located canal-side, you’ll find books stacked up in old gondolas, bathtubs, and other solid-bottomed vessels.  With a name that translates, essentially, into “High Water Bookcase”, it makes sense.  Due to its location on the canal, this shop has had to combat floods more than once. Its storage systems are meant to rise with the water, keeping the books safe.  There’s truly not another bookseller in the world like it.  Absolutely worth the effort to find it.  Also – do say high to the resident kitties!

The beach at Venice Lido
The beach at Lido de Venezia

Venice Lido

For an island, shockingly few people realize that there is a stunning beach on the Adriatic Sea to be visited.  Lido Venice is located just a quick 20 minute vaporetto (or ferry) away from the main island (you can pick up the vaporetto right at the main Santa Lucia train station). You’ll find a more mellow pace on Lido where you can soak up the sun and sand on the white-sand beaches with beautiful clear water all day long. 

Chiesa di San Zaccaria Venezia - Altare

San Zaccaria , CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chiesa di San Zaccaria

The Chiesa di San Zaccaria, located a short walk from Saint Mark’s Square, is often overlooked due to its proximity to its very famous neighbor.  A masterpiece of 15th century gothic renaissance architecture, nearly every inch of the interior walls is adorned with incredible artworks by Italian artists of the day, including the famous altar piece done by Giovanni Bellini.  Be sure to pay a little extra to tour the crypt beneath.  It’s partially flooded, and visitors are encouraged to go in to the water to get up close to the tombs.

A waiter serves drinks in Venice
Dining in Venice

Venetian History through Food

I always say, the best way to learn the history of a place is through its food. The local cuisine can tell the tale of a place’s cultural influences, peace and wartimes, industry and flora and fauna. Sign up for a food tour of Venice – where a local guide will take you off the beaten path, away from the tourists, and show you the history of their magnificent city as told by the local food. I love WithLocals tours, so you can’t go wrong with them, but there are a host of local companies that run them, and they are worth the splurge.

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