From lively wine bars to rooftops with breathtaking canal views, here are the best must-see hidden gems in Venice.
Venice is the poster child for overtourism. And it’s literally sinking under the weight of massive cruise ships.
But if you look hard enough, Venice still has that authentic Italian charm – and some incredible hidden gems.
And sometimes you just have to take a few steps off the Canal Grande to find your new favorite bacaro.
I love to visit Venice in the off-season and to wander the city without an itinerary. And the city always surprises me with quirky murals, breathtaking artwork and impeccable seafood.
So here’s my ultimate guide to the best hidden gems in Venice. It’s based on all of my visits – and it includes insider tips from some of my favorite travel writers.
Use this guide to sprinkle some hidden gems into your Venice itinerary.
They’ll show you a slower, more charming side to this very touristic city.
Off the beaten path
Walk down a narrow alley where the sidewalk abruptly gives way to water.
And you’ll find boutiques with vintage dinnerware sets from old cruise ships.
You’ll see women chatting with their neighbors from across their balconies as they hang laundry. And you’ll spot families pushing strollers against a backdrop of plant pots spilling from tiny balconies.
You’ll wander into workshops where clerks guard delicate paper puppet theaters. Waiters take cigarette breaks in back alleys and a windowsill displays vintage Pinocchio figurines.
Venice off the beaten path is waiting to be explored, whether you have weeks or just two days in Venice.
Here are the best Venice hidden gems:
1. Get rooftop views over the Grand Canal
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a high-end department store on to the Grand Canal with a rooftop terrace that boasts some of the most breathtaking views of the city.
It’s housed inside a former 16th-century German merchants building. And the stunning interior is lined with columns and high ceilings in the Italian Renaissance style.
Inside, there’s a tempting lineup of luxury brands like the iconic Milanese fragrance house Acqua di Parma and the artisanal bakery Biscotteria Veneziana. There’s also AMO, an Italian restaurant with the world’s youngest three-star Michelin chef.
But there’s more to Fondaco dei Tedeschi than dining and shopping.
The stunning views from the rooftop stretch over the Grand Canal and the ochre rooftops, church towers and sweeping domes. If you’re on a family holiday to Italy, the terrace is a great way to get an overview of Venice.
And there’s a handy map that points out all the landmarks.
The terrace is free to visit, but book online in advance as they’re careful about the maximum capacity.
Insider’s tip: You get a 15 minute slot on the terrace so arrive on time. And there’s a great cafe if you want to stop for an espresso or a sandwich during your visit.
The terrace is open from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi also hosts free cultural events like exhibits, concerts and artist talks. Tickets can be booked online.
– Contributed by Nichola of Family Hotel Expert
2. Go on a treasure hunt for Venetian history
Your kids shouldn’t have all the fun when you’re visiting Italy with kids. A treasure trail through Venice is a blast for all ages.
Macaco Tour offer a brilliant way to discover Venetian hidden gems and quirks that you’d never notice on your own. Their tours pit teams against each other.
Or you can work as a family to solve riddles that lead you across the city.
Macaco Tour was founded by a pair of passionate art history experts who aim to make Venetian culture an interactive and sensory experience.
Choose from a variety of tours across some of Venice’s most charming districts:
- The Sketch Hunt navigates the Santa Maria Formosa Square in search of her mysteries.
- The Brave Lion tour leads you through Venice’s Castello district to discover the secrets of the Arsenal, the city’s famous shipyard and former seat of the empire.
- The Cannaregio Treasure Hunt leads you across the Jewish Ghetto to uncover the city’s quirky characters. Who were the Moors, and what’s a camel doing in Venice? This tour unpacks the city’s enigmatic past.
With games, riddles, secrets and clues to solve, a treasure hunt is an incredible way to bring the city’s history alive to kids of all ages.
– Contributed by Nichola of Globalmouse Travels
3. Explore the Jewish Ghetto
The Jewish Ghetto is a vibrant Venetian sestiere full of narrow canals, local shops and cozy restaurants. It’s a less touristy side of Venice that still boasts a lively Jewish community.
The Campo de Nuovo Gheto is a charming square surrounded by weathered buildings. And it’s a great spot to begin your tour.
The leafy square contains the three oldest synagogues in Venice dating back to the 16th century. The synagogues each serve a distinct ethnicity including Italian, Canton and German.
Insider’s tip: The nearby shabbo (Chabad di Venezia) is an impressive art studio and photo gallery that illustrates the history of Jewish Venice.
The Soportego de Gheto Nuovo (the entrance to the Ghetto) is a picturesque tunnel lined with arches. Nearby is the Ponte de Gheto Nuovo, an understated wooden bridge with fantastic views down the bustling canal.
The Jewish Ghetto is on a tiny island buffered by the busy Misericordia canal, famous for its terrific restaurants and popular canal-front bars.
It was instituted in 1516 and put its Jewish residents under round-the-clock surveillance with strict penalties for any resident who broke the curfew. The segregation held until 1797, when Napoleon liberated the ghetto.
– Contributed by Dean and Laynni of Routinely Nomadic
4. Climb up a historic spiral staircase
Scala Contarini del Bovolo is a spiral staircase inside a historic palazzo that leads to an arcade with impressive views over the Venetian rooftops.
Climb the 80 steps of this multi-arch staircase, literally named “of the snail” for its winding shape. And take in the gorgeous Renaissance, Gothic and Byzantine architecture along the way.
The 15th-century palazzo was built by the Contarinis, one of the founding families of Venice, to show off their fortune. And today it’s a hidden gem in the middle of the San Marco sestiere, towering some 90 feet high.
Insider’s tip: Don’t miss the exhibit of 16th to 18th-century Venetian art, including Tintoretto’s sketch of Paradise.
In the 19th century, German astronomer Wilhelm Tempel used his telescope to make discoveries of celestial bodies from the top of the tower. And in 1951, the tower gained fame as the film location of Orson Welles’ Othello.
Dive through the labyrinth of narrow back streets to find this architectural wonder. And you’ll be rewarded with some incredible views of the rooftops and the nearby Campanile di San Marco.
Visitors are limited so get your tickets in advance during the high tourist season.
5. Take a mask painting workshop
There are several mask painting workshops across the city where you can get lessons from Venetians who keep this ancient tradition alive.
Create an endless variety of masks from caterpillars to cats to columbines. Patient teachers guide you through this exacting art at several different workshops.
Select the shape of the mask then pencil in a design. Then paint it in a rainbow selection of colors.
Your mask dries overnight and it’s ready for pick-up the next morning. So book your workshop at the beginning of your stay to leave time for this process.
Souvenir shops across Venice are filled with vibrant masquerade masks. Used to conceal the identity of Carnival revelers, the ornate masks are a symbol of the city.
But crafting your own Venetian mask makes it all the more special.
– Contributed by Heather of Conversant Traveller
6. Walk across a bridge without a rail
The Ponte de Chiodo is a Cannaregio neighborhood curiosity. It’s the oldest bridge in Venice and the only one without rails (which were added to all bridges in the mid 1800s).
With no barrier between you and the water, crossing the bridge is a dizzying feat if you’re not comfortable with heights.
But be prepared to encounter lots of wedding photographers.
This bridge is a favorite with locals for its beautiful backdrop of colorful houses and the curious lack of tourists.
7. Wander through Cannaregio
Cannaregio is less touristy and more down to earth than other parts of Venice. This residential sestiere is packed with cafes, small boutiques, morning markets and cozy restaurants.
Insider’s tip: Marco Polo and Titian both once called Cannaregio home, as did painter Tintoretto who’s buried in the neighborhood’s Church of Madonna dell’Orto (a must-see masterpiece of Gothic architecture).
Splendid palazzos line the district’s Grand Canal, like the sumptuous Ca d’Oro with its columns mirroring the Doge’s Palace, and the Palazzo Labia with its fresco ballroom.
The neighborhood has humble roots and grew from working class housing and manufacturing.
8. Dig into some local favorites
Michael.PortrayingLife via Flickr
Have a lovely aperitivo with some Venetian tapas (ciccheti). And try the local specialty of fritoìn washed down with an Italian classic Aperol Spritz, invented right here in Venice.
Have a great night out in Fondamenta Ormesini, where locals and tourists rub shoulders and enjoy the best of the city.
Fondamenta della Misericordia is lined with great bars and restaurants that are especially vibrant at night. Try the lively tavern Paradiso Perduto for hearty Venetian dishes and live music. And head to Ostaria da Rioba for creative takes on local recipes.
Strada Nova and Lista di Spagna are both busy streets filled with boutiques, bars and young people.
For more adventures, venture outside the city for a road trip through the stunning North East of Italy, a region filled with some of Italy’s most beautiful lakes.
– Contributed by Caroline of Veggie Wayfarer
9. Browse the Gallerie dell’Accademia
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is a brilliant collection of pre-19th century Venetian art and the city’s most prestigious art museum.
Founded in 1750, the Gallerie dell’Accademia specializes in Venetian art from the 14th through 18th centuries, including masters like Bellini, Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian.
The collection contains some 800 paintings, many depicting saints, martyrs and Biblical scenes.
Insider’s tip: Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man, showing man’s ideal proportions, is in the collection. But it’s seldom displayed because of its fragility and sensitivity to light.
Here are some must-see highlights:
- The Feast in the House of Levi by Veronese occupies an entire wall and includes incredible details and expressive faces. It was originally intended to be a Last Super painting. But the artist changed that title after the Inquisition called the painting irreverent.
- Bellini’s Procession in St. Mark’s Square is a massive work that depicts a procession carrying a religious relic that miraculously cured a young boy.
10. See modern art inside a palazzo
Housed inside a sprawling palazzo on the Grand Canal, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of Europe’s most important exhibits of 20th century art.
From the Cubist works of Pablo Picasso to Jackson Pollock’s paint-splattered abstracts, the collection reflects the eclectic tastes of the American heiresses and art collector.
The museum features artists as diverse as Bacon, Dali, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian and Rothko.
The core collection has stunning works of Futurism and Surrealism, along with masks and sculptures from New Guinea, Sudan and Peru.
And the setting is just as spectacular.
Photos courtesy Peggy Guggenheim Collection
The museum is housed inside the luxurious Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which Guggenheim called home for the last 30 years of her life.
The palazzo has a small terrace overlooking the Canal Grande and a sculpture garden where Guggenheim is buried alongside her dogs.
The museum feels like a luxurious private residence. And it offers a fascinating look at the life of Peggy Guggenheim herself: champion of emerging and female artists, socialite and bohemian.
Book your tickets online to avoid long lines. Check the website for special presentations, free tours and events.
– Contributed by Martha of May Cause Wanderlust
11. Take a walking tour through Dorsoduro
Dorsoduro is a lively university district packed with thrift shops, indie boutiques and laid-back eateries.
If you’re looking for a hip and unpretentious sestiere to browse art museums and dig into some cicchetti, then look no further than this immensely walkable neighborhood.
There are fewer tourist crowds and lower prices in this artsy hotspot, which is home to the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Get off the beaten path at the sumptuous Ca Rezzonico museum with its opulent interiors, Venetian glass and 18th-century art (including some brilliant Canalettos).
And head to Fondamenta Nani for local bars, cheap cicchetti and canal-side seating. The Cantina del Vino Gia Schiavi is a great choice for bite-sized morsels of seafood paired with your favorite spritz.
Catch some gondola workshops in action at the nearby 17th-century yard Squero di San Trovaso.
Dorsodura also has a lively nightlife when locals and students pack into tiny wine bars and drink prosecco on the water. Campo Santa Margherita is always vibrant with great music and friendly crowds.
12. Revel in the music at a grand opera house
With its lavish gold interior lined with curvy nymphs, the Teatro La Fenice is one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses. It’s a must-see in Venice for any music lover.
Its glorious stage has seen world premieres of Verdi’s La Traviata and Rigoletto along with captivating performances by Maria Callas.
Visit Teatro La Fenice during the day for a guided tour. Or attend a performance in the evening of Venetian composer Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or a great Italian opera.
The acoustics inside this Rococo opera house are absolutely breathtaking.
And don’t miss the sumptuous royal box originally built for Napoleon.
Founded in 1792, La Fenice has really earned its name of phoenix. It was burned down three different times over its long history, with the last fire in 1996. And it has been faithfully rebuilt to its former glory.
13. Eat your way through Campo San Barnaba
Campo San Barnaba is a gorgeous landmark off the beaten path – and a refuge from the tourist-packed canals of Venice.
It’s also where Harrison Ford busts out of that manhole in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And where Katharine Hepburn falls into a canal in Summertime.
This charming square is packed with small eateries with none of the usual hiked-up tourist prices.
Nestled in the Dorsoduro sestiere near the Accademia Bridge, Campo San Barnaba is full of bars, local shops and tempting gelaterias. Don’t miss Grom Gelateria for some of Venice’s finest gelato.
There’s also a local fruit and vegetable market with crates of tomatoes, celery and leeks piled high on narrow boats.
And don’t miss the church of San Barnaba and its Neoclassical facade. The church has a small exhibit about machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It also has an 11th century campanile and a pine-cone shaped spire that’s one of the oldest in Venice.
Street artists and musicians often perform in this quaint square. Campo San Barnaba offers a real glimpse of the hip and young side of the city – even if you just have one day in Venice!
– Contributed by Dan of Urban Abroad
14. Learn to row a gondola
Gondolas are a symbol of Venice and a tradition that goes back to the 11th century.
But rowing a gondola for yourself is a completely different experience.
A gondola lesson starts at a marina in the non-touristy Cannaregio sestiere. Real Venetians live here and there are no gondolas in the canals – just working boats used for daily life, moving cargo or picking up trash.
The boat is a batellina that’s similar to a gondola. You row standing up, just like a gondola.
Learn to use the oars and keep your balance (which isn’t easy!), then practice rowing around the local canals. Lastly, you head out into the lagoon to try your newfound skills.
The water is rough and very challenging when you’re standing up. And you realize the city’s gondoliers only make it look easy.
The lesson takes an hour and a half and can be booked online. It costs $38 per person and there’s a two-person minimum for each class.
– Contributed by James Ian of Travel Collecting
15. Browse the stacks at a waterfront bookshop
The Libreria Acqua Alta is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world with its quirky waterproof book collection.
Libreria Acqua Alta translates to “high water bookshop,” and this place is well prepared for Venice’s notorious flooding.
Piles of books are squeezed into bathtubs, rowboats, canoes and waterproof containers to keep them dry during the tide rise of the Adriatic Sea. When the water’s high, Venetians and savvy tourists browse the stacks in raincoats and rubber boots.
You’ll be greeted by some furry friends – aka the adopted stray cats living there – as you walk in. This tiny bookshop is packed with tomes squeezed into tall shelves, and a gondola piled high with books in the main aisle.
There’s also a cheeky fire escape – a door that leads into a canal.
The books are new and used, and mainly in Italian though English and other languages are also available.
It’s also famous for its staircase made of water damaged books. Climb on top for a great photo opp and gorgeous views of the canal.
There’s also a quaint courtyard that sits on the canal. Use it as a reading corner to tuck into a new book and enjoy the waterside views.
And it’s a treasure trove for old Italian children’s books, postcards, vintage prints and a wide array of books about Venice. The chaotic wonderland is filled with curiosities, weathered patio chairs, potted succulents and disorganized charm.
Libreria Acqua Alta is a short walk from the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square.
A stop at this Venetian wonder is a must – even if you’re not a bookworm. And it’s one of the best things to do in Venice for first-timers.
– Contributed by Alina of World of Lina
16. Munch on some cicchetti
Nearly all Venetian restaurants cater to the tourists that pour into the city daily.
Avoid the crowds, dig into the local food and snack on some cicchetti in Venice.
Venetians love cicchetti (pronounced chi-KET-tee), or small nibbles often paired with wine.
Happy Hour can start in the early afternoon and last until midnight. After a busy day, munching on cicchetti at a local bar (or bacaro) is Venice’s way to unwind and socialize.
You can easily spot a good cicchetti bar tucked away in a narrow alley with crowds spilling out the door. Many of the best ones are in Canareggio.
Since most bacaro are small with just a few tables (if any), most patrons stand outside engrossed in lively conversation.
Just step up to the bar, point to what you’d like to try and pay for it on the spot.
Cicchetti refers to the unique hors d’oeuvre-like appetizers served at the bar. These can vary from one bar to the next. But usually they include olives, small crostini, and other small plates and bites skewered with a toothpick.
For drinks, have the local wine (or ombra) or the ever-popular Aperol Spritz.
– Contributed by Lori of Italy Foodies
17. Browse the Museo Correr
The Museo Correr offers a fascinating look at everyday life in the historic Venetian republic.
The museum includes art, antiquities and historical collections from Venetian institutions and the city’s urban history.
If you love art and maritime history, Museo Correr is an airy and intriguing exhibit that chronicles the rise and expansion of Venice.
A fascinating array of artifacts all bring the past to life, from ships flags to navigation instruments to old maps and paintings celebrating naval victories.
Themes include the sea, weapons, crafts, parties and games – a real slice of Venetian life.
18. Explore the monastery at San Francesco del Deserto
This serene refuge lined with cypress trees boasts a 13th-century Franciscan monastery and cloisters that offer a quiet getaway in the Venetian lagoon.
Today it’s home to friars who offer guided tours of the monastery, cloisters and gardens.
You can wander the grounds filled with fruit trees and sculptures – and spot some wildlife in the lagoon marshes.
It’s a perfect spot to take a break from the Venice crowds.
Insider’s tip: The island has no vaporetto stop, but you can book a boat that departs from nearby Burano.
The island has been inhabited since the Roman times, though it was briefly abandoned in the 15th century because of a malaria outbreak.
It was home to St. Francis (San Francesco d’Assisi), who landed here in 1220.
A Venetian nobleman later donated the island in the 13th century to the Franciscans.
Sprinkle some Venetian hidden gems into your itinerary for a more in-depth and authentic look at city life.
Take some time to just wander and get lost and you’re sure to discover some of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Venice is filled with tourist crowds, and it’s so rewarding to get off the beaten path and discover more of the city.
I would love to hear from you. What are you favorite hidden gems in Venice?
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