Venice is a sophisticated city to visit. With over 400 bridges and canals, a dense labyrinth of tiny lanes and the narrow “calle”, walking is the best way to explore its less touristy off-beaten-track places. I love Venice, and because I live only an hour away, it’s naturally easy to revisit many times. After dozens of day trips, I feel like a first-time visitor. And all the time, I’m thrilled to explore more of the non-touristy and unusual places in Venice.
19 Unusual Places to Visit in Venice Off the Beaten Path
The fact is that Venice is severely affected by the impact of over-tourism. In this post, I’m sharing some of my favourite sites of “unusual Venice” that will show you La Serenissima from a different perspective, thus helping you learn more about its rich and strange history and uncover Venice offbeat.
The Venetian Lagoon
With 550 square km, it’s the largest wetland ecosystem in the Mediterranean basin, comprising 118 small islands and 150 canals. While most islands are abandoned, some have been restored and opened to the public.
From Medieval churches, bell towers, ancient buildings, archaeological sites, and farmhouses to long stretches of salt marshes, a.k.a. “barene”, shoals and mudflats, a.k.a.”melve,” it is an ideal eco-habitat for thriving birdlife.
Many birds, like ducks, herons, seagulls and many more, even 8,000 flamingos, reside permanently in the Venetian lagoon. And the number of birds is increasing from year to year. It’s a natural paradise for nature and history lovers keen to explore more of Venice’s unusual things. Here are five less-known Venetian islands of the Lagoon worth exploring:
It was the first island inhabited by a rich combination of history, myths and tales. The main attractions among all the old palaces are the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral, with its beautiful Byzantine mosaics and the Devil’s Bridge, “Ponte del Diavolo”, an old bridge with no guardrail that holds the legend of a quirky spirit. Torcello is a place of quiet and peacefulness that inspired writers like Hemingway, who came here to live and work on his novels. You can go to Torcello from Venice by taking ferry no. 13 and changing in Burano.
In the past, some islands used to be a refuge for plague victims. Two locations, the Lazzaretto Vecchio and the Lazzaretto Nuovo, were created with this purpose: thousands of people were sent and buried during the plague outbreaks between 1400-1600.
Thanks to a restoration of the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, you can now visit the museums and most archaeological sites that show this island’s odd history. Lazaretto Nuovo is also known as the home of Venice’s Vampire after a woman’s skull was found in one of the plague graves. You can go to Lazzaretto Nuovo from Venice by ferry no. 13.
This is the largest and greenest island in Venice Lagoon and delivers most of Venice’s agricultural produce. It’s ideal for visiting Venice in summer for sunbathing and stopping at the Lido and Murano.
Being the Sant’Erasmo island flat and sparsely populated, dotted with farmhouses, fields and gardens, it’s an excellent site for a walking or biking adventure along the island shore and on the inland paths and rural lanes. You can get there on the ferry 13 or 18 from Fondamente Nove.
The Certosa island is the closest to Venice’s main island. You can also stay overnight in the hotel—an attractive Church, Sant’Andrea Apolosto, dated back to 1492 with Tintoretto and Tiziano’s artworks. Since 1985 a restoration program has made it possible to reopen it to the public with a refurbished marina that hosts over 120 sailing boats.
A hotel, a restaurant, a cafe and picnic areas among reed beds and fields are beloved by the local Venetians who come over to hide from the hordes of people visiting Venice.
San Servolo Insane Asylum Museum
If you want to visit another unique place in Venice, visit the Insane Asylum Museum of San Servolo Island. This permanent exhibition has a rare collection of the finds, objects, and documents of the city’s ex-mental institution, marking the island’s history from 1700 to 1978.
There is also an anatomical room with a collection of skulls and brains and the Apothecary room displaying over 200 pharmaceutical vases in different sizes and shapes. Next to this unique museum, you can visit the old convent and walk in the beautiful park surrounding today’s modern congress and cultural centre.
You can reach San Servolo Island by boat n0—20 from San Zaccaria, the waterfront adjacent to San Marco Square.
San Giorgio Maggiore
The typical scenario is the long queues at St Mark Square waiting to go up the Bell’s Tower. So why waste hours when you can get a super view of Venice with the lagoon somewhere else, away from the crowd? Take the ferry to San Giorgio Maggiore island. First, visit the church, which houses fabulous Tintoretto works of “the last supper”, and walk up the staircase of the bell tower for 60 meters (an elevator is also available) to admire the magnificent view of the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale as well as a beautiful 360° panorama of the Venetian lagoon with its islands.
Unique Churches of Venice
Venice has over 130 churches spread throughout the city, primarily in squares (Campi) and on the minor islands. These two churches I have picked are unique and must-see places, even if you don’t like churches.
Among all the beautiful churches in Venice, I Frari, as the locals call it, a.k.a. The Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frari, is a church that stands out for the Venitian Renaissance art with the imposing wooden choir and the majestic Titian’s altarpiece paintings: the Madonna di Ca Pesaro and the Assumption of the Virgin.
Moreover, you can see the tombs of early Doges. There is a 3 Euro entrance, which is, in my opinion, well spent. If you like churches and want to see a special one, this is the place.
If you love to walk and explore the area near St. Mark’s Square, just a 10-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Venice, you can visit San Zaccaria Church. Although its exterior is unassuming, you will love the massive paintings covering the walls dating back to the 16 and 17th centuries. The highlight of this church is the San Zaccaria flooded crypt underneath.
Walking through the catacombs is a fantastic and unique experience. San Zaccaria Church’s entrance is free, and there is a small fee to visit the crypt and have the paintings lit up.
Offbeat Venice Squares and Campos
There are many beautiful squares and Campos in Venice. I have picked two different places I particularly like that are less known. Here are a few things to look for.
The Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio
To learn about the Venetian complex and dark history, visit the Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio. The curious thing is the word Ghetto originated from the Venetian word Geto, which means „foundry“.
This factory used to be in this city site during the Middle Ages. Later, the authorities decided that Jewish people should live in this restricted area.
Because of the segregation rules and persecution, they had to build their synagogues upwards, so they are all on rooftop buildings. There are five synagogues you can visit. Another unusual thing in Venice is learning about this area’s dark history. You can see the museum or go on a private guided tour.
Campo Santa Margherita with antique markets and vintage shops
Another unusual and fun thing in Venice is looking for vintage shops. From old fabrics and home interiors and decors to accessories like hats and gloves to clothes in Venice, it’s worth wandering off and getting lost in the tiny calle around St. Markt Square and further away.
In Venice, there are flea and antique markets at many of its beautiful Campos, and one of my favourites is the Saturday market at Campo Santa Margherita; this campo has a great atmosphere, just off a canal, with a church that hosts permanent exhibitions, some of the best vintage shops, great eating venues and cafes where the locals go.
The Venetian Patisserie
In Venice, you must try its amazing typical food and learn all the funny names they have! From an aperitif time in the local „bàcari“ (taverns) and “ombre” (glasses of red wine) with „cicheti“ (appetisers) to ist delicious patisserie. Walk around, and you will find many places where the locals eat. Campo San Polo Campo San Margherita and Rio Tèra are my favourite areas for Venice’s best patisserie and coffee experience.
Check out the Martini Bar & Cafeteria in Rio Tèra and the famous Marchini Time for a great coffee break. Try its „Basi in Gondola“, which means “Kisses on a Gondola”, or some of their specialities. A few minutes walk from San Marco Square. This artisan patisserie is worth checking out when visiting Venice.
Venetian masks decorating art
If you, like me, love Venetian masks, skip on those touristy mask shops in Venice and visit an authentic workshop like the Ca Macana – the most known – where you can learn from the specialised artisans about the unique Venetian mask decorating art. While some are free demonstrations open to the public, you can sign up for a paid course to dive into this technique’s details.
Unique Museums and Secret Places In Venice
The Venice Music Museum
One must-do thing in Venice for music lovers is attending a concert inside a Venetian church or a Scuola Grande. Among the many, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the San Vitale Church hold over 200 shows a year. If you love music, visit the Music Museum in San Lorenzo Church is a unique and different place to stay in Venice.
The Mocenigo Palace with the Perfume Museum
Located in the heart of Venice, Mocenigo Palace features costumes, fabrics, furnishings, and remarkable scents from 17th and 18th-century Venice. It is named after the Meconigo family, one of the most prestigious families in Venetian aristocracy.
The palace gives you a glimpse into Venetian nobility’s everyday lives and traditions, primarily through their fashion and perfume. The Perfume Museum inside the Mocenigo Palace takes you through the history of Venetian perfumery. And aside from historical artefacts and original instruments, they also display a vast collection of perfume bottles with extraordinary ancient craftsmanship.
Mocenigo Palace was designated the Museum and Study Centre of the History of Fabrics and Costumes in 1985. Today, it has an extensive collection of textiles and costumes and a first-floor library covering the history of costumes, fabrics, and fashion, especially from the 18th century.
The Secret Gardens of Venice
Although Venice is best known for its beautiful canals and lofty historic buildings, you can also have a great time discovering its numerous secret gardens. You can stroll through Venice and check out these more relaxed, uncrowded spaces, including gardens, courtyards, and open public spaces.
There are over 500 gardens in the entire Venice, and ten of the secret ones are:
- Thetis Garden, Gardens
- Cloisters of San Francesco della Vigna,
- Mystical Garden of the Discalced Carmelites,
- Garden of the Grimani ai Servi Palace,
- Garden of the Morosini Palace,
- Garden of the Patriarchal Seminary,
- Borges Labyrinth, Royal Gardens,
- Garden of the Malipiero Palace.
You can either explore these gardens alone or join a walking tour.
Modern Art Exhibtions at Punta Della Dogana
Visiting Punta Della Dogana allows you to look back into history and enjoy modern art exhibitions at the same time. This 17th-century building used to be a customs house in the city and was restored by renowned architect Tadao Ando in 2009. Today, Punta Della Dogana is the home of interesting works from the Pinault Collection, which are presented in curated exhibitions.
Their exhibits are updated after a certain period, so you can go back after months or years and still see something new. Apart from the contemporary artworks it showcases, Punta Della Dogana will also capture your heart with its extraordinary architecture.
Aside from its triangular shape, you will see its interior’s original form of red brick and wooden beams. Tadao Ando then added windows that reveal views of ships, floating concrete staircases, and polished concrete panels—paying tribute to its seafaring history while showcasing contemporary architecture.
Ponte dei Pugni: Where the people of Venice used to settle scores.
If you’re up for some bizarre historical spot, I suggest visiting Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Fists). It’s located near the campo of San Barnaba and is where the 100-year tradition of holding fistfights between rivals has transpired.
The ‘war of fists’ first started in 1600 between the rival factions Castellani and Nicolotti. The fights were held from September to December each year. Its goal is for rival teams to throw punches until their enemies are knocked off the bridge into the cold, sewage-strewn canal. The team with more people standing at the end wins.
Today, you can visit Ponte dei Pugni and see the four white marble footprints that mark the starting point for fighters.
Other fighting bridges include the Diedo Bridge at San Marziale, Ponte della Guerra at Santa Fosca, and Ponte della Guerra at San Zulien.
The San Michele Cemetery on San Michele Island
Going to a cemetery is certainly one of the most unusual things you can do when visiting a new place, especially in Venice, where many other sites can catch your attention. But a trip to San Michele Cemetery will always be a good excuse to ride in a Vaporetto and get away from thousands of tourists.
This cemetery was established on San Michele Island after cemeteries were banned in inhabited areas in the Napoleonic era. The location was appropriately outside the city but still easily accessible. This is where known foreign personalities were buried, like the composer Igor Stravinsky, Russian ballet impresario Sergej Diaghilev, and poet Ezra Pound.
There are no residents on the island. You will only see tombstones and churches, but it’s peaceful rather than spooky. If you decide to visit, remember that this is a sacred place and being respectful and dressing accordingly is required.
Have you visited Venice and ticked all the iconic attractions already? These alternative things will show you the unusual Venice off the beaten path and away from the crowds.
Where to stay in Venice? Hotels we recommend
In Venice, Italy, there are +3000 places to stay, from budget hotels and B&B to high-end resorts and fully furnished rental apartments. Doing proper research online takes a little time, but it’s worth it. To save time searching, we have created a comprehensive guide about the best areas and neighbourhoods where to stay in Venice. Here below are some of the best hotels:
8 Tips for Visiting Venice More Responsibly and Respectfully
Because Venice is suffering and collapsing with hordes of people (nearly 30 million tourists annually), please see most respectfully.
These tips for visiting Italy will help you travel more consciously and contribute to preserving Venice’s beauty and heritage sites. Thanks for your help!
- Travel independently, and explore on foot instead of using the ferry.
- Prefer weekdays over weekends for your trip to Venice.
- Go on a walking tour, but if you join a tour make sure it’s a small group of 10 people.
- Recycle plastic, paper, and glass, and take the garbage home if litter bins are full.
- Consider staying in cities near Venice or on smaller islands of the lagoon.
- Look for alternative things to do and places to stay away from the crowds.
- Do not hang out in groups: don’t speak loudly at night in the streets. Be respectful of the locals.
- Consider visiting nearby towns and going on a day trip from Venice to the Dolomites
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