Venice is a beautiful city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of this it can get extremely crowded, and there will be times when you want to get off the beaten track. Fortunately there are lots of lesser known things to do in Venice: here are ten of them.
1. Flooded Crypt Of San Zaccaria
As you might expect, water is a bit of a theme in Venice. The basements of many buildings are permanently flooded, and one place – the Church of San Zaccaria – has decided to make a feature of this flooding.
With its ornate interior and original artworks, San Zaccaria is worth a visit in its own right. However you should not miss the undercroft, where several notable Venetians were buried. The surface water combines with the columns and archways to create a beautiful space of light and reflections.
Access to the crypt is via a door to the right of the church entrance. There is a small entry charge and you should make sure to take suitable footwear!
2. Libreria Acqua Alta
(Contributed by Ania of The Travelling Twins)
Libreria Acqua Alta is a fantastic bookstore in Venice and one of the Best Bookshops in the world. What is so special about it? When “high water” (“acqua alta”) appears in Venice, it also floods the store. So the owner, to protect books from the water, decided to place them in extraordinary places.
You can find books on a gondola, inside the shop. Or in the bathtub beside the classic shelves. These strange bookshelves give the place a unique atmosphere, and at the same time, perfectly protect against high water. Old encyclopedias, located in two courtyards adjacent to the bookstore, serve as stairs and cover-up cracked walls. The decor is completed by oars and mannequins, and the owner’s cats, all appearing in different places.
Libreria Aqua Alta is worth visiting not only for its atmosphere but also to browse the enormous selection of Italian publications, and many foreign-language editions. There are series dedicated to Venice, and others devoted to art, cinema or music. There is a vast collection of comics (unfortunately only in Italian), as well as postcards, notebooks, and calendars.
3. Scuola Grande Di San Marco
The Scuola Grande Di San Marco is really two sights in one. First there is the building itself, created to house the Confraternity of San Marco in 1260, and now used as a hospital. From the grand marble facade to the ornate interior, visitors can marvel at the architecture. In particular, the Chapter Room has a carved and gilded ceiling, and the walls are covered with Renaissance paintings.
The Scuola is also home to one of Venice’s many small museums, the Library of San Marco. This is an exhibition of medical treatises and instruments in use during the 19th and 20th centuries. Marvel (or shudder) at tools once used for amputation, gynaecology and more.
There is an entrance charge for the museum. Note that information is shown in Italian, and that some of the exhibits may be gruesome!
4. Naval History Museum
(Contributed by Victoria of Guide your Travel)
The Naval History Museum, or Museo Storico Navale di Venezia, is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of Venice and anything maritime. The museum is located a bit outside of the heart of Venice, but since the island is small you can easily reach it on foot.
The Naval History Museum is extensive and spreads over five levels with over 42 exhibition rooms. You can see historic ships and artefacts from different time periods and cultures. The building was constructed in the 16th century and has had many different uses over the years. This is a great place to spend an afternoon, or even a whole day if you want to see every single exhibit.
The museum is open from 8:45 to 1:30 daily except for Sundays, and there is an entrance charge. Check the website for details.
5. Palazzo Fortuny
The 15th century Palazzo Fortuny was originally a private dwelling. It was purchased by Mariano Fortuny, a Spanish fashion designer and art collector, in 1898. When he died he gifted the palace and its contents to the City of Venice.
The Palazzo Fortuny is now a museum and cultural centre. You can see Fortuny’s workshop, as well as his collections of artworks, including paintings, fabrics and fashion accessories. Temporary exhibitions showcase contemporary art and design, and there is also a programme of cultural events.
6. Rialto Markets
While the Rialto Bridge is certainly not off the beaten track, the markets that take place on the nearby canalside are more frequented by locals than by tourists. There are two markets: one selling fresh fruit, vegetables and groceries, and the Pescheria, full of locally-landed fish and seafood.
The markets are open every morning from Tuesday to Saturday. It is a great place to shop if you are self catering or just want to pick up some picnic food. Even if you aren’t buying, visit to soak up the atmosphere before stopping in one of the many local bars.
7. Chapter Room Of The Scuola Grande Di San Rocco
Like the Scuola of San Marco, the Scuola Grande Di San Rocco has a magnificent interior. Its Chapter Room is particularly impressive, its walls and ceiling painted by Tintoretto. The paintings form a cycle of 33 pictures showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Elsewhere in the building are works by other great artists including Titian and Giorgione. The Scuola also has a church with some remarkable narrative paintings.
There is an entrance charge and at certain times you may need to make a reservation. Check the website for details.
LivItaly have a whole range of small group tours in Venice and throughout Italy. Readers of this site can get a 10% discount on all of their tours by using discount code BEWITCHEDBYITALY
8. The Venissa Vineyard
You might not immediately associate Venice with wine-growing, but the lagoon is home to two vineyards. One is Orto di Venezia on Sant’Erasmo, and the other is Venissa on Mazzorbo.
The island of Mazzorbo was largely neglected until the Venissa Vineyard was replanted in 2008, reviving a lost tradition. Visitors can enjoy vineyard tours and wine-tasting, or eat in the Michelin-starred restaurant.
Mazzorbo is connected by bridge to the island of Burano. Or you can get there by waterbus from the Rialto Bridge.
9. Take A Small Group Tour
Of course, you will want to see the major tourist sights of Venice, but you can avoid the crowds if you take a skip-the-line tour or even by visiting outside of normal opening times. LivItaly has lots of options including a Private St Mark’s At Night tour.
They also have some more unusual activities such as a Venetian Rowing Lesson or a Private Ghost Tour With Gondola. Remember that readers of this website can get a 10% discount on LivItaly tours with discount code BEWITCHEDBYITALY.
10. Take A Day Trip
Another way to remove yourself from the bustle is to take a day trip. There is a whole range of trips that you can take from Venice, without any need for a car. There are short visits to the islands of the lagoon, most of which are connected by the waterbus. And slightly longer journeys will take you to the art cities of Veneto, including Vincenza and Verona.
Read more: 8 Day Trips From Venice.
More Inspiration For Lesser Known Things To Do In Venice
Don’t be put off the city by tales of overcrowding. Measures such as the Venice Tourist Tax or the recent cruise ship ban are not designed to deter tourists, but to encourage them to explore more meaningfully, to get beyond the obvious tourist sights. It is very easy to get off the beaten track: there are literally dozens of lesser known places I could have included in this list.