Venice, a city renowned for its enchanting canals and gondola rides, holds a treasure trove of secrets waiting to be discovered. While the city’s iconic landmarks like St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge are undoubtedly mesmerizing, there’s a whole other side to Venice that remains largely unexplored. This is the Venice of hidden alleyways, secret squares, and architectural wonders that escape the average tourist’s eye.
As a seasoned Italian traveler, I’ve had the privilege of uncovering some of these hidden gems in Venice, and I’m thrilled to share them with you. So, if you’re ready to venture off the beaten path and experience Venice like never before, join me on this journey as we delve into the city’s best-kept secrets.
Whether you’re a solo adventurer, a couple on a romantic getaway, or a family seeking unique travel experiences, this guide to Venice’s hidden gems will surely ignite your wanderlust. So, buckle up, and let’s embark on this exciting adventure together!
In this guide to Venice’s Hidden Gems, you’ll discover:
- An introduction to Venice’s lesser-known attractions, moving beyond the typical tourist spots to uncover the city’s best-kept secrets.
- Exploration of unique architectural wonders, such as the San Francesco della Vigna church and the spiral staircase of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.
- Insight into charming local spots like Campo San Maurizio Square and the Dorsoduro district, known for their antique markets, local eateries, and vibrant culture.
- Recommendations for unusual walking tours that take you to historical and cultural sites, including Campo Santa Maria Formosa and Marco Polo’s House.
- A guide to the hidden treasures of San Giorgio Maggiore island, including the Borges Labyrinth.
- A whole lot more!
Off The Beaten Path Venice Sights & Hidden Gems
San Francesco della Vigna: A Hidden Gem in Venice’s Castello District
San Francesco della Vigna, a Roman Catholic church nestled in the heart of Venice’s Castello district, is a testament to the city’s rich history and architectural grandeur. Erected on the grounds of a former vineyard, this church is a masterpiece designed by the renowned architect Jacopo Sansovino. Its elegant Renaissance facade, a work of the great Palladio, is a sight to behold.
The church’s bell tower, one of the tallest in Venice, stands majestically at a height of 69 meters. As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by the mesmerizing “Enthroned Madonna and Saints,” a painting by Bellini that dates back to 1507, housed in the Cappella Santa. This church is a treasure trove of art and history, waiting to be discovered by the discerning traveler.
Burano’s Leaning Bell Tower: A Tilted Marvel
One of the most intriguing sights on the vibrant island of Burano is its leaning bell tower. This architectural marvel, which dates back to the 17th century, is best admired from Terranova’s marble bridge or Giudecca’s street. The tower’s square shape and blend of Renaissance and neoclassical architectural features make it a unique sight in the Venetian landscape.
The tower has undergone several restorations over the centuries, particularly in the upper part of the belfry. The Tirali carried out the most notable of these maintenance works between 1703 and 1714. Despite these efforts, the tower has retained its characteristic lean, adding to its charm and making it a must-visit hidden gem in Venice.
Campo San Maurizio: More Than Just a Square
Venture into the San Marco district, and you’ll find Campo San Maurizio, a charming square that’s more than just a meeting point. The square is home to a basilica bearing the same name, a stunning example of Neoclassical architecture that now houses the Museo della Musica, a museum dedicated to Baroque music.
Five times a year, the square transforms into a bustling antique market, the Mercatino dell’Antiquariato Campo San Maurizio. Here, you can browse through an array of unique items, from vintage pocket watches to old postcards. The dates for this market can be found on their website.
Ca’ Rezzonico: A Glimpse into 18th Century Venice
Nestled along the Grand Canal in Dorsoduro, the stunning Ca’ Rezzonico palazzo offers a delightful visit away from the bustling crowds. The palazzo’s roots trace back to the 1600s, but a series of unfortunate events, including bankruptcies and families dying out, left the building more or less an empty shell until the city of Venice acquired it in 1935.
Today, Ca’ Rezzonico stands as a testament to 18th-century Venice, housing a museum complete with magnificent frescoes, furnishings, and paintings. The views of the Grand Canal from the palazzo are nothing short of spectacular, adding to the overall experience.
If you’re looking for a beautiful museum to visit in Venice where you can appreciate the art in a serene setting, Ca’ Rezzonico is a great stop. The palazzo’s rich history, stunning art, and magnificent views make it a true hidden gem in Venice.
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo: Venice’s Spiral Wonder
Nestled in the heart of Venice, the beautiful palace Contarini del Bovolo is a sight to behold. This architectural marvel is renowned for its unique external staircase, the Scala Contarini del Bovolo, which translates to “of the snail.” This spiral staircase, dating back to the 15th century, is a testament to Venice’s rich history and architectural prowess. The staircase’s intricate design and the panoramic view it offers of the city make it a must-visit for any traveler.
The Scala Contarini del Bovolo isn’t just a historical landmark; it’s also a star of the silver screen. Fans of Orson Welles may recognize this ornate stairwell from his 1952 film, Othello. The palace’s unique blend of history, architecture, and pop culture significance makes it a true hidden gem in Venice.
For more information on Venice’s architectural wonders, check out our article on the famous bridges of Venice.
Visiting the Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria: A Submerged Secret
In the heart of Venice lies the Church of San Zaccaria, a beautiful sanctuary that holds a unique secret beneath its floors. The crypt of San Zaccaria, unlike any other, is flooded, creating an eerie yet captivating atmosphere that makes it one of the most unusual things to do in Venice.
The church itself is a sight to behold, with its stunning architecture and the magnificent painting “The Birth of Saint John the Baptist” by Tintoretto. But the real adventure begins when you descend into the crypt. The sight of the flooded crypt, with its beautiful arches reflected in the still water, is a sight you won’t soon forget.
Visiting the crypt is a unique experience that offers a glimpse into the past. As of 2022, it costs 3 Euros to visit the small museum, which includes the art, a chapel, and the crypt. So, if you’re looking for a hidden gem in Venice, the flooded crypt of San Zaccaria is a must-visit.
Riding in a Traghetto: Venice’s Hidden Mode of Transport
Venice is known for its gondolas, but there’s another type of boat that offers a unique way to explore the city – the traghetto. These large gondolas act as a form of public transportation across the Grand Canal, offering a quick and affordable way to get from one side to the other.
Finding a traghetto can be a bit of a challenge, as they have unpredictable hours and can be hard to spot. But that’s part of what makes them one of the best-hidden gems in Venice. For a small 2 Euro fee, you can hop on a traghetto for a quick ferry ride across the Grand Canal. It’s a unique experience that offers a different perspective on the city.
So, next time you’re in Venice, why not try riding in a traghetto? It’s a fun and affordable way to see the city from a new angle. And who knows, you might just discover some new hidden gems along the way.
Lido Island: Venice’s Beachside Haven
Away from the hustle and bustle of Venice’s main tourist spots lies a lesser-visited destination that offers a different kind of Venetian experience – Lido Island. Known for its serene beaches and laid-back atmosphere, Lido Island is a breath of fresh air for those looking to escape the city’s crowded streets and canals.
Lido Island is a thin strip of land that separates the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Its sandy beaches stretch along the island’s eastern coast, offering a perfect spot for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying the sea breeze. The island is also home to the Venice Film Festival, which takes place every September at the Palazzo del Cinema.
The charm of Lido Island lies in its relaxed pace of life. Here, you can rent a bike and explore the island’s quiet streets, lined with Art Nouveau villas and lush gardens. Or, you can enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the island’s many seafood restaurants, where you can savor fresh catches of the day while enjoying views of the sea.
Visiting Lido Island offers a unique perspective on Venice. It’s a reminder that Venice is not just a city of canals and historic buildings but also a city with a quiet area and beachside culture that’s worth exploring.
Hidden Venice: Unusual Walking Tour
If you’re looking to explore Venice off the beaten path, the Hidden Venice Walking Tour is just the ticket. This unique tour takes you through the city’s lesser-known corners, offering a fresh perspective on this historic city. The tour includes visits to historical and cultural sites such as Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Marco Polo’s House, and St. Mark’s Square.
Campo Santa Maria Formosa, a charming square in the Castello district, is known for its beautiful church and bustling market. Marco Polo’s House, the residence of the famous explorer, offers a glimpse into Venice’s past. And no tour of Venice would be complete without a visit to St. Mark’s Square, the city’s principal public square. For more insights on Venice’s rich history, check out our complete guide to the Venice Carnival.
Dorsoduro Area: Venice Off the Beaten Path
Despite housing two of Venice’s best museums, the Dorsoduro district offers a taste of local life away from the tourist crowds. This charming district is home to a variety of cultural attractions, local eateries, and unique shops. As you stroll through the narrow streets of Dorsoduro, you’ll get a sense of the authentic Venetian lifestyle.
The district is home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of Venice’s premier modern art museums. Here, you can admire works by some of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
Located right around the corner is the world-renowned Gallerie dell’Accademia, home to Venetian Renaissance masters such as Tintoretto, Veronese, Bellini, and Titian. It is one of my favorite museums in the world, not just in Venice or Italy. It’s a must-visit if you are a fan of art.
After a day of exploring, unwind at one of the local eateries and sample traditional Venetian cuisine.
For more on Venice’s culinary scene, check out our article on Venetian foods and drinks.
San Giorgio Maggiore: An Island of Hidden Treasures
San Giorgio Maggiore is an island that often gets overlooked by tourists, but it’s a treasure trove of hidden gems. The island is home to a 16th-century church that’s a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.
The church, painted by the legendary artist Monet, is a sight to behold with its grand facade and stunning interior. But that’s not all the small island has to offer.
One of the island’s most intriguing features is the Borges Labyrinth. Opened in 2021, this boxwood maze is a tribute to the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.
Walking through the labyrinth is like stepping into one of Borges’ surreal stories. It’s a unique experience that you won’t find in the usual tourist guides. So, if you’re looking for a different kind of adventure in Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore is the place to go.
For more information about the island and its attractions, check out our comprehensive Venice Islands Guide.
Ponte dei Pugni: A Bridge with a Punchy History
In the heart of Venice’s Dorsoduro district, you’ll find a bridge with a history as unique as its name – Ponte dei Pugni, or Bridge of Fists. This bridge was the stage for a peculiar tradition in the 1600s, where rival Venetian clans would engage in fistfights with the aim of knocking each other into the canal below.
These fights were not random acts of violence but were organized events that took place a couple of times each year. Originally, the goal was not to cause serious harm but to assert dominance over the other clan by pushing them off the bridge. These events drew large crowds and were a significant part of Venetian culture at the time. They eventually became more dangerous and were shut down for good.
Today, the bridge is a popular spot for tourists, not for fistfights, but for its unique history and its location in one of Venice’s most charming districts. The bridge now has railings, but the memory of its punchy past lives on. As you cross the bridge, you can almost imagine the cheers and jeers of the crowd as they watched the clans battle it out.
Ca’Macana: Behind the Masks of Venice
Venice is known as the City of Masks, and there’s no better place to explore this tradition than at Ca’Macana. This shop in the Dorsoduro district is famous for its handcrafted masks, each one a unique work of art. The artisans at Ca’Macana use traditional techniques to create masks that are as beautiful as they are mysterious.
What sets Ca’Macana apart is its connection to popular culture. The shop created the masks for the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut, and its masks are regularly used by theaters such as the Vienna Opera House. If you want to delve deeper into the tradition of mask-making in Venice, Ca’Macana offers mask-making courses that are both fun and informative.
To learn more about the tradition of mask-making and its role in Venetian culture, check out our Complete Guide to Venice Carnival.
Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour: Is It Worth It?
While Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace are some of Venice’s most famous landmarks, there’s more to it than meets the eye. The Secret Itineraries Tour takes you behind the scenes to explore rooms and features that are not included in the standard tour.
From the Chamber of the Secret Chancellery, where top-secret documents were once stored, to the cells where the infamous Casanova was imprisoned, the tour is a journey into the hidden history of Venice.
But is the tour worth it? We took the tour in late 2022, with a guide named Francesca, and it was absolutely worth it. The tour offers a unique perspective on the Doge’s Palace and the history of Venice. It’s a must-do for history buffs and anyone who wants to see a different side of this legendary landmark in Piazza San Marco.
GLAM at Palazzo Venart: Venice’s Culinary Hidden Gem
Tucked away in an unassuming pathway, you’ll find a culinary gem that’s changing the game for Venice’s dining scene – GLAM. This hidden restaurant is housed inside a stunning Venetian palace, now a 5-star luxury hotel, and offers a dining experience as refined as its surroundings.
Under the helm of Italy’s youngest two Michelin-starred chef, Enrico Bartolini, GLAM has been serving up dishes that are as delicious as they are visually stunning.
Since 2017, Bartolini and resident chef Donato Ascani have held a Michelin star at GLAM too. The restaurant offers a charming patio for al fresco dining, as well as a stylish interior dining room. From classic risotto to typical Venetian dishes, every bite is a testament to the culinary prowess of the team behind GLAM.
Want to find the perfect restaurant? We wrote a guide to the top 20 restaurants in Venice and broke them down by neighborhood.
For our next stop, we head into the Venetian Lagoon!
San Michele Island: A Unique Venice Experience
San Michele Island is a place of tranquility and history, offering a unique perspective on Venice’s past. The island has been the city’s main cemetery since the early 19th century when Napoleon’s edict banned burials in the city center. The cemetery is divided into sections: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Jews, reflecting the city’s diverse history.
The island is the final resting place for many famous figures, including Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, American poet Ezra Pound, and Italian painter Emilio Vedova. The graves, many of which are adorned with beautiful sculptures and ornate stonework, are a testament to the rich history and cultural significance of Venice.
The Bridge with No Parapet: Venice’s Architectural Oddity
Venice is a city of bridges, but none are quite like the Bridge with No Parapet. This unique architectural feature is one of only two bridges in Venice without parapets or railings. Located in the quiet Cannaregio area of the floating city, the Ponte de Chiodo offers a unique and slightly thrilling experience for those brave enough to cross it.
The bridge, which takes its name from the Nail family who used to own it, offers a unique perspective on the ancient city and its canals. Despite its lack of railings, it’s perfectly safe to cross, and it’s one of the best-kept secrets of Venice. So, if you’re looking for a bit of adventure and a story to tell, don’t miss the chance to cross the Bridge with No Parapet on your next visit to Venice.
For more information about the history of bridges in Venice, check out our article on famous bridges in Venice.
Touring the Inside of St. Mark’s Clocktower: A Timeless Journey
When you find yourself in St. Mark’s Square, it’s impossible to miss the stunning St. Mark’s Clocktower (or Torre dell’Orologio, as the locals call it). Its blue face adorned with gold zodiac symbols is a sight to behold. But did you know that there’s more to this 500-year-old masterpiece than meets the eye?
The true magic of the Clocktower lies within its walls. A tour inside this Venetian landmark is like stepping back in time. As you ascend the tower, you’ll be greeted by the intricate mechanisms that have kept time ticking in Venice for centuries. The tour is a fascinating journey through the history of timekeeping, and it offers a unique perspective on the city’s past.
Visits to the interior of St. Mark’s Clocktower can only be made by guided tour and must be booked in advance. So, if you’re planning a trip to Venice, make sure to reserve your spot. This is a hidden gem that you won’t want to miss!
The Original Merchant of Venice Shop: A Fragrant Souvenir
In the heart of Venice, you’ll find the flagship store of the Merchant of Venice perfume company. This isn’t just any perfume shop. It’s a sensory journey that captures the essence of Venice in a bottle.
As you step inside, you’ll be enveloped by the rich aromas of their unique fragrances. Each perfume tells a story, capturing the spirit and character of Venice. Whether you’re looking for a long-lasting souvenir or simply want to experience the beautiful shop, it’s worth taking the time to explore.
The Merchant of Venice is more than just a perfume shop. It’s a testament to the city’s rich history and culture. So, next time you’re wandering through the streets of Venice, take a moment to step inside. You might just find the perfect fragrance to remember your trip by.
The Devil’s Bridge: Torcello’s Mysterious Bridge
The Devil’s Bridge, or Ponte del Diavolo, is a bridge shrouded in mystery and local legends. Located on the tranquil Venetian island of Torcello, this bridge is one of the oldest in Venice and is unique due to its lack of parapets.
Its name comes from a local legend that tells of a pact with the devil. The story goes that a Venetian girl, heartbroken over the murder of her boyfriend during the Austrian occupation, sought the help of a witch who made a pact with the devil to bring him back to life.
The devil agreed, but in return, he demanded the souls of seven dead children. The witch died in a fire before she could fulfill her end of the bargain, and it’s said that the devil returns to the bridge every December 24th, appearing as a black cat, to wait for the souls he was promised.
This eerie tale adds an extra layer of intrigue to this already fascinating bridge. So be sure to hop on a water taxi or a short vaporetto ride and make your way through the Venetian Lagoon.
Libreria Acqua Alta: A Book Lover’s Hidden Paradise
Tucked away in the Castello district, you’ll find Libreria Acqua Alta, a book lover’s dream. This unique bookstore is a hidden gem in Venice, filled to the brim with vintage books stored in gardens, bathtubs, and even a full-sized gondola to protect them from the city’s frequent floods.
The store’s name translates to “Library of High Water,” a nod to its unique storage methods. The chaotic charm of this place is irresistible, with stacks of books piled high in every corner, creating a labyrinth of literature.
Whether you’re a bibliophile or just a casual reader, this bookstore is a must-visit.
Venice Rooftop Panoramic View: A Hidden View of Venice
For a breathtaking view of Venice, head to the rooftop of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a luxury department store located near the Rialto Bridge. This hidden gem offers a panoramic view of the city that is second to none.
From here, you can see the iconic red rooftops, winding canals, and bustling squares of Venice from a unique perspective. The view is particularly stunning at sunset when the city is bathed in a warm, golden light.
This is a perfect spot to take a break from exploring and simply soak in the beauty of Venice. There is a reason it made our list of Romantic Things to Do in Venice.
The Secret Gardens of Venice: An Oasis Amidst the Canals
Venice, a city known for its enchanting canals and stunning architecture, holds a secret that is often overlooked by many – its hidden gardens. These verdant spaces, tucked away behind ivy-covered walls and monumental facades, offer a refreshing contrast to the city’s stone and water landscape. From private gardens of grand palaces along the Grand Canal to the productive ‘orto’ or vegetable gardens of churches and monasteries, Venice is a city of hidden greenery waiting to be discovered.
One such example is the charming garden of the Church of Sant’ Eufemia on Giudecca, brimming with tomatoes, peppers, roses, and even grapevines. Open to church-goers after Sunday mass, this garden offers a tranquil space for refreshment and relaxation. Not far from Sant’ Eufemia, the traditional Venetian campo (square) of Sant’ Eufemia is a sight to behold with its grass-covered surface and vine-clad pergola, a testament to the local fishermen’s lifestyle.
Venice’s gardens are not just traditional; some are contemporary, like the garden at Palazzo Querini Stampalia, reimagined in the 1960s by architect Carlo Scarpa. This garden features narrow trenches carrying water and an interesting range of Japanese plants and bamboos.
On the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, a modern box hedge labyrinth has been built in honor of Argentinian writer and poet Jose Luis Borges, offering visitors a unique challenge and a breathtaking view of San Marco.
These secret gardens of Venice, each with its own unique charm and story, offer a different perspective of the city. They are a testament to Venice’s ability to harmoniously blend nature with its man-made wonders, creating a cityscape that is as green as it is grand. So, on your next visit to Venice, take a moment to step away from the bustling canals and discover these hidden gems amidst the city of water.
Discovering Hidden Gems in Venice
Venice is a city of endless discovery. Beyond the well-trodden paths of St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge lie hidden gems waiting to be explored.
From the mysterious Devil’s Bridge on nearby Torcello Island to the charming chaos of Libreria Acqua Alta, the winding Scala Contarini del Bovolo, and the breathtaking rooftop views at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Venice offers a wealth of lesser-known attractions that offer a glimpse into the city’s rich history and vibrant culture.
So, when you’re visiting Venice, venture off the beaten path and into the narrow streets to uncover the city’s best-kept secrets. And remember, the real joy of travel lies not in checking off a list of attractions but in unexpected discoveries along the way.
Have you discovered any hidden gems in Venice that we haven’t mentioned? Share your experiences in the comments below!