Most of us have been to – and fallen in love with – Venice. Sure, the city has overpriced gondola rides full of day-trippers with cameras plastered to their faces. (I mean, maybe try being in the moment.) But it also has extraordinary millennia-old palazzos and bridges, and quiet courtyard cafes with $15 bottles of wine and crazy-good pastas.
Whether you’re taking our 2024 Venice to Malta Mediterranean luxury cruise or just going on your own, the key to enjoying Venice as a repeat visitor is to get off the typical tourist path. Then, you’ll encounter far fewer crowds, and you’ll have an experience of the city that will, I promise you, make you remember why you loved it in the first place.
Here are some Venice experiences you have probably never done (and if you have…RESPECT):
Visit the nearly uninhabited island of Torcello
Most people who have been to Venice have taken a water bus over to Murano (and possibly Burano). But there are many other islands, and the most unique is the almost uninhabited Torcello (also located in the Venetian lagoon).
It was once home to about 20,000 residents, but today, only a dozen or so remain. Check out the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, with its magnificent interior mosaics, and the stunning views of nearby Burano from atop the bell tower.
Tour the Ca’Rezzonico Palazzo
Most everyone goes to the Peggy (the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, her onetime home on the Grand Canal that now houses her excellent collection of modern art), but there is another grand palazzo nearby that’s also a can’t-miss: Ca’Rezzonico.
Complete with magnificent frescoes and furnishings, it houses the Museum of 18th Century Venice and – along with the Peggy – has wonderful views of the Grand Canal. Here you have the chance to pretend you’re a Venetian baron and get photos of just yourself standing alone in the palatial rooms. Bring a powdered wig.
(Courtesy of VENICELOVER.COM)
Climb the Scala Contorini Del Bovolo
If you don’t mind climbing stairs (there is no elevator), this staircase is part of a palazzo just a five to ten-minute walk from San Marco that is an Instagram wet dream. As you climb the winding, multi-story staircase, the views of the city and the Grand Canal are fabulous.
Admission (to the Palazzo, which is how you get to the staircase): 8 Euros. (6 for those over 65.)
Tip: Avoid early afternoons. Try to go before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
(Courtesy of RIVELA.ORG)
Visit the Scuola Grande di San Marco
Dating back to the 13th century, this building is now a hospital, but it has a free hidden gem upstairs. When you enter, just take the stairs to the right, and you’ll find the Museum of the History of Medicine. Ancient books line the walls, and you’ll find all kinds of interesting (and occasionally terrifying) artifacts and equipment used in medicine throughout history. Then, look up – to gaze at the truly fabulous ceiling.
These are, of course, two terribly popular Venice attractions, and if you’ve been to St. Mark’s and/or the Doge’s Palace, you probably toured them with about 5,000 other people.
The After Hours tour allows you to see and photograph these amazing monuments in the evening, with a small group of no more than six fellow guests. It’s well worth the additional cost. This tour includes areas unavailable to daytime tour-takers, and will give you a completely different experience of these magnificent buildings.
The gothic Doge’s Palace has vast areas that most tourists don’t ever see, but the Secret Itineraries Tour gets you into the palace’s archives, torture chambers (these aren’t for the faint of heart) and attic prison cells – all with smaller group, skip-the-line access. Once again, this is highly recommended (especially if you’re tight on time) and want to see the palace in a way that few others do.
NOTE: Viator – a tour aggregator that we love and highly recommend – also sometimes offers versions of these tours at a lower price.
(Courtesy of THETRAVEL.COM)
See the Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria
The Church of San Zaccaria is lovely, and typically over-the-top in that wonderfully Italian Catholic way. But it’s the crypt that lies below that looks like it was created for some Indiana Jones movie. The crypt is permanently flooded (this isn’t one of the “depending on the water level” floods common in Venice), which gives it a really spooky atmosphere.
The Church is free to enter. You’ll pay a whopping 3 Euros to see the crypt.
Rooftops Walking Tour
If you don’t mind heights and a bit of stair climbing, this is a wonderful way to get a completely different view of Venice and its canals. You’ll get to see the city with a small group, far from the crowds below, in a truly unique walking tour that utilizes various rooftops. (To make the climbing/walking more fun, you’ll sip Prosecco.) The tour is marvelously reviewed, and for good reason.
AND LET’S NOT FORGET FOOD
A La Vecia Papusa
This is a hidden gem of a café/bar (the sign outside says simply, “Bar”) frequented by locals, where you can enjoy 2-Euro small plates of delicious cicchetti (Venice’s version of tapas) and stupidly inexpensive wine and wine spritzers.
There’s just about no ambience inside, so go outside like the locals and enjoy your feast alongside the canal for way more atmosphere.
Dine at a Local’s Home
Want to experience Italian cooking in a truly non-commercial way? These tours are hosted by local Venetians in their homes (all, of course, vetted by the tour operator), and are fantastically reviewed. Enjoy a private three-hour, 4-course dinner (including wine) for a surprisingly reasonable price. This is a memory that can outlast almost any other tour you take.
Brand g’s 4-country, 9-port Mediterranean cruise aboard the luxury Atlas small-ship ocean yacht (August, 2024) that begins in Venice: