Anybody who has been to Venice will tell you that the vision of Gondolas sliding down calm waters and gondoliers serenading passengers with songs is but a myth to lure naive tourists.
Reality is very different – thousands of tourists crowding Rialto Bridge, roses being peddled to unsuspecting couples at the bridge, milling crowds at San Marco square trying to get a photo with the pigeons, and insistent vendors hounding tourists. In order to pander to the myth of the ‘romantic’ city, some parts of Venice seem to have been converted into some sort of cluttered theme park (a European Orlando if you may!).
But then there are pockets of Venice that we love. Venice is divided into 6 districts and it’s quite ironic that most of them don’t see too many tourists. Yes, you heard that right! If you wander outside the popular and over-crowded San Marco District, you will be hard pressed to find more than a dozen tourists at any given time. Here locals go about their daily chores, canals flow at an unhurried pace, and there are piazzas laden with history.
Our Top 5 Things to do in Venice range from culinary experiences to historic ones, but there is a common thread running through them. All of them showcase Venice the way it was supposed to be – historic, decadent, and gorgeous. Here are our 5 favourite things to do in Venice along with tips that will help you enjoy the city. As always there is a LOT of food involved – hey it’s Italy, we couldn’t possibly explore it without sampling the food could we? 🙂
#1 WANDER AND GET LOST
Did you know that Venice is an archipelago of 117 islands interconnected by bridges. Tourists have the option of commuting using private water taxis (from €30/per head) and public water buses (€7/one way ticket). But the best way to get around is to walk, just like the locals. Skip the water buses and water taxis (unless you have luggage on you – Venice’s narrow alleys are a nightmare with luggage) and explore this city on foot.
Venice’s alleys and bridges look the same and you will definitely get lost but that is the fun of it. Reward yourself with a gelato at a gelateria you might never find again 🙂
#2 EXPLORE CASTELLO
Of the six districts of Venice, Castello is the one closest to San Marco District. It might be just a 10 minute walk away from San Marco square but it’s a world away from the overpriced food and grumpy shop owners of the touristy areas in Venice. Avoid the main road and wander into the little alleys and piazzas of Castello – here friendly shop owners and gorgeous canals take centre stage.
This is also the perfect area for renting an apartment in Venice – it’s close enough to the heart of Venice without feeling cluttered or overcrowded. We rented a really spacious apartment in Castello with Gowithoh.
It is easy to spend a leisurely afternoon exploring Castello. We suggest picking some sun-dried tomatoes, olives, salad from a deli or supermarket and picnicking by the canal under the Italian sun. Well, that’s what we did 🙂
#3 GO FOR AN INDULGENT MEAL AT AMAN CANAL GRANDE
If you’re in the mood to indulge yourself or you’re celebrating a special occasion, drop by the Dining Room at Aman Canal Grande, Venice. George Clooney got married there last week and if it’s good enough for Clooney, it’s good enough for us eh 😉
Aman Canal Grande is one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. The historical building is actually a Count’s palatial mansion which has been refurbished as a hotel. The intimate dining room resembles the Count’s private dining area with intricate frescos and ornate chandeliers. Make sure you ask for a seat by the window, so you can spend your evening sipping vintage wine and watching gondolas float past on the canal 🙂
As for the food, it’s downright amazing. There are no pretentious portions here – the sharing plates on the menu are an obvious ode to Italian mamas’ rustic style of cooking. We loved the in-house smoked salmon and the fennel and orange salad. The latter was such a simple dish but its delicate flavours made the tongue dance.
This nuanced play of flavours was the highlight of the entire meal for us. We opted for a pasta dish and lamb cutlets for our main course. Chef Riccardo’s food comes straight from the heart – so the meat was succulent and the pasta was cooked to the perfect al-dente consistency. We wrapped up our meal with a platter of mini desserts and Chef Riccardo’s signature caramelised fruits – glistening fruits that seemed to be inspired by Murano’s glass bubbles.
This is food so exquisite that it’s almost sensual. Go for it – it’s an experience you won’t forget 🙂 A 3 course meal with a drink or two costs around €100/head. More information on their website www.amanresorts.com
#4 GO FOR AN EARLY MORNING/LATE NIGHT ADVENTURE
It might be cluttered, overcrowded, and disturbing during the day, but the area surrounding Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square is definitely worth a dekko. Make sure you drop by late at night (and we mean REALLY late at night) when crowds have dispersed or early in the morning before most tourists get in. The difference might shock you.
If you make it to San Marco Square early in the morning, then do climb atop the San Marco Bell Tower – it offers gorgeous panoramic views of Venice. Try reaching before 9.30 am to skip queueing up. We also love watching gondolas bobbing on peaceful waters at the pier by San Marco Square late at night. The midnight moon peeking out from the clouds with the majestic San Maggiore cathedral lit in the distance can be quite a vision 🙂
#5 EXPLORE CANNAREGIO AND THE JEWISH GHETTO
Cannaregio is definitely one of our favourite districts of Venice. It’s next to the main train station of Venice, but it’s the Jewish Ghetto, a part of the Cannaregio District that makes it so special. Here you won’t find a single shop selling souvenirs or catering to tourists. Instead there are synagogues, old money lenders’ shops, museums, historic water wells, and much more. It’s almost like a giant open-air museum – a perfect introduction to Venetian history.
We opted for a wine tour with Dark Rome in Cannaregio that provided the perfect introduction to the area with bits of food and drink thrown in for good measure and when was that ever a bad thing ?! 😉 This tour introduced us to a variety of Cicchetti (Venetian tapas/finger food) that is served in local bacari (bars) in Venice. We tried local specialities such as fried sardines, fried mozzarella, smoked riccotta cheese with black grapes, and cod cooked in milk accompanied with different kinds of wine at three different taverns. The tour offers a comprehensive introduction to an offbeat part of Venice, frequented by locals. What’s more we learnt 3 different Italian words for Cheers within 3 hours – Chin Chin, Prosit, and Salut. Now that is quite the accomplishment 😉
The tour costs €35/person. More information on their website www.darkrome.com
And that is how we like our Venice. There are no gondolas, red roses, or pigeons involved in Bruised Passports’ ideal vision of Venice! But there is enough luscious Italian food to fuel your wildest culinary fantasies and it’s served with a sizeable dollop of Venetian history. We know you’ll love it! 🙂
Do you love Venice ? Share your favourite things to do in Venice in the comments below 🙂
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58 thoughts on “Offbeat Venice – 5 Things To Do in Venice”
Your photos of Venice are so bright and sunny. Been there in early March and it was pretty gloomy and raining quite a bit, though I still enjoyed my stay 🙂
I loved Cannaregio district too a lot. There were a few really cool antique bookstores there and a cool resto with moderate prices and insanely delicious pasta.
Insanely delicious pasta? That sounds a lot like Cannaregio 😉 The food in that area is insane.
Hello, lovely article as always! Can you recommend some pasta place in Cannaregio and Castello? Thanks a lot.
This is the Venice I love! I didn’t find it that overcrowded, once I wandered off a bit..
It’s funny how two cities co-exist in one small space isn’t it Nikita? There is the overcrowded mess and then there’s a history-laden wonderland
Your narrated it PERFECTLY…!! Been there more then 7 times.. No offence, but I always found Venice over-rated…
Thanks a ton Haneesh. Most people just browse through photos these days – it’s so good to hear from someone who took the time to read the accompanying text, really appreciate it 🙂 Venice is definitely over-rated – Italy has so many prettier towns and cities
amazingly well written, Loved it.
Thanks Sonal 😀
As ever, great post, guys! I haven’t been to Venice in years, but absolutely loved it when I went. Your recommendations look and sound really good.
Thanks a ton Taylor. You must sample all the food on our list the next time you’re there – scrummilicious doesn’t begin to describe it 😉
I had been to Burano, Murano and popular landmarks in San Marco square before the pandemic. Despite the popular landmarks being overrated i found it worthwhile to visit.As far as Murano i think one should budget for purchasing their beautiful glass works as i still regret for not doing so. The houses in Burano painted in various colour makes for a picturesque scene. Burrano’s seafood is yet another speciality .Your article provides a great overview of the offbeat destinations in Venice and will certainly be of help when I plan my next trip there. Photos are simply superb . I do realise that there is much more about Venice’s cuisine from your article and will make sure to relish them next time.
LOVE!!! When I was in Venice with my then bf, that’s exactly what we did. We got lost, stayed away from all the touristic places (although we visited them them all for 5 minutes) but then the number of times we reached dead ends and streets that lead straight to the canals was incredible. It was like wrong turn again, let’s go the other way. I think we discarded our map at one point of time and I had to even buy new shoes from a local boutique because I wore out the ones on my feet (score), and while I bought shoes, he bought a small mouth organ and we walked to some pretty fun tunes 🙂
Haha Roxanne – that’s amazing. You have quite the story from Venice – love the sound of the mouth organ 😀
Great post and so beautiful pictures. Venice is on my list, defo, and this is waht I am going to do when in there – just stroll around and make sure, I wander rather than rush through things. That is the best way to build great memories of the place!
Thanks Monika – glad you enjoyed it. Absolutely – make sure you spend a few days in the city and explore the quieter parts at leisure 🙂
Good description. Venice is spectacular in the evenings, when the tourists from Mestre and Lido have left on the last vaporetto. But during the daytime it most definitely is too crowded, especially the main San Marco area. That’s why it’s important to stay in a hotel in Venice proper, even though you might be cramped for space.
I disagree though about the gondolas. We almost didn’t try it because it seemed overpriced. But we got one on the eastern side of the island that took us to some really charming little spots and kept away from the Grand Canal. If you have EUR 80 to spare, it is a classic Venetian experience.
Hey Adnan – great to hear from you. Haha – good to know at least someone enjoys ’em gondola rides. Absolutely – it’s a good idea to stay close to San Marco Square. That’s why we feel Castello is amazing – it’s close to the centre but not too close for comfort 😀
Single best piece of advice that can be given for Venice is to wander and let yourself get lost. That is when the magic happens! Followed closely by the early morning exploration. You are right, it is so busy and crowded with people during the day but Venice is still magical if you know where to look. 🙂
Aah well put Lina – couldn’t have agreed more. We don’t enjoy Venice as much as Tuscany or Southern Italy but parts of it are definitely special 🙂
I agree with everything you’ve said about Venice but I still have a soft spot for Gondolas 😉 I will definitely try the restaurant at Aman Grande Canale when I’m there next week – the food looks amazing
You must visit the Dining Room at Aman Canale Grande – the food is exquisite. Say hi to Chef Riccardo for us 😉
Venice is no less than what it claims !!! absolutely stunning city with great great food and amazing architecture !!!
Italy has prettier cities but Venice has a character of its own – then there’s ALL that history at every corner 🙂
Ahh, this comment and reply got me thinking, interested to know what cities did you find prettier than Venice. We haven’t explore Italy a lot so would be nice to know some cities so that we can plan our Italy travels.
Would definitely suggestion Tuscany and the Dolomites
Such lovely photos. I still haven’t visited Venice yet – long overdue and your photos have me yearning to go even more now!
Thanks Kathryn 🙂
Kathryn Venice is definitely not our favourite part of Italy but you need to visit it at least once to see what the hype is about 😉
So many of my favorite places. The only things I would add is to take a seat at a bench in San Polo to people watch – Venetian families play in the piazza and it is a great spot just to watch life go by. Also, Lido – across the Canal on the linea 1 vaporetto. Although it is busy in the summer because of the beach, walking around the side streets to see the houses is a perfect way to understand real life in a Venetian “suburb.”
Hey Elena – thanks for the tips. We haven’t spent much time around Lido but we’ll definitely look it up on our next trip to Venice 😀
Love the photos! Really crisp and colorful..I can clearly see how bright the day was during your stay there. I enjoyed it. And thank you for sharing the other side of Venice. I like getting lost and discovering places that are less visited by tourist. Such a helpful tip.
Thanks Vanessa – getting lost is probably the single best thing one can do in Venice 😀
Number one – getting lost – is pretty much my favourite thing to do in all cities. It even has a posh name – flaneuring…. which basiclly mens just wondering without a purpose!
Absolutely I love getting lost in new cities. I love the concept of the Flaneur and dedicated one whole chapter of my PhD thesis to it 😉 Did you know that the original concept of flaneur-ing is actually male-centric
We are heading to Venice next May en route to our friends’ wedding in Prague, and will definitely try to follow your tips. Neither of us is even remotely fluent in Italian unfortunately, is that a problem? Thank you!
Hey Maggie – it isn’t a problem at all. Most of the people you’ll meet in Venice will understand English and speak a bit of the language as well. Hope you have a good time in Venice. Don’t forget to read our list of offbeat things to do in Prague 🙂
Super photos. Such colours. It reminds me of when I was there a few years ago, I thought it was brilliant.
Thanks a ton – did you like Venice? 🙂
We will be travelling next week and I’m gonna be following this to the T. So beautifully written!
So beautifully captured! Going to Venice in a week. I’m so going to be following this letter by letter (Including your gorgeous dresses)
Hope you enjoy Venice – tell us how it goes 🙂
Here I found a fantastic blog, with tons of infos and tips about what to do in Venice and Italy, check it out!
Great list, wandering part is absolutely spot on , it felt magical to get lost there. We even did some cycling around Lido and then sat on a bench facing the grand canal , watching venice from the distance with zero crowds. But I loved the birds at San Marco sorry I am an animal lover, whichever whatever way I find them I go gaga absolutely and I got a stunning picture too with them 😀
Hey Kamakshi – so glad to hear you had a good time in Venice and that we aren’t the only ones who enjoy getting lost in the city 😀
Hey Savi and Vid..love your blogs!
So I am planning to go to Venice for a day and a half because after that we will be leaving for Slovenia…so any suggestions as to what should I do in those 1&1/2 days?
We have mentioned our favourite things to do in Venice – you can just pick whatever you love the most and do that in your day and a half in Venice 🙂 And enjoy Slovenia!!
Very well written. We are planning to arrive to Tirano, Italy through Bernina Express and then stay in Venice or 2 days and later head to Florence for 5 days in October. Would you suggest any alternatives to Venice, or since it’s October can I expect fewer tourists?
There are fewer tourists in Venice in October, so you should be ok 🙂
Hi Savi, Vid!
The photos are absolutely beautiful! <3 Would you advice visiting Venice in Feb to avoid the regular tourist crowd? I've read that it gets really cold and damp and hence should be avoided but there are also contrary views that it's worth a visit to enjoy the peace and quiet with lesser crowds.
Yes Venice will be cold and grey in Feb but it’s always pretty. For us even more so when there aren’t too many people 😉
Hi Savi, Vid!
Absolutely loved your pictures! Would you recommend a trip in February? I have been wanting to go there for quite sometime to explore the food and culture (and on a budget with less crowd!) but had come across quite a few articles on the place being cold and damp and hence should be avoided.
Hey Richa – February means less crowd but yes it is cold and can get rainy at the time
Hey – I’ve been trying to post a comment and question since quite sometime now but it’s not getting updated 🙁
Hii Savi and Vid!
Though I visited Venice before I started following your blog but still wanted to see Venice from your viewpoint ?.
Most amazingly for us, we stayed in a hotel near railway station coz we were coming from Milan. So to see all the touristy spots we took a bus then it was almost a 45 minute walk to San Marco but in those 45 minutes I fell in love with the city! I would look forward to walk the same path everyday and some more.
No doubt San Marco was a disappointment and so was a gondola ride but the walk up to it was full of charm. I felt as if most of Diagon alley( either you know or you don’t ?) inspiration came from Venice – It’s alleys and it’s buildings.
May be because I saw the uncrowded part of Venice first, it will always remain among the most romantic cities for me❤️
But would love to take your suggestions next time around?
So happy to hear you had a great time in Venice 🙂
thank you for sharing this amazing information with us, such a helpfull and informative information.Italy is such a fantastic city! So picturesque. Going back there next month, so thank you for all these great spots!Things to do in Venice, Best things to do in Venice, Venice to do, Venice tourist attractions