Venice is one of the most unique places in Europe – but it’s also one of the busiest, with tourists descending on the sinking city in their thousands every single day. It’s a city that a lot of people don’t expect to love, and depending on your experience, your expectations could be right. Me? I absolutely love it, and I’m hoping in this post I can show you why.
I was really excited to return to Venice recently, after a winter visit with my mum a few years ago. On that trip, we hit up some of the highlights of the city and also took a boat trip over to the colourful island of Burano, something we wouldn’t have time to do on this trip.
This time, I had researched a lot more.
I was visiting with Ash and our friend David, neither of whom had visited Venice before, so it was inevitable that we would be hitting up all the main sights, but I also wanted to get us “off the beaten path”, whatever that means in Venice. I’m pleased to say I think we managed it, and we found some brilliant areas that were quiet, quirky and fun.
Here’s what we got up to!
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Arriving in Venice in style
We decided rather than getting the boring bus into Venice from the airport, that we should take a boat. The options for this were a little bit confusing, because you can get a shared ferry, a shared water transfer (or shuttle), or a private water taxi. Inevitably, the private water taxis are ridiculously expensive, and we settled for the shared shuttle instead for £30 each.
When we landed at Venice airport, we walked straight past the big ticket booth for the ferry, and noticed that they were half the price of what we paid at just 15€. We found the counter for the transfer company, and she told us we’d need to wait for the other people to arrive which should be in half an hour. Great. We could have paid half price and just jumped straight onto the next ferry, and instead we were going to have to wait for other people.
Half an hour passed, and there was no sign of anyone. The lady came out from the booth and suddenly another couple appeared, and we were all taken up to the next floor, given a ticket and told we would need to walk all the way to the other end and then take the elevator back down to the dock.
When they said “all the way”… it was miles! It was fine for us, but the other couple were elderly and we kept holding back so that we didn’t leave them behind.
Anyway, we finally got to the dock, and I was thrilled to see we were going to be on one of the water taxis! And it was just us and one other couple. When I thought of a shared shuttle, I figured there might be ten or twenty of us. This was practically private!
We had a great time on the boat into Venice! It didn’t take long, whizzing along the Venetian lagoon through the markers. It was like a road in the water. When we reached Venice, we meandered through a quiet canal until we reached the Grand Canal, and by this point you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces! It was quintessentially Venice, and we’d arrived in the perfect way.
Our boat snaked down the canal, past the iconic Ca’d’Oro, underneath Rialto Bridge, and we disembarked just after. What a great journey!
With the Venice vaporetto ferry network being extortionate now (a one way ticket is almost 10€!!), this was a fantastic way to get out on the water and get a true canal experience.
So if you’re on the fence about how to arrive into Venice, I highly recommend the shared water taxi!
Tip: by signing up to a cashback site like TopCashback, you could save money on the airport transfer too. We got 10% off, so we saved £3 each on the water taxi.
Exploring Venice at night
Because Venice is such a popular day trip destination, and a hotspot for cruise ships, the evenings tend to be a lot quieter. We hit the ground running and after checking in to our hotel, we headed straight to San Marco, or St Mark’s Square, just as it was starting to get dark.
Down by the water makes for fantastic photos, including this classic view of the gondolas lined up against the backdrop of the Venetian lagoon.
We also took a wander up to Rialto Bridge, which was really surprisingly quiet compared to how we found it on the rest of the trip, took in the exceptional view of the Grand Canal, and popped over to the other side for a different view of the bridge.
The next day, I got a photo of where we had been stood, completely submerged in the canal. It really is a sinking city!
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St Mark’s Basilica
In the morning, the first thing on our agenda: St Mark’s Basilica. This is one of Venice’s most visited sites, and last time I came here with Mum, she didn’t want to brave the queues and we never went in. It’s beautiful enough from the outside anyway, I reasoned.
This time, though, we wanted to go in, so we wanted to get there early before the crowds descended. Unfortunately I found out it used to be free, but it’s not any more – and the entrance fee depends on what you want to see. We paid 3€ for the basic entry and an extra 7€ for the museum, which includes the terrace.
I have to be honest, the museum isn’t all that interesting – but it’s worth it for both the view of the church from above, and the view outside from the terrace.
The church itself? Absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It’s old and gold and completely stunning. I also loved the patterns on the floor, and we spotted someone working on tile repairs.
David also went up the bell tower, which is another 10€, and to be fair the views do look fantastic – but I had two other viewpoints in the list for the day. It’s worth noting that you go up the bell tower in a lift; there’s no stairway up to the top.
By the time we got out of the basilica, St Mark’s Square had started flooding. I’d always assumed the “acqua alta” phenomenon was flooding from the Grand Canal coming all the way into the square – but from the top of the basilica terrace, we had actually WATCHED the water pumping out of the drains. It’s fascinating, even if it’s not great for the city.
It also makes for some really cool photos, although there was quite a lot of work going on in the square so vantage points were a bit limited.
After spending some time in the square and taking a quick walk over to see the Bridge Of Sighs, we headed back towards Rialto Bridge for our next stop.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi rooftop terrace
The bubble has burst with the Fondaco dei Tedeschi terrace viewpoint. When I visited in 2017, they had started up a booking system, and although it’s free, you have to book it and I ended up missing out. This time, I booked it the night before and there were only a few slots left, and that was in March, so I imagine in summer you need to be a bit more organised.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is just a shopping centre, although a pretty nice one at that. But when in Venice, I’m not there to shop, and we headed straight up to the terrace.
You only get a certain amount of time up on the terrace, and I can’t remember how long now but maybe 15 minutes. It was plenty of time to get lots of photos anyway, and I didn’t feel rushed when they told us we had to go back in.
(In the first photo, you can see how underwater the other side of the canal is – that’s where we had been stood the night before!)
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Scala Contarini del Bevolo
Next up: another viewpoint!
Scala Contarini del Bevolo seems to be featured a lot as a “hidden gem”, as if that exists in Venice, so imagine my surprise when we turned up and we were practically the only people there. Despite being in the San Marco area of Venice, it’s so tucked away that it’s just hidden enough for most people to have no idea it’s there, so if you find it, it’s probably because you’ve researched it.
It’s 8€ to go up, which I’d been umming and ahhing over, but ultimately decided I would rather do that and get a view of the bell tower, than spend an extra 2€ to go up the bell tower itself.
There’s also a small museum with the most ridiculous horse you’ve ever seen.
Up at the top the crowds came in waves, but it was really just a handful of small groups of people, like us, so it was easy to get photos.
Plus the building itself is really cool!
From here, we were finally leaving the San Marco area to explore other parts of Venice, which I absolutely recommend you do.
Of everything we did in Venice, exploring Dorsoduro was a MASSIVE highlight!
From Contarini del Bevolo, we wandered down through San Marco until we got to Accademia Bridge, one of the few places you can cross the Grand Canal. And as soon as we crossed it… there were no crowds whatsoever.
We had crossed over to Dorsoduro for one reason: David wanted to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria. To be fair, it looks very impressive across the water, and it was the subject of one of my favourite photos from the night before, which you can see above.
Our verdict? Not that impressive inside, sadly. But it was 100% worth the detour just to discover Dorsoduro.
For one thing: the view across the water from the cathedral is fantastic.
This is one of my favourite views from our time in Venice!
But it was getting off the Grand Canal that really made the magic come to life.
We wandered slowly back through all the side canals until we reached a bar we had passed, Corner Pub, and we decided to go in. Did you ever think you could get a 3€ aperol spritz in Venice?! Well, you can here.
They also serve cicchetti, a typical Venetian tapas served on little slices of baguette. I decided to grab a plate of 10 mixed ones for us to try – there were a couple I didn’t like (mostly fishy ones) but the rest were delicious!
We also popped into a glass shop, which you will find many of all over Venice, most of them very touristy and not all of them legitimate. Murano glass will always be labelled as such, but in here you could see the glass blowing in front of your eyes! Usually you’d have to go to the island of Murano to see this, and we were getting a free show. The owner, Giorgio Nason, was extremely eccentric – at one point he pulled out a megaphone and started singing! He was doing a little jig while wrapping up people’s purchases, and honestly I think I loved everything about this place, and we went in there completely on a whim.
I’ve done a little bit of digging since, mostly as I couldn’t find the place on a map, and it turns out he comes from a famous glassblowing family from Murano, so without realising we’d hit a pretty cool cultural gem.
Dorsoduro is full of interesting artsy shops and just feels a lot more local and quirky than the rest of Venice that we’d seen.
Riding a traghetto – a 2€ gondola ride
Rather than cross back over the bridge, I thought it would be more fun to get a gondola ride over – did you know that you can cross the Grand Canal in a gondola for just 2€?! They are like little local ferries that run by demand rather than by a timetable, and you stand up as you cross. It only takes a couple of minutes, but it’s a very cheap way to ride a gondola!
…unfortunately, we had lingered too long with our aperol spritzes, and the traghetto had stopped running for the day. So that put an end to that idea.
However, the next morning, we decided we ought to do it. There are several places to catch a traghetto, and the closest one to us was up a short way from Rialto Bridge.
We crossed over the bridge to have a little explore on the other side, and then took the traghetto back to Cannaregio.
Which leads me conveniently to…
I walked through Cannaregio last time I was in Venice, sticking to the main route hugging the Grand Canal. I remember loving it. This time, we walked up some of the same street during the day, and it was so busy. Friday versus Saturday was like a switch had been turned on – we’d gone from manageable crowds to absolute chaos.
So when we needed to get to Venice train station a little later on, and the best way is to walk through Cannaregio, we decided to take the back streets and explore deeper into the area.
What a difference.
We LOVED Cannaregio.
We wandered in the rough direction we needed to go, but didn’t stick to a set path, and it was perfect. The only thing we did aim for was a unique bridge, Ponte di Chiodo, that doesn’t have any railings! It’s the only one in Venice left like this.
Ash also needed a drink, and we wanted some snacks for the train, so we were on the hunt for a shop. Just a normal, every day shop, which seem to be very few and far between in Venice. Ash ended up having to pin point one on the map for us to aim for.
It sounds weird… but I’m very, very glad he did, otherwise we would never have found our next stop.
Teatro di Italia
I present to you – one of the most unique supermarkets in the world!
We didn’t even think about it as we walked in, but the sign should have been a giveaway that we were walking into a theatre.
THE SUPERMARKET IS INSIDE A VENETIAN THEATRE.
How cool is that?!
It’s near Venice’s train station, so not too hard to find if you’re arriving by train or taking the train to leave.
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A note on Libreria Acqua Alta
Oh boy. I really wanted to visit Libreria Acqua Alta, an Instagram darling which has, frankly, been ruined by its own success. We turned up to this little tucked away book shop pretty early, but I knew it was going to be busy regardless. I made a beeline for the famous courtyard out the back, where a few people were taking photos. I handed my camera to Ash and got some awful photos of me walking over the books because my camera went onto the wrong setting, and I grabbed a couple of snaps of the empty area quickly before anyone else came forward.
By the time I got back down, there was a queue through the entire shop to get out there, although I think about half of those people were just stuck in the crowd.
I tried to get a photo of the huge gondola that takes up most of the centre of the shop – protecting all the books from flooding – but there were so many people. I was in there for maybe five minutes in total before needing to get out of there because it was too crowded, which is a shame because I wanted to actually have a look around the shop too.
It wasn’t an enjoyable experience at all, but it won’t have helped that we were there on a weekend. And for what it’s worth, the courtyard of books is way past its best. It barely even makes for good photos any more, so even on a week day I’m not convinced it’s worth it. (For the record, the photo above is from a pile of books by the exit, not the famous courtyard.)
Despite that, we had an absolutely fantastic time in Venice!
I think a lot of people run the risk of only seeing the tourist highlights of Venice, which means sticking to the most crowded areas. Many people only visit for a day, meaning they miss out on what makes Venice truly a wonderful place to spend more time than that.
If we’d visited Rialto Bridge on the Saturday and that was our experience of Venice, we would have hated it. Yet a five minute walk and you can, honestly, have it virtually to yourselves. A half hour walk and it’s easy to forget you’re in one of the most visited cities in the world.
Of course, visiting in off season helps too. I visited in November last time, and this time it was March. Maybe July is unbearable wherever you go. Either way, there are definitely ways to mitigate the risk of crowds!
I also highly recommend visiting some of the other islands! Burano is a wonderful addition and although the secret is very much out about it, when I visited it wasn’t as busy as a lot of central Venice.
So yes, I think it’s still worth trying to venture away from the tourist hotspots and explore Venice because there are so many fantastic areas.
Even if you think it’ll be too touristy – and it definitely is in places – hopefully amongst it all you’ll find somewhere you love, as I have on both of my trips.
Have you been to Venice? What did you think of it?
Check out some more of my Europe city posts here:
⭐ Loving Lisbon: A Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
⭐ A (Very!) Brief Day In Charming Cologne, Germany
⭐ Krakow: A Contrasting Trip Of Christmas Cheer & Harrowing History
⭐ Sofia: A City Of Colour And Contrast
⭐ A Whirlwind Tour Of Belgium: Ghent, Antwerp & Brussels
⭐ Three Days In Fairytale Budapest, One Of My Favourite Cities
12 thoughts on “Highlights Of Venice – On & Off The Beaten Path”
Quickly flipped through the images but I can’t wait to sit and read all the details of your trip! What a luxury. I’m happy you enjoyed yourself.
I’ve visited Venice twice, the first for a day (with a cruise) when I was 13 and then when I was 25. I spent two nights during my second trip, and I enjoyed my time a lot more, as I was able to slow down and take my time with the city. Although I ended up doing mostly touristy sites (I would’ve loved to have seen Scala Contarini del Bevolo!), I was definitely enchanted by its beauty, seemingly floating on water– I actually took the public water buses to and from the airport, then walked the rest of it; I recalled the price wasn’t too bad, but then again, I’d last gone in 2018! Glad you had a wonderful time in Venice; it looks like you really dug deep and explored a lot more of it!
I love Venice also, your tips are perfect, to get away from the main touristy spots, and to see it at night are so lovely. Very funny, our post this week will be about “trying to find that one shop in Venice again.” What a maze!! LOL
I am glad to see you had an amazing time exploring one of the most beautiful cities in the world 🙂
With its untouched architectural heritage, spectacular stretch in the Grand Canal and unmatched romantic vibes, there’s no questioning why people from all over the world flock here in the masses. I’ve been to Venice a handful of times and very much loved it despite the tourist crowds.
There’s this incredible renaissance feeling to the city most likely sparked by the centuries-old, unchanged buildings. You feel like you’re entering a work of art, a masterpiece when you come to Venice. Any tourist could spend forever exploring the city’s labyrinth of islands, canals, pedestrian alleys and bridges.
Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx
Venice is one of my absolute favourite Italian cities. Thanks for the trip down down memory lane! Yes, it’s more crowded, touristy, and expensive every time I return but I still love it. Getting out of the main tourist areas is definitely the key!
I’ve never been to Venice but I’ve always wanted to. This post is filled with great details so I won’t have to do too much to build my itinerary.
Great advice. I think if I ever go there I will be sure to venture past the popular areas.
It looks like you had a great time, id live to take henry on some venice walkies. Not sure he’d be impressed with the early start though.
Lovely Venice, I totally fell in love with it and much preferred the less popular areas of the city. There’s so much to see beyond the main square!
Manz nice stories and adventures from your trip to Venice. I like! I would be concerned about the tourist masses but it looks like there are quieter times that allow for some undisturbed explorations. The supermarket in the theatre is a random but cool find and definitely I place I would visit, too. Same with the Scala tower which I know of from another blogger.
Carolin | Solo Travel Story
We loved our visit to Venice – one of my favorite cities. Your post makes me edgy to return soon!
I love Venice – it is absolutely magical. My sister hasn’t been yet and I am dying to take her! Great tips and great ideas for a future trip.