I remember stepping out onto the Piazza San Marco for the first time. The night air was cool and clear, a stringed-quartet played enchanting music and the Basilica San Marco watched over the square, leaving me speechless. I visited during the end of September, running onto the beginning of October. In my opinion, September, early October and May in Venice are perfect for a balance of fewer people and fair weather.
The warm temperatures during the day followed by cooler evenings suited me perfectly, particularly because the tourist trade was dwindling down for the season. Whilst there were quite a few people around, I wasn’t fighting to get a photo of the Bridge of Sighs or feeling like a sardine when visiting St Mark’s Square, also known as Piazza San Marco.
Venice has a reputation for being many things: touristy, romantic, crowded, beautiful, hot, over-priced… I could go on and on. Depending on what time of year you visit, and where you go during your trip, any and all of these could be true but my experience of Vienna was… amazing. The main reason for this is because I did Venice my own way; by getting lost and discovering hidden gems in Venice, that I would never have known about had I not taken a wrong turn or two or three.
Whilst this city on water is full of iconic Instagram-worthy spots and it’s definitely worth checking out the classics such as Basilica San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal, sometimes this is all people see and that’s a huge shame because there is so much more to Venice.
Let me introduce you to some of my favorite, often overlooked, hidden gems in Venice;
1) The Libreria Acqua Alta
Tucked away in the ‘Castello’ sestiere (neighbourhood) in Venice is this perfectly quirky bookshop. Filled floor to ceiling with tomes on all topics, you’ll find a gondola full of books and a back door that leads straight onto a canal.
Head out to the courtyard and you can climb a staircase made of books to get your own private view of some of the canals of Venice. Whether you’re an avid reader, or haven’t opened the pages of a book in years, it’s a place with the kind of unique charm that you can only find in this beautiful city – especially one where you could walk straight out from a bookshop and into a boat!
2) The Vaporetto
It’s no secret that gondolas are one of Venice’s most sought after tourist experiences for everyone visiting Venice for the first time and for good reason – there’s nothing like traveling along canals in between storybook buildings on the water. However, these gondolas can set you back a fair bit of your cash and I was promised I could get the waterways experience of Venice a different way.
The vaporetto (water buses) are the public transport of Venice and if you don’t mind sharing your trip with a few others you can cheat the system a little bit. Hop on a stop out of the classic tourist areas and you can grab yourself a good seat at the front outside and catch yourself a trip down the grand canal; traveling past palazzi and under bridges (including the rialto!) and even winding up right next to Piazza San Marco.
The Piazza San Marco is home to the iconic Basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile (an Italian bell tower) – otherwise known as St Mark’s basilica, where the rulers of Venice used to live in a 500 year old tower (give or take…considering it fell down and was rebuilt in the 1900’s). However, the Campanile isn’t the only one in Venice.
3) San Giorgio Maggiore
The Campanile that stole my heart was at San Giorgio Maggiore – on a small island east of the Giudecca (another island in Venice) and opposite the main hub of Venice. I’ll never forget the moment I got to the top and saw the incredible views. Being across from the mainland of Venice you could see everything; St Mark’s square, the grand canal, the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile and the whole fairytale skyline. Not as many people take the Vaparetto over to San Giorgio Maggiore, but for the sake of the gorgeous views and skipping the longer lines of tourists, I would choose this campanile over the one in Piazza San Marco in a heartbeat!
4) Art in Giudecca
On this side of the water, you can also find hidden gems in Venice of the cultural variety. Throughout the six sestieres or sub-divisions of Venice are many well-known art galleries such as the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Ca Pesaro and the Peggy Guggenheim collection. But many people don’t realise that the Giudecca is home to several smaller, but equally impressive, homes of artwork. I remember stumbling across one of these on a walk around the Giudecca one night and it was then that I began to realise that such a scene existed on the island.
Many people consider the Giudecca a home to the locals with a couple of beautiful churches such as Il Redentore, but littered around the island are several fantastic galleries including Casa dei Tri Oci (right on the waterfront and easy to find!), the Giudecca 795 art gallery and One Contemporary Art. The galleries on the island tend to focus on modern and contemporary art as opposed to classical, so if that’s your thing you need to take the Vaporetto over the water!
5) The final hidden Gem in Venice… the food in Giudecca!
It’s also worth sticking around to sample some of the food in Giudecca. Most places you find are those that the locals frequent themselves with only a smattering of tourists who are usually eating back over on the other side of the water in the tourist ‘hotspots’. There are even many locally loved places right on the waterfront, giving you phenomenal views and a taste of local life. ‘La Palanca’ is one of these restaurants offering a traditional menu and a great spot to grab a late lunch, a prosecco or catch a bite to eat in the evening. If you take a wander around the Giudecca it won’t be hard to find genuine locally-loved places to eat – which are always the best.
All being said and done, more than the iconic locations and incredible finds, and more than true Italian gelato and top notch pizzas… I fell in love with simply walking around this city, soaking up it’s atmosphere and charm.
Snaking through back-streets and peering in shop windows as Venetians crafted masks to sell. Clambering over bridges and seeing all the buildings peering out at odd angles to each other. Walking past late night bars and locals dancing in the squares.
Much of the beauty however lies in you discovering your own hidden gems in Venice, in your own time and in your own way.
Have you already found your own hidden gems in Venice or you’ve been to a few of the places mentioned above? Share your own thoughts and experiences of Venice in the comments section below.
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