Hidden Gems in Venice: Secrets of the Lagoon City

hidden gems in Venice italy

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Venice is well-known for its dreamy canals, gondola rides, intricate buildings, fantastic art, and delicious food. With such great features come a lot of visitors – around 36 million a year. So, it’s no surprise that some tourists may seek out hidden gems in Venice to escape the overwhelming crowds. 

But, with an ancient city explored for more than a millennium, it can be difficult to find lesser known attractions. You can’t find the best off the beaten path Venice sights in your typical Venice travel guide. These spots are often tight-lipped by seasoned travelers who hope to keep them a secret for a bit longer. 

Luckily, our handy guide to hidden gems in Venice is the perfect place to start. Here, you’ll find all the information you need for an ideal vacation without the long lines. So, let’s dive into the best of the Floating City!

TIP: Are you looking for accommodation? Choose from some of the best places to stay in Venice

Venice’s Hidden Gems

These spots will undoubtedly satisfy your travel hunger if you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path gems of Venice. Visit these places for unique experiences away from big crowds.

LISTEN: to this podcast episode for more tips on how to avoid the crowds in Venice

Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

san giorgio maggiore venice

You can view the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore from St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) or go off the beaten path and visit there yourself. San Giorgio Maggiore is a small island not too far from San Marco and Castello. You can reach it within a few minutes by using the Vaporetto line 2

The island is best known for the San Giorgio Maggiore Church and Campanile di San Giorgio Bell Tower. While it could be a short day trip, it is worth it as you can see the impressive church built in 1566 and painted by Monet. For only about €6, you can take a lift to the top of the bell tower for amazing views of the city.

While the church may get the most attention, there are a few other places worth checking out too. These include the impressive Borges Labyrinth dedicated to Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges 25 years after his death.

Address: Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

San Francesco della Vigna

San Francesco della Vigna venice

This Roman Catholic church in Castello is the perfect place for you to enjoy Venice in solitude. It sits on the eastern edge of the city, and is often totally empty or nearly empty most days. It is still a practicing monastery, so silence is heavily enforced.

Before it stood as the modern San Francesco della Vigna, the original Medieval church was built around 1253 in a vineyard. By the 16th century, it was reconstructed into what we see it as today. The bell tower is 226 feet high, making it one of the tallest bell towers in Venice.

The exterior has a magnificent Renaissance facade completed by Andrea Palladio. Similarly, inside, it is lined with beautiful frescoes of the same era depicting the Enthroned Madonna and Child. There are still a few grape vines on the grounds. And, in the backyard, you’ll find chirping birds and orange trees coloring the area.

Address: Ramo Al Ponte S. Francesco

Ponte de Chiodo

Ponte de Chiodo venice

The Ponte de Chiodo is a unique bridge that’s one of the last of its kind in the city. The only other similar bridge is on the island of Torcello. So what makes it so special? This bridge is from the 16th century and is one of the few bridges in the city without a parapet.

Before the city put in safety precautions, all bridges in the city were devoid of the small border surrounding the bridge to avoid drownings. This bridge is tucked away in a quiet part of the city, only a short walk away from popular attractions like Rialto Bridge, Ca’ d’Oro, and St. Mark’s Square.

Its steps don’t lead to another walkway or street. Instead, it leads to a private B&B owned by the Chiodo’s called 3749 Ponte Chiodo, where you can book a room for your stay.

Address: Rio di san Felice, 30121

Campo San Maurizio

Campo San Maurizio venice italy

Along the narrow streets of the city, you may stumble upon the charming Campo San Maurizio. It is an antique wonderland in San Marco that, compared to other Venetian attractions, is still only in its infancy. 

The flea market opened in 1970 and is a place where shoppers can pick up precious curiosities from the 17th to 20th centuries. However, you’ll have to time your trip well as the market is only open for five weekends (Friday to Sunday) in a year. You can find out which weekends they’re open from their website here.

If you miss these days, you’re still situated in a great spot near many eateries, bars, and cafes. Try Enoteca Al Volto and Ristorante Rosa Rossa nearby for classic Venetian-style food and wine. You’re also near many attractions on this list, like the Scala Contarini del Bovolo.

Address: Campo S. Maurizio, 30124

Hidden Venice Canals

hidden canals venice italy

Observing life on the Grand Canal is one of the many reasons why people love to visit Venice. Much like the narrow streets in the city, the Venetian Lagoon also has a few hidden canals that steer you away from the masses.

One tip to remember when traveling is to look for restaurants and bars where many locals are seated. This generally means they are well-priced and serve good food. The canals at Fondamenta della Misericordia in Cannaregio take you on a quiet route with eateries filled with local people. 

Castello is another great district with canals that aren’t overcrowded with tourists – which is always a good sign. These quiet canals are where you’ll find parks, gardens, a few coffee shops, and floating food markets where residents stock up on groceries. 

Address: Cannaregio and Castello districts

TIP: Take this intimate two-hour tour ride which takes you through the secret canals before ending at the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge.

Dorsoduro Area

dorsoduro venice italy

Dorsoduro holds quite a few hidden gems, which is why the whole district is on this list. The area is best known for its remarkable art galleries and museums. 

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Punta Della Dogana, and Ca’ Rezzonico offer elegant sights for art lovers. These museums and galleries show magnificent pieces made by local and international artists across the centuries.

Another exciting place to see is Ponte dei Pugni. It is a 17th-century bridge with an odd name and history. Ponte dei Pugni, which translates to “the bridge of fists,” is a bridge among the narrow streets of Venice popularized by fist fights. 

At the time, Ponte dei Pugni was a popular meeting spot for rival gangs for a battle of fisticuffs. Besides the fight, they aimed to knock their opponent out into the murky canal below. You may still see the scuff marks today. 

Address: Dorsoduro District

Torcello Island

Torcello Island Venice Italy

You may have heard about Murano’s amazing glass factories and Burano Island’s colorful buildings. But, these are usually overrun by tourists. To get a truly hidden gem in Venice, visit the nearby Torcello Island instead.

The island is a five-minute Vaporetto ride from Burano island, and so worth the nearly hour-long travel time from Venice. The peaceful island is almost entirely deserted, with only a handful of residents. It is best known for its museum and Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.

The cathedral is a treasure trove of Byzantine art, from its architecture to the art lining the inside. You can really appreciate it through the complex gold-glass mosaic of the Last Judgement and the semi-complete Madonna mosaic on the apse.

The Torcello Museum shares more of the island’s long history through exhibitions showing from the Mycenaean era to the present. It is just across the cathedral in a 14th-century mansion, so you can’t miss it.

DISCOVER: the best day trips from Venice

Scala Contarini del Bovolo

Scala Contarini del Bovolo Venice Italy

Scala Contarini del Bovolo is part of a beautiful palace in the San Marco district. A building’s staircase would rarely be the main attraction, but the multi-story winding spiral staircase is a photographer’s dream. 

Not only do you get amazing snaps as you ascend, but once at the top, you’ll also have panoramic views of the city and Grand Canal. The 80-step staircase was commissioned in the 15th century and is a mash-up of the Renaissance, Gothic, and Venetian-Byzantine architectural styles.

It is relatively easy to reach Scala Contarini del Bovolo from Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square. It is less than a brisk seven-minute walk away. You’ll need to buy an €8 ticket to enter the palace, staircase, and Tintoretto room full of 16-18th century Venetian art.

TIP: Try not to visit the palace during peak times between lunch and around 15:00.

Jewish Quarter

jewish ghetto venice italy

Did you know the word ghetto originated from the Italian word “getto’ which roughly means borough? In fact, Venice had the first segregated neighborhood in 1516, when the government forcibly moved the Jewish population to this area. It is sometimes also called the “Jewish ghetto.

You can visit this area in one of the city’s six districts — Cannaregio. Despite its troubled past, it is here where you’ll uncover some of Venice’s soul. The Jewish Quarter has over 500 years of history and was even mentioned in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice play.

The main square holds the Jewish museum and some of the oldest synagogues in the city, where you can learn more about the area’s past. Don’t forget to wind through the streets looking at the various palazzos, churches, and the narrowest street in the city — Calle Varisco. But beware. Legend has it that its thin walls will close in on impure souls. 

Address: Cannaregio, Venice

TIP: Take this tour to find more local legends and ghosts of Cannaregio.

Isola di San Michele (San Michele Island)

isola di san michele Venice

You may have noticed that the Venetian Lagoon is home to numerous islands. Isola di San Michele, or San Michele Island in English, is a tranquil hidden gem in Venice that really takes you away from the noisy crowds.

That is because Isola di San Michele served as Venice’s cemetery. This makes it an a-typical place to visit on vacation, but still worth a visit. While it may seem a bit grim, the island is wholly non-residential and has interesting churches. Look out for the long beautiful marble tombstones and notable WW1 memorial while you’re there.

You can reach the island by taking a short Vaporetto ride on lines 4.1 or 4.2. It should take about 10 to 15 minutes to reach the island from Piazza San Marco, but you can also get a ride from Murano Island.

Address: San Michele Island, Venice

TIP: As this is a place locals come to pay respects, please be respectful by keeping at a low volume. The dress code here would be modest clothing you’d wear to church.

Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria

Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria Venice

There are many beautiful churches dedicated to saints in Venice. The Church of San Zaccaria is no different. It is dedicated to Saint Zaccaria — the father of John the Baptist. This is definitely one of the more fascinating hidden gems in Venice.

The structure went through a few renovations and restructurings, but the earliest records of the structure date from the 7th century. The current building still has tiles from the 9th and 12th centuries visible among well-preserved frescoes, altarpieces, and sculptures. 

While no one can deny that the building is beautiful, that’s not why most travelers visit. They come for the underground crypt holding eight doges buried between the 9th and 12th centuries — including St Zaccaria. 

The elaborate crypt is permanently flooded. This means visitors can trudge around and get close to the tombs if they don’t mind a little water in their boots.

Address: Campo San Zaccaria, 4693, 30122 

Squero San Trovaso and Osteria al Squero

Squero San Trovaso Venice

Built in the 17th century, The Squero San Trovaso is the oldest operational gondola workshop in the city. The wooden boatyard (squero) may look a bit downtrodden, but it produces the most beautiful gondolas that you’ve probably passed on the waters during your stay.

You can take a guided tour of the workshop by visiting their website, but many tourists and locals prefer watching from a distance. Just across the canal of this ancient workshop is Osteria al Squero, where many people leisurely watch the masters at work. 

The small and rustic bar is the perfect quiet and lowkey place to overlook the Dorsoduro district and the hardworking gondola builders. The welcoming staff at the tavern (osteria) makes it a wonderful place to relax after an eventful day.

Another bonus is the affordable drinks and small plates they serve while you people-watch or have late afternoon sundowners.

Address: Dorsoduro, 943, 30123

Doge’s Palace Secret Rooms Tour

doges palace Venice

Doge’s Palace, or Palazzo Ducale in Italian, is on many tourists’ itineraries when they visit Venice. The structure, as we see it today, was built in 1424 as a residence for the chief magistrate of the Republic of Venice and the nearby city of Genoa. 

Over the years, the gothic structure has undergone a few renovations after various fires. It also briefly housed a courtroom and jail. While Doge’s Palace is popular, few tourists know about the secret palaces and prisons Venice tour with private looks at restricted areas and routes.

The secret itineraries tour through Doge’s Palace takes curious visitors to the rooms and chambers where previous governing bodies did their most important tasks. The tour also takes a dark turn into the ‘Chamber of Torment’ and Piombi Prisons, where criminals were held and interrogated.

This is also where Giacomo Casanova (yes, that Casanova) was locked up before escaping into the night.

Address: Piazza San Marco, 1, 30124

Santa Croce

Santa Croce Venice

If you’re looking for a slice of local life, fresh air, and a slower pace, then you’ll enjoy the district of Santa Croce. The quiet neighborhood doesn’t see many tourists as it’s a residential community with families going about their day.

While it has few notable landmarks, it is the perfect place to explore hidden gems in Venice. The best way to experience it is to stroll its cobblestone walkways filled with bits of greenery and sit at a cafe for a treat.

The Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art is also nearby. This baroque marble palace holds artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries by artists like Kandinsky, Chirico, and Morandi. The ceilings still have the original paintings by Italian artists.

Upstairs from the Ca’ Pesaro is the Oriental Art Museum in Venice which holds artworks, textiles, sculptures, and weapons from China and Japan.

Address: Santa Croce District

Explore a Hidden Gem in Venice

hidden gems Venice

By the end of your enriching trip to Venice, you should have visited all the city’s top attractions and off-the-beaten-path Venice hidden gems. You should also have eaten all of the tiramisus you can stomach and walked more miles than you can count. 

This ancient city has thousands of places to keep you busy on your trip, whether it is your first or fiftieth journey. There are over 117 islands around the city. Many of them are overlooked, like Burano, San Michele, and San Giorgio Maggiore. 

While it may be hard to believe, the Italian city still has many attractions that even seasoned travelers may not know about. You just have to strap on your walking shoes and dare to explore.

Don’t be afraid to add your own hidden gems to the list too.

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