Best-Kept Secrets in Venice, Italy

Get off the beaten path and discover the lesser-known attractions in Venice
Get off the beaten path and discover the lesser-known attractions in Venice | © Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy
Olivia Acland

The ancient artistic legacy and watery beauty of Venice has long attracted tourists from all over the world, but in the summer months the city can find itself clogged up with them. Still, Venice has its secret spots and unbeaten paths: we show you where in this guide.

Cantina Do Mori

Step back in time when you visit the traditional Cantina Do Mori

The Grand Canal is lined with a varying mixture of expensive, tourist-targeting places to eat. But if you want to glimpse some local life, then Cantina Do Mori is for you. This traditional Venetian haunt has such a local feel that it doesn’t even have tables. Food and drinks are served at the long wooden bar. Said to have been around since the 1400s, locals claim that years ago the charismatic Lothario Casanova used to frequent the bar with his friends. They offer light food or cicchetti, which ranges from tramezzini – crustless sandwiches stuffed with cured meats and cheeses – to lightly fried artichoke hearts. Wash these down with the local sweet, fizzy red wine, which is surprisingly refreshing on a hot day.
Experience the Grand Canal by gondola and see St Mark’s Basilica on this guided tour.

Ca’ Zappa

This stunning Dutch villa sits alone in the south of the lagoon. It’s difficult to reach, and you would need to have – or rent – your own boat to get there. Built in 1925 by a migrant from the Netherlands, the white facade has red dormer-style windows and gables, which top a colonnaded portico. It gives this part of the lagoon a fantastical, even fairytale, touch.

Learn more about the architecture in Venice; it’s where the old meets the new.

Malefatte Venezia

Malefatte (or “misdeeds”) Venezia is a non-profit initiative run by Rio Terà dei Pensieri, a work-in-jail cooperative that sells products made by prisoners from the Santa Maria Maggiore Men’s Prison – this offers them training and professional rehabilitation. The handmade goods range from T-shirts to stitched leather notebooks and canvas bags, while the prices are low – especially when you compare them to other boutiques in Venice.

Chioggia

Escape the crowds in Venice and head to charming Chioggia

If you do find yourself in Venice on a crowded July day and need some respite, the nearby town of Chioggia will provide a tranquil getaway. The fishing town fancies itself as a scruffy, less touristy version of its well-loved neighbour. With arched bridges and narrow canals it does resemble Venice in places. However, it has far less art, and is perhaps an example of how Venice might have looked had it not discovered the riches of trade. With some tasty seafood restaurants, it can make a nice day trip if you’re searching for local life and a slower pace.
Read our guide and discover more amazing day trips to take from Venice by boat.

Libreria Acqua Alta

Browse to your heart’s conent when you visit the vast Libreria Acqua Alta

This secret second-hand bookshop is right on the waterfront – during the rainy season, it has had problems with floods. Run by eccentric Venetian Luigi Frizzo, this store is home to hundreds of books, both new and used, as well as a pet cat. The books are chaotically stacked in old gondolas, canoes, bathtubs and barrels. You could spend many happy hours sifting through the selection of Italian and international reads on offer, but take some time to step out into the garden and see leafy plants standing beside a solid staircase made from old colourful books.

Sant’Andrea Island

Tourists flock to Murano to see the glass shops, Burano for its colourful houses and Torcello for its nature reserve. But the charming Sant’Andrea is often overlooked. Home to a ruined 17th-century fort made to defend the city from its enemies, the rest of the island is overgrown and unkempt. The top of Sant’Andrea’s scruffy ruins makes for an excellent picnic spot with unrivalled views over the lagoon and city.

Visiting Murano instead? These are the top things to do and see here.

San Francesco del Deserto

Explore the lesser-known islands around Venice and visit San Francesco del Deserto

Another island frequently neglected by visitors, San Francesco is situated between Burano and Sant’Erasmo, and houses a tranquil monastery. With 4,000 cypress trees, the idyllic monastery gardens warrant a long stroll, and the medieval cloisters are also worth a visit. The otherworldly monk who shepherds visitors through the grounds tells the story of St Francis’s arrival on the island in 1220. According to legend, he planted his stick into the ground and it grew into a pine tree – then the birds flocked in to sing to him.
Looking to visit more islands nearby? Check out our guide to the islands of Venice.

San Francesco della Vigna

Marvel at the architecture of San Francesco della Vigna when you visit the church’s cloisters

Due to its position at the eastern end of the city beyond the old dockyards, this church is often empty even in the height of the busy season. Started by Italian sculptor and architect Sansovino in 1534 at the behest of Doge Andrea Gritti, the facade was completed by Palladio in 1572. The Renaissance interior is large and airy, and houses some exquisite frescoes such as the Madonna and Child Enthroned by Antonio da Negroponte. Here, a regal, delicate-faced Mary poses in a rose bower flanked by orange trees; her eyes look down to the naked baby Jesus, who she balances precariously on her knee.

Discover more beautiful churches and architectural landmarks in our list of the must-visit attractions in Venice.

Osteria Al Bacco

Head away from the tourist hordes and enjoy exquisite Italian dishes at a local restaurant

Bacco is a restaurant hidden so far along the quiet Canal delle Capuzine that you are unlikely to just stumble on it. There are a few tables outside in the vine-covered garden, or in the winter you can find a cosy spot in the wood-panelled dining room. It’s one of the oldest osteria in town and offers excellent seafood, from spaghetti cooked with black squid ink to mussels and grilled sea bass. If you catch the owner in a good mood, he may pull you out of your chair and wheel you around the restaurant to rousing tango music.
For more culinary delights, browse through our selection of the best restaurants in Venice.

Ghost walking tour

Come out at night and discover the city’s ghosts of the past on this Ghosts and Legends Walking Tour. Gather at the Rialto Bridge and be guided through hidden Venice, over silent canals and past abandoned piazzas. The guide will tell you six gripping ghost stories and some little-known facts about the city. You’ll be taken through a labyrinth of quiet backstreet corridors and to sites that have witnessed bloody murders. Don’t worry, it all belongs to the past… right?

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