5 Non-Touristy Places To Visit In Venice
Venice is known for being the city of lovers, full of history, mystery, and art. It is also called “La Serenissima”, a nickname that recalls the time when it was the capital of the powerful maritime republic which existed for more than a millennium in the Mediterranean Sea. Like many beautiful cities, Venice is visited by millions of tourists every year. The peculiarity of Venice is that the city is on an island, so the space is limited and, consequently, there is a huge concentration of tourists in its streets. If you happen to be one of these tourists, you may suddenly feel the need to escape all the chaos you are surrounded by.
Having spent three years in Venice as a student, I would like to suggest five places that you can visit when you feel like you cannot stand the crowds anymore.
1. Acqua Alta Bookshop
Situated in Calle Longa S. Maria Formosa, this quirky bookshop is a true mess, but a fascinating one. Why a mess? Well, there is a gondola full of books in the middle of the shop, cats sneaking among the shelves, a stair made of very old volumes, and books are piled one over the other without any order. In case of danger, the easiest way to take the emergency exit is by jumping inside the nearby canal. No joke. Here you can find vintage editions and cheap books, but just one suggestion: wash your hands as soon as you exit the shop. One time I spotted the bookseller searching for books with a pair of thick gloves on.
2. Natural History Museum
The museum was founded in 1923 and it is located in a magnificent Byzantine style building on the Canal Grande. It is a great place to visit with children, but it is really interesting for adults too. The museum is usually pretty quiet, so you can enjoy your visit in a relaxed atmosphere. On the other hand, natural history museums may be a little uncomfortable too. For example, I literally run through the insects/arachnids sections while covering my eyes. So, if you are sensitive about some specific kinds of animal, just be sure to check the content of the room before thoughtlessly entering it. The small and cosy garden outside the building is a peaceful spot where you can spend some time while recharging your batteries or to catch your breath after the before-mentioned run.
3. San Michele Island
This island is located in the north-eastern side of Venice and you can get there by “vaporetto”, the Italian name for a water bus. San Michele can be easily seen from Venice thanks to its majestic red walls that surround the island. San Michele was home to a monastery, but it was closed in 1810 after the Napoleonic occupation. Nowadays the island is mainly known for its cemetery that hosts, among others, the composer Igor Stravinsky. If you are not a fan of one of the people buried on the island, there is no real reason to visit San Michele. Still, it is an excellent way to leave the chaos of Venice behind and spend an hour surrounded by silence.
4. Ghetto ebraico (Jewish ghetto)
The ghetto was established in 1516. Today it is still the heart of the Jewish community of Venice and it is a fascinating place to discover by visiting one of its synagogues or by tasting delicious food in one of the traditional bakeries and restaurants. Guided tours to synagogues start from the museum located in the main square of the ghetto. I particularly recommend taking part in a synagogues tour. Men must wear the traditional Jewish cap, the Kippah, before entering each synagogue, but you do not need to buy one. They are provided by the tour guides themselves.
5. Venice through the eyes of Venetian people
One of the best ways to fully live Venice is to get lost in its labyrinth of narrow streets, called “calli”: you will discover hidden spots and you will experience the atmosphere of the real city. If you see clothes hanging out of the windows and children playing football in the streets, you are in the right place. Do not worry if you get lost, Google Maps is a wonderful ally. Just enjoy the authentic and charming soul of Venice. This is also a great way to find bars where you can enjoy a cheap spritz (Prosecco, Aperol, and soda water) surrounded by local people speaking the Venetian dialect.
* Bonus tip
If you want to remember your trip as a sweet one, be sure to have a coffee and to taste a delicious dessert at “Tonolo”, my all-time favourite pastry shop in Venice. Also, you do not need to feel guilty if you take more than one pastry. The best way to discover Venice is by foot, so you will burn all the calories, believe me.
There are many more unusual and less-known places that you will surely discover during your trip to Venice. There is always something new that makes you fall in love with Venice, even if you spent there three years as I did.
Finally, a survival tip: if you visit Venice in autumn or in winter, be sure to check the high water forecast and go there properly prepared.
(Photo credit: Paul Reiffer, 2016.)