If you’ve ever wondered what to do in Venice off the beaten path, where locals go in Venice, or how to experience Venice without feeling like you’re in a tourist trap – this one’s for you!
If I say “Venice” to you, it will probably evoke one of two images. Either a picturesque location that feels like it was built for a movie set, or an expensive, overrated tourist trap. And who can blame you: Venice is insanely beautiful and it has become overrun with tourists – so much so that they’re actually running numerous sustainable tourism campaigns, including one trying to “detourism”.
Still, Venice is so much more than what tourists and the media would have you think. It’s a rich bustling city with centuries of history and residents who are proud to be Venetian. It’s why I’ve decided to put together this guide to share 8 unique things to do in Venice off the beaten path.
- Why I support slow travel
- Get to Know Venice Off the Beaten Path with GetYourGuide
- What is there to do in Venice off the beaten track?
- 8 Ways to Explore Venice Off the Beaten Path
- 1. Explore the Lesser Known Neighborhoods of Cannaregio and Dorsoduro
- 2. Head to the Islands of Murano and Burano
- 3. Join a Food Tour or a Cooking Class
- 4. Find the Secret Acqua di Alta Bookstore
- 5. Treasure Hunt at the Mercatino dell’Antiquariato Campo San Maurizio
- 6. Explore the Rialto Fish Market
- 7. Take a Local Tour
- 8. Find a Performance to Enjoy
- BONUS: Get Lost (and Stay Lost)
- 8 Ways to Explore Venice Off the Beaten Path
Why I support slow travel and getting off the beaten path
If you’ve read my blog before, you may know that I’m a huge proponent of slow travel. I believe that travel is so much more than ticking destinations off of a list – it’s about really seeing and feeling the energy of a place. It’s nearly impossible to achieve that if you’re sticking to a well trodden itinerary though.
Traveling slowly and seeing Venice off the beaten path allows you to unlock a whole new point of view on a city that is so often simply a “check” off the travel to-do list. Local Venetians are incredibly proud of their heritage, and I think it’s a shame that most people only hit the major attractions. So keep reading if you want to join in the slow travel revolution!
Get to Know Venice Off the Beaten Path with GetYourGuide
When it comes to seeing Venice off the beaten path – or, for that matter, ANY European city where I don’t speak the language – GetYourGuide is my favorite tool.
From walking tours to cooking classes, GetYourGuide has an amazing selection of experiences with large numbers of reviews (always a huge plus for me) and, in many places in Europe, way more options than Airbnb Experiences, Booking.com, Expedia, etc.
One of the BEST things you’ll notice about GetYourGuide when trying to see Venice off the beaten path is that they have a few different sort features on their site that really help you find the most unique, unforgettable experiences. Search “Venice” and then try sorting by Interests > Hidden gems as well as Services > Small group or Private tour. Any of these are definitely going to help you get in touch with the real Venice off the beaten path.
I’ve curated some of my favorite options for exploring Venice off the beaten path down below!
What is there to do in Venice off the beaten track?
1. Explore the Lesser Known Neighborhoods of Cannaregio and Dorsoduro
The most important tip for exploring Venice off the beaten path is to know the lay of the land. In order to see the city like a local, you must know where the locals spend their time – because you can bet they aren’t lining up to see the Piazza San Marco.
Cannaregio and Dorsoduro are your best bets for neighborhoods that aren’t yet overrun by tourists. In these areas – easily walkable from the city center – you’ll be able to get a taste of what Venice looks and feels like without hoards of people milling about. This is especially true if you happen to travel during the off season.
In the sixteenth century, Cannaregio was the home to the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, which many believe to be the first Jewish ghetto in the world. You can now visit the Jewish Museum and many historic synagogues. This neighborhood also boasts the narrowest alley in Venice, one of the city’s only bridges without a parapet, and numerous cafes and bars along its canals.
If art is more your thing, Dorsoduro is home to some lovely galleries, including the famous Gallerie dell’Accademia. My personal favorite recommendation for Dorsoduro though is to just wander and experience it like a Venetian. Be sure to stop for an espresso or an aperitif along the canal and people watch – it’s the best way to soak up an afternoon.
2. Head to the Islands of Murano and Burano
The Islands of Venice are also a great way to see another side to this famous city. The most famous ones are Burano and Murano, and even though they’re well known, they’re certainly less crowded than the city center.
Murano is known for its famous glass, and while you explore the islands (Murano is actually a collection of 7 islands connected by bridges) you’ll see no shortage of glass shops and glass blowing demonstrations. You’ll find Murano to be much more laid back than the center of Venice, so it’s also a great place to grab a meal if you want to be away from the crowds.
Burano, on the other hand, is a small fishing village known for its stunning colorful buildings and traditional lace making. Burano is also known for its fresh seafood, making it a great choice for sampling some famous Venetian seafood dishes, particularly squid ink pasta or sweet and sour sardines!
If you’re looking for an even less touristy island to visit, I’d recommend Lido or Torcello. They’re both known for sandy beaches and natural areas more than attractions and shops. If you’re after a local experience, you’ll surely find it here!
3. Join a Food Tour or a Cooking Class
My favorite way to immerse myself into the culture of a new place has got to be through food. Local dishes and cooking methods give so much insight into a place’s culture and history that you just can’t get anywhere else!
Venice is so often overlooked as a culinary destination, but that’s only because so many people fall into the tourist trap restaurants! Due to its seaside location, Venice thrives on seafood, and joining a more organised event like a tour or class can really give you the lay of the land. Some Venetian staples you might expect to see include seafood risotto, bigoli in salsa (a simple starter pasta with a seafood sauce), baccala mantecato (a seafood spread for bread), and even tiramisu, which Venetians claim was invented in their city!
Book a tour or class with a local and really get a feel for the food scene on your own terms! You’ll leave with a full belly and a list of delicious restaurant recommendations suitable for a Venetian.
4. Find the Secret Acqua di Alta Bookstore
Calling all book lovers! This secondhand bookshop is one of a kind, and not to be missed.
Named Acqua di Alta (High Water) after the Venetian phenomenon where the streets flood in poor weather, this bookshop is a sight to see. You’ll find books stacked in bathtubs and boats – which creates a whimsical vibe, but is also entirely practical because of the flooding!
Run by local Venetian Luigi Frizzo, this secret waterfront bookshop opened around 20 years ago and has become a favorite secret spot to visit. Climb the book steps, snap a picture, and cozy up with a book or with the local bookstore cat. I promise you won’t want to leave!
5. Treasure Hunt at the Mercatino dell’Antiquariato Campo San Maurizio
This antique market only comes around five times a year but it’s worth it if you catch it! It takes place in one of the more touristy areas of the city, but it’s certainly not a tourist attraction – which is why it still makes the cut for my Venice off the beaten path guide.
Held in Campo San Maurizio, a lovely square in the San Marco District, the antique market is centrally located and easy to find. For those who are willing to hunt, you’ll find some seriously exciting pieces at this market like old pocket watches, art, glassware, books and other trinkets.
Markets are a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture – don’t be afraid to chat with the vendors and other shoppers!
6. Explore the Rialto Fish Market
The Rialto Fish Market is part of the larger Rialto Market, which is a waterfront market with all sorts of stalls – but the fish market is, in my opinion, the site to see.
The Rialto Fish Market is where locals come to get their seafood – which Venice is known for, of course. It’s great for people watching, exploring or even shopping if you’re planning to do some cooking while you’re in Venice.
There’s nothing more illuminating about a culture than just being able to watch people do mundane things in a bustling setting like a fish market. Just make sure you go when they’re open – the fish market is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
7. Take a Local Tour
If you’re wanting to get a local’s perspective that will show you Venice off the beaten path, I recommend booking a tour with a local on GetYourGuide.
Search for tour options that promise to take you out of the center, to the islands, or have keywords like “alternative” or “local” in the title. These will be more likely to deliver what you’re after.
Alternatively, you can take a themed tour if that suits your fancy. Perhaps a Venetian history tour, a haunted Venice tour or a Venetian fashion tour. Having a local show you around their city will give you a perspective you just can’t get on your own, and I highly recommend it.
8. Find a Performance to Enjoy
I always love seeking out the performance venues or museums that locals like to frequent. I find that seeking out temporary shows and exhibitions that are just passing through town is a great way to brush shoulders with the people who actually live in the place I’m visiting – because they’re just as excited to check them out!
When exploring Venice off the beaten path, this might mean going baroque and enjoying music representative of the city’s history, or seeing an innovative modern art exhibition that completely clashes with the aesthetic of the city (in the coolest way)! You never know what’s going to be on when you’re there, and sometimes these kinds of experiences are even fun to book last minute.
BONUS: Get Lost (and Stay Lost)
My personal favorite way of exploring Venice off the beaten path is to do just that… get off the path! Just make sure you have either a good sense of direction, a solid international phone plan, or feel confident that you can communicate with locals if you need directions.
Venice is an incredibly safe city, and therefore is a great location to unplug and appreciate the beauty around you. Listen to your favorite album or opt to just take in the sounds of the city and get lost! Start at the center and walk outwards. Turn when you feel compelled to turn, walk as far as you want, and see what treasures you come across! Some of my favorite travel experiences and discoveries have come about from this method.
Of course it goes without saying that you should exercise common sense! Venice is extremely safe, but is still a city! Use your best judgement and I trust that you’ll have a great time.
Are you ready to explore Venice off the beaten path?
I hope I’ve successfully proven to you that there is more to Venice than you may have heard! It has a rich history and so many beautiful and non-touristy bits to explore that it would be a shame to overlook it.