Secret Venice - Explore Venice away from the crowds
Magical moments in Venice
Venice – the ultimate fairy tale city, mystical, sublime, the place for lovers and romances, hang-out of the rich and famous.
Venice – magnet of the crowds, gathering point of monster cruise ships, place of filthy canals, tourist traps and a place doomed to disappear one day into the sea.
Me – I am always torn back and forth between these two faces of Venice. In my childhood days I loved our frequent Venice excursions during our annual family holidays in Lignano (see my earlier Blog post www.traveltreasuresbymarion.com/post/lignano-the-place-of-my-childhood-holidays). Later I stayed away from Venice because of its ugly mass tourism face.
Now I came back after a long absence and I immediately fell in love again with this still very special place. In this case I must say thanks to the Covid crisis I was able to experience Venice again from its quiet and fascinating side. I totally emerged in its magic and got lost in the narrow streets, hidden alleys and secret piazzas, blue canals and diverse neighbourhoods.
For sure Venice will fill up with tourists again over the coming year, but at least the big cruise ships have been already banned from navigating through the city canal, causing a lot of damage. Plus if you stay away from the main tourist spots and just allow yourself to get lost in the streets and canals in the various neighbourhoods – you will get to know to a different Venice, a Venice of the locals and a Venice that will enchant you.
Here comes my guide to the lesser known parts of Venice.
To get you a bit in the spirit of the many faces of Venice, see first below slide show. A selection of some randomly taken pictures during my numerous walks through the city.
Where to stay
Like in any other city Venice has all sorts of accommodation concepts to choose from. Lately hotels in old historical buildings or palaces have become very popular. Most of these places are full of nostalgia, but also overloaded with kitsch, heavy furniture and red silk curtains.
Also with a lot of nostalgia, but with a more modern and elegant twist comes the Il Palazzo Experimental Hotel (www.palazzoexperimental.com)– recommended from a dear Italian friend to me.
Nestled in the heart of the quiet Dorsoduro district this hotel really stands out with its elegance and charm. Located in a beautiful historic Palazzo that used to host the Societa di Navigazione....
.....inclusive of a secret back garden at the shores of a quiet canal.
If you want to approach in style you can rent a water taxi from the Fondamenta Santa Lucia (next to the train station or public parking garage). I admit it has a heavy price tag for a ride that is just about 5 minutes – but yes, it is sooooo Venice like💕.
Tip: If you arrive by car book your parking space in the public garage through the hotel. It saves you cost and more important nerves and long waiting times.
The hotel offers 32 elegantly designed rooms and suites. Compared to other Palazzo hotels the decoration appears more purist, but with a very charming vintage and retro twist. We had a spacious room facing the wide Giudecca Canal. It is really an amazing view. Such an unique experience when you open the curtains in the morning and you can observe all the busy canal life just in front of you. Therefore I would highly recommend to spend that extra travel money on a canal view room.
Food was also very nice and for breakfast we had various cold and warm options to choose from. Although the hotel restaurant is very attractive, breakfast in the garden is the real perfect start into the day.
The Palazzo Experimental is a successful experiment in the mixture of various designs and styles. Highly recommended for a stay!
Other hotel recommendations would be:
Hilton Molino Stucky Venice – www.hilton.com
Hotel Eureka – www.hotel-heureka.com
Ca Maria Adele – www.camariaadele.it
As mentioned the hotel is located within the Dosoduro district. Dosoduro means hard back and is related to the rocky ground on which this district has been built. It hosts three popular art collections:
Galleria dell`Academia (www.gallerieaccademia.it) / Collezione Peggy Guggenheim (www.guggenheim-venice.it) / Punta della Dogana (www.palazzograssi.it/en/about/sites/punta-della-dogana/)
Venice is popular for its traditional handcraft and especially in districts like Dosoduro and Giudecca it has survived. Don´t miss to stop by at Squero di San Trovaso, where the last gondola dockyard is located. Access is only possible for guided groups, however you can catch a good glimpse on the dockyard during a coffee break at the Osteria al Squero on the opposite side of the canal.
Dosoduro is also a good place for a dinner away from the usual tourist traps. If you dine around here, you will find yourself among locals, students and fellow non-mainstream travellers.
Some places worth to try:
Trattoria Dona Onesta – www.trattoriadonaonesta.wixsite.com/website?lang=de
Ristorante La Bitta (C. Lunga S. Barnaba 2753/A) / Osteria da Toni (Fondamenta de San Basegio 1642) / Ristorante Al Profeta (www.facebook.com/AlProfetaVenezia/) / Sudest1401 (www.sudest1401.it) / Locanda Montin (www.locandamontin.com)
And for some other flavours – Africa Experience www.facebook.com/africaexperiencevenezia
Plus one of the best Gelaterias in town can be found in this district as well. Gelati Nico is selling its frosty delights since long to costumers coming from all around the city (www.gelaterianico.com/).
Is the most densely populated area of the city – a melting-pot of daily-life-Venice. The name of Cannaregio comes most likely from the reed (canna) that has grown in the former swamp lands. Opposite Cannaregio lies the graveyard island of San Michele.
The district looks back onto a long history and with its small shops, local trattorias, artisan shops and manufactures it still has a very authentic ambiance. Just 10 minutes’ walk away from the train station you will find yourself in a different world.
For a city like Venice it sounds strange that it has around 500! smaller and bigger garden areas. Most of these Giardini Segretti you can find in Cannaregio – but most are not open to the public.
However what you should definitely not miss is a walk through the old Jewish district (the first so-called Ghetto in the world), which is definitely one of Venice most astonishing quarters. Another different world! The Campo del Ghetto Nuovo builds the heart of this district.
If you like authentic Jewish food try the oldest kosher restaurant in Venice – Gam Gam (www.gamgamkosher.com).
In the traditional kosher bakery Panificio Volpe (Calle del Ghetto Vecchio 1143) you can get some specialities like impade (almond bakery) or pane azzimo (unleavened bread).
Another good restaurant in the Cannaregio district would be the Tarttoria Misericordia (www.trattoriamisericordia.it.) Here you can enjoy authentic Italian food with a scenic seating along the canal.
In the same street, Fondamenta della Misericordia, you have some other real nice options for a dinner or a canal-side Aperitivo like for example the Vino Vero (https://vinovero.wine/) or the Paradiso Perduto (https://ilparadisoperduto.wordpress.com/).
Is the biggest and for sure most authentic part of the city. Industry and trade were formerly the focus of this Sestiere. The district owes its name to the old castle located on the island of San Pietro di Castello, which also used to be the religious centre of the city.
Castello hosted the biggest shipyard of the world and for centuries ships were launched here. Nowadays the area of Arsenale is still a closed military zone. The rest of the district is Venice out of a picture book.
On a walk through Castello you will discover many hidden corners, which will give you a good impression from Venice´s daily life. Walk in narrow streets under the flattering freshly washed laundry, explore small local shops and long-established craftsman workshops.
Below a picture walk through the Castello district.
Is located on a crescent island and one of the best things there is the view onto Dorsoduro as well as the St. Mark´s Square.
Hop on the public waterbus Vaporetto and get off either at the station Palanca Giudecca or Redentore. Giudecca is currently transforming from a shabby worker district into a hip and trendy place to be.
Start your exploration tour at the impressive church of Chiesa Redentore.
Close by you can continue your visit with a stop at the popular showroom of the textile factory Fortuny. Precious fabrics are woven, dyed and imprinted here. Some fabrics can cost up to 400-500 Euro per meter (www.fortuny.com).
What would the carnival of Venice be without the glamorus masks? Since centuries they are manufactured in Venice in small workshops. One of them can be found in Giudecca, Carta Alta (www.cartaalta.com). You can not only order your custom-made mask over here, but you can also take part in a workshop in order to do it yourself. That will be a cool thing for your next carnival party back home.
In Giudecca you can also visit some old shipyards, which nowadays are hosting art spaces, cafes and various workshops. Check www.giudecca-art-district.com
To end your visit of Giudecca I highly recommend a visit to the Hilton Molino Stucky (www.hilton.com), which is located in a renovated historic grain mill. From their rooftop bar you can admire spectacular sunsets over Venice (check in advance if the rooftop is open for non-hotel guests on the day of your visit).
If your hunger sets in you have a couple of options along the Giudecca canal in between the two Vaporetto stations like for example the Ostaria Vecia Giudecca or Ae Botti (www.osteriaaebotti.com).
What else I have to recommend in Venice?
Beside the stroll through the above districts, I have some other Insider Venice tips for you.
….to try some of the heavenly small pastries in one of the cities Pasticcerias like for example the Pasticceria Marchini Time in Campo S. Luca close to Rialto.
….to take an ombra in a bacaro. Ombra means shadow and is a nickname used by Venetians for a tiny zip of wine served in a 100 ml glass accompanied by some tramezzini (sandwich slices) or cicchetti (Italian version of tapas). All that is taken in a small bar called bacaro. The oldest and must-go bacaro is the Cantina Do Mori (Calle do Mori 429), where since almost 500 years pots and copper kettles are hanging down the ceiling.
…to choose Venice most special dessert after dinner – Buranelli, Venetian (precisely from the island of Burano) butter cookies with a distinctive S-shape. They are flavoured with vanilla, rum and zest. These simple cookies have a long history and were originally made from fishermen´s wives for the long journey of their husbands. They are simple, but really delicious and best to be dipped in a coffee or even better in sweet wine.
....wander through the Rialto market. Well, it´s actually not an insider tip, as it is one of Venice most famous tourist sites. Nevertheless it is worth to visit and the real connoisseurs are visiting in the early hours right after the opening, when you mainly find yourself among the locals. It will be a very authentic experience for you – don`t miss to visit the fish market, where you can occasionally see a real big catch.
Afterwards you can have a typical Italian breakfast in one of the many bars around, where the locals are dipping sweet bakery like almond croissants into their creamy Cappuccino. Try for example the coffee roastery Caffe del Doge in Calle dei Cinque (www.caffedeldoge.com) or Rialto da Lollo in Ruga die Spezieri (www.facebook.com/barrialtosnc).
.....take a bird-eyes view on Venice. This amazing wooden observation terrace is still quite unknown and will offer you fantastic 360- degree-views over the whole city. If you cross the Rialto bridge towards St. Mark´s Square you will find on your left-hand side the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The former place of the German traders society is now hosting Venice first inner-city luxury mall. In this marvellous Palazzo you can shop all famous brands and get some local specialities and unique gifts.
Walk yourself up to the top level, where you can find the entrance gate for the rooftop terrace. It is recommended to book your ticket online in advance (www.dfs.com/en/venice/t-fondaco-rooftop-terrace).
Last but not least the St. Mark´s Square
……which would be the last on a list for insider tips. During summer time the tourist crowds are hard to bare, nevertheless the square is still the most famous place in town and the heart of Venice….and of course it is stunning and utmost beautiful. So at least you should have been one time there in any Venice trip.
Therefore my recommendation: visit late in the evening, when the big crowds have already vanished. You won´t be able to enter the church or the surrounding buildings at that time, but you can still soak in the special atmosphere of this Piazza. It actually has a very mystic feel at that time of the day.
And if you want you can still fall in the tourist trap – voluntarily. The prices for a coffee or a drink in the cafes around are really insane and under no circumstances justified – but for one single time after all the hidden insider places we can act as the typical tourists as well 😉😃
Venice has many nicknames: La Serenissima / Queen of the Adriatic / City of Bridges/ City of Canals / Floating City …….but in any case Venice is not a name, it is a dream!