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10 hidden gems in Venice, Italy to discover on your next trip

Venice, Italy

So you’ve found yourself on the path to visit Venice, the birthplace of the great Venetian empire, famous for its timeless architecture, enchanting art, historical gondoliers, and picture perfect canals. While trust me, Venice or Venezia as the locals call it, hosts all these notable attributes, the true essence of this landmark city lies in the hidden gems that create its unique character.

You may be wondering with roughly 50 million tourists visiting Venice this year alone, is anything really that hidden anymore? With 118 small islands lying in the Venetian lagoon, there is much more than meets the eye. Here’s our list of some of the hidden gems!

1. Seafood in a cone at Acqua e mais

With a day full of sightseeing on the agenda, a tasty lunch is essential. You can’t get much closer to the sea than in the floating city of Venice. Acqua e Mais is Venice’s answer to street food, offering a fine selection of  seafood, ranging from calamari, sardines, prawns, and oysters, as well as other Italian classics such as risotto, pizza, and arancini.

Choose to have your personal selection of deliciousness in a cone, bowl, or on a stick, fried to perfection, making that stroll along the grand canal a little more special.

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2. Basilica Di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

A church in Venice is never merely a place of worship, they often double as houses for living artworks, precious sculptures, and breathtaking architecture. Tucked away amongst what seems like a never ending maze of Venetian terraces, the Basilica dei Frari is one of the coolest churches I’ve ever been in. You can call a church cool right?

Eight centuries of history have left their mark on this marvelous structure, including remnants of a much more turbulent time. Fragments of a bomb that came through the roof of the Basilica but didn’t detonate, lie on one of the left walls, remnants of the air raids which took place by the Austrohungarian empire during WW1. 

Adding to the church’s living history is the gear of a 16th century tower clock, that still works today, the sound of its mechanics bellowing in the background. The main draw card of the basilica however is the impressive tombs of 17 famous Venetians, comprising mainly leaders of the republic and famous artists, with timeless works by Bellini, Titian, and Donatello to name a few! Such a great way to tick off many of your Venetian cultural highlights in one go!

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3. Dal Moro’s SpritzEat

Is it just me or does the Spritz taste better in Venice? Talk about a hidden gem! This funky new venue creatively blends one of Italy’s most iconic couples and no I’m not talking about Romeo and Juliet, rather Aperol Spritz and Pasta.

SpritzEat embodies a more modern Venetian style while serving your favorite handmade pasta in traditional creamy cheese wheels while washing it down with a classic Aperol Spritz, ranging in sizes from a single glass to XXXL glass. Eat in, or wander the streets with a takeaway option as you marvel at the Venetian lagoon.

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4. Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

Of all the Islands in the Venetian lagoon this one should be at the top of your list. At the heart of the island stands the breathtaking Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore, a majestic Benedictine monastery, with its bell tower offering panoramic views of San Marco and beyond! Wander through the whimsical Labirinto Borges because why not get lost in a labyrinth if it’s already there?

For art lovers, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini beckons with its cultural embrace, offering a trove of historical riches and contemporary creativity. But hold on to your gondola hats because the island’s cultural landscape takes a turn with the Vatican Chapels – a spectacle of architectural innovation that sprung up like mushrooms (artistic mushrooms, mind you) in the enchanting woods.

And when the sun dips below the Venetian horizon, the Teatro Verde comes to life, weaving tales of drama and art under the open sky. Jump on the line 2 Vaporetto from San Marco for a short journey across the lagoon. So many hidden gems in one small island!

5. Libreria acqua alta

With sea levels rising in Venice every year, many businesses are being forced to innovate to quite literally stay afloat. The Liberia acqua alta, (which translates to book store of high water), has tackled the inevitability of flooding by storing books in bathtubs, rowboats, canoes and of course a gondola.

The quirkiness doesn’t end there; ascend the staircase of old and damaged books for a unique view over the canals. Digging deeper into the maze of books will reveal a fire escape that leads straight into the canal.

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6. Isola Di San Michelle

The Island hopping possibilities in the Venetian lagoon are plentiful with the island of Saint Michelle being one that often gets overlooked. Historically, there was a tradition of connecting the island to the northern port in Venice at Fondamente Nove with a 400m floating footbridge. Now the only option for accessing the island is by water taxi that will take you just 12 minutes, with the island being most famous for hosting one of the lagoon’s few cemeteries.

Like much of Venice, there is more than meets the eye with this one. Many famous locals and those from afar have opted to be buried here leaving their mark with impressive tombs, the ones drawing the most attention belonging to 20th century poets Ezra Pound, and Joseph Brodsky. 

However, due to space being extremely limited on the small island, Venetians can be buried there today but their plot is only guaranteed for about 10 years;, after this, their remains are transported to an ossuary to free up the space for someone else. A little morbid I know! Aside from this the remains of a cloister and one of Venice’s oldest renaissance style churches are certainly worth a peak, rounding out your island adventure.

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7. Ponte de Chiodo

Of the 472 bridges connecting the 126 Islands of Venice, there is only one that does not have parapets or handrails going up either side to prevent people from falling in the lagoon. While this feature may simply appear as a sign of the times where safety was less of a concern, there was actually a greater purpose for this.

Historically, there were select bridges across the city with this feature, serving as a battle arena for rival neighborhoods. Challengers would meet on the bridge and engage in fist fights in an attempt to knock the other into the lagoon, symbolizing victory over the other.

As time went on, these fights became increasingly violent, so it became necessary to build barriers along these bridges in an attempt to curve the violence. Tucked away in one of the quieter suburbs of Venice, Cannaregio, Ponte de Chiodo is certainly worth the stroll to diversify your Venice bridge pic portfolio, but be careful not to fall in!

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8. Scalia Cantarini del bovolo

From famous bridges to famous staircases, Venice really has it all. This architectural gem is tucked amidst residential terraces, attached to a palazzo belonging to one of the founding families of Venice, just a 10-minute twisty stroll through the Venetian backstreets.

The name translates to ‘of the snail’, quite literally reflecting the swirly nature of the spiral staircase and curved window arches. The construction of the staircase dates back to the 1400s and blends centuries of architectural styles with a pinch of gothic, a hint of renaissance and a dash of Byzantine in there too. Certainly worth a quick visit on your way to your next aperol spritz!

9. Palazzo Venier dei Leoni

Along the curve of Venice’s Grand Canal lies Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an architectural gem that tells a tale of Venices fallen empire and unfinished dreams. Crafted by architect Lorenzo Boschetti in the 18th century, the palazzo’s low façade stretches gracefully along the waterfront, its incomplete state adding an air of mystique.

As Venice began its economic decline, the owners of the Palazzo were forced to abandon the project mid-way through leaving it abandoned for years. Yet, it is within the walls of what remains of this captivating structure that the palace had a second lease on life. Purchased by Peggy Guggenheim in 1949, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni became the home of the renowned Peggy Guggenheim Collection. 

Within these storied walls, 20th-century masterpieces by artists like Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso come to life, creating a living chronicle of artistic evolution. Palazzo Venier dei Leoni embodies the fusion of modern and ancient Venezia, with a hint of mystery leaving it up to the mind’s eye to wonder what the finished structure would have looked like.

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10. Venice after 6pm

Many tourists and visitors to Venice are lured by the glistening daytime sun that  brings the city to life. Staying overnight in the lagoon is not always feasible, especially in larger groups due to the accessibility and size of many of the traditional buildings. This means that once the sun sets, Venice feels like another world, far from the bustling city of the day.

See St Mark’s Square with practically no one but a few nosy pigeons, wander through the seemingly abandoned streets, or grab a takeaway pizza and nestle yourself under the arches of doges palace. Some of my favorite memories of Venice are sitting on the bank of a hidden canal watching the moonlight reflect off the glassy lagoon. Venice really shows a different side of herself under the cover of night.

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Venice is full of hidden gems where you can easily avoid the crowds, by venturing into the secret canals, charming squares, and off-the-beaten-path treasures. Rediscover what you thought you knew of the infamous floating city by allowing yourself to get lost in over 1,000 years of living history.

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