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A trip through Venice – Attractions beyond the tourists

things to do in venice

Venice truly lives up to it’s reputation as the most beautiful city on earth.  It also lives up to it’s reputation as one of the most tourist congested places on earth. Despite this there are a few Venice attractions that you can enjoy without having to fight too much.

When you first arrive in Venice it is easy to stick with the famous Venice attractions.  The Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica and Doges Palace are must see’s despite the lines.  There is simply no way to get around this.  But once you’ve had enough of all those people here are some spots to head to.

Gallerie dell’Accademia

The Gallerie, established in 1750 under the name Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, is a museum of pre-19th century art.  The art on display includes some big names such as Giovanni Bellini, Francesco Guardi, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian.  Entry is fairly reasonable price wise and on our trip there it was pretty sparse in terms of visitors.  The first floor above the ticket hall contains some beautiful depictions of Christ, those made with gold leave were particularly breathtaking.  The layout makes it quite easy to get lost.  Only after walking in circles a couple of times did we find the extent of the collection.  We were also lucky enough to have a local point out to us one of the centre pieces of museum which could’ve have been easily missed by someone with my lack of art history knowledge.

The stroll to the Gallerie is also worthwhile.  Crossing over the small Campo Santo Stefano piazza and taking the bridge over the Grand Canal is worth the walk in itself.  You can find more information here.

San Maurizio

The San Maurizio church dates back to the 1600’s (although reconstructed a few times) and is a great out of the way Venice attraction.  The neoclassical-style church has been converted into a museum of the music of Baroque Venice.  The museum, Museo della Musica includes exhibits about several artists, in particular Antonio Vivaldi.  Vivaldi’s instruments, piano and music notes are displayed and it is a great place to get information on upcoming classical performances in the city.  San Maurizio is a must see for any lover of classical music.  It is easy to miss so ensure you keep an eye out, entry is free.  You can find more information here.

San Zaccaria

The Church of San Zaccaria is often overlooked as it sits in the shadow of better known Venice attractions such as St. Mark’s Basilica.  It is definitely worth stopping by to get an understanding of the floating city.  The first church in this spot was founded in early 9th century to house the body of Saint Zechariah – the father of John the Baptist.  The original church was rebuilt in the 1170’s and the 15th century after which the current church was build next to the ruins of these first versions.  The ruins of the original’s still remain.  Over the years a number of the cities Doge’s (roughly translated to the chief magistrate of Venice) were buried at this spot.

The defining feature of San Zaccaria is that the crypt in the basement of the church.  The crypt itself; a tomb of many important historical figures of Venice, floods with every high tide in the city.  You can descend into the crypt via a set a stairs and watch the ocean water creeping higher and higher to get a true sense of just how close Venice is to disappearing under the waves.  You can find more information here.

The Church of San Barnaba

The church itself is spectacular.  Featuring a thousand year old spire bell tower which is one of the cities oldest the eighteen century church is a Venice attraction by itself.  But if you look closer you might just recognise the view from in front of the church and a number of people taking photos.  The square in front of the church, Campo San Barnaba famously featured in the 1989 classic movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  In the movie the church featured as a library beneath which lay the remains of a Templar Knight.  When you visit it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to think that such secrets still exist in this ancient city.  You can find more information here.

La Fenice

The Teatro La Fenice is THE place in Venice to watch opera.  As one of the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre and opera as a whole it is a must stop by place for any classical music fan.  The opera’s of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi were all performed here.  The history of the theatre dates back to the 1700’s although it has been destroyed by fire and rebuild multiple times over its long history.  It has been the setting for the premieres of several operas, the most notable being Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto and La Traviata.

The theatre itself is pure opulence.  Ornate golden box seats are tightly packed around the stage affording the best experience possible.  As the lights dim the chandelier casts a glow over the high vaulted ceiling, painted in a style the grand masters would approve of.  We were lucky enough to take in La Traviata while there and whether you are an opera fan or not the show was unforgettable.  You can find more information and book tickets here.

Rialto Market

The Rialto Market (not to be confused with the shops on Rialto Bridge itself) is located a short stroll from the Rialto Bridge and is a fairly unknown Venice attraction.  The market has been in operation since 1097 and sits right on the edge of the Grand Canal.  They are run by locals for locals.  The produce they sell is about what you would expect from a country that is in love with fine cuisine.  Take time to browse and pick up some olives or a bouquet of chilli’s.  The main draw is the canal view as you take in the market atmosphere and the great eateries that surround the market.  You can find more information here.

House of Marco Polo

We almost missed this on our trip to Venice.  It is so nondescript and out of the way that it’s easy to walk straight past.  You’ll need to traverse some back alleys to find this.  It sits on the edge of a small canal and has only a small sign to identify it.  The house is nothing but a place to take a photo in front of.  But as Polo is considered to be perhaps the most famous traveller of all time it’s quite a historical place to have your photo taken.  Polo lived in Venice in the 1200-1300’s and was famous for the book written about the 24 years that he spent travelling in land of Kubilai Khan (now modern day Mongolia and China).  You can find more information here.

Libreria Bertoni Venezia

Something a bit different for a trip to Venice.  To take some time out from the waves of tourists search for the Libreria Bertoni Venezia on your map.  This small second hand bookstore has some great local books that will make anyone browsing your bookshelf jealous.  Books range from English language tour guides all the way through to Opera Opening Night Booklets.  You can find it on Google Maps here.

If you know a lot of local places that are off the tourist map in your city and would love to make money showing them to travellers you can sign up to be a guide here.  If you know someone who would like to do this please share!

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