Venice Without the Crowds

by Silke Elzner

Despite the nay-sayers, Venice still is one of the most wanted travel destinations in Europe. It’s hard to stay immune to its charms: The silence of the canals, the views of the lagoon and the fading beauty of ancient palazzos call for romance, exotic, and escapism.

However, it is also well known that Venice is struggling under the pressure. Returning visitors have reported about a St Mark’s Square swamped by tourists. Cruise ships are threatening the old wooden foundations of the stilt houses in the lagoon. Prices in many Venice restaurants are only affordable by a few.

I visited Venice a couple of years ago and found both faces of the city. The overcrowded tourist areas around St Mark’s, Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal. And the quiet corners off the beaten track where you can still lose yourself in a maze of canals and quiet laneways where the washing hangs out to dry and locals go by their everyday business.

This is the real Venice, the one you came to find and the one you won’t forget. It’s still out there, and with these tips you can find it too.

Lacemaking and Colourful Houses in Burano

It is easy to forget that Venice consists of more than just the main island where the train line from the mainland terminates.

Take one of the many ferries and you will be quickly whizzed away from the tourists crowds around San Marco and to the more authentic and quiet parts of the city. There are 118 islands to explore in the lagoon, but one of the most enchanting ones is the island of Burano. Take an early ferry out to the island to beat the crowds – the ride takes around 45 minutes.

Burano’s residents are famous for their lacemaking, but with its colourful houses that follow a strict pattern it is also an island for photographers.

Tip: Get off at stop Mazzorbo for some panoramic views of Burano, then cross the footbridge to get to Burano. Check out the church of Santa Caterina and eat at one of the restaurants while you are in Mazzorbo.

The Island That was Almost Abandoned: Torcello

Another great day trip destination from Venice’s main island is the peaceful island of Torcello. Here you will find a number of interesting sights such as the 7th century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta. Check out the pretty Byzantine mosaics inside such as “The Last Judgement”.

Torcello used to be densely populated with around 20,000 inhabitants in the past. It is older than Venice proper. Malaria and plunderers changed the fate of the island, causing many inhabitants to either die or move away.

Today, only around 20 islanders remain, which adds to the charm of this wonderful island. Many palazzos and buildings have since been destroyed to serve as building materials for new projects. A good part of the island is today a nature reserve.

While there, have a look at the Devil’s Bridge, which is the only public bridge in Venice without bulkhead. Read here about the tragic love story that is tied to the Devil’s Bridge.

You can combine your visit of Torcello with your trip out to Burano as both islands are close together.

The charm of Venice is not in its grand buildings but in the little details

Discover a Very Different World in the Jewish Ghetto

If you don’t fancy taking a ferry out to one of the other islands of Venice, or if you are looking for a destination that is close to the train station, visit the Jewish Quarter. Even though it is located close to the main tourist areas of Venice, it is a very quiet and charming quarter.

It’s best to join a walking tour to understand better the background and history of the Jewish community in Venice. It is indeed the oldest ghetto in the world and has some of the very first “skyscrapers” in Europe.

Have a look at the historic synagogues, visit the museum of the Jewish Ghetto, and maybe also drop into one of the art galleries. Try some of the specialties in the bakeries and delis, shop for souvenirs in the artisan workshops, and see one of the most astonishing and least known sights of Venice, the bas-reliefs in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo.

Visiting the Jewish Ghetto in Venice is a slightly somber, yet very different and unique experience which will open up fresh and very unusual perspectives of the lagoon city.

For recommended walking tours of Venice including walking tours of the Jewish Ghetto, check here.

Visit an Off-the-Beaten-Path Museum such as Palazzo Grimani

Venice is home to some of the most fascinating museums and art galleries. It’s no wonder they attract masses of visitors each year, in particular on rainy days. But you don’t have to join the crowds to see some of Venice’s most cherished treasures. There are many museums that are not on the tourist trail and that are still a pleasure to visit.

For example, Palazzo Grimani is one of the lesser known museums in Venice, even though it’s centrally located right on the Grand Canal and near the Rialto Bridge. The palazzo is a rare example of the 16th century Renaissance palace, an impressive building which stands out from its neighbours thanks to the later added top floor which overlooks the roofs of the surrounding buildings.

Palazzo Grimani is home to a number of changing exhibitions and events. On the website of Condé Nast Traveler you can find more interesting but lesser known museums in Venice.

It's easy to escape the Venice crowds if you dare venture off-the-beaten-path

Mingle with the Locals in Cannaregio

Surrounding the Jewish Ghetto (see above) is the wider area of Cannaregio in the north of the main island. It’s a place that sees far less visitors and where locals still come together to dine in small restaurants along the quiet canals. The bars are populated by young locals, in particular during happy hour.

Besides the obvious advantages of not being overrun by tourists, there are a couple of noteworthy highlights that you can explore in Cannaregio in your own time.

For example, check out Fondamenta della Misericordia for its string of wonderful canal-side restaurants where you can dine off great local dishes such as liver with onions and spaghetti with cockles.

Also make sure you pass by Campo dei Mori with its very unique statue of moors, clad in traditional Arab clothes such as turbans and and long dress-like clothes.

Another remarkable statue can be found not far from here, Sior Rioba, which is a marble statue with an unusual iron nose. The metal replacement was added in the 19th century as the stone nose has disappeared over time.

San Marco may be bursting at the seams but that's not all that Venice has to offer

Venice – Still Easy to Explore Without the Crowds

As you can see from the examples above, Venice remains a fascinating and charming place to visit. It requires just very little research and planning to have this wonderful experience that you would expect from such an usual place as Venice.

Tip: If you are still looking for affordable Venice accommodation, have a look at these great Venice apartments in Italy which are located all over the historic centre of Venice. All apartments have been checked and selected by local staff, most apartments are serviced.

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DolceVita Apartments srl, in the world, is the real estate agency with more holidays apartments in Venice.

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