On a cold and rainy November day, the least of things that interested me was going on a gondola ride in Venice. This is how my alternative Venice visit began and how I discovered that Venice is more than gondola rides and aqua alta.
As soon as you step into Venice you will see it’s a city like no other European city. And if you arrive by train the first thing you will notice is the large canal and many gondolas and boats crossing it. It takes a couple of seconds to be situated and know where to head to.
Alternative things to do in Venice
Although gondola rides are what attracts most tourists Venice has so much to offer. It would be a shame to waste it on a typical tourist attraction. Another thing that characterizes Venice it’s the crowds. There is no escaping the mass if you stick with the most touristy things to do. If you are a horde phobic like me there is no better way to explore than by doing alternative things in Venice.
To be honest I added a few touristy things here with tips on how no to turn in a cliché. Meanwhile avoiding the masses and tourist traps.
Here is what to do and see on an alternative Venice visit.
- Get lost in the labyrinthic Venice
One of the best ways to explore Venice is by walking and exploring what the city has to offer inside. The beauty of Venice can’t only be explored cruising the canals. Besides cruising Venice there is no better way to see the architecture of its church and plazas than by walking inside.
First of all, if you don’t have a tour guide this is most likely to happen. My boyfriend and I used Google maps and his memory of Venice. Needless to say, we constantly got lost. But Venice is a charming place to get lost in. It gives you the chance to see many uncrowded corners and quaint bridges.
Tip: Bring comfortable shoes, as you will find many stairs and you will be constantly going up and down.
- Explore Venice by night
During the day it is almost impossible to walk in Venice especially if you focus on touristy areas. However, by night the flooded city transforms into the romantic place we are all searching for.
You will finally get to see Ponte de Rialto without the constant pushing and shoveling.
- Awe at San Marco
Even on an alternative trip to Venice, you shouldn’t miss this iconic space. What you should avoid is eating at the plaza if you can resist it. And trust me the prices are going to make you want to pass this one.
- Ponte di Rialto
Besides San Marco, I think Ponte di Rialto is the other touristy thing I would suggest. Yes, it will be very crowded, more than San Marco. Nevertheless, after waiting for the right person to move you will get a wonderful view of the city. Most importantly you will experience the size of it and see it is not an ordinary bridge to connect one place to another. In the center, dozens of shops line both sides of Ponte di Rialto. It is a beautiful white architectonic piece you don’t want to miss.
Tip. What I wouldn’t do is dawdle there waiting for the perfect picture moment. Unless you are a photoshop expert or a professional photographer you will waste your time waiting for people to leave.
- Pass on the Gondola ride
I know this is more a not do than do.
However, if you are considering taking a gondola ride, understand this is a long family tradition and there is a lot of work and time involved in the making and maintaining of a gondola and it is more than just marketing. This is one of the reasons for the high costs.
You can pay as little as $30 for a 30-minute ride with more passengers and higher than $150 for a private ride.
In other words, unless this is your dream or you have the money, the thing that drove you to book a ticket to Venice pass it. If not I have other proposals for you.
- Visit a real Venetian mask workshop
Finaly, for a real alternative Venice visit go to the Original Venice Paper Mache Mask artisan shop in the corner of Campiello de la Scuola and Calle del Magazen near San Giovanni Evangelista church.
The highly detailed mask from the vitrine caught my eye in what seemed an ordinary shop. Little did I know this was a real artisan shop.
Put this place in your Venice plans and meet the owner, who is the artisan himself. He is a passionate man interested not only for his art but for his customers too. Without hesitating, he guided us into his workshop to show us his raw work and explained how the Venetian mask is made.
Don’t miss this place.
Off all the things experienced and done in Venice this one still lingers in my mind like it was yesterday. The best of all it was a real experience away from the mass. I remember for a moment I forget about all the raucous outside.
Unique experiences in Venice for an alternative visit
There are some experiences you just can’t have in any other place than Venice. And one of those is visiting a real gondola workshop and making a real Venetian mask.
Like I have already mentioned, Venice is not cheap, and the gondola rides are no exception. Instead, learn about the history and creation of Venetian gondolas with a visit to Arzana. This is a non-profit organization strives to preserve, recuperate, and restore the original Venetian boats.
Since it is an organization Arzana is not meant to be open to the public. You can get in contact with them through there webpage and request a guided visit. The page is in Italian but they have a link for the request and how to get there in English. Hopefully, you can agree on a date and time.
- Visit the gondola workshop Squero di San Trovaso
Another unique experience is getting to see the Squero de San Trovaso which means boatyard. Since this is a real boatyard it won’t be easy to just get in. They require a minimum of 25 people to go inside the squero. If you are fortunate you can catch a glimpse of a squerarolo working on a gondola outside.
- Make your own mask
After all that Italian handcraft I wouldn’t be surprised if you start feeling a bit creative. So why not make your Venetian mask instead of buying a cheap souvenir mask?
Unless you decide to visit Original Venice Paper Mache Mask or any other artisan shop you will find yourself surrounded by cheap souvenirs shop. Art characterizes Venice like many other Italian cities. Why would you buy a cheap plastic souvenir?
Instead, find your perfect mask making course in Ca’macana. They have four different ones ranging from 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2.5 hours. They also have a course for children. The prices are high but it’s a great option if you are looking for a really unique experience.
Off the beaten track things to do
If the crowd really pisses you off and you still aren’t sold on the idea of visiting Venice then maybe a more unfrequented track will suit you. Since Venice is just one island surrounded by many other small islands you can explore beyond and see other less crowded and unique islands.
- Visit Murano and Burano
For now, I think both islands count as uncharted places to visit. Murano is distinguished for its fine glassmaking. It is a centuries-old Veneto tradition initially from the Island of Venice but later moved to Murano.
On the other hand, Burano is defined for its colorful houses and lace-making.
There are many tours for a short visit to Murano and Burano Islands. See what suites your interest best and book before arriving in Venice.
Where to eat in Venice?
For exploring Venice with a Veneto I have to admit we didn’t go all out with the food. We ate at Ristorante Al Chianti near San Marco, the food was good but nothing out of the ordinary. I admit it was a typical tourist place just a 1-minute walk from the San Marco Piazza. Nevertheless, the pasta was good and the price was decent for the location.
But this is no surprise, Italians take pride in their cooking skills and treat guests to their best dishes. Most of the time I visit Italy with friends I end up eating home-cooked meals.
For what it’s worth don’t order pizza, la vera pizza Italiana comes from Napoli. Instead, opt for fish plates like the Baccalà alla Vicentina or Venetian cod. I also recommend the polenta at first glance it resembles cornmeal but it is not even close. It is salty and prepared with a great quantity of butter that leaves you feeling heavy; it is not meant for breakfast.
Don’t be fooled by Venice size, this is a big city and a day won’t get you close enough to see it’s most touristy parts let alone these alternative options. Take it from someone who tried it.
For example, from the train station, Santa Lucia to Piazza San Marco is 23 minutes’ walk. If you don’t book a tour guide you most certainly will get lost. So, add to those extra minutes too. By the time you arrive at San Marco, you will be bitter. Besides this, the interminable stares and bridges don’t make it easy to explore. This tires you faster than a flat city would. You will probably just want to eat and drink.
If you have one day in Venice then I suggest you plan every detail and prioritize what you want to see or do. Book in advance any place you want to explore but most of all don’t try to see it all in one day.
How many days in Venice is enough?
A good 3 days can help you explore some iconic Venice places, explore alternative places, and other islands as well. For example, I was short on time and the rain didn’t help so I couldn’t see Burano and Murano. One day is not enough to see Venice but it can give you a glimpse of what the fuss is all about. And trust me it will leave you wanting more.
Where to stay in Venice?
If you plan to stay in Venice keep in mind the prices are high even for a simple room with a shared bathroom. It can cost around $32 the night for nothing special and as high $700 for a luxurious stay. Airbnb is also available but the prices don’t vary that much.
The price range for staying in Murano or Burano is about the same.
Since Venice is well connected to the main country you can also opt for a peripheral stay but you will have to come back each time you want to explore Venice.
How do you get to Venice?
There are different ways to access Venice. You can get to Venice by bus, train, and airplane.
Marco Polo is the nearest airport. From there take a bus, taxi, or even a boat ride. It takes about an hour with the boat ride so if you are traveling from a long distance keep this in mind. Another airport near Venice is Sant’Angelo in Treviso.
In Venice cars and buses are not allowed. This means you will have to find a water taxi from where the bus or taxi leaves you. If you take a bus to Venice keep in mind that you will have to find a water taxi to get closer to the center. This is typically in Piazzale Roma, from there take a water taxi.
If you are traveling from another European or Italian city the train is a great option. Plus they are comfortable. You can either buy a train ticket in advance or at the station. The downside to buying at the moment is the increase in prices. For more on trains and bus prices and departures visit Trenitalia.
Which is the best month to visit Venice?
Venice’s high season is in summer but the temperatures are high just like their prices. You can expect very cold and harsh temperatures during winter. Spring can be lovely although it is still quite cold. Also, the range of activities and opening hours change during spring and winter. Many places tend to close early or don’t open at all.
Because of this, the best months to visit Venice is from September to November. The inconvenience with this is that by November you will begin to feel the Venetian cold. Also, there is a chance of acqua alta during November. I went during this time and there were no extra flooded streets. My best advice is to check the weather constantly and pack heavy clothes if you plan to visit during November.
Tip: plan your time well, take note of the high season, and the weather so you can have the best experience in Venice.
Is Venice still worth visiting?
Venice is indeed an Island worth visiting apart from the crowd and the occasional floods. It is a culturally rich place that sometimes we overlook do to the type of marketing of it. An alternative visit to Venice will make all the difference since you won’t focus on taking the perfect picture to bring home while fighting the crowd. Or having the romantic experience sold to us.
Preferably, experience Venice with curiosity and hungry for learning about why a 30-minute gondola ride cost so much or why the mask is a distinctive Venetian symbol?
After all, people live there and if you pay attention you will see you have the opportunity to visit a unique Italian place with locals more than happy to share their cultural heritage with you.
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