Updated December 5, 2023
Venice is one of the most sought after destinations in the world, one that lands on many people’s bucket lists. And for good reason!
The city is unique, with so much art, architecture, history, and beauty packed into a small area.
Unfortunately, what makes Venice so special is also what makes it so crowded, especially in the summer months.
During the height of tourist season, tens of thousands of people visit each day on day trips, many coming in from the cruise ships that dock nearby.
My recommendation is always to visit Venice in the off-season, even in the middle of winter, but sometimes that’s just not possible.
So what do you do?
It’s simple. Make a point to discover the side of Venice that many people don’t see.
I have nothing against hitting the high points. San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the Rialto Bridge, and other famous locations are famous for a reason. Definitely plan to see them, but give yourself enough time to see other things as well.
When you’re ready to get away from the crowds, try some of the ideas below for a fascinating few hours (or more) exploring the best things to do in Venice, Italy.
Get up early and wander around
Many day-trippers to Venice won’t arrive until 9 or 10am, so until then the city is the domain of those who have spent the night there.
Get up early and wander around the streets and along the canals. If you want to take some photos without fighting the crowds, this is the time to do it.
Go to the Piazza San Marco at sunrise. Most likely you’ll be one of the only people there, allowing you to soak in the peaceful atmosphere and the beauty of the sunrise.
Visit the Rialto Market early in the morning
The Rialto Market is one of my favorite markets. Both the produce market and the fish market are where Venetians go to purchase their fresh food.
The entire market is a lot of fun to wander through, and it’s a great place to find a few things to take home. One of my favorites is their flavored salt and seasonings, sold in plastic tubes that are simple to fit into a suitcase. The basil salt is a staple on my counter, when I run out it means it’s time to go back!
While the rows of fresh produce in the market are lovely, the fish market is the highlight for me. This is where the restaurants of Venice come to purchase their fish for the day. It’s a hubbub of people, with all types of seafood products available to purchase.
If you’re planning to visit, make sure it’s not on a Sunday. Both the produce and fish markets are closed on Sunday.
The fish market is also closed on Monday, which is why many of Venice’s best seafood restaurants are closed that day as well. If they were open on Mondays they couldn’t serve the seafood fresh, which would compromise their reputation.
Cicchetti are uniquely Venetian, and a great (and inexpensive!) meal is a plate of cicchetti and an ombra di vino, or a small glass of wine.
You can find cicchetti at any bacaro, or local bar. For more information about where to find the best cicchetti, check out this post.
If you prefer a guided experience, an organized cicchetti tour is one of the best things to do in Venice Italy.
Shop for an artisan mask
There are a lot of masks sold in Venice that are inexpensive, mass produced products designed for tourists. But if you know where to look you can still find authentic, hand-made Venetian masks.
The difference is clear once you see one. A hand-made mask has a beauty and quality that the mass-produced versions can’t begin to compare to.
My favorite place to purchase hand-made masks is L’Arlecchino. When we purchased the mask we have from there, the owner and mask maker, Marilisa, signed and dated the inside of it for us.
Stop by, take some time to browse and enjoy the beauty of the masks, and find a truly special souvenir to take home with you as a reminder of your time in Venice.
The shop is located about 3 minutes walk from the Rialto, so is very easy to get to. Simply walk straight from the north side of the bridge (the side the market is located on) until you reach the Ruga Vecchia S. Giovanni, take a left, and the shop is on the right-hand side about 300 feet down the street.
Address: Ruga Vecchia S. Giovanni, 789, 30125 Venezia
See the church of San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore is the church you can see from the lagoon side of Piazza San Marco. It is a beautiful church, with a facade designed by Palladio (father of the Palladian style of architecture).
While many people line up to go to the top of the bell tower in San Marco, the view is just as good, if not better, from San Giorgio Maggiore.
From the top of the 75 meter bell tower you can see all of Venice, including a beautiful view of San Marco with it’s domes and bell tower.
If you enjoy art, take some time to appreciate the two works by Tintoretto inside the church.
You can take a guided tour of the former Benedectine convent on the island, now the home of the Giorgio Cini Foundation. Enjoy the cloisters, the beautiful Longhena Staircase, and the Borges Labyrinth.
Visit less known islands, like Burano and Torcello
Burano is a small fishing village, and home to Venice’s lace making industry. It’s best known for its brightly-colored houses, and if you would like to see a quieter side of Venice that is easy to get to this is a good option.
You can get to Burano by water taxi or vaporetto. There are also many tours that take you to both Murano and Burano for a full day experience.
To see the quietest part of Venice take a trip out to Torcello, one of the most sparsely inhabited islands.
Despite its small size, Torcello is full of interesting things to see and do.
The island was one of the first to be inhabited, making it older than most of the city. You can visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a Byzantine basilica founded in 639. Also worth a visit is the Museo Provinciale di Torcello, located in two fourteenth century palazzo.
Torcello is also home of the Locanda Cipriani, a small inn and lovely restaurant run by the Cipriani family (founders of Harry’s Bar, where the bellini cocktail was invented).
The inn was the home for Ernest Hemingway while he was writing “Across the River and Into the Trees”, and has hosted many other notable people through the years, including Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as (then) Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Dinner at the Locanda Cipriani is a special experience, and one of my most memorable meals. For more about the Locanda Cipriani check out this post.
Have a drink at the Skyline Bar
The Skyline Bar is on the top floor of the Hilton Molino Stucky, on the island of Giudecca. It’s one of the highest bars in Venice, with some of the best views.
Enjoy one of their 21 signature cocktails as the sun sets, and take in the panoramic views that stretch all the way to San Marco.
Go to Cannaregio and the Jewish Ghetto
To see where many of the locals who still call Venice home live, visit Cannaregio. It’s one of Venice’s six sestiere, or districts.
Located close to the train station, you’ll find Cannaregio in the northwest corner of the city.
Much of the area remains largely tourist-free, but the Strada Nova is the main thoroughfare in Venice and runs from the train station to the Rialto Bridge. Due to being one of the only main streets in Venice, it’s usually quite crowded with tourists.
But once you get off the Strada Nuova you’ll find a different side of Venice.
There are peaceful streets, small markets, local shops, and small cafes and bacari.
This is also where you’ll find the 16th-century Jewish Ghetto, one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. Today you’ll find beautiful synagogues, Jewish shops and bakeries, bookshops and restaurants.
The bottom line: More things to do in Venice, Italy
Most visitors to Venice only scratch the surface of the city. There is so much to see that you could easily fill multiple trips.
For more travel inspiration and tips, check out our other Venice, Italy travel blog posts.