15 Non-Touristy Things to Do in Venice: A Local’s Guide

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Venice, the enchanting city of canals and masks, has long been a magnet for tourists from around the world. 

Its grand palaces, historic churches, and iconic gondolas are the stuff of dreams and postcards. 

But as an American who has made the area around Venice my home, I’ve discovered that there’s so much more to this floating city than meets the tourist’s eye. 

From the bustling Rialto Market where you can encounter Venetian grandmothers bartering over the price of seafood, to the quiet corners of the Jewish Ghetto rich with history, Venice is a city of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. 

In this guide, I’ll help you avoid tourist traps and take you off the beaten path to share with you the non-touristy things to do in Venice that will let you experience the city as a local. 

So, if you’re ready to see Venice in a new light, read on and let’s start exploring.

Staying overnight in Venice? Here’s my ultimate 2 day itinerary!

1 – The Rialto Market: A Taste of Venice’s Cuisine

Nestled in the heart of Venice, the Rialto Market has been the city’s bustling epicenter of food and trade since the 11th century. This vibrant market, teeming with stalls selling a variety of fresh produce, is a testament to Venice’s rich culinary heritage and its intimate relationship with the Adriatic Sea.

rialto fish market

One of the most captivating experiences at the Rialto Market is the chance to witness the lively exchange over fresh seafood. Here, you’ll encounter Venetian grandmothers bartering with vendors over the day’s catch. From soft-shell crabs to clams, the seafood here is as fresh as it gets, having been pulled from the lagoon at dawn.

But the Rialto Market isn’t just a place to buy ingredients; it’s also a place to learn about Venetian cuisine. Several local cooking schools offer a hands-on cooking class where you can learn to prepare traditional Venetian dishes using ingredients sourced from the Rialto market Venice’s cuisine itself. It’s an immersive experience that allows you to not only taste Venice’s cuisine but also to understand the culture and history that have shaped it.

You could even take your fresh food back to your hostel with a kitchen, or hotel room with a suite and cook up a typical Venetian meal yourself.

rialto fruit market

So, if you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in Venice, start your day at the Rialto Market. It’s a sensory feast that offers a taste of the real Venice, far removed from the well-trodden, tourist trap trail.

2 – The Jewish Ghetto: A Journey Through Venice’s Rich Jewish History

The term “ghetto” is one that has been adopted worldwide, but did you know it has its roots in Venice? The word originates from the Venetian term “geto,” which referred to a foundry. In 1516, the area of the city where a foundry once stood was designated as a living area for the city’s Jewish residents, thus becoming the world’s first “ghetto.”

jewish pastries in ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto of Venice is a significant part of the city’s rich tapestry of history. Despite its initial establishment as a place of segregation, the Ghetto became a vibrant center of Jewish life and culture. It was here that Venice’s Jewish residents lived, worked, and practiced their faith, often in the face of adversity.

Today, the Jewish Ghetto remains an active hub of Jewish community life. Five historic synagogues, some of the oldest in Europe, stand as testament to the resilience and faith of the community. Quiet kosher restaurants offer a taste of traditional Jewish cuisine, while the Jewish Museum (Museo Ebraico) provides a stunning museum and insight into the history of the Ghetto and its residents.

Visiting the Jewish Ghetto offers a unique perspective on Venice, one that goes beyond the usual tourist trail. It’s a journey into the city’s rich Jewish history, a chance to understand Venice’s multicultural past, and an opportunity to appreciate the diversity that makes Venice the fascinating city it is today.

3 – Cichetti Bars: The Venetian Tapas Experience

When it comes to experiencing Venice like a local, there’s nothing quite like the tradition of “cichetti.” Similar to Spanish tapas, cichetti are small, bite-sized snacks that are a staple of Venetian cuisine. But cichetti are more than just food; they represent a way of life, a cultural tradition that brings Venetians together in the spirit of camaraderie and good cheer.

cicchetti at a bacaro in venice

To truly experience cichetti, you’ll want to visit a “bacaro.” These neighborhood bars, often tucked away in the city’s narrow streets, are where locals gather to enjoy cichetti and a glass of wine, often standing at the bar in true Venetian style. From traditional options like polpette (meatballs) and baccalà mantecato (creamed cod) to more adventurous offerings, the variety of cichetti available is a testament to Venice’s rich culinary heritage.

For a truly immersive experience, consider taking a cichetti tasting tour. These tours, led by local guides, take you to several bacari across different neighborhoods, allowing you to sample a wide range of cichetti while learning about their history and the role they play in Venetian culture. It’s a culinary adventure that lets you taste the real Venice, one bite at a time.

4 – Venetian Artisan Workshops: The Craftsmanship Behind the Masks and Gondolas

Venice is a city steeped in tradition, and nowhere is this more evident than in its artisan workshops. Two crafts, in particular, stand out for their cultural significance and the skill involved: the crafting of Carnival masks and Venetian gondolas.

ca macana venetian carnevale masks

Carnival masks have been a part of Venetian culture since the 13th century. These masks, often elaborately decorated, play a central role in the city’s annual Carnival celebration. Today, a number of workshops in Venice continue the tradition of mask-making, crafting each piece by hand in the same way their predecessors have done for centuries.

Equally significant is the craft of building gondolas. These iconic boats, synonymous with Venice, are the result of meticulous craftsmanship. Each gondola is made by hand, a process that can take several months to complete. The result is a vessel that is not only functional but also a work of art, a testament to the skill and dedication of the city’s master gondola builders.

squero san trovaso gondola workshop

For those interested in experiencing Venice’s artisan traditions firsthand, many workshops offer behind-the-scenes tours. These tours provide a unique opportunity to observe the crafting process up close, learn about the history and significance of these crafts, and even try your hand at making your own mask.

To learn about how gondolas are created and even repaired, check out the Squero San Trovaso by booking a visit here. 

5 – Exploring Venice’s Neighborhoods and Getting Lost in the City

Venice is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own unique character and charm. From the grandeur of San Marco to the vibrant energy of Cannaregio, each neighborhood offers a different perspective of Venice, revealing a side of the city that many tourists never get to see.

San Marco, home to the iconic St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace, is often bustling with tourists. But venture a little further into the neighborhood and you’ll find quiet alleys, charming boutiques, and local restaurants.

Cannaregio, the city’s most populous neighborhood, is a treasure trove of hidden gems. Here, you’ll find the Jewish Ghetto, a vibrant area rich in history and culture. The neighborhood is also home to a number of local shops and restaurants, offering a taste of authentic Venetian life.

Dorsoduro, known for its art galleries and bohemian vibe, is a haven for art lovers. The neighborhood is also home to the Squero di San Trovaso, one of the last remaining gondola workshops in the city.

quiet side street with canal in venice

But perhaps the best way to experience Venice’s neighborhoods is to simply get lost. The city’s narrow, winding streets can feel like a labyrinth, but they’re also part of its charm. Let yourself wander, turn down a street that looks interesting, and see where it leads. You might just stumble upon a quiet canal, a charming café, or a stunning view of the city that you wouldn’t find in any guidebook.

So, take the time to explore Venice’s neighborhoods. Walk their streets, visit their shops, try their food, and immerse yourself in their romantic atmosphere. It’s one of the best non-touristy things to do in Venice, and a wonderful way to experience the city like a local.

6 – Gondola Rides: Seeing Venice from the Canals

While it may be one of the most touristy things to do in Venice, a gondola ride is an experience that is undeniably worth trying when you visit Venice. There’s something magical about gliding through the city’s canals in a traditional Venetian gondola, seeing the city from a perspective that’s as unique as it is enchanting.

gondola station

However, to make the most of your gondola ride, it’s worth straying from the beaten path. Instead of joining the queues at the busy gondola stations near major tourist sites, seek out the quieter “stazi” (gondola stations) in less crowded areas of the city. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to explore Venice’s back canals, away from the throngs of tourists. These less-traveled waterways offer a glimpse into the quieter, more residential side of Venice, revealing a side of the city that many visitors never get to see.

Another tip is to consider taking your gondola ride in the evening. As the day-trippers depart and the city starts to wind down, you’ll find the canals become much quieter. The city takes on a different atmosphere as the sun sets, the buildings are softly lit, and the sounds of the day give way to the gentle lapping of water against the gondola. It’s a serene and romantic experience that truly captures the magic of Venice.

So, while a gondola ride might be seen as a touristy activity, with a bit of planning and insider knowledge, it can be a memorable and authentic Venetian experience. It’s a reminder that sometimes, the best way to see a city is from its most iconic vantage point.

7 – Venice’s Churches and Museums: A Dive into Art and History

Venice is a city that wears its history on its sleeve. From its grand palaces to its humble backstreets, every corner of the city tells a story. But to truly delve into Venice’s rich past and vibrant culture, a visit to its churches and museums is a must.

famous churches venice

Venice’s churches are not just places of worship; they are also treasure troves of art and history. Take the Basilica di San Marco, for example. This stunning cathedral, with its intricate mosaics and Byzantine architecture, is a testament to Venice’s former glory as a powerful maritime republic. Or the Church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro, adorned with the works of the Venetian painter Veronese, offering a deep dive into the city’s artistic heritage.

Venice’s museums, too, offer a wealth of insights into the city’s past and present. The Doge’s Palace, once the residence of the ruler of Venice, now serves as a museum showcasing the city’s political history and magnificent art. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, on the other hand, offers a look at modern art, housing an impressive collection of works from the likes of Picasso, Pollock, and Calder.

But Venice’s art and history are not confined to the well-known spots. Smaller museums like the Museo Ebraico in the Jewish Ghetto or the Glass Museum on the island of Murano offer fascinating insights into the city’s diverse communities and traditional crafts.

murano glass museum

So, take the time to explore Venice’s churches and museums. They offer a window into the city’s soul, revealing layers of history, culture, and art that make Venice the unique and captivating city it is. You could even attend a mass in English.

8- Taking a Rowing Class in Venice: Embrace the Venetian Voga Tradition

Venice’s waterways are its lifeblood, and there’s no better way to truly connect with the city than by learning to navigate them yourself. Taking a rowing class in Venice allows you to do just that, offering a unique and immersive experience that goes beyond the typical tourist activities.

Row Venice, a non-profit organization run by passionate women who are Venetian by birth and by choice, offers private lessons in traditional Venetian rowing, or “voga alla veneta.” This style of rowing, where you stand up and face forward, is native to Venice and has been made iconic by the city’s gondoliers.

During a 90-minute private lesson, you’ll learn to row in a traditional, hand-crafted Venetian “batellina.” Not only will you get a taste of this exhilarating and sustainable activity, but you’ll also be supporting Row Venice’s mission to preserve the traditional Venetian “cultura acquea” and the voga alla veneta at its heart.

vogalonga event with traditional venetian rowing style

For those looking for a unique culinary experience, Row Venice also offers the “Cichetto Row,” where you can follow your rowing lesson with a “giro d’ombra,” rowing to two bàcari (local bars in the Venetian language) to sample the food and wine of Venice.

By participating in a rowing class, you’re not just observing Venetian culture—you’re becoming a part of it. As Row Venice says, “There is nothing more Venetian than the Voga.”

9 – Visiting the Arsenale of Venice: A Glimpse into Venice’s Maritime Past

The Arsenale of Venice is a testament to the city’s rich maritime history. Once the heart of Venice’s naval industry, the Arsenale was one of the greatest shipyards in the world during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was here that Venice’s formidable naval fleet was built, helping the city establish itself as a dominant maritime power.

gates of the arsenale

Located in the Castello district, the Arsenale spans over 45 hectares and is an impressive sight. Its grand entrance, the Porta Magna, is a striking example of Venetian Gothic architecture, adorned with four marble lions brought from Athens in the 17th century.

While much of the Arsenale is not open to the public due to its use by the Italian Navy, parts of it are accessible during the Venice Biennale, a major contemporary art exhibition held every two years. During this time, visitors can explore some of the Arsenale’s historic buildings and docks, which are transformed into exhibition spaces for artists from around the world.

Visiting the Arsenale offers a fascinating glimpse into Venice’s past, revealing a side of the city that goes beyond its canals and palaces. It’s a reminder of Venice’s historical significance and its enduring connection to the sea and is a truly non touristy things to do in Venice.

10 – Experiencing the Coffee Roasting Process at Girani Caffè

For coffee lovers, a visit to Venice would not be complete without experiencing the coffee roasting process at Girani Caffè. This local coffee shop, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, offers a unique opportunity to witness the art of coffee roasting firsthand.

girani caffe

Every Wednesday morning, between 8 and 10:30, visitors can drop by Girani Caffè to see the roasting process in action. The roaster, a master of his craft, will explain each step of the process as he transforms raw, green coffee beans into the aromatic, brown beans that we are familiar with. This demonstration is very informal, with no set itinerary, allowing visitors to come and go as they please.

While you won’t be able to participate hands-on in the roasting process, you’ll gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work that goes into making your morning cup of joe. Plus, the roaster speaks good English, so you’ll be able to ask any questions you might have.

Remember, this is a unique opportunity to see a side of coffee production that few get to experience. So, make sure to stop by Girani Caffè on your next visit to Venice and immerse yourself in the world of coffee roasting.

11 – Touring the Inside of the Torre dell’Orologio: A Journey Through Time

The Torre dell’Orologio, or Clock Tower, is one of Venice’s most iconic landmarks. Located in the bustling Piazza San Marco, this stunning piece of architecture is not just a timekeeper, but a symbol of the city’s rich history and technological prowess.

Built in the late 15th century, the Clock Tower is a marvel of engineering and artistry. Its clock face, adorned with gold and blue enamel, displays not only the time but also the phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Above the clock face, a winged lion, the symbol of Venice, and a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus add to the tower’s grandeur.

A tour of the Clock Tower offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the inner workings of this complex timepiece. As you ascend the tower, you’ll get a close-up view of the clock mechanism, a masterpiece of medieval engineering. You’ll also learn about the tower’s history and the significance of its various elements.

The highlight of the tour is undoubtedly the panoramic view from the top of the tower. Overlooking the Piazza San Marco and the lagoon beyond, it offers a breathtaking perspective of Venice. If you come in January, you can see the Three Wise Men visiting the Madonna on the Epiphany for a special treat.

So, if you’re in Venice, don’t miss the chance to tour the inside of the Torre dell’Orologio. It’s a fascinating journey through time that offers a deeper understanding of the city’s history and culture.

12 – Renting a Bike on the Lido and Exploring: A Different Side of Venice

The Lido of Venice, a slim, sandy island that serves as a natural barrier between the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, offers a refreshing change of pace from the bustling city center. Known for its serene beaches, Art Nouveau villas, and the annual Venice Film Festival, the Lido is a charming place to explore, especially by bike.

Renting a bike on the Lido gives you the freedom to explore the island at your own pace and is one of the most non touristy things to do in Venice. You can ride along the waterfront, take in the views of the lagoon and the sea, explore the island’s quiet streets, or stop by a local café for a leisurely lunch. The island is flat and compact, making it perfect for biking.

If you are looking for a beach to beat the heat, then this is the ideal way to do it as you can find a quiet spot to soak up the rays and take a dip in the refreshing waters of the Adriatic.

One of the highlights of biking on the Lido is the opportunity to see a different side of Venice. Away from the crowds and the canals, you’ll get a glimpse of everyday life in Venice, from locals going about their day to the peaceful natural landscapes.

13 – Taking a Boat Tour of the Lagoon: Venice from the Water

A boat tour of the Venetian Lagoon offers a unique perspective of Venice and its surroundings. As you glide through the calm waters of the lagoon, you’ll get to see Venice from a different angle, away from the crowded streets and bustling piazzas.

The lagoon is dotted with islands, each with its own unique charm. There’s Murano, famous for its glassmaking tradition; Burano, known for its brightly colored houses and lacework; and Torcello, home to Venice’s oldest cathedral. A boat tour gives you the opportunity to visit these islands and learn about their history and culture.

In addition to the islands, a boat tour of the lagoon also offers stunning views of Venice itself. From the water, you can admire the city’s iconic skyline, with landmarks like the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica standing out against the horizon.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, a boat tour of the Venetian Lagoon is a memorable experience that offers a fresh perspective of Venice and its surroundings.

14 – Visiting Venice’s Main Sites After Dark: A Different Perspective

Venice is a city that transforms as the sun sets. The crowds thin out, the day-trippers depart, and a sense of tranquility descends. This is the perfect time to explore Venice’s main sites, such as St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and the Rialto Bridge.

rialto bridge at night

St. Mark’s Basilica, with its stunning mosaics and Byzantine architecture, takes on a different aura after dark. The golden mosaics shimmer under the evening lights, and the square, less crowded, becomes a more intimate and peaceful place. Some evenings, you can even join a night tour of the Basilica, offering a unique opportunity to explore this magnificent cathedral without the usual crowds.

Similarly, the famed Rialto Bridge, one of Venice’s most iconic landmarks, is a sight to behold at night. The lights reflecting off the Grand Canal create a magical atmosphere, perfect for a leisurely stroll or a quiet moment of reflection.

You can hang with the locals in Campo Santa Margherita as this is a lively spot once the tourists go back to the cruise ship or the Venice main train station to leave before night falls. There are many vibrant bars for a cocktail, great bacari for cicchetti and even benches to simply sit and soak up the lively atmosphere.

Visiting Venice’s main sites after dark offers a different perspective on the city. It’s a chance to experience the city’s timeless beauty in a more serene and intimate setting.

15 – Exploring Venice’s Famous Movie Locations: Walk in the Footsteps of Stars

Venice’s unique charm and beauty have made it a popular location for many famous movies. From James Bond’s “Casino Royale” to the romantic drama “The Tourist,” the city has served as a backdrop for a variety of cinematic stories.

Exploring Venice’s famous movie locations allows you to walk in the footsteps of stars and see the city from a different perspective. You can visit the stunning Palazzo Pisani, which served as the setting for the dramatic finale of “Casino Royale,” or stroll through the Piazza San Marco, where Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie were seen in “The Tourist.”

Other notable locations include the Bridge of Sighs, featured in “The Italian Job,” and the Grand Canal, which has made appearances in numerous films. Some companies even offer guided tours that take you to these famous movie locations, providing interesting insights and anecdotes along the way.

scene from indiana jones and last crusade in venice

Indiana Jones fans won’t want to miss taking a picture of the church where Indy popped up through the manhole cover from the Last Crusade. Today it’s a museum dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci. The small Ponte dei Pugni was also featured and is nearby.

ponte dei pugni featured in Indiana Jones and the last crusade

Wrapping It Up

On your next visit to Venice, venture off the beaten path. Immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, vibrant culture, and everyday life. You’ll discover a side of Venice that’s all the more enchanting for being less known. And you’ll leave with memories of a Venice that’s as unique and unforgettable as the city itself.

Remember, the real Venice is waiting for you to discover it. So step off the gondola, wander away from the crowds, and let the city reveal its true self to you. You won’t be disappointed.

Make sure to check out the links below for articles that will help you get the most out of your trip to Venice!

Sal Presti

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