Venice is always jam-packed, either with stereotypical tourists, or with creative connoisseurs nesting around the Grand Canal for the Biennale, which alternates between a focus on art and architecture each year. While countless displays in international pavilions around the Giardini, Arsenale and further afield comprise more than enough activity to fill a few days, you are, after all, in Italy, and in one of the world’s most beautiful locations. It would be criminal not to enjoy what else the floating city has to offer during your visit.
And there’s a great deal. You’ll amble around for hours enjoying the views, though perhaps not find what you’re looking for. You’ll have a constant headache because spritz ‘o’clock never ends. And you will get lost, no matter how strong your navigation skills usually are. But that, of course, is all part of the fun. With a view to making your trip that bit easier, we’ve compiled a list of the things to see and do that are just off the beaten track, for the moments between installations and exhibitions.
1. Take the boat to visit Trei Oci (above)
Fondamenta Zitelle, 43, Venezia
Closed on Tuesday
Take the line two to escape from San Marco, and visit Zitelle on the island of Giudecca, where you’ll enter straight into the Tre Oci. Designed by artist Mario de Maria, the building is one of the main examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Venice. Polymnia, a subsidiary of the Fondazione di Venezia, bought and restored it in 2000, and made it into a museum venue paying particular attention to photography. You can currently see Lost & Found by David LaChapelle until September 10, 2017, a retrospective containing over 100 images by the American photographer.
2. Order cicchetti at All’Arco
Sestiere San Polo 436, 30125 Venezia
Open 8-3.30, Closed on Sunday
We recommend heading to All’Arco as soon as you’ve arrived, when all you will want is a decent spritz and a few cicchetti, the small savoury side plates which all of Venice seems to run on. Note that there is only one way to order in this family-run cafe and winebar which has come to be regarded as a firm favourite many locals, and that’s to call, “one of each, prego!” From baccalà and stuffed squid to a classic panini, you will not be disappointed (though you may eat so much that you need to cancel your dinner plans).
3. Go for dinner at Corte Sconta
Calle del Pestrin, 3886, 30122 Castello, Venezia
Closed on Sunday and Monday
Reward yourself for traipsing round galleries all day long with several slices of pizza at Dai Tosa – a post-Giardini Biennale classic. Or, alternatively, with a spectacular dinner at Corte Sconta, an innovative take on a classic Venetian dining experience. This vine-covered restaurant with its concealed garden is a favourite both for locals looking for a treat, and for well-informed visitors. You’ll find prawn and courgette linguine with saffron, tuna in juniper berries, and clams cooked in wine and ginger. Be sure to make a reservation!
Also highly recommended: Al Covo, which is just around the corner, for incredible fish dishes and some of the best organic wines you’ll find.
3. Marvel at the architecture of Fondazione Querini Stamplia
Campo Santa Maria Formosa, 5252, 30122 Venezia
Open 10-6, Closed on Monday
Founded by Count Giovanni Querini, the last descendant of the Querini Stampalia family, the Fondazione houses the entire heritage of this noble Venetian family. Lose yourself between ancient collections of sculptures, fabrics, paintings and furniture within the four marble walls of the palace, explore exhibitions of contemporary art in the museum, and marvel at the work of Carlo Scarpa, who restored the ground floor. A calm and beautiful example of neo-Classical Italian architecture – and a welcome oasis to wind down in after the madness of Rialto.
4. Enjoy a pastry at Pasteccheria Tonolo
Calle S. Pantalon, 3764, 30100 Venezia
Open 8-8, Closed on Monday
Oh, la dolce vita. Brioches are a cappuccino’s best friend, and at Pasteccheria Tonolo you will find some of the very best, from chocolate, albicocca (apricot), and crema (cream) to more traditional pastries like bignè al zabaione (marsala cream pastry), marmalade biscuits and the obligatory slice of tiramisu. Come here to start another indulgent day, but be aware that this is not your go-to relaxed breakfast spot. You will mostly find an endless queue, and you’ll be expected to order, eat, drink and pay quick-sharp.
5. Pick up your favourite magazines at Bruno
Dorsoduro 2729, 30123 Venezia
10-1, Closed on weekends
After years of travelling back and forth to their favourite magazine shop, Motto, in Berlin, the creative minds behind Venetian design studio Bruno started a collaboration with the store. Located just off Campo Santa Barbena, it sells the studio’s own publications amongst a well curated selection of magazines, artists’ publications and rare independent and international editions, all in a beautiful space. They also host regular launches, supporting the evolution of the international editorial scene.
6. Pick up an antique book at Living in the Past
Sestiere Dorsoduro, 3474, 30123 Venezia
Open every day, 3-6 (what a life!)
Attempts to Google this lovely shop will conclude – as many things do in Venice – in a dead-end. Its signage, for starters, is hand-drawn on a piece of paper next to a photograph of the owner that was taken in the 80s. You’ll find a corner full of tasteful Italian erotic posters next to jazz records surrounded by old copies of Ulysses, Italian cookbooks and many items you didn’t even know you needed. What’s more, if it’s a sunny day you might be spoiled with a guitar session by the owner.
Insider tip: Also check out Libreria Acqua Alta, owned by an eccentric Venetian man named Luigi Frizzo, which sells tons of old books out of gondolas and bathtubs. Make sure you spare at least a couple of hours to rummage around, and come willing to get your hands dirty!
7. Scour for vintage clothes at Bisnonni
S. Croce, 2120, 30135, Venezia
Speaking of antiques, there’s something incredibly pleasing about answering a sartorial compliment with “Oh, this? I got it from a little vintage shop I found whilst wandering around Venice.” And in order to ensure you’ll be the envy of all your friends upon your return home, you’ll need to head to Bisnonni.
Paolo, the shop’s owner, doesn’t believe in the concept of set opening times, but if he is there when you arrive – most likely between 11am and early afternoon – he might pop out to get you an espresso next door. Bisnonni opened just last year, after its proprietor closed his hat shop in 2002 and went travelling for eight years. You might get lucky, finding 90s Prada mules snuggled up with Valentino jackets and other (much cheaper) gems. Don’t be shy to ask for specific pieces: there are piles and piles of clothing in the back of the shop. Paolo’s next plan, he told AnOther, is to “go and live in the forest”, and while that might have sounded like a joke from anybody else, you can’t help but believe him.
9. Sip a natural wine at Adriatico Mar
Calle Crosera, 3771, 30125 Venezia
Open every day, 10-10
Don’t visit Adriatico Mar expecting yet another spritz, as you won’t find it. Instead, the lovely owners will offer you a less sugary and organic version, or point out the simply beautiful selection of natural organic wines on offer. Grab a glass and sit down on their pretty terrace; it doesn’t offer a stereotypical view, but rather the perfect aperitivo scenery, and will have you coming back for more. (‘More’ might be right after dinner just next door at Estro. The homemade ricotta gnocchi with toasted almonds is delicious.)