While no trip to Venice is complete without a tour of Piazza San Marco — from the campanile to the Basilica and Palazzo Ducale — it's perhaps the city’s greatest tragedy that many of its visitors do not venture beyond the iconic square.
It is perfectly possible to find calm and isolated spots in Venice still, picturesque canals that are empty of people and campos where a solitary saxophonist stops to busk, permeating the square with the sound of jazz. This guide offers three day trips to the quieter districts in the city, from overlooked architectural jewels to artistic masterpieces tucked away in an unassuming church. Do not fear if you only have a day in Venice either, combine our highlights from each area for the ultimate passing trip. From our favourite month to visit, to the best places to enjoy an aperitivo, this alternative guide will help you to navigate the city like a true Venetian.
When is the Best Time to Visit Venice?
Our favourite season to visit Venice is in Autumn. September is the perfect month for warmer sunny weather without the intense heat of high summer or the heavy footfall.
Even better still, visit later in October through November, the height of Opera Season at La Fenice. Fall in Venice can get bitterly cold, but there’s something particularly magical about the city as it advances into winter. It is in these months you will experience the famous nebbia (“fog”), when a low mist sweeps in off the adriatic, blanketing the city in mystery and softening the marble facades of its most extravagant palaces. Nothing empties Piazza San Marco quicker than acqua alta (“high water”) either, which is when the city floods at high tide and the gold-adorned basilica briefly meets its own reflection. Be sure to pack wellington boots and you will have the famous square all to yourself.
It’s no wonder that there is such a unique love-language between the city and the canons of literature at this time of year. Nobel Prize Winner, Joseph Brodsky was so enamoured with the city during these months that he spent over seventeen Autumns and Winters here. The poet is buried alongside the likes of Ezra Pound, Stravinsky and Diaghalev in Venice’s cemetery on the Isola di San Michele.
If the cooler months still aren’t to your taste, June is an opportune time to visit, coinciding with the opening of the Venice Biennale. The city will be busy this time of year, but it won’t be as overcrowded as it gets at the height of the season.
Three Days, Three Sestieri in Venice
Our top highlight: on the outer edge of the district is the vibrant Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a favourite still amongst the remaining Venetians in the city. It is home to the Renaissance Scuola Grande di San Marco, which was designed to emulate the Basilica in Saint Mark’s Square. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in Venice with trompe-l'oeil portals expertly carved in various types of marble. Directly adjacent is the immense 15th century, Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the final resting place of twenty-five doges with artwork by Giovanni Bellini.
From here, follow the Calle Vesier and take in the view where two canals meet from the Ponte dei Conzafelzi. The nearby Libreria Acqua Alta is a cosy bookshop where resident cats snooze amongst vintage titles that are shelved upon a central Gondola.
Campo Santa Maria Formosa also has a quieter and slower tempo and is the perfect spot for a gelato and coffee break. Here you will find the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, home to the Venetian family’s art collection, as well as a library with beautiful parquet floors and murano glass chandeliers.
Art lovers could easily spend an entire day exploring the Venice Biennale at the Arsenale and the Giardini. Both are well worth a visit at least to take in the impressive space where the Venetian naval fleets were once built. End the day with an aperitivo on the Viale Giardini Publicci and immerse yourself in the unique Venetian silver evening light as the sun sets over the lagoon.
If you have time: the Museo di Palazzo Grimani and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni are well worth a visit.
Our top highlight: the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli is easily one of the most lavish buildings in Venice. It is clad in marbles of every conceivable colour, inside and out, as well as other precious stones like serpentine and porphyry. The barrel vaulted ceiling is decorated with fifty painted panels depicting patriarchs and prophets.
Start your day at Ca’d’Oro, a palace on the Grand Canal, aptly named after its once gilt facade. Long considered the best surviving example of Gothic architecture with mosaiced cosmati floors in its elegant courtyard, it is now home to an art collection with works by Mantegna and Van Dyck. Afterwards, take some time to explore Strada Nova, the district's main shopping street.
Another must-see in one of the quietest spots in Cannaregio is the Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto. The 15th century brick church is the final resting place of Tintoretto and houses his painting of “The Presentation of the Virgin”.
Our top highlight: the emblematic octagonal Basilica Santa Maria della Salute is home to a number of masterpieces by Titian and Tintoretto and offers some of the best views across the Grand Canal. Each November a pontoon bridge is built across the main waterway to the Basilica as part of the Festa della Salute. A slightly lower-profile celebration than some of Venice’s more notorious festivals, it marks the end of plague in 1631.
Next door is the Pinacoteca Manfrediniana, a small museum housing art from the 13th to 19th century, and the Punta della Dogana, a contemporary exhibition space well worth visiting. Art lovers will thrive in this district with the Guggenheim and Accademia just a short distance apart. Peruse the narrative cycles of Bellini and Carpaccio before climbing the Ponte dell’Accademia and taking in the iconic view of La Salute across the Grand Canal.
Perhaps the least touristy of the three districts, Dorsorduro is the thriving central hub for students, home to one of Venice’s main universities, Ca’Foscari. Campo Santa Margherita is an expansive market square where locals socialise during the day. It is lined with restaurants and bars and is the centre for Venetian nightlife after the sun sets.
If you have time: discover 18th century Venice at Ca’ Rezzonico and visit the 14th century Frari just outside of Dorsorduro, one of the city’s most impressive churches. The Palazzo Cini also has a notable art collection and hosts temporary exhibitions ー ask our award-winning concierge team for more information about current events during your stay.
Eating and Drinking in Venice
So much is tailored towards the tourist industry in Venice that unique eating experiences can be hard to come by. Cannaregio is a great area for unassuming restaurants and cafes without the extortionate cover charge you’ll face near Rialto and Piazza San Marco.
Grom is by far one of the best places to go for authentic gelato and there are two in Cannaregio. Whilst this is an Italian chain that you will find in other cities like Florence, they use only the finest ingredients. On a cold November day you will not regret trying their affogato, which is a coffee or hot chocolate with gelato.
The Fondamenta Misericordia, near the Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio, is lined with trattorias and bacari (cicchetti and wine bars) like Al Timon, serving Venetian specialties. This is a slightly more youthful and casual scene with a welcoming buzz, perfect for a sophisticated aperitivo by the canalside or even a steak dinner. Here you will also find Il Paradiso Perduto, a traditional seafood tavern where you can enjoy a platter of fresh Fritto Misto and Bussolai Buranei, a type of biscuit from Burano, whilst listening to live music.
For a more elegant dining experience try Algiubagio, serving Venetian dishes with a chic and contemporary twist. Situated on Fondamenta Nove in Cannaregio, it is possible to sit out on the terrace in warmer weather and look out across the lagoon.
Discover all the secrets of the local cuisine from your own private villa near Venice or Verona. Live in luxury surrounded by the beautiful Veneto countryside, visiting Venice and its neighbouring cities like Padua and Verona by day and retreating to your own candle-lit loggia by night. Here our private chefs can rustle up traditional local dishes from fresh pasta to seafood with polenta for an intimate dining experience worth savouring.