Last Updated on December 24, 2023
Many travelers have been to – and fallen in love with – Venice. Sure, the city has overpriced gondola rides full of day-trippers with cameras plastered to their faces, but it also has extraordinary millennia-old palazzos and bridges, and quiet courtyard cafes with $20 bottles of wine and exquisite handmade pastas.
The key to enjoying Venice as a repeat visitor is to get off the typical tourist path. There, you’ll encounter far fewer crowds, and you’ll have an experience of the city that will make you remember why you loved it in the first place.
Brand g Vacations’ 2024 Venice to Malta cruise, which covers four countries in ten days, begins in magical Venice. The company is the #1 luxury operator of all-LGBT+ river cruises and land tours; and for this journey, they’ve chartered the Atlas World Traveller, a stunning luxury yacht that holds just 200 passengers.
The Venetian government continues to flirt with the idea of banning all cruise ships from the city, so now is the time. Here are Venice experiences travelers have likely never done that will add immeasurably to a Venice vacation.
Visit the nearly uninhabited island of Torcello
Most people who have been to Venice have taken a water bus over to Murano (and possibly Burano), but there are many other islands, highlighted by the almost uninhabited Torcello (also located in the Venetian lagoon). It was once home to about 20,000 residents, but today, only a dozen or so remain.
Guests can visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, with its magnificent interior mosaics, and the stunning views of nearby Burano from atop the bell tower.
Tour the Ca’Rezzonico Palazzo
The Peggy houses the exceptional Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Modern art in her onetime home on the Grand Canal. Another must-see museum on the grand palazzo is the nearby Ca’Rezzonico.
Complete with magnificent frescoes and furnishings, it houses the Museum of 18th Century Venice and – along with the Guggenheim – has wonderful views of the Grand Canal. Here you have the chance to pretend you’re a Venetian baron and get photos of just yourself standing alone in the palatial rooms. Bring a powdered wig.
Climb the Scala Contarini Del Bovolo
If you don’t mind climbing stairs (there is no elevator), this staircase is part of a palazzo just a five to ten-minute walk from San Marco that is an Instagram wet dream. As you climb the winding, multi-story staircase, the views of the city and the Grand Canal are fabulous.
Admission (to the Palazzo, which is how you get to the staircase): 8 Euros.
Tip: Avoid early afternoons. Try to go before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
Visit the Scuola Grande di San Marco
Dating back to the 13th century, this building is now a hospital, but it has a free hidden gem upstairs. When you enter, just take the stairs to the right, and you’ll find the Museum of the History of Medicine.
Ancient books line the walls, and you’ll find all kinds of interesting (and occasionally terrifying) artifacts and equipment used in medicine throughout history. Then, look up – to gaze at the truly fabulous ceiling.
St. Mark’s Basilica & Doge’s Palace After Hours Tour / Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour
These are, of course, two terribly popular Venice attractions, and if you’ve been to St. Mark’s and/or the Doge’s Palace, you probably toured them with about 5,000 other people.
The After Hours tour allows you to see and photograph these amazing monuments in the evening, with a small group of no more than six fellow guests. There will, of course, be multiple groups touring, but the crowds are infinitely smaller. It’s well worth the additional cost.
This tour includes areas unavailable to daytime tour takers and will give you a completely different experience of these magnificent buildings.
The gothic Doge’s Palace has vast areas that most tourists don’t ever see, but the Secret Itineraries Tour gets you into the palace’s archives, torture chambers (these aren’t for the faint of heart) and attic prison cells – all with smaller group, skip-the-line access. Once again, this is highly recommended (especially if you’re tight on time) and want to see the palace in a way that few others do.
Both Viator and Get Your Guide online offer after hours tours.
See the Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria
The Church of San Zaccaria is lovely, and typically over-the-top in that wonderfully Italian Catholic way. But it’s the crypt that lies below that looks like it was created for some “Indiana Jones” movie.
The crypt is permanently flooded (this isn’t one of the “depending on the water level” floods common in Venice), which gives it a really spooky atmosphere.
The Church is free to enter. You’ll pay 3 Euros to see the crypt.
Rooftops Walking Tour
If you don’t mind heights and a bit of stair climbing, this is a wonderful way to get a completely different view of Venice and its canals. You’ll get to see the city with a small group, far from the crowds below, in a truly unique walking tour that utilizes various rooftops. (To make the climbing/walking more fun, you’ll sip Prosecco.)
The tour is marvelously reviewed, and for good reason.
Food: A La Vecia Papusa
This is a hidden gem of a café/bar (the sign outside says simply, “Bar”) frequented by locals, where you can enjoy 2-Euro small plates of delicious cicchetti (Venice’s version of tapas) and stupidly inexpensive wine and wine spritzers.
There’s just about no ambience inside, so go outside like the locals and enjoy your feast alongside the canal for way more atmosphere.
Dine at a Local’s Home
If a traveler wants to experience Italian cooking in a truly non-commercial way, these tours offer that and so much more. Hosted by local Venetians in their homes (all, of course, vetted by the tour operator), these experiences are fantastically reviewed.
Enjoy a private three-hour, 4-course dinner (including wine) for a surprisingly reasonable price. This is a memory that can outlast almost any other tour you take.
Again, Viator and Get Your Guide are global, online tour operators with options to get you started on booking this Venice off the beaten path experience.
Take an LGBT Tour
Get your gay on with Gaily Tours, a local tour operator offering three LGBT-centric options, all hosted by LGBT+ or LGBT-friendly guides.
Try their 2-hour night tour that takes you through Venice’s gay and lesbian bar scene, where you’ll sample chichetti (Venetian tapas) with Prosecco and spritz.