I’m going to start this post on the most unusual things to do in Venice with an unusual fact about me – I used to hate Venice!
Okay, maybe hate is too strong of a word to use, but I really didn’t see what all of the hype was about. Everyone who had ever visited talked about how amazing it was, and just about everyone else had it high on their bucket list. But after 3 visits to the city as both a child and an adult, I still wasn’t sold. I always much preferred close-by Verona instead.
But on my 4th visit to the floating city, I gave myself the challenge of really getting under the skin of Venice. To discover it’s hidden parts beyond the gondolas and St Marks Square. To see what the locals see and eat where they eat. To find something a little bit different from the postcard-perfect image.
And guess what?
I finally fell in love with Venice!
So for those of you also looking to discover Venice off the beaten path and really see another side to one of Italy’s most famous cities, I’ve put together this guide to some of the most unique and unusual things to do in Venice so you can see the city of bridges from a different perspective too.
Venice off the beaten path
14 most unique and unusual things to do in Venice Italy
Let yourself get lost down the narrow alleyways and back streets
Probably one of the most obvious on the list but I thought I’d emphasise it anyway. One of the best ways to really see Venice off the beaten path is to quite literally stray away from the beaten path.
Venice as a city is an elaborate maze of canals, streets and alleyways, many of which are filled with osterias, trattorias, gelaterias and of course plenty of other tourists. But turn off of the busier streets surrounding the main tourist areas and this is where you’ll find Venice’s more local neighbourhoods.
Let yourself get lost down the narrow cobblestone alleyways and you’ll find yourself stumbling across charming courtyards where the residents hang washing from their windows and osterias where groups of locals sit enjoying an aperitivo while their children kick a ball around in the nearby square.
Head into the local shops which aren’t full of novelty tourist knick-knacks, buy some fresh produce from a market trader and eat at restaurants where the menus are only in Italian.
In my opinion, this is the best way to really experience authentic Venitian life.
I know this first point is a little vague but for the control freaks like me, try starting in the neighbourhoods of Cannaregio and Castello. Or if you also like learning whilst you walk, try this ‘Hidden Venice: Unusual Walking Tour‘ to explore some of the lesser-known areas alongside a local guide.
Decorate your own Venetian mask at Ca’ del Sol
The beautifully exquisite and intricately decorated Venetian masks are certainly one of Venice’s main attractions and can be found in almost every tourist shop across Venice. But if you’re looking for high-quality authentic Venetian masks rather than the cheap tourist knock-offs then there’s only one place you should go – Ca’ del Sol.
Ca’ del Sol isn’t just one of the most celebrated traditional Venetian mask and carnival costume makers in the whole of Venice, but its atelier is also the most mesmerisingly beautiful to visit.
As you walk into the shop, located the Castello district of Venice, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the abundance of colourful masks which line every wall, every countertop and even hang from every inch of the ceiling. From your more simple and dainty masks to joyful animals and the eerily haunting plague doctors, each one of Ca’ del Sol’s masks is completely original in its design.
But what really makes Ca’ del Sol one of the most unique places to visit in Venice is that you can also visit the mask makers studio to learn about the mask-making process and even trying your hand at making and decorating your very own Venetian mask using the traditional techniques.
Studio tours and mask making workshops need to be booked in advance which you can either do online or at the shop itself.
Go kayaking through Venice’s canals
Swap the classic gondola ride for a much more unusual way of exploring Venice’s canals… by kayak!
There are two main companies who offer the unusual experience of kayaking in Venice, letting you take in the sights of the floating city from a totally new and unique sea-level perspective.
‘Real Venetian Kayaks‘ offer both group and private kayaking tours of Venice during the day and by night. The tours last for 100 minutes which more than enough time to see many of Venice’s famous architectural wonders as well as some of the more hidden gems with a local Venitian guide. Plus, a nighttime kayak has to be one of the most enchanting and unusual ways of seeing Venice.
‘Venice Kayak‘ offer a range of longer daytime tours, including a 3-hour mysteries of Venice tour, a full day historic lagoon tour and a kayaking trip across to colourful Burano island (see below).
And don’t worry about your fitness level, kayaking in Venice isn’t an extreme sport. The tours all go at a leisurely pace so there’s plenty of time to admire the beautiful churches, palaces, houses and canals you’ll pass along the way while learning about the city from your knowledgable local guide.
Learn to cook Venetian food at a local cooking class
One of the best things about Italy is the food, right!? So what could be better than learning to cook like a real Italian?
Take a cooking class in Venice which starts with a tour of the famous Rialto Market with a friendly local chef. At the market, you’ll learn about its history as well as the story behind the food whilst buying seasonal ingredients to prepare and cook your authentic Italian meal.
Next, you’ll head to a typical Venetian home for a hands-on cooking class where you’ll prepare a starter, main dish (with homemade pasta) and a dessert to enjoy at the end of your class along with plenty of local wine and some lovely new friends.
Stop for a coffee at Venice’s most elegant department store
Wandering around Venice as a visitor, it’s all too easy to only head inside of the gimmicky tourist shops filled with decorative gondolas, thousands of masks and ‘I <3 Venice‘ t-shirts. But for a more authentic and unique Venice experience, be sure not to miss the more local and stylish side of Venice.
Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is the city’s largest luxury department store, however, it’s pretty easy to miss while passing casually on the street, making it one of the real hidden gems in Venice.
Even if you’re not in the market for Gucci handbags, Moschino trainers or expensive truffle-flavoured pasta, Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is still a beautiful secret spot in Venice worth a visit due to its grand central atrium which can be viewed from the balcony on each of its 5 floors or enjoyed from the elegant cafe which sits right in the middle of the impressive central room. Certainly one of the more unusual places in Venice to stop for a mid-morning coffee and pastry.
A trip to Fondaco Dei Tedeschi also isn’t complete without visiting its cool Rooftop Terrace which features a stunning and unique view over Venice. Visiting the terrace is completely free but you do have to book a time in advance.
Go shopping at Venice’s most beautiful supermarket
From the outside, this beautiful Art Nouveau neo-Gothic building in the center of Venice is still easily mistaken by most to be used for its original purpose; a theatre. However, despite the sign outside which still reads ‘Teatro Italia’, if you step inside what you’ll actually find is an unusual Despar supermarket.
The supermarket company took on the project of restoring the stunning early 20th-century building after it had been left derelict for decades, and now the old theatre hall houses aisles with products on display for sale, while the former stage has become the gourmet counter. Certainly the most unique supermarket in Venice so be sure to pop inside if you’re passing by.
Visit the colourful houses of Burano
Another of the most unique things to do in Venice is to leave the historic center on the main island and explore some of Venice’s other less-discovered islands.
One of the most beautiful of Venice’s islands and my personal favourite is the coulorful fishing town of Burano on the northern edge of the Venetian lagoon, around a 45-minute trip from St. Mark’s Square by Vaporetto (water bus).
Burano is known for its rows of charming brightly coulored houses which line the main canals and just about every other street and alleyway on the island. Isola di Burano is particularly popular with Italian artists and is also known for its historic lacemaking which is still an active industry today.
Burano can be reached by Vaporetto and is easy to wander around on your own, however, if you want to learn more about the beautiful spot you can also book a tour of Burano Island here.
Take part in a glass blowing workshop in Murano
Murano is another series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian lagoon, just a 15 minute Vaporetto ride from the historic center.
In the 13th century, all glassmakers in Venice were required to move to Murano and the island quickly became one of the main producers of glass in Europe. Over the years, the majority of the glassmakers on the island swapped quantity for quality, with Murano glass becoming a symbol of high-quality luxury around the world.
Visiting the island, it’s hard to miss the many Murano glass shops selling everything from expensive glass artwork, kitchenware and chandeliers to simpler glass jewelry and wine stoppers. You can also visit Murano Glass Museum (in Palazzo Giustinian) which holds displays on the history of glassmaking.
But the most fun and unique thing to do in Murano is visiting one of the factories and trying your hand at making glass for yourself using the traditional methods. There are several places on the island which hold interactive workshops where you can watch glass masters blowing glass before making your own ornament or piece of jewelry and decorating it using the mosaic or glass beads methods.
Pay your respects at Venice’s floating cemetery
Although wandering around a cemetery might sound a little strange, Isola di San Michele is actually one of the most beautiful and peaceful off the beaten path places to visit in Venice.
The cemetery is uniquely located on its own island in the Venetian Lagoon (hence its nickname, the floating cemetery), around a 10-minute Valporetto ride away from the main island.
San Michele has been Venice’s main cemetery since the early 1800s when bodies would be transported to the island on special funeral gondolas. The beautiful cemetery is packed tightly with impressive graves and tombs adorned with colourful flower bouquets and many with photos of the deceased.
Taking a walk through the cemetery is certainly the quietest you will ever experience Venice, with a level of peace and tranquillity not found anywhere else in the busy city.
Whilst anyone is welcome to visit San Michele, it’s important to remember that the island is a burial place not a tourist attraction, so be sure to dress appropriately (cover up a little even if it’s hot), act respectfully and don’t take photos of the graves or mourners.
Go on a cycling tour of Venice Mestre
Undoubtedly one of the most unusual things to do in Venice is to visit Venice’s mainland, a very different experience from the islands which most visitors opt for instead.
The town of Venice Mestre is a part of the region which not many tourists ever see, and while it doesn’t have the same fairytale-esque charm of the islands, it is home to a few hidden gems including the beautiful San Giuliano Park and the interesting M9 Museum.
While you might not want to spend a large amount of time on the mainland, an organised cycling tour with a local guide is a great way to see the best of this unusual part of Venice in just a few hours.
Take a Vaporetto ride at sunset
While many people opt for the more iconic and expensive traditional gondola rides, one of my favourite things to do in Venice is to instead take a Vaporetto across the lagoon at sunset.
If you’ve spent the day exploring the islands of Burano and Murano then this is a pretty easy one to tick off as you can time your ride back to the main island as the sun is setting.
Seeing the beautiful colours of a Venetian sunset over the lagoon and back over the spires of the historic city of Venice is definitely one of the most beautiful sites you’ll ever see.
Go on a night out with the locals
Another of my personal favourite non touristy things to do in Venice is to head out for drinks with the locals and experience real Venetian life in all of its spritz and prosecco fulled glory. Although Venice isn’t known for its late-night clubs, the city does have its own equally fun and unique nightlife scene.
Start with an apertivo in the late afternoon sun then move onto an osteria for Cicchetti (Venetian tapas) and a couple of glasses of wine.
Next head to one of the street bars dotted around the city which are small booths in the streets which open in the evening and usually serve a small selection of wines, beers and cocktails. There are no proper tables or chairs at the booths but people stand around in the streets and by the canals giving it a fun, sociable atmosphere.
Finally, head off the beaten track and find a few local bars where people congregate on the streets outside enjoy drinks and music into the night. Venice’s al fresco nightlife is more of a summer thing.
And if you fancy an end of the night snack, pop by one of the many windows serving delicious slices of pizza and kebabs (much better than the greasy English versions) late into the night for just a few euros.
Stay in a renovated 12th-century monastery
For one of the most unusual places to stay in Venice, check out Combo in the Cannaregio district.
Combo is located inside of a grand converted 12th century monastery which is now home to one of Venice’s most unique hotels as well as its own restaurant and cafe. The hotel is also often used as student accommodation, hence its unusual private dorm-style rooms with small kitchenettes, large communal work areas and an onsite library.
But the best part about staying at Combo has to be the large central courtyard where you can grab a coffee to sit and read in the morning sun, get some work done (if you’re travelling for business) or sit with a spritz and some Cicchetti of an evening. You’ll notice that the courtyard is very popular with locals of all ages who meet up in the courtyard to play cards, chat or enjoy a drink with friends.
Take an afternoon trip to the home of Tiramisu
If you’ve got the time and feel like taking an afternoon away from Venice, jump on the train at Venice Santa Lucia station and take the 30-minute journey to near-by Treviso.
Treviso is a relatively small city so doesn’t need more than a few hours to explore, but the quaint historic cobblestone streets and quiet canals are a peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of Venice.
Plus the main reason to visit Treviso from Venice is to eat tiramisu at the very restaurant where the uniquely Italian dessert was first invented; Ristorante Le Beccherie. Le Beccherie now offers two tiramisu’s; the classic, which uses the original recipe, and the contemporary (which is actually better than the original in my opinion).
Go Prosecco tasting in the nearby Prosecco hills
Alternatively, for wine lovers, one of the best and most unique day trips from Venice is to head to the close-by Prosecco hills.
Situated around an hour away from Venice island by train, the region between the towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano is commonly known as the Prosecco hills as it’s where the highest denomination of Prosecco – Prosecco DOCG – is produced.
On a trip to the region you can explore the beautiful vineyards, visit a few of the wineries to learn about the Prosecco making process, and, most importantly, drink plenty of amazing Prosecco!
Check out my full article on how to visit Italy’s Prosecco region here, including how to book a Prosecco driver to pick you up from the station and take you around the best wineries.
Visiting the Veneto region of Italy? Also check out my other posts:
- How to spend one day in Verona
- Where to find the best authentic local cuisine in Verona
- How to visit Veneto’s Prosecco hills
Or if you’re heading just north of Veneto to the Trentino region, don’t miss:
- 10 reasons you need to visit Trentino – Italy’s secret mountainous escape
- A guide to the Trento Christmas Market – northern Italy’s magical ‘Christmas Town’
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