The city of Venice exudes a magical atmosphere. It’s an absolutely unique place in the world: not only for its unique urban structure – consisting of hundreds of islands separated by channels and connected by bridges –, but also because of its artistic and historic heritage. Each year, the city is crowded by millions of tourists, attracted by its wonderful attractions, such as Piazza San Marco, with the splendid Basilica and the Camapanile, or the elegant Doge’s Palace.
However, apart from those major attractions of Venice that almost everyone knows, the historic centre is full of monuments, churches and hidden places of interest that tourists usually miss.
If you’d like to be guided on a fascinating journey through the history, art and traditions of the lesser-known Venice, then this is the article for you. Here is a list of 5 (+1) places that we, at ItalyXP, believe that no tourist should ever miss!
This lesser known Venice attraction, hidden in the maze of alleys and canals, is a splendid architectural example of mixture between Renaissance, Gothic and Byzantine style.
Located near the area of Campo Manin, this delightful palace was built in 1499 by architect Giovanni Candi as one of the residence of the Contarini family.
The building is mostly famous for its external spiral staircase, adorned by open crystal white arches and thin columns, leaning on the façade. Similar to sort of cylindrical tower, the stairs lead to an arcade, providing a breathtaking panoramic view over the picturesque roof-tops of the city.
Its name, Contarini del Bovolo, is derived from its particular shape, as “bovolo” in Venetian dialect means “snail’s shell”. Not surprisingly, the Contarini family was nicknamed “Bovolo” right after the construction of the staircase.
The best way to visit the Contarini del Bovolo Palace and its spiral stairs is with a guided tour that will reveal all the fascinating legends surrounding it. Don’t miss this singular architectural gem that looks like something out of a romance novel.
Originally known as Palazzo Santa Sofia, this hidden treasure is one of the older and most marvelous of all the palaces lined with theGrand Canal. It has been commonly known as Ca' d'Oro (house of gold) due to the golden decorations that once adorned its façade.
Besides its stunning external beauty, the Ca’ d’Oro has had a great importance in the history of Venice: it was built between 1428 and 1430 for the Contarini family, which was extremely influential at the time, producing eight governors over the centuries.
Designed by Giovanni Bon and his son Bartolomeo Bon, it is constructed in the Venetian floral gothic style, which typifies most of the creations of the two architects. This particular style is recognizable especially in the arches of the balconies, decorated with delicatearchitectural details. There is also a colonnaded loggia that gives direct access to the palace from the water, so that the residents could drift into their home by boat. But although the façade is certainly the most impressive of all its features, the palace is filled with hidden details to be discovered both in the exterior and interior.
Today, the Ca’ d’Oro is open to the public, and it houses a vast art gallery featuring masterpieces by the greatest Venetian artists, such as Carpaccio, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, as well as a number of other non-Venetian artists. If you are in Venice, we strongly recommend paying a visit to this amazing place, even from a boat tour of the Grand Canal.
Just like the Ca’ d’Oro (n°2 on this list), also the Ca’ Rezzonico is located right on the Grand Canal, fiercely standing with its regal figure.
Built in the 17th century in Baroque style, the Ca’ Rezzonico is one of the finest and most visited palaces in all of Venice. In 1751 it was bought by the Rezzonico, a noble Venetian family, who involved the best painters working in Venice to adorn the palace with frescoes and decorations. Over the centuries, the residence was owned by famous people such as the English poet Robert Browning that spent there the last years of his life.
Today the Ca’ Rezzonico houses the Museum of the 18th Century Venice andis part of the Venetian Civic Museums. The museum is definitely worth a visit, as you can admire a large collection of sculptures and paintings from the greatest artists of the 18th century. But apart from that, the building itself is a pleasure to explore, through its different halls, ancient furniture and ceiling frescoes
You can admire the majesty the Ca' Rezzonico navigating along the Grand Canal with a boat tour or a gondola tour, but if you want to visit its interior the Museum is open to the public every month of the year from 10:00 to 18:00, and the cost of the ticket is 6.50€.
Founded in 1260 for humanitarian purposes, the Scuola Grande di San Marco was the most influential and wealthy of the six Venetian confraternities, which are Catholic organizations that played an important role in the religious and social life of Venice.
Originally housed in a Gothic building that burned to the ground in the 15th century, the Scuola Grande di San Marco was transferred in 1437 where it stands today (right beside the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo), although the construction of the building was completed only in 1480.
Over the centuries the structure has undergone numerous fires that have severely damaged it, with consequently reconstructions: after each restoration, the building became more majestic, as testified by the prominent Renaissance façade, filled with countless decorations, sculptures and bas-reliefs, which occupies a prominent spot in Venice, facing the Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, one of the largest squares in the city.
Until 1808 the Scuola Grande di San Marco served as a headquarters for the confraternity, but in 1819 it became a civic hospital and has been used as such till today. No one would imagine finding a hospital within a building so opulent and architecturally sumptuous. Yet, in Venice, even health institutions operate inside buildings with historical and artistic value.
In the second floor, the building houses the Museum of the History of Medicine and the historic Library of Medicine: open to the public from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9:30 to 17:00.
Born in Venice in 1254 into a family of merchants, Marco Polo can be considered as the world’s best-known Venetian and perhaps the most famous explorer of all time. In 1271 he departed to Beijing with his uncle Matteo and his father Niccolò, to meet the Emperor of China. His trip lasted over 24 years, and although his return was celebrated and honored, in 1298 he was made prisoner by the Genoese army. The chronicle of his journey became a book known as "The Million", in which Marco Polo described his journey to the East and the stay in China, making astonish the world at that time.
The city of Venice has remained grateful to this great traveler, calling its international airport “Marco Polo”. And if you too want to pay homage to this illustrious personality, you can have a visit to his former home (unfortunately, at present day, it remains unknown the buried place of Marco Polo, so we should go for his home!).
The Home of Marco Polo is located three minutes on foot from the Rialto Bridge, in the Cannaregio district. The original structure was completely destroyed and on the same site today stands a theatre, so all you can see is nothing more than some Venetian architectural element present in the courtyard and the façade with an inscription indicating “Here was the House of Marco Polo”.
Definitely not the most shocking attraction of Venice, but considering how Venetians are proud of this place, it’s worth to make a brief stop here during your guided tour of the historic centre, even just to listen some interesting stories about his life.
One of the most original bookshops in the world is located in the centre of Venice. The Libreria Acqua Alta, is definitely the only place on earth where you will find a huge selection of books, new and used, arranged in those kind of shelves: boats, gondolas, canoes, bathtubs and everywhere it is possible to insert them. And the books are not just to buy but some of them have been transformed into veritable objects of furniture. The old encyclopedias, those who nobody buys anymore, can become steps to an amazing staircase, or cover the walls of the outer courts, transforming them into colorful surfaces. To complete the furnishings are also poles, oars, dummies.
The owner of the Libreria Acqua Alta, Luigi Frizzo, opened this enchanted place about ten years ago and it slowly turned out to be a success among both locals and tourists. Surely the ambience and atmosphere combine to make the place fascinating and mysterious, but also the huge selection of books in all languages do their part.
In short, the Libreria Acqua Alta can be safely regarded as one of the wonders of Venice: a must see, just a few steps from the Saint Mark Square, for those who love to read and for those who want to know the city through the many individual activities that comprise it!