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Five ‘secret’ places in Venice you need to visit

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Five ‘secret’ places in Venice you need to visit
St Mark's square, the Doge's Palace (left) and the church of San Giorgio Maggiore (rear) captured as the sun rises over Venice. Photo by Marco SABADIN / AFP

Venice’s most popular sights can get hopelessly crowded in high season, but there are some hidden attractions where you can escape the tourist crush.


With its artistic grandeur and spellbinding atmosphere, Venice is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy.

But, as in the case of all other major art cities in the country, its most popular attractions tend to get extremely crowded during the warm months, with their congestion issues being nearly as famous as their artworks.

Luckily, if you’re not a fan of long queues and packed tours, Venice has no shortage of hidden gems which generally attract smaller numbers of visitors but are just as enjoyable as some of the more popular sights.

Marvel at the largest canvas in the world in Saint Pantaleon’s Church

As ordinary as it may look from outside, Saint Pantaleon’s Church, in the southeastern Dorsoduro district, is anything but on the inside. 

The 17th-century building, whose facade was never completed, is home to prestigious works by Renaissance painters including Paolo Veronese and Paolo Veneziano.

But the church’s most remarkable feature lies overhead as a 443-square-metre canvas depicting the martyrdom of Saint Pantaleon covers the entire ceiling.  

The painting – Gian Antonio Fiumani’s magnum opus – is to this day the largest decorated canvas in the world.

Enjoy the breathtaking view from San Giorgio Maggiore’s bell tower

The bell tower of Saint Mark’s Basilica (commonly known as Campanile di San Marco) is generally considered the best place to get a panoramic view of Venice and the surrounding lagoon. But, unbeknownst to many, the world-famous campanile has a worthy rival in town. 

Standing 75 metres tall, the bell tower of the San Giorgio Maggiore church offers a 360-degree vista of the city that’s just as impressive as the view from its popular local brother. 

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And while the San Giorgio bell tower cannot be reached on foot – a five-minute water bus journey from San Zaccaria will take you there – waiting times to get to the top are generally very short.


Explore the city’s Jewish neighbourhood 

Located in the northern Cannaregio district, away from the most popular tourist routes, Venice’s Jewish neighbourhood (still known locally as ghetto ebraico, or ‘Jewish ghetto’) is one of the most evocative places in town as it encapsulates over 500 years of history and tradition.

The area, which is where the city of Venice forced Jewish residents to live from the early 16th to the late 18th century, is to this day the fulcrum of the local Jewish community, with family-run shops and kosher restaurants lining its streets.

The district is also home to Venice’s Jewish Museum and five historic synagogues, all of which are open to visitors.

Relax on the San Francesco nel Deserto island

While you may know about Burano and its colourful houses, San Francesco nel Deserto, just south of Burano, is largely overlooked by locals as well as international visitors. 


Named after Saint Francis, who spent a long period of meditation on the island after his return from the Holy Land, San Francesco nel Deserto is an oasis of peace and tranquillity that has no parallel in the Venetian lagoon.

Known for its cluster pine and cypress groves, the island is also home to a Franciscan monastery, which is open to visitors most days of the week.

Squeri: behind the scenes of gondola-making

You may be well familiar with the sight of black gondolas gliding over the calm waters of Venice’s canals, but do you know how the landmark boats are made and who makes them? 

You can find out by visiting a local squero, a traditional boatyard where experienced shipwrights and their apprentices use as many as eight different types of wood to build the flat-bottomed vessels.

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The San Trovaso and Tramontin squeri are both open to visitors, though all visits must be booked in advance. After all, you wouldn’t want to disrupt the workflow, would you?


Bonus item: Artsy grocery shopping at the local Despar 

Though it couldn’t possibly be classed as a tourist attraction, this Venetian branch of the popular Despar supermarket chain is guaranteed to give you a rather unique (and artistic) grocery shopping experience. 

Located in the Cannaregio district, the supermarket sits inside a former cinema. But it’s not exactly an ordinary cinema we’re talking about here, as its walls and ceilings are embellished by frescoes and stucco decorations.


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