On my many visits to Venice I have learnt that there are two cities: one is overrun by throngs of camera-clicking tourists and the other one is quiet with empty squares (called “campi”) and locals going on about their daily business. Guess which one I prefer? Getting lost in narrow lanes and crossing hundreds of bridges, I have discovered some of the best spots and views of the city, without the maddening crowds and astronomical prices.
Rich Rooftop Views
While everyone climbs the Clock Tower on St. Mark’s square or goes to the Rialto Bridge, turn to a small street to enter the new luxury store Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Skip the shops and head up to the fourth floor’s exhibition space where the entrance to the rooftop is located. Take a breath and step out to one of the best views over the city.
I love spending some time there, studying the Venice’s skyline guided by the displays that explain the main sights visible from up there. The best part? There are rarely more than a dozen or two of people, so you will always find a spot to admire the view and look down at the crowds on the nearby Rialto Bridge.
Bang-for-Buck Boat Trip
Gliding along the Venetian canals in gondola is romantic and pricey. There is another option, loved by locals: traghetto da parada (ferry skiff) which takes you across the Grand Canal. I hopped on one near the church of San Tomà and enjoyed the six-minute ride for less than $6.
The large long gondola is operated by to gondolier and passengers stand on the boat during the ride. There are few experiences in the city that get more Venetian than that! You can find the ferry skiff links at San Marcuola – Fóndaco dei Turchi, Santa Maria del Giglio – Salute (near the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute), San Barnaba – San Samuele.
Great Masters in the Grand Church
Many churches in Venice remain overlooked by visitors. The grandiose Baroque Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta in Canareggio is one of them. Inside I found a magnificent collection of paintings and trompe l’oeil sculptures.
Entry is free and you can marvel at works by great masters Titian and Tintoretto without jostling crowds as there’s rarely more than a handful of in-the-know locals wandering inside. The café in the restored Jesuit monastery nearby is also worth a visit as the prices are reasonable and the setting is magnificent.
A Secret Hideaway…with Breathtaking Balcony Views
In the 18th century, when the Italian adventurer (and notorious womaniser!) Giacomo Casanova went gallivanting about, he frequented so called casini, opulent private salons where the local aristocracy met to dance, flirt and gamble.
One of the most famous, Casino Venier, is open to public, free of charge. Today it is home to French cultural centre L’Alliance Francaise. I rang the doorbell, pushed an old heavy wooden door and walked up the dimly lit stairs. I was the only visitor with a few French language students and the staff sitting in the splendid surroundings of the historic building with marble floors, frescoed ceilings, colourful stucco and old weathered Murano mirrors. I stepped out on the tiny balcony overlooking the Barateri Canal and a small bridge overflowing with crowds of people rushing past unaware of such a gem sitting right in the middle of a busy tourist area.
Images: © Anna Lebedeva
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