“Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it, Italy.”
– Robert Browning
Venice is a treasure on its own, but sometimes it can become overcrowded and very touristy. She can leave you overwhelmed and suffocated at times with outstanding high prices. However, take the pressure off seeing absolutely everything and take time to appreciate what you do see.
Luckily, while I was nursing a small hangover one weekend while studying abroad, I decided to wander the city and explore other areas it had to offer. Getting lost in Venice is part of the whole experience of this beautiful city and you always end up finding all sorts of charming places along the way!
Here is my ‘must-see’ hidden treasures list for Venice
1- Aqua Alta Libreria Bookshop
Located: Calle Santa Maria Formosa – Venice, Italy
The Aqua Alta Library, which literally means “library of high water”, was in the Top Ten of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries List according to the English BBC network. This quaint little book store was found by complete accident while wandering the city on the weekend. Again, this is not an easy place to find, making it that much more special.
This is NOT your typical library bookstore. If you go there looking for a specific book…. Good Luck! Will you find a good book here? Possibly. Guarded by sleepy cats, the mountains of books are piled on shelves vertically and stacked in bathtubs and gondolas to save them from unexpected floods. It’s absolute chaos inside with books absolutely everywhere and in no apparent order. Amongst the madness, there is a staircase made entirely out of worn-out books leading to a fantastic view of the canal. They even have a fire exit opening up to the canal with a hanging pair of flippers on the wall where you can sit and look through your latest find. My only regret is that I didn’t bring my DSLR camera to take pictures of all the eccentric finds.
There is no rhyme or reason….. except that it’s quirky and fun!
Check it out on Instagram for more photos or visit this website for more information.
The owner is very friendly and extremely proud of his collection,
Go say Bonjourno 🙂
2- Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta To-Go
Located: Calle de la Casseleria, 5324 – Venice, Italy
This place was actually recommended to us by local post-secondary Italian students while studying abroad. It didn’t look like much from the outside but the line out the door indicated this was the place to be. Don’t be put off if there is a queue outside this small little restaurant, it is definitely worth a short wait. The pasta is made fresh daily at a very reasonable cost. The pasta is very good, and because they serve it quickly in take-out containers in generous portions, it’s ideal for when you want to keep exploring. Take your box and eat it with a view of one of the canals or squares around the city. There are many steps located around the city to pop a squat and enjoy the amazing goodness.
The staff are very friendly and helpful….. especially when you attempt your very butchered Italian. Please keep in mind how you pronounce certain words…. you could end up saying something that makes everyone laugh. How Canadians pronounce “penne” is far different from how the Italians pronounce this type of pasta. Long story short, the menu was all in Italian and I only recognized a few words. When it was my turn, I confidently asked for Penne Alfredo in my best Italian accent. Well…. the staff member started laughing along with some of the Italian students. He stops laughing and in perfect English says they don’t serve that there. He proceeded to punch in my order and one of the students quietly informed me that I asked for Penis Alfredo. Oh well…. Live and learn I guess.
3- La Bottega dei Mascareri
Located: San Polo 80 – Ponte di Rialto – Venice, Italy
Finding a mask in Venice is anything but difficult but finding quality handmade masterpieces is another story. La Bottega dei Mascareri is not difficult to find as it is located on the famous Ponte di Rialto. Sergio and Massimo Boldrin are the most talented and famous mask making brothers in Venice. They have revived of the lost art of mask making and truly created elegance in their masterpieces. You can meet the world-renowned artists and view their high-quality hand-made masks at their shop. Their store is not large, but it is full of wonder and colour the minute you step through the door. Many of the masks are made in the style of traditional characters from the Commedia dell’ arte such as Pantalone, Arlecchino, and Zanni. Their theatrical masks have been featured in many festivals, fashion shows and films including the Stanley Kubrick thriller, Eyes Wide Shut. The shop has been featured in a wide variety of newspaper and magazine articles as well, including the New York Times, The Boston Globe, L.A. Times and many, many more.
My experience with Sergio was …… intimidating at first. To be honest, he seemed irritable because I was asking about prices. By the third mask, he asked if I was from Canada. He was the first man I’ve ever met while travelling who preferred Americans to Canadians. As a curious critical thinking business student, I was intrigued why. Apparently, Americans aren’t as price conscious as Canadians who tend to be more frugal when it comes to money. I definitely wasn’t offended. from a business standpoint, I understand where he was coming from. I proceeded to inform him that Canadians are going through a tough recession the last couple of years and that I was a starving student who had limited room in her backpack. It was fantastic because I came to Italy to learn about different cultural stereotypes and perceptions. It was refreshing to hear something different from “every Canadians must live in Igloos” and our two most famous Justins. By the end of our discussion, he offered to sign my mask and take a picture with me.
If you want something generic and common then this is not the place for you. If you desire something special and unique with an amazing story, then I highly recommend that you don’t miss this treasure shop.
4- Rialto Bridge and Market
Located: Ruga degli Orefici (Rialto), 30125 – Venice, Italy
The Rialto Market is located in the north-west of the Rialto Bridge which divides the districts of San Marco and San Polo. The market location is alongside the Grand Canal to the right behind the souvenir stalls. This area has been the historical heart of Venice where it all began with the early settlers since 1067. Today, it is still the commercial hub of Venice where the market is open daily for the last thousand years.
5- Cannaregio district
Venice is divided into six districts, each with its own personality …San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio, and Castello. The Cannaregio and Castello neighbourhoods are not as populated and crowded as San Polo or San Marco. Not only will you get better photos of canals, these neighbourhoods house more locals and provide a more authentic experience. In Cannaregio, you can learn about the Jewish ghetto, shop with the locals, find crafts and vintage goods as souvenirs, and visit the Ca d’Oro Palace.
This way you can spend a few hours getting to know the real Venice without the crowds and gimmicks. To learn more about what to see and do in Cannaregio, visit the culture Trip for 10 things to do and see in this amazing district.
While writing this blog post, I found an interesting website called THE ATLAS OBSCURA GUIDE TO Hidden Venice and discover 15 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Venice, Italy. If and when I go back I’m definitely checking out some of these other places. My best advice is to buy a map, comfortable shoes, a pocket translator (or google translate) and plan on getting lost.
Let me know what were your favourite non-touristy places to visit in Venice in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for reading!