How to Get Off the Tourist Trail in Venice

Visit Piazza San Marco after dark, explore the outer islands like Giudecca and San Giorgio, and support the city’s glassmakers, lace makers, and other artisans.

Grand Canal, Venice, with one vaporetto and one speedboat

Venice is justifiably popular, but there are several strategies for avoiding the crowds: by choosing the right time of year to visit, exploring further afield, and following tips from people who live there.

Photo by Laura Itzkowitz

La Serenissima, the City of Canals, Queen of the Adriatic—whatever you want to call it, Venice is one of the most enchanting cities not just in Italy but also in the world. I live a few hours away in Rome, but every time I return to Venice I feel its magnetic pull. Unfortunately, that pull is so strong that it risks overwhelming the fragile city. It’s no secret that Venice has been combatting overtourism for years. The city banned large cruise ships from entering the lagoon in 2021 and a much-discussed fee for day-trippers to enter the city and a limit on the size of tour groups will finally be implemented this year.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to Venice, but you have to be a bit strategic about it—both for the city’s sake and your own. (Feeling like a sardine crammed into a narrow calle blocked by tour groups herded around by flag-toting guides is certainly no fun.) The best way to experience Venice is to go during the low season, roughly from November through March. I went in November 2023 and found fewer tourists and better weather than in the busy summer months.

There’s also a lot more to Venice than such popular spots as Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. The city is shaped like a fish, with the Grand Canal running through it like a backwards S. The farther you go from the Grand Canal, the more the crowds thin out, allowing you to glimpse a quieter side of the city. Better yet, leave the main island behind and venture out to the smaller islands in the lagoon. Here’s how to enjoy the magic of Venice without the masses.

The lobby of the Violino d'Oro hotel.

The Violino d’Oro hotel is a boutique 32-room hotel in the heart of the city.

Courtesy of Violino d’Oro

Experience Piazza San Marco the right way

You can’t go to Venice without seeing Piazza San Marco—the iconic square that’s practically a symbol of the city. But it’s also ground zero for hordes of tourists. “It’s nice to go to San Marco in the evening when the bars and shops close and there are a lot less tourists,” says Elena Micheluzzi, a born-and-raised Venetian and one of the sisters behind Micheluzzi Glass, one of the studios keeping the art of traditional glassmaking alive by collaborating with a furnace in Murano to produce tumblers, vases, and other glass objects that they finish and sell in their gallery in Dorsoduro. She recommends booking an evening visit to the Basilica di San Marco, the church containing dazzling Byzantine mosaics. And if you want to go see the Rialto, she suggests going to the market when it opens at 7:30 a.m., right after the fishermen have brought in the catch of the day; you might see chefs shopping for the fresh vegetables they’ll cook up for lunch.

Sara Maestrelli, the young hotelier behind the recently opened Violino d’Oro, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World only five minutes from Piazza San Marco, recommends visiting in November, December, or January, calling the latter “the most deserted, foggy, and mysterious month in Venice.” She notes, “Keep in mind that some restaurants might be closed in January, but those empty alleys with thick fog on the black and gold canals is priceless.”

Lighthouse with broad horizontal red and white stripes on the beach of Lido di Jesolo near Venice

Take a vaporetto (or water bus) to one of Venice’s 100+ islands for a calmer experience.

Photo by Yuriy Biryukov/Shutterstock

Visit the outer islands

Most tourists stick to the well-worn streets and canals of the main island, but the Venetian lagoon contains more than 100 small islands; the most important are accessible by vaporetti (the waterbuses that ply the canals). Aside from the most famous islands, like Murano (known for its many glassmaking furnaces) and Burano (the fishermen’s island with a history of lace making where all the buildings are painted bright colors), there are lots of other little islands to explore. Giudecca, for example, is opposite the Zattere in Dorsoduro, one of the six sestieri (i.e., historic districts) on the main island. “On the shore, there’s the Basilica del Santissimo Redentore, the famous church by Palladio celebrated with the Festa del Redentore in July,” Micheluzzi says.

She also recommends the Isola di San Giorgio, explaining that it’s “in front of San Marco but far from the crowds,” and noting that it’s home to the Fondazione Giorgio Cini (a cultural institution focused on the arts, music, and humanities) and the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, whose bell tower has the highest viewpoint in Venice. To learn more about glassmaking in the 20th and 21st centuries, you can visit Le Stanze del Vetro, an exhibition space run as a joint venture between the Cini Foundation and Pentagram Stiftung. Also on San Giorgio is La Compagnia della Vela, which organizes regattas and runs a sailing school with short two- to four-day courses that travelers can join.

Although Venice is known for its artistic riches and historic architecture, it also has places for nature lovers. Take Lido, for example—the only island in the Venetian lagoon with a sandy beach where you can swim. Micheluzzi notes that you can go for a bike ride to the WWF Oasis Dunes of the Alberoni, a protected 395-acre natural oasis with a 10-mile bike path and a lighthouse. Maestrelli recommends visiting the little island of Pellestrina near Lido—home to the Ca’ Roman nature reserve—and staying for a sunset dinner at Ristorante Da Nane.

TheInterior hallway of Casa Museo Querini Stampalia, with marble, a large glass chandelier, and small busts, and painted high ceiling

The Casa Museo Querini Stampalia offers guided tours every Sunday morning.

Photo by Loris Casonato Photography

Consider lesser-known alternatives

While all the tourists line up to get into the Doge’s Palace, the Basilica di San Marco, Galleria dell’Accademia, and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, there are ample under-the-radar museums, churches, and other attractions that don’t draw huge crowds. Consider visiting these alternative sites.


On my most recent trip to Venice, I visited Palazzo Grassi, one of the homes of the Pinault Collection, which organizes modern and contemporary art exhibitions in an 18th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal. (The same ticket will get you into Punta della Dogana, the other seat of the Pinault Collection in Venice.) Micheluzzi recommends Ca’ Rezzonico, the museum dedicated to the 1700s, and its gardens. She also suggests visiting the Museo Fortuny, which houses early 20th-century artist and designer Mariano Fortuny’s studio, the Casa Museo Querini Stampalia and Gardens of Carlo Scarpa, and the Negozio Olivetti, the showroom for Olivetti typewriters designed by midcentury architect Carlo Scarpa.

Exterior of Scuola Grande di San Rocco, with arched windows and doorway; about a dozen people sitting on its steps

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco building remains almost untouched since its construction in the mid-1400s.

Photo by ArTono/Shutterstock

Churches and religious buildings

Beyond the museums, there’s a wealth of Renaissance art inside the city’s churches and religious buildings by the Venetian masters Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto. During my stay at Violino d’Oro, Maestrelli brought me to see the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a lay confraternity covered in more than 60 monumental paintings by Tintoretto, and it was almost empty. We also visited Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which contains the tomb of sculptor Antonio Canova as well as works by Titian and Bellini. Micheluzzi recommends the Church of San Pantalon, which contains the world’s largest ceiling painting on canvas.


“I love to find some peace during hot summer days behind San Marco in the Giardini Reali,” says Maestrelli. She notes that there are many hidden gardens in Venice, like the Gardens of the Scuola Grande della Misericordia. Micheluzzi recommends the rose gardens at San Francesco della Vigna, a Franciscan convent in Castello, the sestiere where the Venice Biennale takes place.

Overhead view of food on dark green plate, with glass of white wine at Corte Sconta restaurant

The menu at Corte Sconta comprises clams, shrimp, octopus, tuna—and lots of great pasta.

Photo by Anna Ambrosi

Eat where the locals eat

With about 30 million tourists visiting per year and an estimated population of 257,777, it might seem impossible to find authentic restaurants that cater to locals rather than tourists, but with a bit of effort, you can do it. When in doubt, ask the concierge at your hotel where they goes to eat in their free time, not where they tell hotel guests to go.

For example, Maestrelli brought me to Enoteca Schiavi, a no-frills wine bar in Dorsoduro for cicchetti. We chose a bunch of small bites from the counter and ate them on paper plates perched on the stone wall overlooking the canal outside the bar. For dinner she recommends Osteria Al Bacareto, which has been serving traditional Venetian dishes like baccalà mantecato (whipped salted cod) and sarde in saor (sardines in sweet and sour sauce) since 1971.

Micheluzzi recommends Corte Sconta, which sources seafood from the Rialto Market and vegetables from the island of Sant’Erasmo, and Al Covo, run by a husband-and-wife team (he’s Italian, she’s American) who adhere to the Slow Food movement. Both are in Castello, which tends to be a bit quieter than San Marco.

Two women n jeans in glassmking studio (L); shelves of colorful Micheluzzi Glass bowls

Pick up unique vases and glassware at Micheluzzi Glass, which is run by sisters Elena and Margherita Micheluzzi.

Photos by Bianca Vannucchi

Support local artisans

Skip the tourist shops hawking cheap, industrially produced “Murano glass” objects, and seek out the artists and artisans who are struggling to keep this tradition alive. Aside from Micheluzzi Glass, which has a gallery in Dorsoduro, the studios to visit in Murano are Orovetro, Vetreria Venier, and Berengo Studio, which collaborates with contemporary artists.

For textiles, Micheluzzi recommends Tessiture Luigi Bevilacqua, one of the last remaining artisanal weaving workshops left in Venice that still produces velvet fabrics using 18th-century looms. To buy authentic handmade lace from one of the last remaining ateliers that still makes it, head over to Martina Vidal on the colorful island of Burano. Another artisan shop that Micheluzzi recommends is Signor Blum, which makes whimsical wooden puzzles.

Stay in a hotel, not an Airbnb

Though Airbnb has always marketed itself as a way to experience a destination like a local, in Venice the home-sharing platform is driving up the price of housing and squeezing locals out of the city. If you want to support Venice and Venetians, stay in a hotel that employs locals and supports the city’s economy.

The aforementioned Violino d’Oro is a design lover’s dream with an eclectic mix of contemporary art and midcentury design in a location that’s perfect for those who want to stay in the center of the action and have easy access to Piazza San Marco at night, after the crowds have dispersed. If you’d prefer a quieter location, consider the glamorous Belmond Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca Island or San Clemente Palace Kempinski, which occupies its own private island. Both hotels have a boat that ferries guests to and from Piazza San Marco.

Take a gondola ferry

A standard gondola ride costs €90 for 30 minutes during the day or €110 at night, but there’s a money-saving hack that the locals use. At a few designated points in the city, you can catch a gondola ferry to cross the Grand Canal for just €2. The ride only lasts a few minutes, but it’s the fastest way to cross at points where there’s no bridge or vaporetto stop.

Laura Itzkowitz is a freelance journalist based in Rome with a passion for covering travel, arts and culture, lifestyle, design, food, and wine.
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