Escape the Crowds in the Backwaters of Venice

Escape the Crowds in the Backwaters of Venice

Venice is divided into six historic sestieri, each with its own character and hidden gems. Once you’ve taken a trip down the Grand Canal and tired of the crowded attractions around San Marco why not strike out on your own backstreet adventure and see what you can find.


Venice is tailor-made for exploring on foot. From the scenic waterfront Molo where gondolas, tugs and other working boats line up for business, pick your way through the souvenir stalls and duck beneath the covered passageway following the signs to San Zaccaria. In no time you will emerge in the quiet campo (square) beside the church of San Zaccaria and your journey of discovery begins. Warrens of cart-wide alleyways and side canals connect hidden squares where tiny bacari (bars) serve chilled Italian wine and unidentified cicchetti (Venetian tapas).


Exploring at your own pace, look up at the weathered gargoyles and grand ornamentation that decorates these old merchant houses, schoolhouses, churches and museums. It’s easy to lose yourself in this delightful living history museum, especially as there are few street signs. However, there is always a local boatman sorting his fishing nets or an elderly housewife returning from the local market who will direct you to the nearest church to help you re-orientate yourself.

One area that is crammed with history is the Castello. Make your way to the Church of San Zipoli, the Pantheon of Venice as the final resting place of the Doges. Further east is the Arsenale, the old shipyard, with its entrance decorated by stone lions and a Triumphal Arch plundered from Athens.

Further on, you will find a quiet green campo which was once the site of the original castello (castle). Now occupied by the 16th century San Pietro di Castello Church and remarkable campanile (bell tower), you can quietly appreciate this former cathedral of Venice.

Another district ripe for exploring is the Dorsoduro. Begin on the Zattere quayside, admiring the local galleries and artworks. Turn along by the Rio di San Trovaso to view the last surviving gondola workshops, once a flourishing trade here. Weave in and out of backstreets and squares towards the Punta della Dogana, passing behind the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim. Eventually you will reach the baroque Church of Santa Maria della Salute with its surprising grey and white interior lit up by the priceless artworks of Tintoretto and Titian.

Cross ancient worn footbridges, enter cool dark churches with faded frescoes and aged-darkened artworks and smile at strangers as you explore this labyrinthine city. Capture special moments on camera and take time to sit and people-watch at an open-air café while sipping an authentic cappuccino. These are the moments that memories are made of.


About gillianbirch

Greetings from your international roving reporter! Based in beautiful Cornwall UK, I am a freelance travel writer and published author of several travel books. As the wife of a Master Mariner, I have travelled extensively and lived in exotic locations all over the world including the Far East, Europe, Australia and the Republic of Panama. I would describe myself as having “endless itchy feet and an insatiable wanderlust”, as I continue to explore Europe, Florida and further afield, writing about my experiences with humour and attention to detail. BTW, I have a Diploma from the British College of Journalism and am a member of the International Travel Writers’ Alliance and the Gulf Coast Writers’ Association.
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