Off The Beaten Path on a Self-Guided Venice Walking Tour
Whether you know it as "La Serenissima", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", “City of Canals”, “The Floating City", or “The Sinking City”, Venice, Italy may be the most memorable city you’ll ever visit in your lifetime. There's just no other place like it in the world by far. But it goes deeper than the famous Venice landmarks and streets of water. There's enough history and culture that flows through the city streets and canals to keep you busy for years, but we wanted to see it in a few days - so we arranged for a half-day guided Venice walking tour with our friends from Italian Days, and spent several more days exploring on our own. This self-guided walking tour loop was created by Travlinmad from the best of both!
And if you love interesting factoids like How many wood pilings are there in Venice? (over 30 million!), eating your way through the cicchetti bars on a Venice food tour, shopping for artisan masks or blown glass from Murano, or dining with locals - a guided walking tour is a great way to discover the highlights of a city like Venice that can be challenging to navigate on your own. Go with a guide your first time out, then go back to the places you loved to explore more on your own.
Venice Walking Tour
Route (2.75 mi / 4.5 km)
Distance: This self-guided walking tour loop is 2.8 miles / 4.5 km long. The Libreria Acqua Alta is the half-way point of the walk, to the far right of the map . Walk half the loop or do the full tour - either way, it’s a great way to spend the day exploring the less-trodden areas of Venice.
Start/End Point: The tour begins and ends at the Accademia Bridge near the Gallerie dell'Accademia in the Dorsoduro neighborhood. Begin at the gondola stand and follow the Calle Contarini Corfu northwest toward the Rio de San Trovaso canal. Cross over the first bridge to the Calle della Toletta.
Follow Calle della Toletta north toward Campo San Toma, stopping for cappuccino along the way
From Campo San Toma head north to Campo San Polo, then to the Campo San Silvestro, and the Rialto Market, the oldest fish and produce market in Venice
From the Rialto Market, cross over the Rialto Bridge for a stop at one of Venice's sweetest pasticcerias, Bar Pasticceria Ballerin.
Walk on Calle Scaleta crossing two bridges to Calle Borgolocco.
Turn left on Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa. At the end to your left you'll find one of the coolest bookstores in the world, Libreria Acqua Alta. This is the half way point of the walk. Continue on through the heart of San Marco, without hitting the crowds. Wind your way through interesting historic neighborhoods back to the Accademia Bridge!
Calle della Toletta
Follow the Calle della Toletta past these buildings to the Piazza San Toma. There's an ATM machine right here if you need to pick up cash for the day.
As we walked, we noticed small circular reliefs on the sides of buildings, some more weathered than others. These are patere from the 12th-14th centuries - the original street art. They originated from Byzantine culture and are the oldest type of public art. We didn’t count them, but there are 482 of them in Venice alone. The form we saw most often was an eagle eating the head of a rabbit, an interesting symbol of good over evil and believed to protect the house from evil spirits. We just may have to get one for our house!
Campo San Toma
Our first stop was in a quiet old neighborhood of Campo San Toma. It may not be on the list of the main things to see in Venice but it’s quite charming. With the 18th century San Tommaso church and the headquarters for the shoemakers’ guild here which dates to the 15th century, it’s also very historic.
Along the way to our next stop we passed Carlo Goldoni's House situated in a small 14th century palace with a beautiful little courtyard behind an iron gate. Goldoni was a Venetian playwright who lived here in the 18th century. Today It’s a museum and library of theater arts.
Campo San Polo
Small shops line almost every street and alleyway along with small cafes. Walk too fast and you’ll miss some of the more inviting ones. The largest campo in Venice is the Campo San Polo, a spacious area with the largest cistern in the city. Originally used for livestock, it was later used for various games, bull “hunting”, sermons and finally became a poor man’s market.
Campo San Silvestro
We made our way to Campo San Silvestro where there were literally no tourists. It’s small with residences, a small school and the Chiesa San Silvestro, a church with a tower and some interesting artwork inside. The church dates to the 16th century and at one time the Venice winemakers’ guild had its headquarters here.
Cicchetti Bars of Venice
Italians love Aperitivo, their version of Happy Hour, which usually involves wine or cocktails like the ever popular Negroni or Aperol Spritz, while nibbling nuts and olives or sometimes more elaborate small plates. Not to be outdone, Venice has their cicchietti bars (pronounced chi-KET-tee), a time of day where the locals gather after work to relax and enjoy small bites of local food. Also known as Bacara Bar, you’ll recognize them as you walk around - usually very small dive bars with locals spilling out into the street for a few hours. Generally, they’re not aimed at tourists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t partake.
Stop by in the late afternoon, and order up some goodies on a toothpick. You’re likely to find regional food specialties like olives and cheese to calamari, seafood, and Carciofi Violetto, or violet artichokes, when they’re in season. All these nibbles pair well with a small glass of local wine. It’s amazing how a few of these light bites will fill you up while you chat with friends, so much so that you could even forego a big dinner. Travel guru Rick Steves appropriately calls it “The Stand-Up Progressive Venetian Pub-Crawl Dinner”!
The Rialto Market
We love local markets - they’re part of what defines a culture - and the famous Rialto Market more than lived up to this. Situated along the Rialto Canal, it’s the oldest market in Venice. Wandering through stalls of fresh produce and seeing what’s in season, it’s hard to resist buying a few apricots or plums to snack on.
Right next store to the produce market is the fish market. Want to know what swims in the local waters? It’s all right here, and it’s far more than just a place for fish mongers. Take a closer look. The 19th century neo-gothic design is built like a temple. There’s so much to see here so wander around a while. Nearby is the Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto. Believed to be the oldest church in Venice, it dates to the 5th century and is definitely worth a visit. Just outside the market near the Rialto Bridge is a small piazza where money-changers did business, each with their own wooden bench called a “banco”. If they could no longer conduct business, their banco, or bench, would literally be broken into pieces - “banco ruptum”. It's the basis of our contemporary word for “bankrupt”.
In this same plaza there is a statue of a kneeling figure with a large stone on his shoulders. This is the Lapis Legibus Reip from where the laws of the republic were proclaimed and financial news was announced daily by an Orator.
Crossing the Rialto Bridge
From the Rialto Market, cross the Rialto Bridge. It may seem like an easy task, but the Rialto Bridge is usually packed with tourists. There are also two sides to the bridge with shops in between. So cross over at the top of the bridge and go down the other side. Take an immediate left onto Calle del Fontego.
Follow the bend on Calle del Fontego around to the right, then make a left onto Salizzada del Fontego dei Tedeschi. Continue down the street to Bar Pasticceria Ballarin on the right.
Bar Pasticceria Ballarin
Like many Italian cities, Venice has a sweet tooth. But you'll find all sorts of unique sweet treats here that are a feast for the eyes as well as the tummy. Sugary marzipan is taken to new heights in shops around Venice and you'll see it in many forms, from fruits and flowers to fruits di mare. We discovered Bar Pasticceria Ballarin and spent over an hour sampling all sorts of wonderful treats from chocolate creations and cakey napoleans to candied fruit. Order a cappuccino or espresso and dive in!
Libreria Acqua Alta
According to the sign out front, the Libreria Acqua Alta is "the Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World", and it really is one of the coolest bookstores you'll ever visit - a true homage to the eclectic history of Venice. Literally translated to "library of high water", the space (and the neighborhood) occasionally floods, but that just adds to the charm. The quirky jumble of books, boats, and cats here is the stuff of movie sets and all that's missing is the 12th century scribe lost in thought over a pile of books in the corner. There are photo ops galore and so many interesting books to peruse, you could easily spend hours right here.
As you begin your route back, you'll skirt the famous San Marco Square by several blocks. This is home to St. Mark’s Square, the Doge's Palace, and the Basilica di San Marco — a church so iconic it’s design has been emulated around the world including right across the Adriatic from Venice in Rovinj, Croatia. It's one of the most visited areas of the city, but still one that should be on any Italy itinerary, especially for first timers. But if you time it just right (late afternoon), the crowds will begin to subside and it's a good time to see these iconic Venice landmarks if you want (exterior only, tickets may be required to see inside). If not, the route takes you through the quieter neighborhoods of San Marco and back to the Accademia Bridge where you began.
How to get around Venice when you don't feel like walking anymore? The Vaporetto!
In Venice, you may quickly tire of walking! There’s no easy way to get around the city - it’s just the way Venice was built. The Vaporetto is public transportation - much like a bus or trolley car operating on a 24-hour schedule - and snakes its way all along the S-curved Grand Canal. Most busy spots around Venice have a Vaporetto stop nearby. The Vaporetto is slower than a water taxi but prices are also less expensive. Another advantage is that you can purchase single-fare vaporetto tickets or a multi-day vaporetto pass from vending machines at the docks, for the exact number of days that you need. We found this to be a convenient way to get around.
TIP: Water Taxis are like calling for a cab. They operate on a for-hire basis and can be pricey. Their advantage is they get you somewhere quickly or at a time when the vaporetto may not be convenient. And you can always split the cost with others in your party.
Where to Stay in Venice
There are three luxury hotels we love in Venice:
The beautiful 4 star Hotel Nani Mocenigo Palace has a prime location in Dorsoduro, with exceptional service and luxury amenities. Check rates and more details.
Palazzo Veneziano sits on the southern lagoon with the most breathtaking views over the Venice lagoon and canals. Check availability and rates now.
Just steps from the Rialto Bridge overlooking the Grand Canal, the luxury suites and apartments at Hotel L'Orologio Venezia are steeped in Venetian good looks with all the modern conveniences. We especially love the fresh organic produce at breakfast (and gluten free options too!) Find the best rates and availabilty.
It isn't always easy to find moderately priced hotels in Venice, but here are three we love:
If you want to be in the center of the San Marco action, Hotel Ala is the place. They've got uber-fast Wi-Fi and a second-to-none breakfast buffet. Plus, you have to meet their self-described "wierdest bartender ever", Rey. It's a cool place to be and nicely priced. Check rates and details.
Looking for a prime location for under $150 USD a night? Hotel Montecarlo offers 3 star comfort and is steps from St. Mark's Square. Their adjacent Antico Pignolo Restaurant is excellent! Check rates and details.
If you want to be close to St. Mark's Square yet just outside the tourist crowds, Hotel Le Isole is a perfect choice. Breakfast is served in their gorgeous indoor courtyard til mid-day. And we have 3 words for you: FREE Mini-bar! Check our rates and more details.
We give high value marks to Al Mascaron Ridente for exceptional service and very affordable rates. Plus, a big bonus - it's located just steps from the ferry to the northern lagoon islands of Murano, Burano, and Santerasmo. So if you're planning on visiting these quieter parts of Venice, this hotel is a great place to stay. Check out rates and availability.
IF YOU GO
Walking Tour with Italian Days
We've taken several small group tours in Bologna with Italian Days - from their Italian Days Food Experience to a Pignoletto wine tour in Bologna - and were happy they could also help us see Venice! The company specializes in authentic, small group tours of Italy. Contact Venice manager Lorenzo via the Italian Days website, who can help you arrange a walking tour of Venice. If you’re already in Bologna, Venice is an easy day trip from Bologna, Lombardy, and the Lake District, though it deserves so much more.