For anyone going to Venice this year and looking for original ways to get in touch with the city, here are just some of our favorite ideas for escaping the crowds and getting to know the real Venice.
1. Bird-Watching on the Lagoon
Many visitors forget all about the Venice Lagoon when faced with the charms of Venice, but the Mediterranean’s largest wetland is also the center of an incredible, delicate ecosystem which is well worth visiting. Nature-lovers and photographers should take a private tour with a local ornithologist, who will show you around the northern part of the lagoon and the salt marshes where many species nest. You’ll be amazed, not only by the beauty around you, but also the silence, broken only by the songs of the passeriforms in the reeds.
2. Mask Making
Decorating your own carnival mask is great fun for visitors of any age, and a memory you can take home with you. You get to pick the type of mask you want, from the elegant to the comical ‘dottore della peste’.
3. Discover the Lagoon on a Traditional Wooden Boat
Venice is the biggest and most famous of the islands in the lagoon, but far from the only one. Touring in a bragozzo, a traditional wooden boat ensures that your visit helps protect this precious environment and you can enjoy the experience of traveling across the lagoon. The visit includes the islands of Murano, famed for lace-making, Burano, with its brightly painted houses and Torcello, one of the first islands to be inhabited and home to the city’s cathedral before the construction of St. Mark’s.
4. Artisans of Venice
Venice has a proud artistic tradition which is gradually being lost as artisans are forced out by increasing costs, but some workshops still survive. It’s great fun to follow your local guide twisting through the streets and over bridges, to duck through doorways you’d never notice on your own and meet some of these artisans who create traditional carnival costumes, hand-painted masks, gondolas, puppets and glass.
5. Hidden Venice
If you really want to learn about the history and culture of Venice, you won’t find it waiting inline to enter St. Mark’s. Instead, take a tour of the lesser visited parts of the city, like the world’s first Jewish Ghetto and the city’s former red-light district. You’ll discover where the immigrant communities settled in Renaissance times, mixing their traditions with the locals and creating the unique Venetian culture. Searching for the marks they have left on the city, you’ll find yourself discovering the other side of Venice where locals live, shop and work, without a tourist group in sight.