Summer travel is in full swing throughout Europe now and, for the independent traveler, the age old problem has returned – how to avoid crowds while enjoying the journey.
And this problem is bigger in Venice than in most other European cities. Spread out over 117 small islands with narrow streets crossing over more than 400 bridges crossing some 150 canals, Venice has very little room to accommodate the more than 20 million tourists that visit the city each year.
Magnifying this problem is the fact that the vast majority of these visitors will go to see the top four attractions – St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Square. Conveniently, all four of these sites are located right at St. Mark’s Square. Unfortunately the results of this convenience are crowds that may leave you with something painfully close to claustrophobia.
The cure? ESCAPE FROM SAN MARCO!
Rather than making the San Marco district the center of your visit go instead to the more tranquil Dorsoduro district located just over the majestic Accademia Bridge. Here you’ll find the real Venice and with fewer tourists, great museums, terrific galleries, picturesque canals, unforgettable churches and affordable restaurants.
Among the many art museums and galleries be sure to visit the acclaimed Gallery of the Accademia, an excellent museum with numerous works by Venetian greats including Bellini, Tintoretto and others. And nearby is a superb collection of modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection located in the former home of the wealthy American art collector with a wonderful terrace overlooking the Grand Canal.
The district also boasts one of the city’s best palazzo museums, known as Ca Rezzonico, whose interior has been dedicated to 18th century Venice. You’ll be able to experience what palace life was really like, from furniture and dinnerware to fantastic artwork, in this elegant palace.
The Dorsoduro is also stocked with magnificent churches, both small and large. In the large category is the Chiesa Santa Maria Salute which, while plain on the inside, offers a classic Venetian exterior with a spectacular view. And just past the church you’ll reach the eastern tip of the island with an even better view that includes the campanile across the canal in St. Mark’s Square.
But one my favorite churches is the small and unassuming San Sebastiano, the 16th century parish church of the renowned Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese. Although very plain on the outside, the interior of this hidden gem is awash in the works of the city’s great artist – from the sacristy and nave ceilings to the altar and walls.
These are just a few of the remarkable sites to see here. But the real beauty of staying in Dorsoduro, or at least spending an extended period of time here, is the ability to take leisurely strolls through the peaceful old streets and canal-side promenades of the district without battling hoards of tourists.
The main walking route for locals and tourists alike is the street Zattere. Originally built in the early 16th century this stroll provides views across to the nearby island La Giudecca and its majestic Redentore Church. You’ll also find a wide array of excellent food and drink options along Zattere as well as on many side streets.
Bottom line: for the ultimate visit to the real Venice – away from the crowds but packed with art, history and unforgettable churches, galleries and views – concentrate on the Dorsoduro district.