Beyond Venice’s museums full of grand masters and regular Biennales, there are plenty of pockets to get lost in, and strange beauty to be found. As a bonus: Whatever is inside, every destination comes complete with its own impressive architectural history and historic legacy, before you’ve even paid admission.
A trip to Venice can feel like strolling through a living museum, and seeking out noteworthy relics is as easy as stepping outside your hotel room.
Natural History Museum
Housed in a former post for Turkish merchants and first opened in the 1920s, this museum is a must–visit not just for families, but for anyone interested in the history of natural history, including the sometimes questionable early methods of collecting specimens. Case in point: two rooms of taxidermy care of Venetian count Giuseppe de Reali, with African game like gorillas and elephants displayed against red walls, below Murano glass chandeliers. You will also find fossils, dinosaur skeletons and gleaming curiosity cabinets full of assorted oddities, like poisonous blowfishand Fiji mermaids. Musical cues throughout the museum add a layer of wonderment to each room, especially the marine life dioramas. Behind the scenes, the site serves as a hub for ongoing scientific research related to the Venetian lagoon ecosystem.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
One of the most–visited arts destinations in Venice somehow still feels like a private affair, with its small rooms and painted fireplaces – perhaps because it was just that, for decades. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection contains the pieces that belonged to the late, eponymous heiress, housed in Palazzo Venierdei Leoni on the Grand Canal, where she lived for 30 years. Walking through the permanent collection is a crash course in cubism, surrealism and abstract expressionism, with awe–inspiring works by Picasso, Duchamp, Kandinsky, (take a deep breath) Pollock, Accardi, Brancusi, Calder and more, often within arm’s reach of one another. Outside, find a sculpture garden as well as Guggenheim’s final resting place, next to a plaque eulogizing her many, many pets. Snag a spot in the café between viewing the permanent and temporary exhibits, and find a gift shop outside the gates and down the street. Souvenirs can start to all look the same in Venice, but here you will find modernist jewellery, totes and Tees available nowhere else in town.
Scuola Grande di San Marco
In many cities, this grand, Renaissance–era, marble–clad building would be the top destination. In Venice, it serves as the local civil hospital, replete with water ambulances buzzing up and down the canal. Step inside and take a right up the staircase to find a gold–ceilinged room showcasing a museum of medical history, opened to the public in 2013. The impressive collection includes fascinating (and occasionally ghastly) 18th–century surgical tools, with a focus on Venetian contributions to the world of anatomy and surgery, plus a library of thousands of volumes of antique medical manuscripts, including works by Hippocrates and Pliny. Descriptive panels are in Italian, but some context clues, detailed drawings and Google translate should prove illuminating.
Isola di San Michele
With its high walls and dense thicket of cypress trees, this island is a striking vision from the northern shore of Venice, resembling an arboretum or private estate more than a cemetery. Reachable by vaporetto en route to Murano, it is a serene stop for a mindful stroll far from the city crowds, and ideal for the solo traveller. Buy flowers from the small shopand pay tribute to deceased artists like composer Igor Stravinsky, poet and critic Ezra Pound, and Tiffany & Co. jewellery designer Jean Schlumberger. There are old chapels and newly designed modernist courtyards to visit, though note that this has been a functional cemetery since 1807, so while entrance is free, activities like picnics are not allowed, and real funerals may occur during visits.
Where to Dine & Drink
Swap Venice’s ubiquitous spritzes for two of the city’s best wine lists. In Cannaregio, visit Vino Vero for by–the–glass natural wines paired with creative cicchetti (small bites, many on bread), all consumed waterside. In San Polo, find Stappo (co–owned by Canadian Mathilde Lambert), a cosmopolitan wine bar focused on independent and natural makers with a hip inner courtyard. Go early and get bar bites like Gorgonzola by the spoonful, or wait until the full dinner menu opens up, with specialties like house–cured meats.