1. Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore
The island of San Giorgio has the ultimate views in Venice – looking out over the the Doges Palace and the Grand Canal – and the landmark church, designed in 1555 by Andrea Palladio, is a must-see. There is no charge to go inside the chiesa, whose rather stark interior has two important works by Tintoretto – L’Ultima Cena and Il Cader della Manna – as well as paintings by Carpaccio and Palma. There is a lift that takes you up to the top of the bell tower for €5 that has none of the long queues choking St Mark’s campanile (which costs €8), and, frankly, the panorama is far more impressive from San Giorgio. The church’s monastery and gardens belong to the Cini Foundation, which organises free exhibitions in Le Stanze del Vetro, and, for the duration of the Biennale, there is a stunning installation of gold pillars by the vaporetto stop by German architect Heinz Mack.
• Open daily from 9.30am-6.30pm. Vaporetto: San Giorgio
2. Scala Contarini del Bovolo
The so-called Snail Staircase must rank as one of the best hidden sights to track down in Venice, lost in a maze of narrow streets not far from the Rialto. From Campo San Bartolomeo, at the foot of the Rialto bridge, follow the yellow signs for Accademia till you reach Campo Manin, where a small panel that is very easy to miss points in the direction of the Scala. After zigzagging right and left, you suddenly come out in a tiny courtyard that is totally dominated by a towering staircase of spiraling, swirling arches. The palace itself, built for the Contarini family in the 14th century, is unremarkable from the outside, while this remarkable Gothic staircase was tacked on to the outside in 1499.
• 4299 Corte dei Risi, San Marco. Vaporetto: Rialto
3. I Gesuiti
Although officially the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, this grandiose baroque church is known by the name of the Jesuit Order which ordered its construction in 1715. Not only is there no entrance charge, but the Gesuiti boasts an important collection of paintings and trompe l’oeil sculptures. In the main church, you can see works by Titian and Tintoretto, who lived nearby, while the Sacristy has 20 paintings by Jacopo Palma il Giovane. Next door is a former Jesuit monastery, which, after being converted into a school, hospital and then military barracks, has recently been brought back to life as student lodgings, with the cloisters and a cafe now open to the public.
• Campo dei Gesuiti, Cannaregio. Open daily 10am-12pm, 4pm-6pm. Vaporetto:Fondamente Nove
4. Santa Maria della Salute
Dominating the entrance to the Grand Canal and known simply as the Salute, this is one of the favourite churches of Venetians. Built in 1681 to mark the survival of the Serenissima from a deadly outbreak of the plague, the Salute’s monumental baroque facade and dome, by architect Baldassare Longhena, is an icon on the Venice skyline. But there are also important artworks within, including paintings by both Titian and Tintoretto, and a pontoon bridge is strung across the Grand Canal in front of the church to allow worshippers to cross over to celebrate the Festa della Salute.
• Fondamenta della Salute, Dorsoduro. Open daily 9am-12pm, 3pm-5.30pm. Vaporetto: Salute
5. Orsoni Colour Library
Tucked away in a quiet backstreet of Cannaregio, not far from the ancient Jewish Ghetto, is the only working glass furnace left in Venice, producing exquisite smalto (glass mosaics) – and gold leaf that have been used in some of the world’s most famous buildings – St Paul’s Cathedral, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, the Sacre Coeur in Paris – and the Basilica of San Marco. You can call in advance for a free tour of the workshop, which includes an explanation of how smalto is made, followed by a visit to the magical Colour Library, a collection of thousands of pieces of glass in different shades and nuances.
• 1045 Corte dei Vedei, Cannaregio, +39 041 2440002, orsoni.com. Vaporetto: Guglie
6. Sala San Marco Biblioteca
No one wants to visit a hospital when on holiday, but Venice’s Ospedale Civile is like no other. Housed in the immense 15th-century Scuola Grande di San Marco, its ornate wedding cake facade dominates the San Giovanni e Paolo Campo, and once you walk through the grand entrance hall with its intricate marble floor, there is an ancient cloister and gardens. But recently, the first floor Sala San Marco has been opened to the public, housing a vast medical library, a quite terrifying collection of historical medical instruments and illustrations, and excellent reproductions of masterpieces by the likes of Bellini, Donato and Tintoretto that were originally painted for the Sala, but are now mostly on display in the Accademia gallery.
• Ospedale Civile, Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo, Cannaregio. Open Tues-Sat 9.30am-12.30pm, 2pm-5pm. Vaporetto: Fondamente Nove
7. San Michele Cemetery
From the vaporetto stop at Fondamente Nove, it takes just a couple of minutes to reach the red-brick walls and tall cypress trees that encircle Venice’s cemetery on the island of San Michele. While most tourists carry on to the next stop, the glass-blowing island of Murano, it is well worth taking a break at San Michele. The island’s church is magnificent, designed in distinctive Istrian marble by the Renaissance architect, Mauro Codussi, in 1469, with peaceful cloisters and gardens, though most of its famous paintings have disappeared to museum collections. The cemetery is a much more recent early 19th-century creation, and although there are several famous graves – Ezra Pound and Joseph Brodsky, Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky – there are also statues on tombs of gondoliers, and a Protestant section with graves of Grand Tour travellers who ended their journey in Venice.
• Isola di San Michele. Open daily 7.30am-6pm. Vaporetto: Cimitero
8. Casa di Tintoretto
Although there is a plaque outside, it is not possible to go in and visit the grand palazzo where Jacopo Tintoretto lived and painted. But this offbeat corner of Cannaregio is worth seeking out for a number of uniquely Venetian oddities. The corner of Fondamenta dei Mori is marked by distinctive white statue with a metal nose, the Greek trader Rioba, while by the entrance to Tintoretto’s house is another flamboyant statue of a turbaned Moorish trader. On the ground floor of the house is the Bottega del Tintoretto, a print studio run by friendly local artist Roberto Mazzetto, which is open to visitors. More Moorish statues decorate the Campo dei Mori and, walking over a bridge to the Madonna dell’Orto church, on the back of Tintoretto’s house there is another strange frieze, an Arab trader leading a huge camel. Tintoretto is buried in Madonno dell’Orto, which displays several of his paintings, but there is an entry charge.
• 3400 Fondamenta dei Mor. Vaporetto: Orto
9. Basilica di San Marco
Although it is easy to get the impression that almost everything in Venice seems to have an admission fee, it comes as a surprise that the Serenissima’s most famous attraction, the Basilica di San Marco, does not charge visitors. Dominating the Piazza San Marco with its fairytale facade – though be prepared for at least part to be covered for renovation – the basilica is the ultimate symbol of Venice’s former glory, and the domed interiors are marked by breathtaking intricate mosaics. Be aware, though, that once inside, there are fees if you want a tour of St Mark’s Museum, the Treasury or the lustrous Pala d’Oro
• Piazza San Marco, basilicasanmarco.it. Open Mon-Sat 9.45am-5pm, Sunday 2pm-4pm. Vaporetto: San Marco Vallaresso