5 things to do in the City of Masks.

Built on top of 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, Venice is both an engineering marvel and one of Europe's most beautiful cities. But when it comes to traveler expectations, it can easily get pigeonholed by centuries of canal-driven postcard imagery and gondolier tropes. While we love the idea of a romantic trip down one of the city's 26 miles of waterways, there's plenty more to explore. Here are five things we think are worth your time if you ever find yourself with a free afternoon in the Northern Italian paradise.


When most people think of cocktails and Venice, they usually think of Harry's, the legendary haunt frequented by movie stars and other glamorous circles since opening in 1931. However, if you're in the mood for something with a less serious ambiance (without sacrificing some seriously good tipples), Birreria Zanon is just right. Something of a dive bar with seafaring decor, it specializes in a variety of international beers supplemented by great cocktails and small bites. It's a fun and easy alternative to most of the city's bar scene.


During the height of the Covid pandemic, news streamed out of Venice that the sharp dip in water traffic sparked the return of dolphins, fish and other creatures that hadn't been seen in its canals in generations. It highlighted just how intimately the city is tied to the sea and Ocean Space, a contemporary gallery, seeks to explore that connection (and conservation) through art. Occupying a church that's remained closed off to visitors for nearly 100 years, the gallery's interdisciplinary program uses works of nearly every medium to muse on the power and delicacy of the world's oceans.


Venice has no shortage of small islands, but many of them are off the beaten path and receive comparatively few visitors—despite being home to some of the city's best sites. San Lazzarro degli Armeni is one. Today, it is home to an active monastery founded by Armenian monks in the 18th century. Many Armenian Catholics fled persecution from the Ottoman Empire during the 1700s and brought a treasure trove of artifacts, documents and other cultural heirlooms with them. Open to visitors, the monastery remains a center of study for Armenian culture (even poet Lord Byron used to visit to conduct research) and the monks regularly produce a cult favorite rose petal jam made from the roses that populate their small island each spring.


Being so close to the water has been instrumental to the development of Venice's food culture, and Al Covo offers up the classics—and a few novelties—in a traditional-but-not-stuffy atmosphere. Run by Chef Cesare Benelli and his wife Diane (who hails from Texas) since 1987, the intimate spot has plentiful seafood options sourced from the surrounding lagoons, pastas and meat dishes with an excellent wine selection to match.


Maybe it's the masked balls or the labyrinth of winding canals and corridors, but there's always been something mysterious about Venice. So, what could be better than stumbling upon a bookstore that feels just as secretive? Libreria Acqua Alta (which translates to 'bookstore or high water') quite literally has boatloads of literary gems. Due to Venice's frequent flooding, many of the shop's tomes are kept in waterproof basins and gondolas to prevent the inventory from being destroyed.