Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia

Museum in San Polo & Santa Croce

Image by Sergey Novikov Shutterstock

Never mind the doge: insatiable curiosity rules Venice, and inside the Museo di Storia Naturale it runs wild. The adventure begins upstairs with dinosaurs and prehistoric crocodiles, then dashes through evolution to Venice's great age of exploration, when adventurers like Marco Polo fetched peculiar specimens from distant lands.

Out-stare the only complete ouransaurus skeleton found to date, a macabre menagerie of colonial trophies and a 19th-century wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities) housing a pair of two-headed calves. Although the museum's grand finale downstairs is comparatively anti-climatic – a fish tank of Venetian coastal specimens bubbling for attention – it does offer you a close-up glimpse of the enormous dugout canoe moored at the water door.

Alongside the exit staircase you'll notice marble heraldic symbols of kissing doves and knotted-tail dogs, dating from the building's history as a ducal palace and international trading house. The dukes of Ferrara had the run of this 12th-century mansion until they were elbowed aside in 1621 to make room for Venice’s most important trading partner: Turkey.

Known as the Fondaco dei Turchi (Turkish Trading House), the building remained rented out to the Turks until 1858. Afterwards, a disastrous renovation indulged 19th-century architectural fancies, including odd crenellations that made the gracious Gothic building resemble a prison. Luckily, the renovation spared the courtyard and charming back garden, which is open during museum hours and ideal for picnics.