Venice Neighborhoods & Towns
Tucked away among a grouping of islets off Italy's northeast coast, the fish-shaped city of Venice is made up of six neighborhoods, called sestieri. The small islands of Lido, Murano, and Burano surround the city and are easily accessible.
A good chunk of Venice's attractions, hotels and restaurants are located in San Marco on the southern edge of the city. However, San Marco hotels tend to be overpriced and the dining is mediocre; to make the most of the area, you should only sightsee in this part of town.
Attractions clustered around the main square, Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), include Basilica di San Marco, or Saint Mark's Basilica, and the Correr Civic Museum (Museo Civico Correr), a museum that features historical Venetian pieces and antique games
Steps away is the gothic Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), once the city's royal residence and seat of power until Napoleon's occupation of Venice in 1796. The looming pink-and-white building is now a museum with art by Tintoretto and Veronese. Nearby, the Campanile di San Marco bell tower used to house clerics accused of immoral behavior. Today, you can climb the 318-foot tower for splendid views of the Venetian lagoon and Lido Island.
If you walk past the buildings and follow the crowds of pigeons, you will be greeted by a stunning view of the Grand Canal, which terminates here and empties into the Venetian lagoon that surrounds the island. Gondolas and groups of gondoliers crowd along the shores.
- If you are interested in exploring all things related with Italian food you have to visit the freshly open 'i Tre Mercanti' (campo della guerra 2 mins from S. Marco square) an amazing food gallery where you can find typical Italian specialties, a wide range of the best wines and the usual classics … along with hundreds of regional specialties (including 97 pasta sauces!)." -- Wikitravel
The sestiere of Dorsoduro, located directly west of San Marco, is less congested with tourists. While San Marco holds Venice's architectural masterpieces, Dorsoduro has the museums. The most well-known spots in this area are the Academy Gallery (Gallerie dell'Accademia) and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The Accademia houses classical paintings from the Renaissance, including pieces by Bellini and Veronese. The Guggenheim Collection features art from 20th century masters like Picasso and Pollock.
No neighborhood in Italy can be complete without a church. In Dorsoduro, visit the octagonal Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. The church features a marble floor and paintings by Titian, one of the masters of the Venetian Renaissance and a native of the region.
- Head to the Dorsoduro area of Venice if you want to save a few euros. It has the highest concentration of places where locals, especially students, go to eat. Generally staying away from the main squares will be the cheapest option." -- Wikitravel
Santa Croce and San Polo
Santa Croce and San Polo are technically two sestieri in the western chunk of the city. However, they are often grouped together, since Santa Croce has little to see and do other than being the home of the Santa Lucia train station and both the Tronchetto and Piazzale Roma parking lots. To the east of Santa Croce, San Polo's key attraction is St. Mary of the Friars (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari), often referred to simply as "Frari". This gothic-style church is severe and stark from the outside, but writers recommend a tour to view some of the best paintings in Venice -- including art from Bellini and Titian -- on the interior walls.
West of Frari is the store-lined Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), the most glorious and famous of the three bridges that cross the Grand Canal.
- Don't miss the Rialto market and the Rialto Bridge (Italian: Ponte di Rialto) on San Polo, the smallest sestiere. The Rialto market is for shoppers. To the east is a neighborhood of small shops and restaurants; the the west is the Rialto farmers' market. Shopping is slightly less expensive than in the tourist-filled Piazza San Marco." -- Wikitravel
Located in the northern part of Venice, the Cannaregio neighborhood was home to the first Jewish ghetto, designated in 1527. Today, the area is filled with Renaissance-era synagogues and the Museo Ebraico, which chronicles and displays Jewish Italian life, beginning in the 16th-century.
Northeast of Venice, the island of San Michele is a large cemetery that's considered part of the Cannaregio sestiere (neighborhood). Tourists visit San Michele to view the famous tombs of composer Igor Stravinsky and poet Ezra Pound.
Castello is the largest and most residential sestiere and covers the eastern half of Venice. Every other year, the sestiere is center stage as the main grounds of the Venice Biennale. At other times, Castello's main must-see is Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a Dominican church filled with beautiful and colorful stained glass and paintings.
Surrounding Lagoon Islands
North of the city are the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. Murano is renowned for its glassblowers that you can watch in action, while Burano is home to famous and mostly female lace makers, as well as a large fishing community. Torcello contains Venice's first cathedral, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta.
South of the city are the islands of Lido, La Giudecca and San Giorgio Maggiore. The site of the annual Venice Film Festival, the island of Lido is filled with ritzy resorts that have cabanas and private beaches. However, Lonely Planet says "that it's almost impossible to find space on the sand in summer."
The other islands are less exclusive. La Giudecca is mostly residential and features the Church of Redentore, a Franciscan church that was built in gratitude for the end of the bubonic plague. San Giorgio Maggiore's main focus is also a church. The Renaissance-era church by the same name was created by architecture legend, Palladio.
Venice is largely a very safe destination. Travel writers say that you can walk Venice's dark alleys at midnight and still be safe, but you might get lost. Wikitravel says: "The unfortunate side-effect of the quaint back-alleys which make Venice such a delight to visit is that it is remarkably easy to get lost. Even maps provided by hotels are frequently inaccurate, and the maze-like structure of the city can become very confusing indeed."
Don't freak out if you get lost -- everyone does, and it's even part of the Venice experience. Keep in mind that there's no way to walk off of Venice: The compilation of islands is surrounded by a lagoon. You should also note that signs with the word "Per," an arrow and an attraction name are pointing you in the right direction. You shouldn't pay attention to graffiti directions, which may or may not have been written to confuse tourists.