Venice Area Map
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 can be mediocre. You should really only plan on sightseeing in this part of town. For guaranteed good eats, try I Tre Mercanti, a food market less than a mile northeast of San Marco.
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 Museo Civico Correr (Correr Civic Museum), a museum that chronicles the history of Venice.
Steps away is the gothic Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), which once housed the city's seat of power. The looming pink-and-white building is now a museum with art by Tintoretto and Veronese. Nearby is the 318-foot Campanile di San Marco bell tower, which was once frequented by Galileo to study the stars. Visitors today can climb it for spectacular 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 stay close to the shores waiting to take visitors on a ride.
The sestiere of Dorsoduro, located directly west of San Marco, is less congested. While San Marco holds Venice's architectural masterpieces, Dorsoduro has the museums. The most well-known spots in this area are the Gallerie dell'Accademia (Academy Gallery) 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.
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 Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (St. Mary of the Friars), often referred to simply as "Frari." This gothic-style church is stark on the outside, but writers recommend a tour to view some of the best paintings in Venice – including art from Bellini and Titian – on the inside.
East of Frari is the retail-clad Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge), the most glorious and famous of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal. Consider bedding down in these areas if you want to be among locals.
Located in the northern part of Venice, the Cannaregio neighborhood was home to the first Jewish ghetto, designated in 1500's. 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’s Cannaregio sestiere, the island of San Michele is a large cemetery. 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 that 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 the striking Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a Dominican church filled with stunning glass windows and artwork. For some of the best city views, consider booking a hotel here.
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 one of Venice's oldest cathedrals, the Santa Maria Assunta, which is also renowned for its Byzantine mosaics.
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.
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.