Districts Of Venice – The Best One For You?

Venice – The Floating City

Venice became a thing when Attila the Hun’s crew scared the living daylights out of mainland Italians with their curly beards and funny pony-tail hats (I get all my History facts from Night At The Museum 1 & 2 [Number 3 went a little off topic I feel]) Land dwellers found refuge in the marshlands off the coast and built an empire out of the fact that nobody could invade easily. So there they sat on their 117 islands making hay while the sun shone and the rest of Italy were hard pressed by Huns, Goths and Popes.

But Venetians were made up of Princes and Paupers, Lecturers and Electricians and so districts were established in time – each having a part to play in Venice’s history. All of the six neighbourhoods have a story to share and are a maze of antiquity, so how do you decide where to stay on your trip to the floating city? What can you expect? And which areas are worth a visit?

Let me break down Venice for you.

Venice is a network of beautiful canals and every turn you take lands you in another stunning area.

Cannaregio

Once the main route into the city from the mainland due to a large arterial canal flowing straight to the Grand Canal itself, this area developed primarily for the working classes and industry, including a Jewish Ghetto which was originally gated and guarded to keep the Jews locked away from sunset to dawn. Today Cannaregio is lined with palaces along its section of the Grand Canal but inside the maze is residential and relatively tranquil, save for the bustling canal-side of Rio Della Misericordie in the north of Cannaregio – a great spot on a weekend to soak up the Italian Cool as you watch 30-something Fonz-like Venetians and young local families make a lot of noise as they articulate their week to their friends over Bellini’s and shared plates of antipasto in some of the cities best canal-side bars.

Cannaregio is also home to a popular, wide shopping street – Strada Nova, a collection of High Street stores, souvenir stalls and tourist-grade restaurants.

Pro’s: 

  • Good location – quick access to train station but also fairly close to main central tourist sites like the Rialto and Grand Canal.
  • Excellent nightlife and cafe culture along Rio Della Misericordie
  • Pretty Churches
  • A more neighbourhood feel.
  • Easy access to Burano and Murano (#12 leaves from Fondamente Nuova)

Con’s

  • Not as pretty as other areas of Venice
The lovely local, residential neighbourhood of Cannaregio - home to some great bars and restaurants
The lovely local neighbourhood of Cannaregio

Castello

The largest of Venice’s 6 Sestieri (districts) and sitting to the East of the Island. It stretches from the Rialto bridge to the edge that overlooks the Lido (the island adjacent to Venice with a long stretch of sandy beaches) Personally, this is my favourite, if you just ignore the Southern shore-line with its masses of cruise-ship tourists that are vomited ashore in the morning with pit-stop itineraries and climb back aboard at dusk with bellies full of overpriced pasta and a creepy carnival mask for the grandkids.

The area of Castello closest to St Marks Square is home to some smaller artisan shops, little ornate bridges and quaint squares, whereas the east of Castello is definitely more residential. Tourists are everywhere in Venice but they are definitely more outnumbered by locals in this neighbourhood district. Old men shout at the football on the TV in little corner bars, and washing blows in the breeze above the canals. The further from St Marks you walk the more humble the buildings become but the atmosphere is gentle yet spirited – this is where a lot of Venetian history was made and the locals still wear their honour on their faces.

The area to the far east of Castello actually has a large park! Locals jog, walk their dogs and let their kids play uninterrupted by water – not a gondola in sight!

Pro’s

  • Experience authentic Venice and live amongst the locals
  • Museums for old-art lovers (works by Bellini, Tintoretto, Tiepolo etc)
  • Slightly cheaper accommodation
  • Picturesque canals and bridges
  • Lots of prominent historical references
  • Some of the best local restaurants

Con’s

  • A drop off spot for huge cruise-liners and their bum-bag wearing members
Castello canals of Venice
Castello
A mask maker in the Castello area of Venice
A craftsman deep in concentration on one of his beautiful masks

Dorsoduro

Another authentic neighbourhood of Venice where you can perhaps escape the hustle a bit, but especially if you’re channeling your inner Art student. Home to the Peggy Guggenheim and the Academia – if you’re coming to Venice to see the greats and the modern masters then this is your spot.

Although Dorsoduro is territory for many older-generation Venetians, with their top hats, smart shoes and little dogs, it is more known for its studenty vibe and lively nightlife. Campo Margherita is where its all at when the kids take a break from their dissertations : laid back bacari (bars) that serve great value ciccheti (small snacks) bring a relaxed mood that is a welcome break and also less strain on the purse strings than central areas.

Some other great features of the area are the beautiful palaces which line the Grand Canal (Ca’ Rezzonico is a much more managable sized museum than some of the more famous palazzo’s near St Marks square) and the working gondola boatyard where you can sip a prosecco from one of the adjacent bars and watch the skilled craftsmen sweat for their ciabatta and parma ham.

Pro’s

  • more lively, local night-life
  • cheaper food and drink
  • authentic neighbourhood culture
  • great art and palaces

Con’s

  • quite a way from the Rialto bridge and St Marks square
  • run down in parts
Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute at the tip of the Dorsoduro district in Venice
Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute at the tip of Dorsoduro
Palace's line the Grand Canal in Venice.
Palaces are a regular sight on the Grand Canal

Santa Croce

You may dream of arriving in Venice on a gondola, with your hair gently flapping in the wind and a doorman helping you alight with a gloved hand, calling you ma’am and taking your luggage. I’m sorry to tell you this but it’s possibly more realistic to assume you will disembark your coach or train with a thin layer of travel-grease on your brow in the grubby, noisy district of Santa Croce. Hard fact. Santa Croce is Venice’s main transport hub and although it has a few tourist attractions like the Natural History Museum and the church of San Giacomo, you probably want to leave it behind to explore the rest of Venice as soon as.

Pro’s

  • Some unexpected restaurant and bar ‘gems’ – great for your last meal before you leave for the airport maybe.
  • Cheaper accommodation and close to transport links for quick get-aways

Con’s

  • No need to get your camera out here – ‘nothing to see, move along!’

San Marco

If you’re James Bond and need access to an extremely busy square with a nearby ornate bank for Caymen Island transfers and a good old fashioned shoot-out that destroys baroque marble columns and decades of grand architecture then you’ve found your hangout. Or if you simply have money to burn and don’t mind eating substandard pizza amongst thousands of other tourists with selfie-sticks then San Marco will suit you down to the ground.

Personally, I would never choose to stay in this area but it has to be visited. This is what you came to Venice to see after-all : San Marco’s square, the Doges Palace, the Rialto Bridge, St Marc’s Basilica and the Bridge of Sighs, all items on your bucket list and all things you should make the effort to see. Hotel prices require you sell a lung and restaurants are known to be rude to tourists – quite a cheek when you consider it’s them that are paying their wages! But, it is stunning. And if time is of the essence and you only have 24 hours to see it all then maybe you could turn a blind eye to the commercialism for once and just soak up the grandeur and magnificence.

Pro’s

  • central location
  • just beautiful

Con’s

  • extortionate hotels
  • expensive substandard restaurants
  • soooo many people
  • not much authentic Italian culture

    San Marco has some hidden gems if you just stray a little from the crowds of St Marc's square
    San Marco has some hidden gems if you just stray a little from the crowds of St Marc’s square
The crowds of St Marcs square are hard to escape but the views are still tremendous
The crowds of St Marcs square are hard to escape but the views are still tremendous

San Polo

San Polo is a feast for the eyes everywhere you turn – the food stalls at the Rialto markets, the souvenir shops (which are definitely less tat and more artisan than around St Marc’s), really pretty canals and quaint little squares. The area near to the Rialto Bridge is heaving with tourists but you only have to walk a few lanes in to escape the throngs and take a quieter breath. San Polo is the smallest district but has plenty of interest for such a small area – it’s the oldest bit of Venice, along with San Marco (9th century) and still holds a few traditional festivals (and a few new too) in its large square Campo San Polo. Once the place for bull fighting and masquerade balls, now the spot for open cinema and theatre in the summer months.

Pro’s

  • central location
  • very old and pretty
  • great food markets
  • good choice of souvenir shopping
  • great restaurant choices

Con’s

  • the smallest sestieri so not as much choice
  • not many hotels – more b&b’s
The Rialto Bridge in Venice is one of the cities main tourist attractions in the area of San Polo.
The Rialto Bridge – connecting the San Polo to the San Marco sestieri

So there you have it – my break down of Venice. Have you decided yet which one suits you the most? Wherever you choose I am confident you will have a fantastic time – Venice is a beauty spot that should be on everybody’s bucket list. And, it may not be there one day! So, get booking!

Pin For Later…Venice is made up of 6 districts so how do you decide which is the right one for you? Where should you book your accommodation? Which areas should you visit? Which district is best? Let me help you decipher Venice's 6 neighbourhoods so you can make the best of your stay.

35 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane Taylor says:

    I’ve never been to Venice but I know where to go if I do! Really splendid feast of a review, as usual. I felt transported and swept along by a swarm of bumbag wearing, cruise ship sailing retirees….thankfully I managed to extricate myself and linger in some of the glorious scenes you captured in the stunning photos.

    Hello Times Travel Guardian Travel etc…have you heard about Alex Muir? Her travel writing is like A beautiful masterpiece hidden in a loft amongst a pile of ten a penny prints, that while pleasant, never really satisfy or leave a lingering impression. Let’s hope it’s not too long before she’s discovered.

    1. Alex says:

      That’s beautiful. Thanks Jane ?

  2. Mick_Iam says:

    Excellent post, loved the pictures

  3. Another great post, Alex. I just love the way you write!
    I never really stood still by the fact that there are different parts of Venice, just wandered from one to another… Loved staying close to San Marco years ago, but the food and the service are indeed horrible in the tourist places. Always better to look for a more authentic place.
    Saving this post for later reference. Venice is just so beautiful, we’ll definitely be visiting again.

    1. Alex says:

      Yes – there are some fantastic air bnbs for family’s too.

  4. Katy Clarke says:

    Love this Alex. So helpful! We stayed in San Polo. Close to the market ‘Of course!’

    1. Alex says:

      Great choice! I think I’d choose there next time just for a change.

  5. melbtravel says:

    love love love your pictures of Venice. It makes me want to return so bad. I enjoyed reading your post about the neighbourhoods I didn’t now know this information.

  6. Lolo says:

    Very interesting to learn a bit more about each of the neighborhoods. Even if an area isn’t so pretty to take pictures of, it’s still nice to see the quieter corners of a town. #CityTripping

  7. This is a very helpful post Alex. I’m not sure where we stayed when we went many years ago but it was overpriced and had a sunken mattress. Cannaregio sounds like the place to stay to me. Thanks for linking #citytripping

  8. This is such a great post – I love all the history and had never realised there were such distinctions between the areas but how useful when I finally get to go back. Last time we ended up staying on the Lido as we hadn’t booked in advance (pre-daughter!) and that was rather a revelation, very chilled out and lovely to escape to but just a short boat ride away. #citytripping

    1. Alex says:

      Cool – we ended up on the Lido by mistake one day. I love how Venice has all these different faces. Take me take me when you go back! 😉

  9. Esther says:

    Ah, this is a valuable post! Venice is quite tricky to really ‘get’ isn’t it. Next time I’ll be going (and I should go soon, before it sinks…) I’ll be checking this blog (have pinned it as a reminder)! Found you through #citytrippin

    1. Alex says:

      Great – nice to meet you!

  10. tots2travel says:

    This is such a thorough guide. I love it and have bookmarked it. I’ve visited once but don’t feel I did it justice.

  11. EXCELLENT POST! I love how you break it down neighborhood by neighborhood with pros and cons for each. I always find this the hardest part when planning – what part of town to stay in. Pinning for later! Have never been to Venice! Cheers from Copehagen, Erin #CityTripping

    1. Alex says:

      Aw thanks Erin – I enjoyed your latest one too

  12. What a fabulous write-up of the neighborhoods! So helpful. Inspiration for another trip to Venice!

  13. Rosi C. says:

    I hope to visit Venice one day. I did not know that about the districts. Very interesting. Great pics 🙂

  14. Jo Addison says:

    What a fantastic post! So useful for anyone planning a trip to Venice. I’ve pinned it for later. #citytripping

  15. Carmy says:

    I think my favourite would be San Polo. I love that it’s small with B&B’s in addition to being on the older side. It’s nice to see the older side of things as it looks quite charming.

    1. Alex says:

      Good choice! It’s all good though 😉

  16. Katie says:

    Venice looks like a beautiful city to visit and I have dreamed about going here since I was a kid 🙂 Did you find it ridiculously busy? I have read so many blogs about how busy and crowded it was. Thanks for a great guide, this will help me work out what neighbourhood to look for a hotel in!

    1. Alex says:

      It’s extremely busy around st Marc’s square and the Rialto. If you go in a shoulder season (April/may or sept/oct) you still get good weather but slightly less busy. That’s why it’s nice to stay in an outer district though because it’s nowhere near as busy. Have fun when you go and be sure to check out my latest post on Burano and Murano too – great trips from Venice, definitely worth seeing if you have the time.

  17. Christie says:

    Oh my gosh, so funny that you say Cannaregio isn’t pretty as the rest of Venice because it was my absolutely favorite spot!! To each their own, I guess 🙂 Great info and pics! Thanks for sharing

    1. Alex says:

      I actually loved cannaregio and would like to stay there next – it had such a great feel to it, but it didn’t seem as ornate as the rest of the areas to me. Wider canals and younger buildings. Like you say tho – each to their own 😉 thanks for commenting!

  18. Ivy says:

    We stayed in Castello and loved it for the same reasons you did! We’d like to stay in San Polo next time because we love local markets and snacking on things as we go. Sounds like the perfect place to base ourselves!

    1. Alex says:

      Agreed – definitely for foodies!

  19. Anya Carion says:

    I had no idea that Venice was split up into districts! I’ve always just kinda wandered around and stumbled upon beauty! I’ll have to return with certain districts in mind xx

  20. Anita says:

    It was great to learn about neighborhoods of Venice. I love Italy but have not been to Venice yet. Something to bookmark for my future travels. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Dariel says:

    I personally like to stay a little away further from the crowds, which also means cheaper accommodation. Can’t remember the name of the neighborhood where we stayed but it was nearer to the train station than St Mark’s Square. Quiet but still full of character 🙂 Thanks for the breakdown, will keep in mind for my next trip!

  22. Nicki says:

    I like this break down. When I was in Venice I only had a short amount of time as I was on a cruise, so I only got to see the area around St. Marks Square. But I utilized every moment I had walking the narrow streets and seeing the beautiful buildings while eating pizza and gelato. Easily one of my favorite Italian cities.

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