THE SIX VENICE NEIGHBOURHOODS
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, please don’t judge) 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 was hard-pressed by Huns, Goths and Popes.
But Venetians were made up of Princes and Paupers, Lecturers and Electricians and so Venice districts were established in time – each having a part to play in the city’s unique history.
All of the six Venice neighbourhoods have a story to share and are a maze of antiquity, so how do you decide which is the best area to stay in Venice? What can you expect from all of the neighbourhoods? And which areas of Venice are worth a visit?
Let me break down the six Venice neighborhoods for you.
The Six Venice Neighbourhoods
1. The Cannaregio District of Venice
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 of Venice district was 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 the area of Venice known as 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 Misericordia in the north of Cannaregio. This is a great Venice Neighborhood on a weekend to soak up the Italian Cool. 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 and chicchetti in some of the city’s best canal-side bars.
The district of Cannaregio is also home to a popular, wide shopping street – Strada Nova, a collection of High Street stores, souvenir stalls and tourist-grade restaurants.
The Pro’s of This Venice Neighbourhood…
- 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 Misericordia
- Pretty Churches
- A more neighbourhood feel.
- Easy access to Burano and Murano (#12 leaves from Fondamente Nuova)
- Not as pretty as other areas of Venice
Where To Stay In The Cannaregio District, Venice
Hotel Ca’ Gottardi is a little gem of a place in Cannaregio; Venetian classic style mixed with the right amount of contemporary, where the staff pay attention to the details and don’t act like they hate tourists as in many other establishments. Their warm welcome is heartening in this oversubscribed city.
2. The Castello District of Venice
The largest of the 6 sestieri, or areas, of Venice, Castello is on the east of the Island.
This Venice neighborhood stretches from the Rialto bridge to the edge that overlooks the Lido – the island adjacent to Venice with a long stretch of sandy beaches.
For us this is one of the best neighborhoods in Venice. That’s 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 the Castello district is definitely more residential. Tourists are everywhere in Venice but they are definitely more outnumbered by locals in this Venice region.
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!
The Pro’s of This Venice District
- Some of the best local restaurants
- 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
- A drop-off spot for huge cruise liners and their bum-bag-wearing members.
3. Dorsoduro, Venice
Dorsoduro, Venice, is one of the most authentic neighborhoods in Venice, where actually you can escape the hustle and bustle a bit, 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 a neighborhood 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 it’s all at when the kids take a break from their dissertations. Laid-back bacari (bars) that serve great value Cicchetti (small snacks) bring a relaxed mood that is a welcome break and also less strain on the purse strings than more central areas of Venice.
Some other great features of this Venice neighbourhood are the beautiful palaces that line the Grand Canal. Ca’ Rezzonico is a much more manageable-sized museum than some of the more famous palazzos 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.
The Pro’s of This Venice District
- more lively, local night-life
- cheaper food and drink
- authentic neighbourhood culture
- great art and palaces
- quite a way from the Rialto Bridge and St Marks square
- run down in parts
Where To Stay In The Dorsoduro District, Venice
You know, if you’re going to do Venice in style and pretend like you’re all Johnny and Angelina in The Tourist then I have the absolute perfect hotel for you.
Hotel Nani Mocenigo Palace is the best accommodation you will ever find in this area of Venice. It is expensive but it won’t break the bank completely, however, the cost is well and truly justified – I mean, just take a look and you’ll see exactly where I’m coming from.
4. Santa Croce, Venice
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 Venetian neighbourhood of Santa Croce. Hard fact.
Venice’s Banksy in the Santa Croce region of Venice
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.
The Pro’s of This Venice District
- 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
- No need to get your camera out here – ‘nothing to see, move along!’
Where To Stay In Santa Croce, Venice
Hotel Gardena is a great little find in the Santa Croce region of Venice. For the quality of the rooms and the service, you will not find anywhere in Venice with this amount of value for money. Breakfast is free and there is a gorgeous little terrace in the centre of the hotel. Also, if you have driven to Venice you can park your car close by in a nearby long stay car park.
Don’t be put off by the distance to the centre of Venice – there are lots of really lovely restaurants and bars in this area, especially since this is a student neighborhood.
5. The San Marco District of Venice
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 Venice neighbourhood 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 to 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.
The Pro’s of the San Marco District
- central location
- just beautiful
- there are a few quiet spots if you stray from San Marc’s Square
- extortionate hotels with smaller rooms
- expensive substandard restaurants
- soooo many people
- not much authentic Italian culture
Where To Stay In San Marco, Venice
The Locanda Fiorita is the most sumptuous of hotels, as if Versace, Valentino, Dolce and Gabbana all had a hotel baby. If you’re after Italian luxury then this is the place to stay and very affordable too.
It’s a small family-run hotel with really friendly staff, rare in this area of town! What we really loved was the beautiful terrace and balconies – somewhere serene and peaceful to retire to after a crowded day in Venice. The rooms are tiny but the price reflects it, and we’d say ‘small but perfectly formed’!
6. San Polo, Venice
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 of Venice but has plenty of interest for such a compact area. It’s the oldest neighborhood 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 bullfighting and masquerade balls, now the spot for open cinema and theatre in the summer months.
The Pro’s of San Polo
- central location
- very old and pretty
- great food markets
- good choice of souvenir shopping
- great restaurant choices
- the smallest Venice district so not as much choice
- not many hotels – more b&b’s
Where To Stay In San Polo
Not only is this one of the best area’s to stay in Venice in terms of locality, we have an absolute gem to recommend to you!
Hotel La Finestra Sulle Beccarie has to be one of best finds in such a packed city. Sometimes the traditionalness of Venice hotels gets on my nerves – this is Italy after all, the land of uncompromising style. And that’s why we love this hotel!
I’d happily hire Maurizio to come and redecorate for me back home, but in the meantime, this is where we’ll be staying in Venice.
If you’re a regular reader you’ll know we have a thing for rooftop terraces and that’s why we initially booked Hotel La Finestra Sulle Beccarie. What we weren’t banking on was all of the sweet little extras, like welcome drinks, complimentary desserts, and amazing coffee. And it is actually as stylish as it looks on all of the pictures. Perfect hotel in the perfect location.
So there you have it – my breakdown of the 6 neighbourhoods in 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!
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42 Comments Add yours
Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post with us.
You’re very welcome ?
This settles it – I’m visiting Croatia for my next vacation, thank you! Croatia Holidays
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.
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!
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!
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
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!
Agreed – definitely for foodies!
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
Good choice! It’s all good though 😉
What a fantastic post! So useful for anyone planning a trip to Venice. I’ve pinned it for later. #citytripping
I hope to visit Venice one day. I did not know that about the districts. Very interesting. Great pics 🙂
What a fabulous write-up of the neighborhoods! So helpful. Inspiration for another trip to Venice!
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
Aw thanks Erin – I enjoyed your latest one too
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.
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
Great – nice to meet you!
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
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! 😉
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
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
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.
Love this Alex. So helpful! We stayed in San Polo. Close to the market ‘Of course!’
Great choice! I think I’d choose there next time just for a change.
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.
Yes – there are some fantastic air bnbs for family’s too.
Excellent post, loved the pictures
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.
That’s beautiful. Thanks Jane ?