With its canals glinting in the sunlight and countless atmospheric alleyways to explore, Venice is like no other place. Consider visiting during the quieter spring and autumn seasons – perfect for getting to know the locals – and festivities such as the Santa Maria della Salute Festival and Carnival to enjoy. Closeby to the Dolomites, you can even combine skiing with a visit to this romantic city.

The best neighbourhoods to visit in Venice

San Marco

Piazza San Marco

St Mark’s Square is home to the eponymous Byzantine basilica (Photo: Getty Images)

Although the city is made up of six sestieri (neighbourhoods), this central neighbourhood, spiralling out from St Mark’s Square, is the Venice most visitors come for, with some of the city’s best things to do. Its network of calli (alleyways) and canals meet St Mark’s Square, home to the eponymous Byzantine basilica, clad in gold mosaics. Take the lift to the top of the bell tower for gorgeous views of the square, the snaking Grand Canal and the distant Dolomite mountains. Be sure to have a spritz at Quadri, one of the area’s historic bars, which has been visited by everyone from Lord Byron to Brad Pitt. Finally, wind through the calli to the white-marbled Rialto Bridge, the border with San Polo. En route, stop at the little-visited Palazzo Fortuny, the former home of art nouveau fashion and textile designer Mariano Fortuny.

San Marco has always had the finest places to stay in Venice, so you’ll find most of the best hotels here. Check into The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, which sits right on the Grand Canal; sipping a spritz at its Bar Longhi, cantilevered over the water, is an unforgettable Venice experience. Also situated right on the Grand Canal is The St. Regis Venice. A stay here is truly special thanks to the hotel’s private terraces overlooking the water, its unique Italianate Garden and luxurious Arts Bar – all of which are not to be missed.

San Polo

Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge is the most iconic bridge crossing Venice's Grand Canal (Photo: Getty Images)

On the other side of the Rialto Bridge from San Marco is the sestiere of San Polo. This is perhaps the prettiest area in Venice, a tangle of medieval alleyways and pretty canals, with plenty of places to visit. Visit the Rialto fish market, which has been supplying Venetians with lagoon fish since medieval times, then go to see some of San Polo’s art. The enormous Frari church is the main attraction here, with Canova’s tomb and Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin over the altar. Behind it is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, decorated almost entirely by Tintoretto, its walls and even ceiling covered in biblical scenes.

San Polo is also known for its artisans – two of the best are bookbinder Paolo Olbi and paper-marbler Paolo Pelosin at his shop Il Pavone in Campiello dei Meloni. AC Hotel Venezia is close to the Frari, in the neighbouring sestiere of Santa Croce. It’s a great, modern hotel, within easy walking distance of the train and bus stations.


Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Santa Maria dei Miracoli is clad entirely in marble (Photo: Getty Images)

This residential area on the north of the city is currently the hub of Venice’s nightlife, with the scene centred on the Fondamenta della Misericordia, a canalside bar strip. For an authentic local snack, visit Ae Bricoe, where the cicchetti (traditional Venetian bar snacks) are superb. They offer a range of baguette slices topped with cheeses, meats and seafood, but be sure to try the porchetta (roast pork) if you can – it’s made by a friend of the owners.

Away from the Misericordia, Cannaregio is a quiet area, full of graceful palazzi on wide waterways. It has superb art – Tintoretto worshipped at Madonna dell’Orto church, so it’s full of his works. Unique things to do in Cannaregio include visiting the churches of Sant’Alvise (for its frescoed ceiling) and the tiny Santa Maria dei Miracoli, clad entirely in marble. The Ghetto - the oldest Jewish quarter in Europe - is a fascinating area with a very moving history.



Dorsoduro has the Grand Canal on one side and the wide waterfront of the Giudecca Canal on the other. It’s best known for the modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim museum, but it’s also great for alternative things to do. Stroll up the Zattere waterfront to Dorsoduro’s little-visited northern parts, for quiet squares and more art – like wall-to-wall Veronese paintings in the church of San Sebastian, or the gilded carvings in San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, the church made famous in Don’t Look Now. Don’t miss the superb cicchetti at wine shop Schiavi; it’s canal-side, just off the Zattere.


Colourful houses in Burano

The island of Burano is famous for its colourful houses and great places to eat

Venice is just one tiny part of the Venetian lagoon. By heading out to the islands, you really begin to understand what life is like in the region. Take the number 12 vaporetto (waterbus) out to the north lagoon.

The island of Burano, famous for its colourful houses, is home to great places to eat, including one of the city’s best restaurants, Gatto Nero, which serves seafood caught by the island’s fishermen; dishes to try include risotto di gò (gò is a lagoon fish).

The vaporetto also stops at Torcello, which is almost empty, except for the church of Santa Maria Assunta, full of glittering Byzantine mosaics. On the way back, stop at Murano, the most impressive of the islands – as well as its renowned glassworks, it even has a miniature Grand Canal with huge palazzos on either side.

Stay mid-lagoon at JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, which resides on its own private island, the Isola delle Rose. With its private shuttle into town and rooftop pool, it’s one of the best places to stay in Venice.

Go deeper

To experience the real Venice, you need to head away from the main sights. The further you get from San Marco, the more local it gets. Stop at an artisan’s workshop – most of them will happily show you around (Venezia Autentica has excellent listings) – and sip an ombra, or small glass of wine, at a bacaro (bar). Instead of a proper gondola ride, join the locals on a traghetto (public gondola) across the Grand Canal. Download apps CheBateo for vaporetto times, and Hi!Tide Venice for tide levels during acqua alta (flooding) season.

Published: July 26, 2022

Last Updated: January 19, 2023

Article Tags:  Venice , Italy

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