Venice is made up of 6 neighborhoods called Sestiere, the islands of Giudecca, and Venice Lido, and then the surrounding islands like Murano and Burano. All of it is gorgeous and picturesque and in general, it’s small enough to get around easily on foot. Below we’ve described what the different neighborhoods feel like to us, with some pictures to give you an idea of each one’s particular character. For a map of Venice, and an overall guide of where to stay, read this earlier post.
Santa Lucia – The area around the station, and technically in Canareggio. In a certain sense, not unlike the area around most train stations in most cities. Pretty commercial. But convenient. Parking is close by at Piazzale Roma.
The Gheto - The Jewish Gheto of Venice, also technically in Canareggio and near Santa Lucia train station. Small, but characteristic. There are three squares – Campo de Gheto vecchio, Campo de Gheto novo, and Campo de Gheto novissimo. Most people, even the Gheto resident’s, won’t know which is which. It doesn’t matter: one is right next to the other and they’re all connected. Jewish and Middle Eastern flair, nice eateries (mostly kosher, of course), art and religious shops. There’s a fairly big (kosher) B&B with nice garden. And then there’s of course the Synagogue; actually not one, but seven!
Cannaregio - Both touristy and not, commercial and artisan at the same time. There’s the large ‘Strada Nova’, a newish and largish street, the only ‘real’ shopping promenade of Venice. Good for a stroll and window shopping (and ice cream of course — try GROM!). Contrasting the Strada Nova, there are many small streets, with hardly any tourists but kids playing and residents chatting. Small artisan shops if you like to watch or buy traditional crafts.
Dorsoduro – Upper-class Venice. Sestiere Dorsoduro is the most elegant neighborhood in Venice, with its larger (and lighter) streets and houses on the grand canal. A view on the grand canal is different from a view on just any canal. Light, air! This is where “La Venezia bene” used to live, and still does. Elegant houses, some with gardens. The canal here won’t be smelly!
San Polo – Touristy, but also not. Convenient – close to the Rialto bridge, and hosting the only ‘real’ market in Venice, “Mercato del Rialto”, famous for fish and other fresh produce. A good choice if you want to be able to walk everywhere easily and quickly without being suffocated by tourists. Also supposed to be the “Foodie” area with lots of restaurants and more alternative places (tea rooms, ethically mixed cuisine, etc).
Santa Croce – Similar to San Polo. Touristy, but also not. Feels a bit less dreamy and time-capsuley than the more traditional neighborhoods. You’re close to Piazzale Roma (parking, bus hub) and the train station (across the canal, big modern bridge). A good, central, mostly residential neighborhood.
San Marco – Mostly touristy, but super central. This will work out great if you only have little time in Venice. From here, you’ll be able to see most anything of major interest, without your feet blowing up in smoke.
Castello – The largest neighborhood, considered truly the Venice of Venetians. Middle-class, lots of street life, alternative culture, a large park (‘giardini’), this is where most students, artists and working-class Venetians live, and you can feel it. It’s real and pretty unpretentious. Great food, great prices. On the one hand calm with hardly any tourists, on the other hand very lively with people living their neighborhood. Via Garibaldi s a nice (and large) street to hang out on. The park is a pleasant respite. A ‘centro sociale’ for sub-culture music, theater and cinema. Personally my favorite neighborhood – did I give that away? I love all of Venice though.
For a ’different Venice’ experience there’s Giudecca and Venice Lido – I’m putting them in the same category even though they really haven nothing else in common, except that they both represent a different side of Venice AND that you will definitely need to take the water boat to get to them. From Giudecca to Saint Mark’s takes about 2 minutes; from Venice Lido it’s about 15 minutes. The boat trips are about €6.20 one way but if you plan on taking the waterbus more than a couple of times anywhere in Venice, you should get a 3-day or 5-day pass with unlimited rides.
Giudecca is a younger part of Venice, but still goes back a few hundred years. It’s a very blue-collar neighborhood. Here, houses are slightly more modern than in the rest of Venice. You have some green areas, and houses with gardens. It’s very non-touristy, as it’s detached from the rest of Venice and there’s no bridge over the canal. You get a beautiful view of the rest of Venice!
Venice Lido is for the beach girl/boy in you. Or the one who never got over Death in Venice. Or the cinema groupie. Actually, it’s also the best choice for those who don’t want to feel like they’ve travelled in a time-machine and appreciate the commodities of modern life – cars, buses, elevators – in Venice Lido you get all that.
Venezia Mestre – This is not actually Venice, but it’s close enough, distance-wise. A few minutes on the train or bus and you’ll be in Venice. And so much cheaper!