“It's so easy for me to get caught up in the feeling of a city like Venice, where everything is just beautiful color and gorgeous buildings that are so peaceful. You can roam around and get lost in the labyrinth.” - Nanette Lepore

Venice is a city off the north coast of the Adriatic Sea. It’s also known as "La Dominante", "La Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "The City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals".

With over 20 million tourists visiting Venice each year, the 261,905 inhabitants are victims of its success. As one of the world’s most romantic destinations, Venice is the cliché lovers’ getaway and the city’s various neighbourhoods have a lot to offer. In this article, we’re going to look at Venice’s main neighbourhoods.

San Marco, the Historic Centre

San Marco is Venice’s historic city centre and the most popular tourist destination in the city.

What is there to do in San Marco?
San Marco is Venice's most touristy neighbourhood. (Source: Mariamichelle)

It has a large concentration of historic monuments and is often the most crowded part of town. This is a busy part of the city every day of the year, but if you visit Venice, you have to visit San Marco.

San Marco’s main destinations include:

  • St Mark's Square
  • St Mark's Basilica
  • Bridge of Sighs
  • Saint Mark’s Campanile
  • The Doge's Palace
  • The Museo Correr
  • The Clock Tower
  • Fenice Theatre
  • The Grand Canal

It should be mentioned that the Venetian Lagoon, which includes the city and the 121 islands, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Start with Saint Mark’s Square. Once the political, religious, and economic centre of the Republic of Venice, it’s now a historic site and popular tourist destination.

On the banks of the Grand Canal, it’s the heart of the city centre and home to the basilica, bell-tower, and Doge’s Palace. It’s surrounded by arcades and monuments and the Procuratie - the former residence for Venice’s prosecutors - are now cafés and souvenir shops. The Doge’s Palace was the seat of Republic of Venice’s bishop for seven centuries.

Don’t miss the Bridge of Sighs, one of the city’s most famous bridges, which was built in 1602 to join the Doge’s Palace to the then-new prison.

Do you like history?

During your time in Venice, make sure you visit the Museo Correr. There are Venetian works, objects, and maps covering the history of everyday life in the city.

Saint Mark’s Basilica with its five golden domes is another unmissable gem in the area. The city’s main church was built in 828 in a Byzantine and Western-style.

Finally, make sure you visit the campanile, a 98.6m bell-tower that was built between 1511 and 1514, collapsed in 1902, and was rebuilt between 1903 and 1912.

Find out more about visiting Venice.

Dorsoduro: Bohemian Venice

If you are bohemian at art, head to the south of the city to Dorsoduro, the city’s artistic and bohemian neighbourhood.

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What is there in Dorsoduro?
Dorsoduro is Venice's more bohemian neighbourhood. (Source: Mariamichelle)

On the banks of the Grand Canal in the city centre, it’s home to several art galleries, palaces, and museums. There are a large number of bars and restaurants around Campo San Barnaba and Campo Santa Margherita.

You should also visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It’s home to collections of paintings from Venice’s most famous artists including Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto.

Dorsoduro is also home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. If you like contemporary art, this gallery is home to Picassos, Braques, Duchamps, Mondrians, and Chagalls.

The neighbourhood is a lot calmer than San Marco and even the entertainment in Dorsoduro is rather bohemian.

At the start of the Grand Canal, you’ll find the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, one of Venice’s most important religious buildings. It consists of two chapels and is home to Tintoretto’s famous “Marriage at Cana”.

Finally, this is also the place you should go if you want to enjoy Venice’s nightlife.

Where exactly?

Head to Campo Santa Margherita.

This is a lively part of the city with many bars and restaurants where you can try Venetian specialities. The Dorsoduro neighbourhood also includes Giudecca, an island worth visiting.

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San Polo and Cannaregio

Once you’ve made your way across the Rialto Bridge and out of San Marco, you’ll find yourself in San Polo.

San Polo

This is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.

Similarly, the Rialto Bridge is one of the city’s oldest bridges and was built during the 14th century.

It sits atop 6,000 piers, includes three sets of stairs, and two rows of shops. If you want to see some local products, head to the Rialto market. Having run for over 700 years, you can enjoy a taste of everyday Venetian life.

In terms of monuments and cultural sites in San Polo, there’s:

  • La Scuola Grande di San Rocco
  • I Frari Church
  • Natural History Museum

On the other side of the latter, you’ll find another of Venice’s neighbourhoods.

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Cannaregio, between Santa Croce and San Polo, is famous for once being a Jewish ghetto and home to many synagogues.

What is there in Cannaregio?
The Ca' d'Oro is a magnificent building in Cannaregio. (Source: DEZALB)

The former Jewish quarter isn’t visited as often as the rest of the city centre so you can stroll around without bumping into crowds of tourists.

The two synagogues, Scuola Spagnola and Scuola Levantina, blend Venetian and Hebrew styles. You can also visit Ca’ d’Oro Palace. This is one of the city’s most famous palaces on account of its extravagant facade.

The palace was built between 1421 and 1434 and represents the transition between the Feudal Gothic period and the Italian Renaissance.

While most tourism in Venice occurs in San Marco and on the other islands in the lagoon, Cannaregio is a great place to visit another quieter side of Venice.

Enjoy an Aperol Spritz, Cicchetti, or local meats in one of the many “bacari” (wine bars) in the neighbourhood.

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Castello, Venice’s Largest Neighbourhood

Castello, in the southeast of Venice, is the largest of the city’s neighbourhoods. It includes the Arsenal, the symbol of Venice’s naval domination from the 7th to the 18th centuries, the Campo Zanipolo, the Chiesa di San Francesco della Vigna, the Napoleonic Gardens, and the banks of the Grand Canal. One of the area’s must-see sights is the Santi Giovanni e Paolo Basilica.

An important number of doges - the magistrates of the Venetian Republic - and other important people have been buried here since the 13th century. It’s the city’s largest church.

To discover more about the military and naval history of Venice, you need to go to the Naval History Museum since the Arsenal isn’t open to the public.

Not sure what to do during your time in Venice?

Consider strolling around the Napoleonic Gardens. This green space facing Lido is home to the Venice Biennale art, dance, music, cinema, and architecture festival.

There’s also a great view of the south bank and the San Giorgio Maggiore Basilica.

Learn more about accommodation in Venice.

The Islands Surrounding Venice

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If the neighbourhoods in the centre are too busy, escape to the islands on a Vaporetto, a taxi boat, and enjoy the canals.

Don’t miss the island of Burano. There’s the Church of San Martino, the Venice Lace Museum, the fish market, and the coloured buildings. This is one of the most popular of Venice’s islands so you might want to visit either early morning or later in the evening. You can also get a combined ticket to visit Murano, Burano, and Torcello.

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Which are the best islands in Venice?
Lido, Burano, and Murano are all worth a visit. (Source: 12019)

On the island of Murano, you can learn about blowing glass and the glass industry that’s been famous all over the world since the Middle Ages.

You can also head to Torcello, a popular holiday destination in Venice. The Roman nobility would regular frequent it. It was the first island to be inhabited by Venetians who left the mainland after the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Huns invasion.

Do you like going to the beach?

Relax on Lido, Venice’s beach resort.

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.