Venice Italy Travel Guide to 6 Districts Map, Tips, Photos, Videos

Venice, Italy. The name conjures up thoughts of gondolas, fountains, artwork and spectacular architecture. 

This seemingly floating city consists of 121 small islands linked together by 435 bridges spanning 160 canals that when explored reveal different and sometimes unexpected sights at every turn. And whatever you imagined the city of Venice to look like, once you get there it is more lovely than all the photos, films and adverts you have seen.

The sinking city has stopped sinking, and these days the canals are relatively clean. They are a hive of activity with gondolas ferrying tourists, water taxis ferrying the more well-heeled Venetians, and service boats such as the vaporettas who ply the larger canals picking up passengers.

But because there are no roads here you will also find boats that are used to pick up the city's rubbish, boats used as ambulances for the sick, and barges bringing supplies to the shops, markets and restaurants.

Venice is a beautiful city which can be visited all year around. It's a city to admire and one to get lost in. And if you don't get lost, you really haven't been adventurous enough! Every time we go to Venice Italy we invariably stray off the planned route, but each time the diversion has been rewarding in some way; a small church, hidden artwork, a great restaurant of an unexpected sight.

A gondola tied up on a jetty on the Grand Canal, Venice Italy

Travel Facts for Venice Italy

So that you don't get too lost in Venice get to know the signs on the walls that come in handy. A calle is a street. However, a street that runs beside a canal is known as a fondamenta or riva . A canal is called a rio .

Things to See and Do in Venice Italy

Deciding what to do and see is going to be really hard but here are a couple of suggestions: The Basilica di San Marco is a stunning building. Piazza San Marco is a great place to spend time soaking up the atmosphere and music.

Venice Jazz Club, just off Santa Margherita, is a must for fans. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection exhibits modern art and is a sharp contrast to the classical art that abounds in Venice.

For those who are able, take in an opera during your stay. Even if you don't understand a word the show is worth it.

Here is an overview of what to see in Venice, with links to the districts with more travel information on each.

Top 11 Venice Sightseeing Attractions for the First Time Visitor

1) Accademia Gallery - museum gallery of pre-19th century art
2) Basilica di San Marco - words cannot describe the beauty of this church
3) Campanile of San Marco (Bell Tower)
4) Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo - burial place of  famous Venetians and Doges
5) Frari Church - a gem of a church and well worth a visit
6) Murano, Burano and Torcello for glass, lace and colorful houses
7) Palazzo Ducale - palace of the Venetian Doges
8) Piazza San Marco - for pigeons and atmosphere
9) Rialto Bridge - a symbol of Venice
10) San Giorgio Maggiore - 16th century Benedictine church visible on an island
11) Scuola di San Rocco - dedicated to the works of Tintoretto

The 6 Districts of Venice Italy

Venice is divided into 6 districts, each has its own character, charm and unique qualities.  These districts do not include the much visited islands of Murano for its famous glass, or Burano for colorfully painted houses and lace, the Lido for the beaches and probably the least visited islands by tourists; Giudecca and San Giorgio Maggiore.

Map of the 6 Districts of Venice Italy

    San Marco
    San Polo
    Santa Croce

Map courtesy of
Giovanni Fasano

Gondolas wrapped up during winter in Venice

Overview of the 6 Districts of Venice Italy

1) Cannaregio is the northern most district that links the island of Venice with the mainland. It is also here where one of the world's first first Jewish ghetto was built. It is an area of peeling facades but it is also an area considered off the beaten track for most tourists and therefore an ideal spot to explore and meet local working-class Venetians.

San Geremia Church in Cannareggio Venice Italy with one of the oldest bell towers in Venice in the background

2) Castello lies east of  the San Marco district. It is mixture of sophistication and simplistic charm as it is where you will find elegant villas and expensive hotels lining the upmarket and best known waterfront the Riva degli Schiavoni. But it is also where you can visit the quaint fishing village of San Pietro.

3) Dorsoduro is the largest area of firm land making up Venice. This then explains its name, which literally means "Hard Back".  The eastern section of Dorsoduro is the most picturesque where you can also visit the Academia Gallery housing the world's finest collection of Venetian artists as well as a boatyard where gondolas are repaired. This is an area of well-heeled Venetians and expatriates alike.

Dorsoduro Venice, Italy showing the bridge leading onto Campo Barnaba

4) San Marco is one of the first places visited by tourists as they head for the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica in St. Marks Square.  There are many wonderful squares, restaurants and bars, including the birthplace of the delicious Bellini, certainly one of my favorite drinks, Harry's Bar.

The highly decorated entrance to San Marco Basilica, St. Mark's Square.

5) San Polo curves into the bend of the Grand Canal. This is another well-visited area but unfortunately many  beautiful backstreet canals, like the one below, are often overlooked by busy tourists who head for the Grand Canal to take pictures of the more famous Rialto Bridge.  

If there is just one more church that you should visit after the Basilica of San Marco it is the Frari Church in San Polo. A Franciscan church filled with artworks by Titian and Bellini.  A shrine to works by Tintoretto can be seen at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

A quiet canal in the district of San Polo, Venice Italy

6) Santa Croce is probably the least known of all the districts, which is a shame really as it has a lot to offer and a great place to explore without the hordes of tourists. It consists of a maze of narrow alleyways lined with tall houses and Venetians going about their daily life undisturbed by intrusive strangers.

Festivals in Venice Italy

Special occasions in Venice are celebrated in style and are well worth attending if you can.

The Sensa Feast-day is held in May each year. Head down towards the Piazza San Marco and witness the pomp and ceremony. The mayor of Venice and various other secular and religious dignitaries dressed up in Medieval garb, with trumpets blaring forth, they sail from St. Mark's Square in gondolas to the Port of San Nicolo where a ring is thrown into the waters to demonstrate the importance of the sea and a symbolic marriage to the sea with Venice. In previous times a gold ring used to be used, but I doubt that this is still the case today.

The Redentore Feast-day is an historical Venetian festival held on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday in July as a thanks to saving the city from the great plague. It is a celebration that has been celebrated every year since 1577.

On the Saturday night St. Mark's Basin and the Giudecca Canal starts filling up at dusk with boats decorated with balloons, and colorful lanterns. The boats are then moored together and a sumptuous supper is served of traditional Venetian dishes. After supper, at about 11:30 the sky is lit up with a spectacular firework display that lasts about 30 minutes.

On the Sunday afternoon various boat races are held and at night mass is held at the Redentore Church on the island of Giudecca.

The Historical Regatta is held around the 4th of September. This regatta is the opening ceremony to the annual rowing calendar.  The Regatta Storica takes over the Grand Canal with many 16th century styled boats with gondoliers ferrying the Doge, the Doge's wife and other important Venetian officials up the canal. After the main procession there are 4 categories of boat races that take place much to the delight of the crowds egging them on.

Here is a Travel Video of the Regatta Storica, Venice Italy

A masked Venetian at the Venice Carnival Italy February/ March is the time for the other internationally famous Venetian event - Carnival , which adds costumes and masks to what is already one of the most romantic cities in the world.

More then 3 million tourists come to Venice every year to see the Venetian Carnevale which takes place 40 days before Easter and ends on Shrove Tuesday the day before Ash Wednesday.

One of the most important events of the festivities is the contest for the best mask which takes place over the last weekend of the festival.

Here is a Travel Video on the Carnevale Venice Italy

There are others and details can easily be found on the Internet. One of the best websites for this is
Timeout Venice .

Shopping in Venice Italy

Murano Glass

Prepare to be impressed on a trip to Murano. This island has a long-standing tradition of glass blowing and is world renowned for the quality. When you see the display of intricately hand-blown and engraved glassware you will begin to understand the skill and patience needed. Don't be put off by the thought of trying to get it home. The factories ship their wares around the world and are happy to help.

Things to do in Venice Italy with Kids: Making Venetian Masks 

Ca Macana shop in Venice for mask-making workshops

The highly decorated entrance to La Macana Mask Shop

The best place to buy Venetian masks is at a shop called Ca'Macana. They are one of the few places remaining that make their masks by hand, following a tradition spanning 800 years.

Not only that, but it is also a great place to take the kids as they have a room where children can paint their own carnival masks. If you have the time, you could also take a mini-course on making a paper-mache mask. This paper mache course takes 2.5 hours and can be taught in English, Italian or French. You will also be given a short history of the masks and the importance of them in the past and present.

Another course that can be done at Ca'Macana for families is similar to the one above but as it is targeted for families the time is reduced to a 2 hour session,  the history session is kept to a minimum according to the age of the children, and the family can paint two masks rather than one.

There are other options available, including a 1 hour tour of the workshop. See Ca'Macana for further details.

I took this picture, but cannot remember which district I was in at the time. Sorry!

Things to do in Venice Italy: Tours

If in doubt, a good way to get a feel for the city is to take one of the many walking tours of Venice. This way you can make sure you catch all the highlights and pick out where you really want to go back to. Venice Italy has a reputation as being expensive but there are quite a few free places to visit and sights where you do not have to pay.

Contrary to popular belief, you can easily get around the city by walking and/ or vaporetto. If you want to try something different there are "ghost walking tours" and "a photographer's tour" which are sure to make an interesting and memorable addition to your stay.

Try and find some of the bars and restaurants that hide in the back alleys, they are less crowded and cheaper than the more touristy ones. For some history, Harry's Bar is a must.

The gondola is synonymous with Venice Italy

Food Markets in Venice Italy

A Food Market at the foot of the Rialto Bridge

I love visiting local markets, particularly food markets where you can see fruit and vegetables that you may not have seen before. The first time I saw chicory from Treviso was in a Venetian market near the Rialto Bridge.

The market here is a great market for fruit, vegetables and fresh fish too, and there are some strange creatures lurking around the Mediterranean waters by the looks of things!

Buying food from the markets can not only be a great people-watching experience if you want to observe the locals, but it also is a good way to save money for meals. Buy your cheese, cold meats, salads and fruit here and very soon you will have a meal without breaking the bank that you would have spent at some fancy restaurant.

For more information on all the markets in Venice, including maps.

2 gondolas in a side canal in Venice Italy

Gondolas in Reflection, Venice Italy

Hotels in Venice Italy

Hotels in Venice are notoriously expensive and their peak and shoulder seasons last a lot longer than other places around Italy that are not major tourist cities and towns. However, having said that, you can get a hotel room with or without a canal view a lot cheaper in the winter months. Sometimes as much as 50% or more cheaper.

The only down side to exploring Venice in the winter is the possibility of rain, or even snow, however, you virtually have Venice to yourself to explore and the locals reclaim their city once more after the busy tourist season.
There is a wide variety of hotel accommodation in Venice Italy from luxury hotels to budget hotels, guest houses and even accommodation on board a permanently based boat which offers excellent prices for a night's booking.

We have divided up the hotels in Venice according to both budget as well as district. Remember, however, that in general the more off the center of the tourist spots the cheaper your hotel accommodation will be.

See our page on
Hotels in Venice Italy for details.

Weather Venice, Italy

Here is a 15 weather forecast for Venice.

How to Get to Venice Italy  by Car, Bus or Bike from Piazzale Roma: 

If you find yourself in Piazzale Roma it is probably because you have come to Venice either by bus , car or bike . It is a huge parking area on the mainland linking Venice with a causeway.

Here you will find 3 parking areas:

  • Autorimessa Comunale
  • Garage San Marco
  • Sant'Andrea

Travel Tip for Visiting Venice Italy by Car or Bike

Avoid the crowds and head for the island of Tronchetto, a large car park that the locals use to visit Venice and also very close to the Piazzale Roma.

Another solution which I think is even better still is to park the car on the mainland at either Mestre or Marghera.

Take either the train or bus from here to Piazzale Roma or Santa Luca Railway station.

Buying Tickets for the Water Taxi at Piazzale Roma

At Piazzale Roma you will need to buy your tickets for the water taxi. Head for the Hellovenezia Office , near the bridge. You won't be able to miss it in the summer as it will be the office with long lines of tourists all waiting to buy their tickets.

A Travel Italy Grapevine Travel Tip:

Head into the middle of the square to the newsagent. It is a kiosk with magazines and newspapers outside, and above the winter, is a sign in blue and yellow saying "Biglietti and Ticket". Visit our basic Italian phrases page to help you out in purchasing your tickets, but here they are very used to foreign visitors and you should find that they speak fairly good English.

Cut the queues and buy your ticket like a local. You can also buy tickets here for getting back to the airport.

However, if you want to buy a visitors Tourist Card for Venice you will have to queue up at the Hellovenezia Office. Buy the tourist card here for however long you are in Venice.

The tourist cards are valid for 12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, or 7 days, depending on which version you buy. The last time we were in Venice we were only there for 5 days, bought the 7 day card and still saved heaps!

Save on travel. The water taxis are expensive and you will end up paying 6x more than what the locals pay to catch the taxis if you don't by the tourist card.

One thing that you have to remember is to tag on and tag off with your card when you get onto the water taxi and off it. We forgot to do this the first time, but you do get the hang of it when you travel on the water buses or taxis regularly.

For a detailed map of the water taxi routes in Venice, see the map below.

Things to do in Venice: Traveling on a Gondola

The gondola is very expensive. How expensive? Well for a maximum of 6 people at a time, for 20 minutes it will cost Euros 40. For 40 minutes it will cost you Euros 80. If you take the gondola between 7 and 8 in the evening prices go up once again and a 40 minute trip along the canals will cost Euros 100. (Prices 2012)

Traveling in Venice on the Traghetto

For many of us, traveling up and down the Grand Canal in a gondola, no matter how romantic, can just be out of our price bracket. However, there is a cheaper way to still travel on the Grand Canal with your own gondolier and that is with a traghetto.

It is a ferry service that runs from fixed points along the Grand Canal - look for the signs -  and is a service that runs from one side of the canal over to the other breadth ways. People are expected to stand as you are taken over, although if you smile sweetly and say, "Posso" and indicate that you wish to sit, they will allow you to do so if the gondola is empty.

The last time we used the Traghetto it cost us about 50 cents each for the novelty and it was a fun way of getting across to the other side. Pay the gondolier as you get onto the boat.

The Traghetti Stations run between the following points:

1. Fondamenta S. Lucia (in front of the railroad station) – Fondamenta San Simeón Piccolo
2. San Marcuola – Fóndaco dei Turchi (by the Natural History Museum)
3. Santa Sofia (near Ca’ D’Oro) – Pescaria (fish market)
4. Riva del Carbòn – Fondamente del Vin
5. Sant’ Angelo – San Tomà
6. San Samuele – Ca’ Rezzónico
7. Campo del Traghetto – Calle Lanza (near the Salute Church)

The traghetto carrying passengers.
The Traghetto about to Dock

Getting to Venice Italy by Plane

The nearest airport is the Marco Polo airport at Tessera about 5 miles north of the city, on the mainland. It is served by domestic and international Alitalia flights, including services from London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Vienna and Zurich. British Airways, Emirates Air,  Qatar Air, Air France, Lufthansa, and US Airways also fly into Marco Polo, among others.

You can get to Piazzale Roma from the Marco Polo airport by either taxi or bus. The blue ATVO buses make the 25 minute non-stop trip from the airport and when you get to Piazzale Roma take a water taxi to your hotel.

Travel Italy Grapevine Travel Tip

Before you arrive in Venice, find out the location of your hotel and know exactly how to get there. Depending on its location, the water taxi will only take you to the various designated landings or stations, and your hotel may end up being some distance from your hotel.

If you arrive at night, and I can tell you from personal experience, even though we knew where we were  going as the hotel was located just behind Ca'D' Oro every alleyway looks the same in the dark and some hotel signs are not well placed. You could end up walking around in circles in the dark, or worse, walking way off course.

Be prepared to find your way on your own, or if you are going to be arriving in the dark it would be best to call the hotel ahead of times for clear instructions on how to find it or ask for a porter to meet you at the water taxi landing.

All official porters in Venice Italy wear badges, blue smocks and socks. There is a set fee per piece of luggage that they will carry, and this fee increases over holidays and at night. You can get a porter from either Santa Lucia Train Station or the Piazzale Roma to your hotel if need be. However, there are not that many porters around, especially during the summer.

Getting to Venice Italy by Train

Details on how to get from Malpensa Airport to Venice are here. If you are traveling from Europe you will arrive at Santa Lucia Train Station. Walking out of the station you will come across the water taxi station directly opposite where you can get a water taxi to the main areas of Venice.

If you need to cross the bridge near the train station then you will have some issues with your luggage particularly if you are not strong, young or are carrying heavy suitcases. The bridge is high and all steps, although there are some wide landing areas where you can catch your breath. If you are carrying luggage that is light and easy to carry then you won't have any problems.

Detailed Street Travel Map of Venice Italy including water bus routes.

Free download for a Map of Venice Italy
Travel map of Venice


Travel Italy Grapevine Logo Go from Venice Italy back to Northern Italy Travel Reviews

Go to Venice Restaurants

Go to Hotels in Venice Italy

Go to Italian Regional Food

Go back to the Travel Italy Grapevine Home Page