Venice City Map – Exploring The Sestieri



Venice — that is, the island itself — is famously shaped like a fish, its tail flipping in from the Adriatic Sea and its mouth heading toward the mainland. (Sort of like Jaws, isn't it?) A couple of things to remember here. One, that shape is largely man-made, created by centuries of Venetians filling waterways and expanding their land. Second, there's a lot more to the Venetian Lagoon than Venezia itself — there are something like sixty other islands.

But for right now, we're going to look at the districts that make up the floating city of Venice. These are called sestieri and there are six of them. We'll also explore a couple of nearby islands that are very important parts of city life.

The Floating Fish

The Districts of Venice

The six sestieri make up the island of Venice and are pretty much the areas you'll want to explore as a tourist. (Although in our article on the islands of Venice we tell you about nearby islands you should visit, including Murano and Burano, famous for glassblowing and lacemaking, respectively.)

It's in these sestieri that you'll find San Marco, the Grand Canal, the Doge's Palace, and all those magnificent piazzi, palazzi, and churches.

Cannaregio Sestiere

Cannaregio Sestiere

This district in the northwest is probably where you'll arrive in Venice. It's where the train station is (there's a 3-mile-long bridge from the mainland), and it's where many Venetians live. Consequently, away form the trains area, you'll find peaceful streets & canals, markets, and shops.

Venice's second largest canal (after the Grand Canal) cuts through Cannaregio. In fact, the district is named for the city's original canal, Canal Regio, or Royal Canal. Theses days the aptly named Canal di Cannaregio is one of only two waterways in Venice deep enough that the vaporetti (water buses) can run.

It's interesting to note that the Jewish Ghetto, found in the Cannaregio and originally a small island,, was the first of its kind in Europe. Made famous by Shakespeare, it's definitely worth a visit today.

Castello Sestiere

Castello Sestiere

To the east of Cannaregio is the Castello sestiere, encompassing the tail of the fish. Like most of Venice, Castello was originally a series of smaller islands. In fact, even now two islands, Isola de San Pietro and Isola de Sant'Elena, make up part of this large sestiere.

This is where the Renaissance Venetian fleet sailed from, and where you find the historic Arsenale — the Venice Arsenal. Today, boats depart from here for the northern islands of Burano and Murano.

It's a pleasant district to stroll, far from the tourist crowds of San Marco. You'll find the Giardini, laid out by Napoleon and a Venice centre for art exhibitions since 1895. They're often called the Giardini Biennale because the is the site of the Venice Biennale, an international exhibit of art and architecture.

San Marco Sestiere

San Marco Sestiere

As you might imagine, this is the busiest and most crowded of the sestieri as tourists flock to Basilica San Marco and other amazing iconic sights. Piazza San Marco is really the heart of historic Venice and it's there that you'll find the basilica, the Doge's Palace, the Campanile (the bell tower), tons of churches and palazzi filled with artwork, and fashion & shops. Did we forget to mention the Rialto Bridge?

This is the oldest district of Venice, first settled in the 5th century by citizens of the Roman Empire fleeing the Lombard invaders. They set down roots in the areas between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. Today you're going to find many more people there (!), so we the best way to get into Basilica San Marco & the Doge's Palace is to sign up for a guided tour that lets you skip the lines.

San Polo Sestiere

San Polo Sestiere

Is it by chance that "San Marco" and "San Polo" are just across the Grand Canal from each other? Whatever the case, we love the reference to that historic Venetian explorer. These two sestieri are connected by the famed Rialto Bridge, one of the few covered bridges in Venice. By the bridge is the Rialto street market, famous for vegetables and a huge fish market.

It makes sense that the largest food market would be here, since San Polo is the centre of Venice, and the only sestiere that doesn't border on the lagoon — although the Grand Canal does form half of its boundary. Don't miss the Basilica dei Frari to view the famous painting by Titian, The Assumption of the Virgin, and the tomb of the artist himself.

Santa Croce Sestiere

Santa Croce Sestiere

To the west is Santa Croce, the only place in Venice you'll find cars & buses. The sestiere is connected to the mainland by the lagoon roadway/bridge; around the Piazzale Roma is the one place a car or bus can travel. Even though there is parking to be had, we strongly advise against driving a car to Venice. At the far western tip, jutting down into the lagoon like two giant fangs from the fish that is Venice, is the Terminal Venezia Passeggeri, the Venice Cruise Terminal.

In the eastern part of Santa Croce, away from the cruise ships and the car park and bus terminal, you'll discover museums, palazzos, and churches, including the über-cute San Simeon Piccolo. Santa Croce is home to restaurants, pizzerias, and large parts of the university.

Dorsoduro Sestiere

Dorsoduro Sestiere

Dorsoduro is the belly of the fish and features a long "coastline" along the Canale di Fusina and the Canale della Giudecca. For what it's worth, Dorsoduro is the highest land in Venice, and the place seems to have been named after its ridge of land.

Historical and artistic highlights include the lovely Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, the fabulous Venetian paintings at Gallerie dell'Accademia, and Scuola Grande dei Carmini, designed and decorated by top Venetian architects and artists. Dorsoduro is home to the main parts of the University of Venice.

Just across the southern canals is another part of the Dorsoduro sestiere, the Isola della Giudecca.

Isola della Giudecca – The Island of Giudecca

Isola della Giudecca

Historically, Giudecca was not a sestiere or separate district, but part of Dorsoduro. This is another of the Venetian islands that was cobbled together from a series of smaller islands.

It's had a sort of back-and-forth history. During the peak of the Venetian Empire, Giudecca was where you found the grand palaces and opulent gardens of the gentry. About a hundred years ago it transformed into an area of small industry, there was even a flour mill. Today it's a residential area once again, with some nifty hotels and great views of the rest of Venice.

During the third weekend in July, to celebrate the Festa del Redentore, a pontoon bridge is laid out between Giudecca and Dorsoduro, allowing walkers to stroll back and forth. Fireworks ensue.