Uncovering the secrets of Venice’s six sestieri

Seeking the quieter side of Venice

From iconic architecture to gondolier-scattered canals, almost every corner of Venice is well-known the world over. In fact, you might be wondering what else there is to discover during your trip. But fear not – this remarkable floating city has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. So throw the tourist map aside and venture into Venice’s maze of callesèlle, as we head off the beaten track in the city’s six ancient districts.

Venice quiet canals

San Marco

Lord Byron. Charles Dickens. Ernest Hemingway. Something in the waters of Venice has drawn many a famous wordsmith to its labyrinthine canals. So in the spirit of the city’s writerly past, why not pen some dolci ricordi of your own with a visit to Il Papiro? Tucked away behind the sixteenth-century Chiesa di San Maurizio, just a stone’s throw from the tourist-swarmed Piazza San Marco, this artisan stationer is a peaceful haven where crafts – not crowds – are king.


Is a trip to Italy ever complete without a generous helping of gelato? We don’t think so. And if the locals are to be believed, look no further than Gelateria Nico – a few yards down from Ponte Longo in this distinctly bohemian sestiere. Despite boasting wide-open views of Guidecca and the sparkling Venetian lagoon, this decades-old ice cream parlour is just far enough from the Grand Canal to keep the hordes away. Sit back on the terrace and watch the world float by with a scoop of hand-made Italian heaven.


With the day-trippers and cruise-shippers sticking to San Marco, there’s a quieter side of the city to be found in the adjacent sestiere of Castello (Venice’s largest). From the charming canal-free promenade Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, to the peace of another uncommon Venetian sight – the lush gardens of Giardini della Biennale. Topping them all, however, is Ponte del Cristo. This unassuming bridge to the West of the district offers one of the most picture-perfect views La Serenissima has to offer.

Although getting lost is half the fun when exploring Venice, look out for the yellow signs on alleyway walls. These will always point you to the nearest ‘keypoint’ on the map – Ferrovia, Piazzale Roma, Piazza San Marco, Rialto or Accademia.

Santa Croce

Considered something of an ugly duckling thanks to its transport connections, visitors rarely stay longer than they need to make their onward journey. Yet hidden within is Osteria Ae Cravate, one of Venice’s top culinary experiences. We can’t tell you what we recommend, since this peculiar ristorante has daily-changing dishes rather than menus. Rest assured, though – the tables of happy locals mean you’re guaranteed a treat, with fresh-caught seafood sure to feature.


Many visitors are drawn by this sestiere’s historic link to the city’s Jewish community. Their first settlement near to the city’s foundries (or ‘geti’ in Venetian) is said to have given rise to the word ‘ghetto’.

Cannaregio Venice

It’s also home to some of the most truly enchanting corners of Venice – where only the very determined tourists roam. Our pick has to be Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a stunning fifteenth century marble masterpiece and one of only two freestanding churches in the city.

Exploring Venice can be thirsty work. Thankfully, Milan Bar on nearby Campo San Canzian is on hand with excellent coffee for those in need of a pick-me-up. Or a spot of Venetian spritz if you’re in the mood for fizz.

San Polo

As the smallest of Venice’s sestieri, and where you’ll find the swarming Rialto, it can be challenging to avoid the crowds in San Polo. Thankfully, there’s a much quieter escape route. Just head to the water’s edge by the fish market andkeep your eyes peeled for traghetti. As well as the transport of choice for locals, these pared-back, black gondolas scurry back and forth across the Grand Canal at a fraction of the cost you’ll pay for their gold-bedecked tourist versions. For the full Venetian experience, try to stay standing for the short but occasionally rocky journey.

Rialto Bridge Venice

And where to stay…

With boutique hotels dotted across the city, there’s luxury to be found in whichever of Venice’s sestieri suits you.