There is more to Venice than the Saint Mark’s square, Café Florian and the Doge’s Palace. The San Marco district (“sestiero” in Italian) is the most famous with its cluster of main Venice tourist attractions, and, unfortunately, it is the most crowded and less authentic of all the city neighborhoods.
Cross the Academia bridge (Ponte dell’Accademia) at the southern end of the Grand Canal and you are in Dorsoduro, a beautiful residential part of Venice. In this area you will find some of the best museums in the city: the Academia Gallery, Peggy Guggenheim Collection. You can easily walk around Dorsoduro to see its numerous architectural gems. The little pretty church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli is one of the oldest in Venice. Beside it is the 16th century Church of San Sebastiano where Paolo Veronese frescoes can be seen. If you head towards the Grand Canal you will see the splendid Basilica of Saint Mary of Health built in the 17th century after an epidemic of plague swept through Venice.
Stroll north along the Grand Canal crossing little bridges and narrow streets and you will find yourself in the lovely neighbourhood of San Polo, one of the oldest districts and, certainly, one of the best places to visit in Venice during your tour. For many centuries, it has been home to the famous Rialto market that sells fresh local seasonal fruit, vegetables and fish. Take a look at the Venetian seafood specialties such as baby octopus (moscardini), spider crab (granseole), squid (seppie). You will find excellent restaurants and trattorias in the area where prices are much lower than in the touristy San Marco district. The San Polo square is one of the prettiest and second biggest in Venice, after the Saint Mark’s square. Nearby stands the splendid Gothic cathedral of Santa Mara Gloriosa dei Frari with sacred images created by such great talents as Titian, Donatello, Giovanni Bellini. Don’t miss the spectacular “Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel” in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. More than 50 lavish works of the Venetian Renaissance master cover the walls and ceiling inside.
Furher north is the residential district of Cannaregio where you can feel like a Venetian and go to good restaurants, bakeries, cafés and street markets that locals frequent. Walk away from the crowded streets along the Grand Canal and you will find yourself wondering along quiet walkways and picturesque little squares in the area where the first ever Ghetto was established in the 16th century. Discover lesser-known gems like the churches of San Canciano and Santa Maria di Nazareth.
Photos by Wikimedia Commons, Didier Descouens, Honza Beran