One of the great joys of Venice is that it is a small town: you could walk from one end to another in less than an hour. That is if you don’t get lost along the way! Each quarter has its own unique charm, but they are all lovely and within easy walking distance of each other.
This is the historical centre of the town, with the grand Piazza San Marco at its very heart.
The buildings are all on a fabulously grand scale. A visit to the Church of San Marco and the Doge’s Palace are a must for anyone who is visiting Venice for the first time; as is a bellini at Harry’s Bar.
You will find most of the designer shops and luxury brands around this area, including a number of fine and historical jewellers hidden among the colonnades of the piazza itself. In high season, this quarter becomes quite crowded; I like to get up early and make a trip to Piazza San Marco at dawn, when the square is delightfully empty and quiet.
I usually follow up with breakfast at the bar at Rosa Salva (their brioches are to die for).
This quarter stretches from the bustling Rialto Market along the Grand Canal to San Toma’.
It’s a lesser known part of the city, residential but with pockets of antique stores, leather makers and chocolate making shops that make it a great part of Venice for exploring.
The Frari Church and the Scuola di San Rocco are an absolute must, boasting some of the finest Bellinis and Tintorettos that you will find anywhere.
Campo San Polo is a charming square – in the late afternoon, you will often find it full of children playing. And there is a great pizzeria just there where you can stop for lunch or supper.
This quarter is one of the better kept secrets of Venice: mostly residential and wonderfully peaceful. Narrow streets, charming views of bridges over the canals, bakeries that have been there for generations and small shops mostly geared towards the needs of the locals.
Some of the best food in Venice is to be found at the trattorie in this part of town: Quaranta Ladroni and Antiche Carampane are two of my favourites.
Hidden in the quiet streets, you will find the Madonna dell’Orto which, with its red-brick façade, is one of the most charming churches in Venice.
It is also worth exploring the Ghetto – the oldest Ghetto in the world, there is still a very vibrant Jewish community living in this part of the city, with a number of fabulous kosher eateries.
Traditionally, the more ‘local’ quarter of the city – it has a rather charming village-like feel about it, with smaller houses and delightful little campi. To this day it is largely residential: Via Garibaldi, the main street, is bursting with little shops and family run businesses, as well as a few market stalls, and a barge selling fruit and veg at the end of the street. It leads on to a leafy park, where children can play in the playground. In the summertime, the Art and Architecture Biennale is hosted in this part of town, with lots of pop up small scale exhibits, alongside the main shows.
This quarter of Venice is perhaps the most untouched and undiscovered by tourism.
Other than the squares around the station, which can feel crowded, especially at certain times of the day, this is a mostly residential area with lots of baccari to stop off for a few cichetti and a spritz, and plenty of small shops selling local produce.
You will also find most of the older buildings associated with the University in this quarter.
Just across the water from central Venice, the Giudecca has some of the prettiest views in town, looking on to Piazza San Marco and the Zattere from afar.
It’s an almost entirely residential quarter, that somehow feels like stepping into the countryside: think smaller houses with leafy gardens and birdsong.
The Redentore church, with its Paladian façade, is most definitely worth a visit. Likewise, a bellini in the gardens of the Cipriani Hotel is a must.
If you have time, walk up to the Mulino Stucky Hilton Hotel and have a drink on their rooftop bar for birdseye views over the city.