Venice Explorer: Six Districts

people floating on gondola near rialto bridge
Photo by Son Tung Tran on

We’ve covered a lot of ground on our Venice Explorer travels, from St. Mark’s Square and Basilica to museums and more…today we are going to learn a bit more about each of Venice’s six districts or ‘Sestieri’

  • Sestiere means subdivision in Italian. The six distinct neighborhoods in Venice are collectively known as Sestieri

We’ll start our journey in the oldest and one of the most vibrant areas of Venice: San Polo – Rialto

San Polo:

This is the oldest section and smallest in size of the six districts of Venice, situated with the upper part of the Grand Canal. The early settlers believed this was a good place to live because the land was higher and never flooded. It recieved its name from the Church of San Polo and includes the Rialto Bridge. The Rialto District of San Polo (on the eastern side of the Grand Canal) has long been the heart of the financial and commerical district with shops, a market and trade. It used to be Venice’s Wall Street.

Top sites in San Polo:

  • Rialto Bridge: links the district with the eastern bank of the Grand Canal. The original bridge was built in 1178 by Nicolo Barrattieri and was known then as Ponte della Moneta. It was rebuilt in 1255 and 1264 after a number of collapses. The current bridge was build in the 16th century by Antonio da Ponte and his nephew, Antonio Contino and is considered an architectural and engineering feat of the Renaissance. It is the oldest of the four bridges crossing The Grand Canal
    • The Rialto Bridge is featured in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice when Shylock says “what news on the Rialto?”

Fun Fact: Ponte means bridge in Italian

  • Rialto Market: has existed since 1097 and is a promised land for foodies, with a plethora of food stalls and souvenir booths. Fresh fish, delicious treats and everything in between – its here!
  • Campo San Polo: the second largest square after St. Mark’s Piazza. They host open air cinema nights during the summer.
  • San Giacomo Church: The oldest church in Venice (originally founded in 421 AD). Learn more about the church here.
  • Church of San Polo – This gorgeous church dedicated to St. Paul features masterpieces by artist Tiepolo
  • Scuola San Rocco
  • Frari Church
By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia

San Marco:

In many ways the spiritual and tourist heart of Venice’s six districts. San Marco is home to St. Mark’s Square, Saint Mark’s Basilica and The Doge’s Palace

Fun things to see:

  • St. Mark’s Square
  • Correr Museum
  • Clock Tower
  • Campanile
  • St. Mark’s Basilica
  • Doge’s Palace
  • The Bridge of Sighs


Historically this is one of the most important parts of Venice’s history and deserves exploration. It was in Cannaregio where Venice’s Jewish Ghetto was established. This was unfortunately the first ghetto, where The Jewish population was cordoned off from the rest of society.

While this was a tragedy, The Jewish community of Venice was strong and established a thriving neighborhood with beautiful synagogues, industry and architecture.

When Napoleon arrived in Venice he did away with neighborhood requirements for the Jewish community and today the Cannaregio is truly a mixed community of different backgrounds.

However you can still take time to learn about the rich Jewish history here.

Top sights:

  • The Jewish Museum – Learn about Jewish culture and see marvelous Judaic art.
  • Holocaust Memorial – a hard history to digest, but important to pause and reflect here.
  • The Ponte della Costituzione – while it’s modern design is a sore subject for Venetians this bridge crosses The Grand Canal and has a unique architecture.
  • Ca d’Oro Palace – this ornate palace dates from the 15th-century with gorgeous views of The Grand Canal. It has a superb collection of art including works by Titian and Bellini

Santa Croce District:

Of the six districts, Santa Croce is the only neighborhood in Venice where cars can travel. It houses Piazzale Roma, a large square where the central bus station is located. While much of the district is industrialized, the area has several neighborhoods that are charming without the touristy flare.

The district also includes several AMAZING museums including:

  • Ca’Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art – includes masterworks by Klimt (Judith II), Chagall and more
  • Palazzo Mocenigo Costume Museum: enjoy a stroll through this palace as you learn about historical Venetian dress and costumes
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Castello District

A hidden gem! This least visited part of Venice offers a lot of history and fun without big crowds.


  • Scuola Dalmata di SS giorgio e Trifone…features exquisite wood paneled chapel decroated with the world’s best collection of paintings by Vittorio Carpaccio
  • Naval History Museum, Arsenale and Ships Pavillion…Mighty Venice at one point was the seafaring capital of the world. They mastered the art of shipbuilding – learn more here.
  • The Church of San Zaccaria (St. Zachariah) – home to the body of St. Zachariah (father of St. John the Baptist)

Castello is one of the least visited parts of Venice, which makes it a great place to head if you’re keen to escape the crowds. It’s where you’ll find the famous Arsenale, along with the Naval History Museum and plenty more besides. Take a look at our guide to what to see in Castello for more ideas for your itinerary.

Dorsoduro District:

The hip area of Venice, this is the hub of the city’s university district. Home to Ca’Foscari University and the renowned Peggy Guggenheim Collection you can’t go wrong with a day in Dorsoduro.

Off the Grid:

Why Venice proper has six districts there are also several islands in Venice’s Lagoon that are worth examing.

Murano – the island of glass and hub of Venice’s glass making industry

Burano – the headquarters of Venetian lace.

*we’ll explore Murano and Burano in a future post!

Until next time…ciao…arrivederci

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