City Layout

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and so let's get an overview of historical Venice. This link gives a good feel for the two "main" islands making up the city centre and then the major islands dotted around the lagoon. As you can see, "Venice" as most people understand it is made up of several islands enclosed in a lagoon from which there is a narrow exit at the south east into the Adriatic Sea. Venezia is the main centre where the better known sites can be found. To the North East is San Michele, the cemetery island, with Murano (the centre of glass manufacture) just beyond. Further over to the NE are the islands of Burano and Torcello. To the South of Venezia is the Lido which has beaches on its South side facing out to the Adriatic Sea. To the West of Venezia, separated by a relatively wide canal (once used by cruise ships - now banned) is the island of Guidecca. Also to the West you will find the island and church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Use the zoom facility for more or less detail, 

In the remainder of this section I describe the various area of Venezia and then go on to introduce the islands. 
The main centre of Venice is made up of six sestieri (neighbourhoods)): 
San Marco 
Santa Croce 
San Polo 

If you zoom in on the map their locations become clearer (apart from San Marco which is kind of hidden under the Title "Venezia"). Wherever you wander the spirit of Venice is with you but each District has a different feel to it. Accurately marking the borders is a bit pointless as they blend together without you realising that you've crossed from one to the other. 
San Marco
By far the most well known, popular and touristy area. Here you find, Piazza San Marco, Basilica San Marco, the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge. Busy, bustling, crowded and generally expensive. As well as the very famous sites mentioned above you can also find: 
The Campanile 
The Clockface - Torre dell'Orologico (Piazza San Marco) 
La Fenice Theatre 
Ridotto Theatre 
Campo San Stefano 
Fortuny Museum 
Harry's Bar 


A relatively quiet area once away from the main waterfront with a residential feel. As you walk the streets you come across the occasional market stall selling fruit or fresh fish. The area is home to the Arsenale, the historical naval centre that provided Venice with much of its power in centuries past. It is still operational and run by the Italian Navy. As such it is mainly off-limits apart from its museum. The nearer you get to the Arsenale, the starker the area becomes. However, the areas around the Castello/Cannaregio border are delightful to walk through with many bridges and canal views. The area also contains one of the nicest promenades in Venice - the Riva degli Schiavoni. 
Some of the places to note: 
Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo 
La Pieta church 
Arsenale Museum 
Campo Santa Maria Formosa
When I need a break from the hustle and bustle of Venice's more busy areas, I make for Cannaregio. It has a certain tranquility where you can walk along the long straight canals and wander down the narrow alleyways. Many people live here but few tourists bother with it. There is a good selection of everyday shops and cafes. Cannaregio also hosts some of the nicest restaurants in Venice serving authentic Venetian cuisine. One of my favourite stops is Tintoretto's house and the statues of the Moors in the Campo dei Mori whose faces were defaced when they fell from popularity a long time ago. This is an area to find cats dozing on doorsteps and a general air of siesta. 
Things to visit: 
Church of Madonna dell'Orto 
Campo dei Mori 
All of the main Fondamenta (Misericordia, dei Mori, della Sensa etc) 
The Jewish Ghetto 

Santa Croce 

A mainly quiet residential but at its most Westerly end you have the noisy bustling Piazzale Roma. The atmosphere of Venice still pervades and so is an area to walk through and absorb sights and sounds. As you wander you pass neighbourhood corner shops mingling with some art galleries and specialised shops. Some nice green spaces.

San Polo  

This area runs to the South and West of the Rialto Bridge. It is generally quite a busy area but holds some of the nicest spots to visit. Here you will find the Rialto markets alive with market traders peddling their wares in between taking a coffee or a prosecco in the numerous local cafes. Here also are a large collection of churches to visit. This is also an area of museums. 
Some interesting places to check out: 
Frari Church (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari) 
San Cassiano Church 
San Giacomo dei Rialto 
Natural History Museum 
Scuolo Grande di San Rocco (Lots of Tintoretto) 

Another of my peaceful haunts. The backstreets are delightful to wander through as you cross narrow canals and discover squares both large and small. I like to get off the vaporetto at Salute and then stroll in the general direction of Accademia. If you wander as far as the vaporetto stop for Ca' Rezzonico, you can pick up a traghetto and be ferried across the Grand Canal in a (not too glamorous) gondola. Don't forget to check out the Fondamenta Zatterre Al Gesuati (head for the Zatterre vaporetto) as there are some nice restaurants here. Close to Zatterre is the Squero di San Trovaso where you can watch repairs being undertaken to gondolas in a very attractive setting. There are numerous artisan and other interesting shops here. 
Other highlights: 
Gesuati Church 
Guggenheim Collection 
Campo San Barnaba 
Campo Santa Marherita 
Ponte dei Pugni 
The Lagoon and the Islands

If you have the time available (and it's worth making some) then a trip to the various islands in the lagoon makes for a very pleasant day out. Boats depart from Fondamente Nuove on the East of Canareggio. If you have a tourist ticket, this is valid for the trip and you simply make your way to the vaporetto stop 300 metres to the North of the ticket office. If you need to buy a ticket allow 30 mins at busy times. At the time of writing, the boat designation is "LN". 
Set out below is my description of the various islands in a suggested order of visiting. But, as ever, the choice is yours. 

This is the centre of Venice's glassmaking industry. Here you can visit a factory and see glass blowing demonstrations which are very interesting. You can expect some mild pressure to buy in the factory shops but no-one will be offended if you don't. There are often touts at the vaporetto stop to lead you to their factory but if you don't want to go a polite refusal never offends. HINT: You may be thrilled to be offered a special, free, boat trip to Murano on arrival at your hotel. Don't be flattered because they all do it. Feel free to take it up but the free trip increases the pressure to buy. 
There are showrooms all over with some beautiful pieces to be seen together with the occasional gaudy item. I'm no expert but I'm told that you can be reasonably assured that you are buying the genuine article and not a cheap copy from the Far East if you go to the larger glass factories and buy there. 
The island is worth a short stroll but the main reason to visit is the glass. There is also a museum dedicated to glassmaking. 
Once you have finished your visit here, you should make your way to the Faro (lighthouse) vaporetto stop to pick up the next boat heading for Burano. 

A charming island that should be explored as fully as you can. Brightly coloured houses line the streets and squares and you can marvel at the tower on the church that leans at an alarming angle. This is a fishing community as evidenced by the various boats and equipment. You might also come across the occasional boat with a net covering dozens of decoy ducks pointing to another rich harvest from the lagoon.. I'm told that the reason for the bright coloured houses was to enable sailors returning home to see their houses from their passage across the lagoon. 
Burano is not a large island and it is easy to get around. The ferry drops you close to the main street and it's easy to see where to start your tour. There are plenty of little pizzerias and restaurants for lunch. 
You can also walk over the footbridge (close to the departure point for Torcello) to the island of Mazzorbo. This is a slighly more suburban area but there is the church of Santa Caterina to explore. 
And finally, the question everyone asks: why are there filled water bottles on nearly every doorstop? Answer: They put off the many un-neutered tomcats from spraying and marking their territory... 

I love this place. A wonderfully peaceful flat island with fields, groves of trees and quiet canals. This is the original Venice. Truly, this where the people of the mainland first settled when they came to colonise the lagoon. Evidence of this is provided by the highlight of the trip, the Basilica Santa Maria Assunta. I could come up with some evocative descriptions of this church as a place of early worship but I'll just let it "wow" you itself. The beauty and detail of the mural depicting the Last Judgement is staggering. 
Around the Basilica are some little stalls selling trinkets and light refreshments. There is also a museum and some interesting pieces of statuary dotted around. Torcello also has some very nice restaurants and an osteria that you pass on your walk up from the vaporetto. Notable amongst the restaurants is the Locanda Cipriani.
You can also take the opportunity to sit in Attila's Throne, a marble seat that sits under the shade of a tree in the Basilica garden. 
In order to get to Torcello, you need to take the vaporetto from the stop situated 100 metres to the left of the Burano ferry terminal as you face it. The trip takes about 5 minutes and boats depart every thirty minutes with longer breaks around lunchtime. ACTV tourist tickets are valid. 
In order to return to Venezia, you will need to take the vaporetto back to Burano. Once there you have a choice: you can either go back to Fondamente Nuova on the LN via Murano (you don't have to change) which takes about 45 minutes. Else you can opt for the longer trip (75 mins or so) on the double decker ferry (motonave) to San Marco (Zaccaria) via the Lido. This latter trip is worth doing if you have time and the weather is nice as you get some great views of the lagoon and other islands. If you have an ACTV tourist ticket this is valid or you can buy a single from the terminal. 
Details of times for the motornave tend to change so you'll need to check at the ferry terminal. HINT: Whenever I have used the motonave there has never been any form of refreshment on board so on a hot day you might like to stock up with some water before you depart. 
Other Islands

San Michele

This is the cemetery island where Venetians come to be buried. It may sound odd, but it is an interesting place to visit. Take the local vaporetto from Fondamente Nuove 


A place that has seen better days. but the views of San Marco from Fondamente Della Zittelle are pretty attractive. You can also see how the other half live by looking out for the Hotel Cipriani.  There is a women's prison here who hold a weekly market selling fruit and vegetables from its kitchen garden.

The Lido
This is the "riviera" of Venice. I don't like beaches and so it doesn't do much for me but if sea air and sun are your thing then you'll probably want to check it out. You should do it once anyway in order to get the complete Venice experience. Easy to get to on the good old No1 vaporetto. There is also a golf course here but I have no details of day fees.  
The beaches are on the South side of the island. Basically, after embarking from the water bus, you walk straight ahead up the main drag for 10 minutes and you can't miss them. 
For photographers, it is sometimes worth travelling out of Venezia to here as it is the starting point for the No 1's return journey up the Grand Canal. This gives you the opportunity to be first in the queue to grab one of the seats at the front (the best in the house). You may have to bide your time because not all vaporetti have seats outside. 
There are other islands in the lagoon but these are either hard to get to (you need to persuade/negotiate with a local boat owner) or are mainly used as market gardens.