Making sense of the tangle of canals, calle, campi that make up the sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice's city layout
There's no two ways about it: Venice has one of the most confusing, frustrating, and unfathomable layouts of any city on Earth.
On the surface, it looks simple enough: a few big islands wrapped around the sweeping backward-S curve of the breathtaking, palace-lined Canale Grande (Grand Canal), with lots of smaller canals—nearly 180 of them—worming their way through those islands across a tangle of alleys.
The reality is much more complicated.
The six main sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice
The Venice we all know and dream about lies 2.5 miles from dry land, connected to the mainland sister city of Venezia-Mestre by the Ponte della Libertà, which leads to Piazzale Roma—the only bit of Venice accessible by car.
Across the Grand Canal from San Marco is the most southerly of districts, the Dorsoduro.
In the lagoon north of central Venice lie a number of islands, the three most interesting being Murano, Burano, and Torcello—all easily accessible by public transport vaporetto.
Venice's northerly barrier island home to wide sandy beaches and several huge campgrounds
- Street names can change every block—not that it matters, since:
- Official addresses don't include the street name, just the neighborhood name. So the official address for, say, the Peggy Guggenheim museum is "Dorsoduro 701"—no mention of the fact that it's located on Calle San Cristoforo. However, even that won't help much, since:
- Buildings are numbered—not based on location, as in most places in Europe (1, 3, 5 on one side of the block; 2, 4, 6 on the other)—but rather on the order in which the buildings were built (so no.1 might be next to no. 2074 and across from no. 116). If you think this is crazy, you are correct.
- Street names can be repeated from neighborhood to neighborhood. So you may find "Calle della Madonna" and think you're home free—only it's the Calle della Madonna in San Marco and what you wanted was the Calle della Madonna in San Polo, half-way across town.
To help, this site will present addresses in a far more logical manner than the official one: including both the number and the street name, followed by the sestiere (neighborhood) designation in parentheses (the way anyone but a Venetian would expect to read them). We'll also try to include cross-streets, a nearby campo (square), and other details to help you pinpoint an address.
What's more, our interactive maps plot the location of every hotel, restaurant, sight, and major landmark detailed in this online guide. Most pages on this site will include, near the top of the the sidebar on the right, a tiny inset map showing the location of the address being mentioned. Click on the "View Larger Map" to be taken to the map version of this Venice guide, peppered with little icons denoting sights, hotels, and dining spots, as well as tourist info offices, train stations, and other useful info.
The Venetian map is a big tangled bowl of spaghetti. Venice has two overlapping infrastructures, one of narrow streets and the other of canals. These networks sometimes work together, and sometimes interfere with each other.
The impossibly twisty, narrow alleyways of the city often end abruptly in a blank wall, or run you in circles, or suddenly turn into steps that disappear into a canal. Constant backtracking is inevitable.
Occasionally, the alleyways will get you from one place to another, or spill unexpectedly into a large campo (square), or lead over one of the thousands of tiny arched marble bridges straddling the canals—the most magnificent is the Rialto bridge over the Grand Canal—and dump you into another crazy tangle of streets on the other side.
- Little yellow signs (sometimes they're white) are scattered along the main routes with arrows to help lead you from one major landmark to another—San Marco, Rialto (the main bridge), Ferrovia (train station), the Accademia museum—and the sharp-eyed can follow these along the convoluted path all the way from, say, the train station to Piazza San Marco (in about 45 minutes).
- Plan on any journey taking three times as long as you imagine,and don't fret about being late. Setting out from your hotel door in Venice is always an adventure—as long as you treat it as such, you'll have fun geting lost .
- Again, you can locate any address in Venice using this awesome online map: maps.venicexplorer.net.
Venice doesn't use the same labels for its streets and squares as the rest of Italy.
A canale or rio is a canal, of which Venice has nearly 180.
Streets might variously be called calle or ruga.
A ramo is a side street (it means "branch").
Fondamenta or riva both denote a sidewalk along the edge of a canal (usually they take the name of the canal itself, though not always).
Salizada meant "paved," and indicates one of the city's earliest paved streets. (In practice, this is often a sidestreet leading from a canal.)
A rio terrà is a street made from a filled-in canal.
There are also sottoportico and sottoportego—a public passageway under a building.
A campo, campiello, or corte is a square. In fact, Venice only has three squares named using a variant of the tyical Italian word "piazza": Piazza San Marco, Piazzetta San Marco (the little "L" extension of Piazza San Marco running along the north flank of the cathedral), and Piazzale Roma.
A piscina is a square that, like a rio terrà, was once a canal or basin of water and has since been filled in.