Where to Explore the Backwaters of Venice
There is so much more to Venice than San Marco, if you want to escape the crowds. Here’s an introduction to some of the most charming backwaters and districts of Venice
As regards tourism in Venice one thing never ceases to puzzle me. Here you have one of the most magic cities in the world spread out over 118 beautiful and independent islands and yet all the tourists crowd San Marco though it is just one small part of one island. Makes me wonder if most visitors really know what they are missing?
The city of Venice is divided into six sestieri which apart from San Marco are Cannaregio, Santa Croce, San Polo, Dorsoduro, and Castello and in most of these areas it is quite easy to escape the crowds.
Cannaregio is packed with tourists along the main thoroughfare running from the train station to the Rialto Bridge. Still, you don’t have to cross many canals to find peaceful residential areas, ordinary cafés and morning markets as well as what used to be the Venetian Ghetto where Jews were locked in at night. There are also some really nice churches in this district of Venice with works of Tintoretto and Tiepolo.
Santa Croce is the only district of Venice open for cars, but if you look beyond the port and the artificial parking island Tronchetto you will find a inconspicuous medieval core with narrow, covered alleys and generous decay. The area is a little messy but very charming. And there are also a few palazzos and museums like the natural history museum in Fontego dei Turchi, Ca’ Pesaro with its collection of modern art by Gustav Klimt, Vasilij Kandinskij and Matisse and Ca’Corner della Regina where Fondazione Prada opened a new exhibition space for contemporary art last year.
San Polo is the smallest and one of the oldest districts of Venice as can be seen from the amazing churches in the area. Main attractions are the Rialto Bridge, the lively fish and produce markets that have been part of the district for more than 1000 years and the Gothic Frari church with art treasures by Titian, Bellini and Donatello. Art aficionados will also appreciate Scuola Grande di San Rocco with more than 50 fabulous paintings by Tintoretto. And travelling children like the open spaces and playground on Campo San Polo.
Dorsoduro is a perfect place to explore the quiet beauty of Venice. Stroll along the Zattere waterfront and enjoy the inimitable gelati, unspoiled cafes, shops and the view over the Giudecca island or go to the right bank of the Rio San Trovaso to see one of the last remaining gondola workshops in the city. Most tourists come here to see the collection of Venetian art in Galleria dell’ Accademia, Peggy Guggenheims Collection of modern art or the Ca’Rezzonico museum house.
Castello behind Riva degli Schiavoni has its own faded beauty with narrow canals, welcoming residential areas and open squares. Part of the old Arsenale where the ships of the Republic were built is still a military area closed, but behind it in Sant’Elena you’ll find public gardens where the biannual Biennale is held.