There are 6 historic sestieri (districts) in Venice, Italy, each with its own unique character and charm. Cannaregio Venice is the most populous of the 6 and the second largest by land area. It is also the most northern of the 6 sestieri and really only has one really touristy section.
Most reputable sources seem to agree that the name comes from “Canal Regio”, or “Royal Canal”in English, referring to the major river that was once Venice’s main connection to the mainland. However, we were told a different tale – that the name comes from “King of Cans” because of the time someone (?) arrived way back when there were cans everywhere. Not sure why, or if it really makes sense when “can” is an English word (“lattina” in Italian). But we were told this by a local Venetian so I felt it at least warrants consideration.
While most of Cannaregio stays relatively tourist-free, the portion of Cannaregio between the Santa Lucia train station and the famous Rialto Bridge following the Grand Canal is obviously a tourist hotspot. Known as the Strada Nova, it is the main thoroughfare through Venice and is, rather unsurprisingly, often referred to as “Main Street”.
Outside that specific path, however, the majority of Cannaregio is made up of quiet, peaceful residential streets, lined with small cafés, local shops and bustling morning markets.
Following the picturesque side streets gets you even further off the regular tourist trail, finding your way into authentic little neighbourhoods displaying the charm of everyday life, with occasional surprises popping up like the gorgeous Ca’ d’Oro Palace (also known as Palazzo Santa Sofia), although it is hard to get a good look at it from dry land and it is best seen from the canal.
It is the fascinating mix of faded old homes and beautiful churches or functional washing lines and classic piazzas that captivates visitors who bother to get away from the usual Venice highlights to explore wonderful Sestiere Cannaregio.
We stayed down a tiny alley and had windows to both sides providing steady sounds of everyday Venice life (which thankfully quiets down pretty early). The Coop grocery store just around the corner usually featured an even mix of tourists staying in apartments and older local ladies doing their daily shopping.
All in all, just a great mix of interesting sites and local charm, making us quite pleased with our choice to stay in Cannaregio.
The 6 Sestieri of Venice
While Cannaregio district offers a bevy of unusual highlights and an authentic aura that is hard to find in such a popular tourist destination, each of the 6 sestieri has its own appeal.
For a complete overviews, check out Where to Stay in Venice: Guide to Venice Neighbourhoods
San Marco is surely the most famous Venice neighbourhood, including such world-class attractions as the Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum.
For all the details, see San Marco: Guide to Venice’s Most Famous Neighbourhood
San Polo isn’t far behind, however, as the oldest neighbourhood in Venice and home to the wildly popular Rialto Markets.
For more info, see San Polo: Guide to Venice’s Most Lively Neighbourhood
Dorsoduro is the place to go for museums, including the Guggenheim collection, Accademia Gallery and the relatively new Punta della Dogana museum.
Running neck and neck with Cannaregio for the most “real” and local of the sestiere, Castello boasts many excellent trattoria and unique art.
For more details, check out Castello: Guide to Venice’s Most Authentic Neighbourhood
Last but not least, Santa Croce includes the Harbor of San Basilio and parking area of Piazzale Roma, serving as the city’s transportation hub.
To find the hidden gems of this underrated sestiere, see Santa Croce: A Guide to Venice’s Least-Known Neighbourhood
Map of Cannaregio Venice
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The 15 Best Things to do in Cannaregio Venice
Even though Cannaregio isn’t the most famous or popular Venice neighbourhood, there is still so much to see and do that you could spend days without getting bored. Of course, as with anywhere in Venice, getting hopelessly lost and wandering in confusing circles is all part of the fun and, rest assured, Cannaregio offers plenty of opportunities to do that.
But if you are also hoping to (at least occasionally) accomplish something and experience of few highlights, this list should help you organize your time. Now here is our list of the best things to do in Cannaregio Italy.
See History in the Cannaregio Jewish Ghetto
The Cannaregio Jewish Ghetto is a great place to start your explorations. Its origins were rather ordinary, starting out as a metal foundry where metalworkers based themselves in the 15th century, soon morphing into a more residential area for Christians.
However, in 1516 the powers that be in Venice enacted a forced reshuffle, evicting the Christians and forcing the city’s Jews into confinement there. They were allowed to move around, trade and do business during the day but only as long as they wore an identifying sign. And at night they were required to remain within the gates of the ghetto. A sobering reminder that racism has been insanely prevalent throughout history.
Many consider the Cannaregio ghetto to be the first Jewish ghetto in the world (a rather dubious accomplishment). The Italian word for a metal foundry is “geti”, which is where the word “ghetto” originated.
Finally, after nearly three centuries of oppression, Napoleon’s army arrived in 1797, destroying the gates of the ghetto and planting a “liberty tree” in the centre of the main square, which is now known as “Campo di Ghetto Nuovo” (new Jewish camp). Today it features the Jewish Museum and several of the oldest synagogues in Venice. While they are fairly understated and sometimes hard to recognize, if you pay attention to the details you should be able to spot them:
Scuola Grande Tedesca (Great German Synagogue) was built in 1528 and is the oldest synagogue in Venice. It is located in the same building as the Jewish museum and is famous for its 5 impressive arched windows (although 3 of them are now bricked up).
Scuola Italiana dates back to 1575 and has a small baroque dome and is inscribed with the name “Santa Comunità Italiana”.
Built in 1531, the Scuola Canton is right next to the Scuolo Italiana and can be recognized by its small wooden dome.
Wander the Cannaregio Canal
The Rio di Cannaregio, or Cannaregio Canal, is the second-largest canal in all of Venice. Before the island was connected to the mainland by rail this was the main transportation route into and out of the city.
Wandering along its scenic banks is understandably one of the most enjoyable ways to pass time in Cannaregio.
Squeeze into Calle Varisco: The Narrowest Street in Venice
This tiny dead-end street is located deep within a maze of confusingly twisted alleys, making it one of the most secluded spots in all of Venice. Wonderful Calle Varisco is just 53 centimetres (21 inches) wide and topped by a series of terrific little arches.
Of course, it isn’t just about checking out a scenic street and awesome photo op, Calle Varisco also comes with a serious reputation for supernatural justice. Local legend claims that Calle Varisco serves the good of all mankind by punishing impure souls, the walls slowly coming together to crush any murderers attempting to walk its hallowed length.
So, not the place to come if you’re on the run from a pesky homicide charge back home, but those with a slightly less checkered past should be fine.
Catch the Sunset on the Fondamenta Ormesini
The Fondamenta degli Ormesini means “dealers of Ormesin”, referring to a specific, intricate fabric from the Persian city of Ormuz. Located across a fantastic black iron bridge, this cool area is an excellent place to wander the canals and maybe stop in for a drink to sit back and admire an amazing Venice sunset.
A pleasant, scenic walk along the canal lined with attractive bars (bacaros) and restaurants, including the relatively famous Paradiso Perduto. It is a bit of a Cannaregio tradition to stroll the Fondamenta della Misericordia stopping to try spritz (wine-based aperitif) and cicchetti (Italian version of tapas) at numerous places along the way. You are usually welcome to take your treasures to enjoy down by the water.
One of the best spots is the Dodo Caffe, a popular local hangout known for its caffe coretto con grappa where you are more likely to come across Cannaregio construction workers, local families or in-the-know regulars than a single tourist.
Another good choice is Al Timon, popular with young Venetians and local students, where seats along the canal are always in high demand. They also added a couple boats in the canal for people to sit on to enjoy their cicchetti.
Even though Cannaregio Venice is a much quieter area than San Marco or San Polo, it can still be tough to find a table with views of the vaporetti, motoscafi (water taxis) and cargo ships.
We wandered the full length of the Fondamenta Ormesini many times and while we loved it as the sun went down and it was hopping with people, by far our favourite time was just after sunrise as the local people were just starting to get out and about.
Find Your Favourite Bridge
Venice is world-famous for its 150 canals and the more than 400 bridges helping people cross them. Each has its own level of charm but, as with anywhere in Venice, there are some Cannaregio bridges that stand out from the rest.
Laynni has always had a soft spot for canals and bridges, part of the reason we keep coming back to Venice, and Cannaregio has some of the best Venice bridges.
Ponte de Gheto Novo (Bridge of the New Ghetto) is the photogenic metal bridge leading across to Cannaregio Ghetto.
Ponte delle Guglie (Bridge of Spires) is the only bridge in Venice with these unique spires, plus it is adorned with some impressive gargoyles to boot.
The baroque Ponte dei Tre Archi (Bridge of Three Arches) is the only bridge in Venice with three arches that is still standing, built all the way back in 1681.
Meanwhile, the only Venetian bridge left with absolutely no railings or barriers is Ponte Chiodo (Nail Bridge), named after the noble family who previously owned it.
Check Out the Palazzos
Once again, there are a lot of outstanding choices but a few particular favourites:
This baroque palace built in the 17th and 18th century is remarkable for its exceptional ballroom full of frescoes painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and decorations by Gerolamo Mengozzi-Colonna.
It features both a beautiful front along the Grand Canal and a formal façade in back and along the Cannaregio Canal down the side.
Ca’ d’Oro (Palazzo Santa Sofia)
One of the oldest palazzos in Venice, it was named Ca’ d’Oro (Golden House) because of the intricate adornments and gilt edges.
Some consider it the best remaining Venetian Gothic palace and it is somewhat reminiscent of a castle from the outside. Ever since 1927 it has served as a museum and public gallery – Galleria Giorgio Franchetti all Ca’ d’Oro.
Palazzo Correr Contarini Zorzi (Ca’ dei Cuori)
This Renaissance Venetian palace overlooking the Grand Canal can be found between Palazzo Querini Papozze and Palazzo Gritti. The wrought-iron coat of arms of the Cuori family can be seen on the 17th century façade along with a pair of impressive water portals. Unlike some of the others, the Palazzo Correr Contarini Zorzi is best seen from the other side of the Grand Canal.
This unassuming civil building with a hotel on the first floor is actually one of the oldest buildings in Venice. Dating all the way back to the 11th century, it features a distinctive 6-arch arcade with a fabulous location overlooking the neighbouring campo and the Rio dei Santi Apostoli.
Wander the Cemetery at Isola di San Michele
This fascinating old cemetery is located on an island in the middle of the bay just a short vaporetto (4/1 or 4/2) across from Fondamente Nove, on the way to or from Murano. This peaceful spot provides an inside look at how local Venetians honour their deceased loved ones.
There are no shops or restaurants and no vaporetto ticket counter (make sure you purchase a return vaporetto ticket before arriving). However, there is a reception office with maps (but usually no people), it is free to enter but photography is not allowed inside. The maps don’t tell you the location of famous sites, however, and are only marginally useful for finding your way, but the entire Cimitero di San Michele is surrounded by a photogenic red brick wall.
It can be strangely compelling to wander the hallowed paths of this classic cemetery. The 15th century renaissance Church of San Michele is rarely open but is still nice to look at.
Many famous people are buried here, including Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, author Ezra Pound and Sergei Diaghilev, whose grave usually sports an evocative pile of pink ballet shoes left by fans.
Spend Time in Cannaregio Churches
Venice is chock full of beautiful churches, many of them located in Cannaregio.
Santa Maria di Nazareth Church
Built in 1672, this Roman Catholic Carmelite church is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Venice. From the unique twisted columns to the interior paintings, gilded organ, decorative altar and impressive sculptures to the fantastic gardens, the Santa Maria di Nazareth is a must-see.
There is no charge to visit but a donation is appreciated.
Madonna dell’Orto Church
Dating all the way back to the 14th century, this Gothic masterpiece is impressive enough on its own (watch for the herringbone pavement) but also features a collection of paintings by the famous Tintoretto (who also happens to be buried inside).
There is a small entrance fee but it is still well worth a stop.
Santa Maria dei Miracoli Church
A 15th century Pietro Lombardo Renaissance gem, the otherwise simple “marble church” literally glows in the sunshine, inside and out. In addition, it features an incredible “Virgin and Child Between Two Saints” commissioned by Angelo Amadi which is said to be miraculous itself.
Be sure to follow the large staircase up to the altar where the ceiling is covered in panels painted by Pier Maria Pennacchi. And if you can, time your visit to be there on a sunny day to get the full effect of the marble.
Find the Campo dei Mori
While the square itself doesn’t stand out visually, it has some fascinating statues and a rather bizarre history. There are three statues carved into the walls of the square depicting three Moorish brothers (Rioba, Sandi and Afani) of the Mastelli del Cammello family that built much of the area.
Local folklore claims that these three merchants, who were in banking, among many other things, had at one point defrauded a devout Venetian woman. After she responded by praying to Santa Maria Maddalena to curse the brothers, her wish was granted and they were turned to stone and placed in the Campo dei Mori as a warning to others.
Then, in the 19th century, the nose of Sior Antonio Rioba fell off (or somehow disappeared) and was replaced by a piece of iron (naturally). More strangely, a legend developed from that time forward that rubbing his iron nose would bring good luck.
Others used it as a political platform, hanging satirical political commentary from it.
And if all that isn’t interesting enough, just around the corner from Campo dei Mori you will find the Palazzo Mastelli, which features a really odd stone camel. So there’s that.
Try out Row Venice
If the traditional gondola ride seems a little too passive for your tastes, maybe you want to learn to row one yourself. Head down to Row Venice to sign up – €85 for 90 minutes (1-2 people).
Take a Day Trip to a Venice Island – Burano, Murano or Torcello
These captivating little islands each have their own specific charms and highlights. And Cannaregio is the most convenient departure point for day trips across the lagoon.
The vaporetto takes you from Fondamenta Nove to the famous Venetian glass studios of Murano, the mysterious little island of Torcello and the vividly colourful Instagram sensation, Burano.
We easily visited all three in one day trip.
For more details, check out How to Visit Murano and Burano on an Independent Day Trip from Venice
Find the Hidden Gems on Rio Madonna dell’Orto
There are a couple of bonus, off-the-beaten-path attractions to check out along the Rio Madonna dell’Orto. First, check out the oddly tall, skinny house set back off the canal at Campo San Felice. Then continue farther down the canal to a cute little bridge overlooking a hidden marina.
Take a Break at the Best Cannaregio Coffee Shop: Torrefazione Cannaregio
Along with a terrific location right on the canal and an interesting mix of tourists and locals, the affordable café Torrefozione Cannaregio has a lot of outstanding pastries (including vegan options), good wifi, indoor and outdoor seating and, most importantly, excellent coffee.
The knowledgeable baristas can help you make the right choice among their wide range of specialty coffees and it is a good place to pick up some locally roasted coffee to take back to the folks at home.
Cool Down with a Gelato
There are a lot of choices for gelato but we personally enjoyed Bacaro del Gelato. Its on Fondamente Misericordia so you can grab a gelato and continue your stroll down one of Venice’s best streets.
Where to Stay: Best Cannaregio Venice Hotels
Here are some great choices of Cannaregio hotels. Whether you are looking to splash out a little, want a B&B or are looking for something a little more budget there is a hotel in Cannaregio Venice that will be perfect for you. Of all the neighborhoods in Venice Cannaregio is the one we think is the best to stay in.
Eurostars Residenza Cannaregio
A former monastery, Eurostars Cannaregio boasts a quiet, secluded location in the Jewish Quarter and is one of the better hotels in Cannaregio Venice. It has a nice mix of old (wood-beam ceilings) and new (A/C and fast wifi). There are some rooms with views of the San Alvise canal.
Alla Vite Dorata
Alla Vite Dorata is a great pick if you are looking for a Cannaregio B&B. It is about a 10-minute walk to the famous Rialto Bridge, they have rooms with canal views and guests speak highly of their buffet breakfast (cakes, cold cuts, cheese and homemade croissants). Even though it is close to the main attractions it manages to be just off the main tourist route.
Al Mascaron Ridente
For one of the more exceptional budget choices among Cannaregio hotels, check out Al Mascaron Ridente. It is located on a vibrant street full of good restaurants and bars but the rooms are inside on a quiet courtyard. The en-suite rooms have high wood ceilings, wifi and minibars and the breakfast area has a glass floor looking down onto the canal.
Where to Eat: Best Cannaregio Restaurants
There are lots of choices for places to eat in Cannaregio district in Venice but these are consistently peoples’ favourites.
Osteria Al Cicheto is known for its awesome cicchetti and several other typical Venetian dishes. They have a small menu but what they do, they do well.
Al Timon, which we mentioned earlier, is a nice, rustic restaurant with a fantastic location with tables right on a boat on the canal. It is probably the most popular hangout in Cannaregio Venice thanks to its outstanding wine, spritz and cicchetti.
They also have very good pasta and the Lombatello with potatoes and vegetables comes highly recommended.
Trattoria Bar Pontini is a small, atmospheric Venetian bar with outdoor seating that serves fresh, hearty traditional dishes and local wines.
The seafood pastas get rave reviews. It gets pretty busy so it is a good idea to make a reservation.
Bepi Antico has outstanding pasta, a good selection of fresh fish and pretty reasonable prices considering how close it is to the Rialto Bridge. This is the location just off the Santi Apostoli square and apparently it is much better than the other location, Trattoria de Bepi.
Cannaregio Venice Summary
Historic Cannaregio does a great job of walking that fine line between local and touristy. With plenty of good accommodation, great restaurants and easy transportation links combined with a traditional feel and loads of classic Venetian architecture and history, it is the perfect place to base yourself for a few days (or more) of exploring the beauty of Venice.
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