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Castello: Guide to Venice’s Most Authentic Neighbourhood

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Castello, Venice is one of the 6 main sestieri (neighbourhoods) but is also one of the least-known and least touristy. Which is a bit of a surprise, considering that Castello is the largest neighbourhood in Venice. It encompasses the entire eastern portion of the island and features many impressive monuments, some outstanding restaurants and the famous Biennale art installation.

Starting right across the canal from St. Mark’s via Ponte della Paglia, Castello stretches all way to the Giardini Gardens and San Pietro in the far corner of the island. Partly because of its size, Castello is probably the most varied of all the sestieri, featuring a surprising amount of greenery (Giardini Gardens), local residential areas, the hospital, a number of typically Venetian plazas (except they are often empty, which is very un-Venetian) and yet still plenty of churches, historic sites and classic monuments.

Canal in Venice

Named for the former fortress on the island of San Pietro, the now off-the-beaten-path Castello was actually once the main centre of power in Venice. The easiest way to get an overview of Castello is to take a trip on either the 4.1 or 5.1 ferry line which travel along the lagoon side of the this oft-misunderstood neighbourhood, offering scenic glimpses of its fantastic variety.

The 6 Sestieri of Venice

If you have enough time, it is well worth checking out all 6  Venetian sestieri.

For a complete overview, 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 St. Mark’s Square.

For all the details, see San Marco: Guide to Venice’s Most Famous Neighbourhood

crowds in San Marco square

San Polo runs a close second to San Marco for popularity, as the oldest neighbourhood in Venice and home to the wildly popular Rialto Bridge and Rialto Markets.

See our complete guide: San Polo: Venice’s Most Lively Neighbourhood

Rialto bridge in San Polo Venice

Cannaregio offers an authentic look at the real Venice, where outstanding sites sit side by side with local shops and Venetians going about their daily lives.

For a more in-depth look, see Cannaregio: Guide to our Favourite Venice Neighbourhood

Canal

Running neck and neck with Cannaregio for the most “real” and local of the sestieri, Castello boasts many excellent trattoria and unique art.

For more details, check out Castello: Guide to Venice’s Most Authentic Neighbourhood

Laundry hanging in street in Castello Venice

Dorsoduro is the place to go for museums, including the Guggenheim collection, Accademia Gallery and the relatively new Punta della Dogana museum.

Check out our full guide, Dorsoduro: Guide to Venice’s Best Walking District

Dorsoduro church from a distance

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 all the hidden gems, see Santa Croce: A Guide to Venice’s Least-Known Neighbourhood

I Frari church on a canal in Santa Croce Venice

Castello Venice Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

16 Best Things to Do in Castello, Venice

Every Venice neighbourhood has plenty to keep you busy but in one the size of Castello you could spend days wandering without every reaching every nook and cranny. Rest assured, though, there is also a lot to see that doesn’t involve a single nook (nor a stuffy cranny). If you are wander what to do in Castello, Venice here is a list of our favorite places to see and things to do.

Wander down Via Garibaldi

Comfortably off the main tourist trail, the refilled canal of Via Garibaldi is now the widest street in Venice. While it doesn’t enjoy the natural shade of Venice’s more narrow, claustrophobic alleys, it does have plenty of restaurants, cafés, bars and shops to draw your attention (and provide a respite from the sun as needed).

People at bars on Via Guiseppe Garibaldi in Castello Venice
Pick the shady side of Via Garibaldi during the heat of the day

When the heat subsides, Via Garibaldi is a terrific place to go for drinks and cicchetti (small snacks), where you can relax and watch the procession of locals out enjoying their evening constitution. El Refolo and Trani are a couple of wine bars that come highly recommended.

Relax with Amazing Art in the Green Space of Giardini

Venice is many things but natural wonderland is not necessarily one of them. Sure, there are a few plazas with some gardens and a tree or two, and some of the alleys feature pretty impressive flower arrangements, but in general Venice is all about the canals and the architecture.

Green area in a park

Which is why the lovely gardens of Giardini are so unique. Quiet, lush and thrillingly not made of brick, these gardens encompass a large area in eastern Castello. They are the place to come for a little natural variety and the smell of actual grass and leaves.

Statue in a park
Giuseppe Garibaldi monument

Of course, this is still Venice, so of course there are also a few exceptional buildings, too, including some designed by famous architects such as Alvar Aalto and Gerrit Rietveld. Plus, the fascinating and ever-changing exhibits of the famous Biennale di Venezia, one of the country’s most impressive art installations. It wouldn’t be healthy to cut yourself off cold turkey.

Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo

Venezia FC returning to Serie A (Italian top flight) in 2021 for the first time in 20 years drew the eyes of the nation back to one of the most unique football stadium in the country. Built in 1913, it is also the 2nd oldest stadium in Italy.

Up until the recent expansion it had a maximum capacity of just 7,500, features views over the lagoon and is accessible by boat. So, no, it’s not your average professional stadium. Of course, it has now been renovated to make it a more practical home for Venezia FC, they of the subjectively coolest uniforms in European football. But the location, views and history are all still pretty unbelievable.

See the View from Ponte de Quintavalle

One of the things I find most fascinating about Venice, besides how many different gelato prices you can find on the same block, is how unique each of the bridges is. Ponte de Quintavalle is huge (45m long), made of wood (wait, what?) and offers phenomenal views (well, that sounds about right).

View from a bridge in Castello Venice

Looking out over the wide, winding Canale di San Pietro, lined with brightly coloured buildings and traditional boats, makes this bridge one of the most popular photo spots in Castello, Venice.

Find the Local Neighborhoods

Although there are small residential sections scattered throughout Venice, generally popping up when you least expect them, almost the entire eastern half of the Castello district in Venice has a local feel, with modest buildings, shops that somehow don’t sell miniature Rialto Bridge keychains and even occasional evidence of real life (children playing football, wash drying on the line, people having coffee and staring at their phones).

Typical street in Castello Venice

The occasional tourist wandering past seems like the exception rather than the rule.

Visit the Historic Churches

“Residential” and “local” Castello may be, but in Venice you are never more than 2 minutes from another awesome church.

Chiesa di San Zaccaria

This 15th century Gothic-Renaissance church just off the water was a former monastery and is known for its huge Gothic windows, large edifice, 18th century organ and impressive collection of art. Featuring masterpieces by Bellini, Tintoretto and Vittoria (who is actually buried in the church), there is also a crypt but it is often flooded and closed to the public.

San Francesco Della Vigna

There are only two Franciscan churches in all of Venice, the wildly popular Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, and the San Francesco Della Vigna. Needless to say, you are far more likely to have this one to yourself, even in high season.

Ornate white building

Still a working monastery, silence is required at all times, making it that much easier to enjoy the simple beauty of its spacious interior, the huge stone pilasters (square wall columns) and pair of lovely courtyards.

Old buildings on a square

Each chapel was funded by a different family, marked by their coat-of-arms and serving as the family burial tomb.

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

This Gothic gem, meanwhile, is found right on the biggest square in Castello and is one of the most important churches in Venice – serving as the final resting place of 25 doges and featuring a ceiling is intricately decorated by Veronese.

Old church in Venice

Tour the San Pietro di Castello

Its own unique island, San Pietro is in the far eastern section of Venice but still technically part of the Castello sestiere. Truly picturesque, it is known for its narrow alleys, handful of nice buildings, one impressive church and very few tourists.

Old white church

The 16th century Church of San Pietro di Castello in Venice was, at one time, the official church of Venice. It remains home to the throne of St. Peter (interesting), a pretty little garden (pleasant) and a very cool Renaissance bell tower that appears to be leaning from certain angles. In fact, I still refuse to believe it isn’t – why would my eyes lie to me? We’ve always gotten along so well.

Church Tower
The apparently leaning tower

Of course, that whole quiet vibe thing changes drastically during the “sagra” festival in the last week of June, one of the most popular festivals in Venice, but as long as you pick any of the other 51 weeks of the year you’ll be amazed at how quiet it is.

Check out Venice’s Version of a Floating Market

At the end of Via Garibaldi you will find a floating produce boat where locals go to stock up on vegetables and fruit without the hassle of passing through a door. You can do the same.

Floating market in Castello Venice
The floating market closed up for the day – get there in the morning

Check Out Palazzo Grimani

There are many good palazzos scattered around Castello but the gorgeous Palazzo Grimani is the pick of the lot. Boasting Cardinal Grimani’s extensive Greco-Roman art collection that was only recently returned after 4 centuries, along with stunning façades and many superb frescoes, if you only go inside one palazzo in the area, make it this one.

Visit the Instagram-Worthy Libreria Acqua Alta

Acqu Alta, which means “high water”, is like the home of a reformed hoarder who promised himself “just books, nothing but books”, then proceeded to pack every available space with them until it was impossible to move (except just enough to get a few kitschy photos for your feed).

Piles of books in a bookstore in Castello Venice
Its often packed with people so try to get there early or be prepared to wait in line for most popular photo spots

As well as being stacked up to the roof along every wall and piled helter-skelter on every table, there is a bathtub (full of books), several gondolas (full of books) and even a staircase against the back wall (entirely made of books). If you’re the browsing type, better back up those dinner plans.

Marvel at the Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo

One certainty, no area of Venice is wholly without obvious architectural gems. In Castello, the best of them can be found on the massive Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

Large square with old buildings in Castello Venice

Focused around the elegant bronze equestrian statue of Colleoni, it is also home to the Scuola di San Marco, now both a working hospital and a medical museum, and quite a fascinating one, at that.

Canal in venice

Outside, it features a stunning façade and extraordinary marble statues (representing one of the most outrageously scenic hospital walls you’ll ever see), while in the free museum section you can browse classic surgical equipment, medical books, absurdly picturesque ceilings and a garden rather incongruously full of cats.

Peer in at the Arsenale di Venezia

This historic shipyard was the heart of the most powerful navy in the world from the 12th century up until the time when Venice eventually traded world domination for “free” walking tours and “authentic AirBnbs”. Back in the Middle Ages, this 46-hectare stronghold was a wonder of the naval world, and is actually the origin of the word “arsenal” that is still used today to describe naval fortifications (as well as the planet’s most infuriating soccer team to support).

Triangular bridge in Castello siestre Venice

The huge Porta Magna is the main gate, the crenellated walls are suitably imposing and, even today, nobody really wants you wandering around in there. If there happens to be a special exhibition or festival, take your chance, because most of the time you’ll get a simple, disgusted shake of the head if you try to explore too close to any of the warehouses or workshops. It doesn’t even seem to matter if you promise, “I’ll be quick”.

Take in the Museo Storico Navale

Close to the Arsenale, on the Riva San Biagio, you’ll find the informative naval museum that walks you through centuries of fascinating Venetian history from its time as a world naval power.

Outside of a museum in Castello Venice

There are plenty of detailed exhibits, model ships that even kids will enjoy (as well as us attention-span-challenged adults) and even some old 19th century gondolas.

Watch the Sunset from the Viale Giardini Pubblici

Probably the busiest part of Castello (which still isn’t saying much) is the scenic Viale Giardini Pubblici running along the waterfront towards the more chaotic sections around St. Mark’s Square and the Palazzo Ducale. However, even though it is a fashionable path, the Riva Degli Schiavoni (riva translates as waterfront) it is wide enough to make for a relaxing walk and the views are fantastic.

View from the promenade in Castello Venice

Looking out over the lagoon from one of the periodic stone benches, you can relax and enjoy the bustling palate that is the Venice waterfront, where tiny fishing boats pass alongside luxury yachts, ferries traverse the busy waters and locals gather to watch the sun set over San Servolo and the Lido. This is one of the best places for sunsets in Venice Italy.

Busy promenade in Venice
It gets much busier as it gets closer to St. Mark’s Square

Search out the Cuore di Mattoni

The Cuore di Mattoni (Heart of Bricks) is one of the best hidden gems of the Castello sestiere. This tiny red heart is found on the brick wall of the Sotoportego dei Preti and, as the story goes, if you touch it all your dreams for love with come true this year.

Secret heart on arch

Seems like a pretty easy way to end divorce in Venice, if you ask me. Or could it be the cause?

Corte Botera

It’s not big, but it is fairly cool, and kind of hidden, and definitely different. This medieval courtyard is an odd little place hidden below main street level worth a quick stop.

Best Castello Restaurants: Where to Eat

One of the great things about Castello is the large selection of small, local trattorias and cafés hidden around the most unassuming corners. There are a few specific places that definitely stand out, though.

Nevodi

A great cozy rustic restaurant with some outdoor seating offering local classic meals and cicchetti. Try the pistachio pesto and the fresh seafood. A great location on Via Giuseppe makes it easy to visit a couple bars on the way for pre-dinner drinks.

Trattoria dai Tosi

If you are looking for a good pizzeria this is the spot for you. It is on a side street and usually filled with locals. It is pretty small so you might want to call ahead for a reservation.

Tables at a Castello Venice restaurant
Outdoor seating for Trattoria dei Tosi

Café La Serra

A great choice when you need a break from your wanderings. Known for its coffee, cakes and peaceful environment.

Trattoria da Remigio

This is the place to go in Castello when you are looking for traditional Venetian seafood dishes.

Tables in front of a Castello restaurant

Best Castello Hotels: Where to Stay

Castello is a fabulous option for people looking to stay a little off the beaten path, with fewer tourists and more locals who have their own jobs and lives and clearly couldn’t care less what you’re up to.

Hotel Bucintoro

If you are looking for a room with a view, look no further. Each of the rooms and suites at Hotel Bucintoro have panoramic views over the Venice Lagoon, including Saint Mark’s Square, Palazzo Ducale, the Campanile, and the Island of San Giorgio . A great location in the quieter neighborhood of Castello while only a 10-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Square. A lovely included breakfast will start your day off right.

Click here for Hotel Bucintoro prices

Hotel Sant’Antonin

A more midrange choice, the Hotel Sant’Antonin is a relaxing oasis with both a panoramic terrace where you can enjoy the included breakfast. Conveniently close to major Venice attractions, the hotel is in a 16th century building and is lovingly decorated with antiques.

Click here for Hotel Sant’Antonin prices

Hotel Indigo Venice – Sant’Elena

While not as convenient to most tourist sites, the Hotel Indigo Venice -Sant’Elena will let you truly experience the Castello sestiere and its authentic feeling. The larger than average rooms are in a renovated former Venetian convent.

Click here for Hotel Indigo Venice – Sant’Elena prices

Castello Venice Summary

Along with Santa Croce, Castello is probably the most underrated sestiere in Venice. Considering that the most common complaints about Venice are that it is too crowded, too busy, just too much, well, Castello is the perfect solution to those issues.

Laundry hanging in street in Castello Venice

Full of empty streets, quiet plazas and serene green spaces, Castello is the ultimate anti-Venice for those who’ve had their fill of the hectic main tourist spots.

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