Wonderful Dorsoduro, one of the least understood neighbourhoods in Venice. Not as touristy as San Marco or San Polo but not as old-school Venetian as Cannaregio or Castello, Dorsoduro falls in this murky middle ground that is difficult to describe. Home to the University of Venice, it is an energetic student neighbourhood with a fascinating mix of attractions, both old and new.
Encompassing a large section of the island south of the Grand Canal, Dorsoduro stretches from the excellent viewpoint at Punta della Dogana all the way west, almost to Piazzale Roma. It was united with San Marco district in the 19th century by the Accademia bridge. It also includes Giudecca and San Giorgio Maggiore islands.
Dorsoduro sees fewer tourists and has generally lower prices than the central neighbourhoods but is still filled with important attractions. It is a great place for walking, offers a real mix of areas from luxury accommodations to student zones and, overall, gives off a young, modern feel.
And you never know what you are going to find around each corner.
What does Dorsoduro mean in Italian?
“Dorso” refers to the backbone, or “ridge”, of the island and “duro” means “hard”. Taken together, the name essentially means “hard ridge”, describing its status as the highest of the 6 sestieri of Venice (which, of course, still isn’t very high).
The 6 Sestieri of Venice
Dorsoduro has excellent galleries and museums and is one of the best walking neighbourhoods in Venice but each of the 6 sestieri has its own appeal.
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
San Polo isn’t far behind, however, 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
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
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
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
Dorsoduro Venice Map
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Best Things to Do in Dorsoduro District
Like each of the 6 sestieri of Venice, there are lots of things to do in Dorsoduro to keep visitors busy throughout their stay. Including just wandering to find your favourite canal.
Check Out the Art at Gallerie dell’Accademia
The most important art gallery in Venice began as the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia in 1750. The buildings themselves have religious roots and date back as far as the 13th century. Then, in 1807, Napoleon decreed that it should serve as both a school and gallery.
Of course, part of the reason it has such an impressive collection is because the great conqueror took the best works of art from churches all over the city. At least they stayed in Venice, though, which, historically, isn’t really that common.
The Gallerie dell’Accademia became fully independent of the school in the late 19th century and today has the most remarkable collection of art in Venice. The exhibits are spread over more than 20 rooms, featuring famous works from the likes of Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese and Tiepolo, just to name a few. It gets very busy so it is a good idea to visit early in the day.
See the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
The second famous Dorsoduro art gallery is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, featuring an incomparable range of 20th century art. While the Gallerie dell’Accademia focuses on pre-19th century pieces, the Peggy Guggenheim displays strictly modern art, covering practically every big name of the past century.
Marvel at Cà Rezzonico
One of the most awe-inspiring of the great palazzos of Venice, relatively small Ca Rezzonico is just as elegant and luxurious as some of the bigger buildings (such as Palazzo Ducale) but is easier to explore fully.
This gorgeous baroque mansion features a grand marble front and staircases, plus amazing frescoes (some by Tiepolo) and another outstanding collection of 18th century art. The lavish décor, stunning windows and palatial architecture offer a taste of life among the Venetian elite.
Visit Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
Boasting over 20,000 students, the largest university in Venice was founded in 1868 in the Gothic palace of Ca’ Foscari right on the Grand Canal close to San Polo. Exactly 100 years later, in 1968, it earned full university status and today is considered one of the top universities in Italy.
It is particularly renowned for Teaching Italian to Foreigners (which could apply to you if you have some extra time on your hands).
Explore Giudecca Island
With possibly the wildest history of all the Venetian islands, embattled Giudecca has worn many hats throughout the centuries. From green space, spiritual monastery and residential area to military barracks, prison and, yes, even home to the wealthy upper-class at one point, Giudecca’s personality has been ever-changing.
These days it makes for an easy day trip by vaporetto where you can escape the crowds a bit and visit Palladio’s famous Church of Il Redentore.
Climb the San Giorgio Maggiore Bell Tower (Campanile)
The second of Dorsoduro’s islands is San Giorgio Maggiore, known for having the best (and tallest) viewpoint in all of Venice.
While the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is beautiful in its own right (and definitely worth a wander), you simply can’t miss the views from the top of the San Giorgio Maggiore Campanile (bell tower).
The panoramic vista takes in the entirety of Venice, plus the Lido and all the way to the mainland. It is here that you can truly see just how flat Venice really is. Like Giudecca, San Giorgio Maggiore is an easy vaporetto ride from central Venice.
Have a Glass of Wine on Fondamenta Nani
This lovely street is full of great bars and cafés specializing in wine and affordable cicchetti (tapas). Wandering and choosing whichever one suits your fancy is half the fun, or you can make a beeline straight for Cantina del Vino Già Schiavi (also called Cantinone or Al Bottegon), a very popular local canal-side hangout.
Stroll the Fondamenta delle Zattere
This exceptionally long, exceptionally scenic street runs alongside the Giudecca Canal and is one of the best places for a leisurely evening stroll. It is such as popular local walking area that it has earned the nickname “Walkway of the Venetians”.
Fondamenta delle Zattere is the place to come for a slow wander, soaking up the relaxed ambience of Dorsoduro and maybe taking in a classic Venetian sunset. At some point, be sure to make it all the way to the eastern end to Punta della Dogana where you can enjoy fantastic views of the Grand Canal entrance, the Bay of San Marco and the Giudecca Canal all at the same time.
Stop in at the Scuola Grande dei Carmini
This lovely 13th century confraternity is known for its beautiful carvings, frescoes and intricate gold decorations. The interior was actually designed by Tiepolo and Baldassare Longhena and, despite its overall elegance, was originally a place for pilgrims (who have now been replaced by camera-toting tourists, although its beauty remains the same).
Wander Through the Ornate Churches
Despite its slightly modern leanings, Dorsoduro is still Venice, after all, which means it definitely has some fabulous old churches.
Chiesa di San Sebastiano
Somewhat hidden in the far western corner of Dorsoduro, San Sebastian Church isn’t going to dazzle anyone with its nondescript exterior. Inside, however, is a very different story, with the entire place extravagantly decorated by the works of Paolo Veronese in gratitude for the church taking him in and protecting him from murder charges back in Verona.
Complicated moral stances aside, the wall paintings, ceiling murals and organ doors are all simply stunning, and more through inspection reveals a myriad of less obvious but equally superb pieces.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Baldassare Longhena, co-decorator of the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, designed this 17th century domed church located right on the Grand Canal. Legend has it, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute was built almost entirely by plague survivors eager to give thanks to God and the church for making it through. On November 21 every year, Venetians come here to celebrate the Festa della Salute, signifying the end of the plague in 1631.
Visit Campo Santa Margherita
The beating heart of Dorsoduro, the Campo Santa Margherita is the main socializing spot for locals, students, children and tourists alike. Featuring a fascinating collection of 14th and 15th century homes that have been repurposed into shops, bars, restaurants and market stalls, it is a vibrant place filled with frolicking children by day and frolicking university students by night.
Venice isn’t exactly known for its nightlife but if there is anywhere that qualifies, it is this fun square where the bars usually stay open past (gasp!) midnight. Even if you’re not into late night bar hopping, though, it is still one of the best places to visit in Dorsoduro and a great location for people watching over an iconic Venetian spritz (prosecco, aperol and sparkling water).
Peer in at Squero di San Trovaso
At one time there were hundreds of “squeri”, gondola workshops where these classic Venetian boats were built. Today, just a few remain and while they don’t normally invite tourists in, there are still a couple of spots where you can witness this traditional skill.
Squero di San Trovaso is not far from Fondamente Zattere (and, not surprisingly, next to the San Trovaso Church). Here, if you pay attention while walking down Fondamenta Nani there are a few spots where you can catch a look inside.
Indulge in Some Shopping
Calle Nuova Sant’Agnese is the place to go for shopping, whether you are looking for modern souvenirs or classic Venetian favourites. There are many shops selling many different things, although some of the most popular choices are Venetian masks, traditional slippers and Murano glass products.
Stop for a Gelato
There are several superb gelato shops in Dorsoduro (it is a university area, after all) but if we had to pick just one (which we don’t), we would suggest Gelateria Nico.
Famous for its pralines and cream, Gelateria Nico has been providing Venetians with ice cream to enjoy while strolling the Fondamenta Zattere since 1937.
Have a Drink and Watch the People Pass By
Once again, you are definitely spoiled for choice if you are looking for a relaxed café or bar where you can rest up and watch the world go by. But for a unique, memorable spot, try the popular local Corner Pub, located right on the canal on the main route to the Guggenheim Collection (meaning no shortage of people-watching opportunities).
Best Dorsoduro Venice Hotels: Where to Stay
Regardless of your budget, the hotels in Dorsoduro Italy are significantly less expensive than similar choices in the more popular sestieri. Here is a short list of some great Doroduro hotels that are good picks whether you are looking to splash out a little, want a B&B or are just looking for something affordable. Whatever your needs, there is sure to be a Dorsoduro Venice hotel that will be perfect for you.
If you want to treat yourself to a gorgeous apartment with views over the canal, look no further than Acqua Scintillante. Enjoy the private terrace with comfortable furniture and beautiful views over Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at the start or end of your day of exploring. They even have a sauna to help you detox and relax.
This beautiful, luxurious vacation home is offered through Plum Guides, meaning it meets their extremely high standards for quality and comfort.
Hotel Palazzo Stern
The Hotel Plazzo Stern is located in a traditional Venetian building, features a breakfast terrace on the banks of the Grand Canal and a rooftop hot tub. Enjoy the old Venetian charm and consider treating yourself to a room with a view of the canal.
If you want to avoid the main tourist area in Dorsoduro you should check out the comfortable Hotel Tiziano. It is still within an easy walk of most tourist sites but at night you can get away to enjoy time in a quiet, authentic neighborhood.
Hotel Belle Arti
Hotel Belle Arti is a fantastic Venice budget option (not exactly a common thing). Conveniently located near the Guggenheim and Grand Canal, it also includes breakfast in an elegant, vintage building.
Best Dorsoduro Restaurants: Where to Eat
There are a lot of Dorsoduro Venice restaurants to choose from but here are a couple popular choices.
Specializes in pizza and pasta with very reasonable prices for Venice. The pizza menu is extensive, giving you plenty to choose from.
Just off Campo Santa Margherita, this small and friendly restaurant is known for its grilled meats but the carbonara is excellent as well.
Osteria al Squero
As mentioned above, Osteria al Squero is a great place to stop for a quick and cheap snack and drink. It is located right on a canal and is very popular.
Dorsoduro Venice Summary
Dorsoduro isn’t necessarily the first neighbourhood visitors think of when making plans for their Venice stay. But the surprising mix of Dorsoduro attractions spans the entire spectrum from elegant palazzos and spectacular art galleries to local pubs and tremendous viewpoints. Whether you choose to stay in a Dorsoduro hotel or just show up during the day to enjoy the many amazing things to do in Dorsoduro, this unpretentious Venice neighbourhood shouldn’t be missed.
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