Quiet, authentic Santa Croce Venice is probably the least touristy of the famous 6 sestieri (neighbourhoods) of Venice. While the big crowds gather around Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square, the many nice highlights of lovely Santa Croce (pronounced krow-che) are often virtually empty aside from a few locals going about their daily lives. Some of our most memorable moments in Venice were finding ourselves completely alone down some random Santa Croce alley or canal.
In many ways, it is the most classically “Venetian” of the 6 neighbourhoods, making it the perfect place to see Venetian families working, going to school, enjoying the plazas and socializing in local cafés. Likely feeling pretty pleased that they don’t have to share their neighbourhood with thousands of curious tourists (instead just a handful of people who probably took a wrong turn somewhere).
Maybe it is this lack of extreme tourism that allows Santa Croce residents to remain so friendly and relaxed. Often seeming pleasantly surprised by the appearance of tourists, they are usually quite happy to provide directions or advice.
Santa Croce, Venice is bordered on the north side by the Grand Canal, San Polo to the east and Dorsoduro to the south. In general terms, it is divided into two very different areas.
There is the functional, rather industrial, western part where you’ll find Piazzale Roma, the bus station, train station, main parking lots and enormous, bustling Constitution Bridge. Then you have the eastern part where you’ll find most of the interesting landmarks hidden among the narrow, atmospheric streets. Santa Croce is also a good place to hire gondola rides as the lines are usually much shorter than in the main tourist areas.
Named after a classic monastery that was destroyed in 1810 and replaced with Giardino Papadopoli park, Santa Croce isn’t the place to come for Instagram favourites or campy tourist souvenir shops. However, if small plazas bustling with local children or cozy pasticcerias are your thing, it just might be the perfect fit.
You may also want to check out Where to Stay in Venice: A Guide to All 6 Neighbourhoods
Santa Croce Venice Map
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Best Things to do in Santa Croce, Venice
It may not boast the long list of famous attractions of some of the other sestieri but Santa Croce district still has more than enough interesting sites and great photo ops to keep you occupied. It’s still Venice, after all.
Find the Narrow Street of Calle Ca’ Zusto
This adorable little alley is just 67 cm across – perfect for photos and quick detours, terrible for walking dogs or rushing home for nap time with a double-stroller. The smallest street in Santa Croce, it is close to the Riva di Biasio and it somewhat ironically connects Orsetti to the Salizada de Ca’ Zusto. “Salizada” means “extra wide”, and these important pedestrian walkways were among the first to be paved in the past.
Tour the Ca’ Pesaro
This early 18th century palazzo designed by Baldassare Longhena houses a pair of fascinatingly different museums – the Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna (International Gallery of Modern Art) and Museo d’Arte Orientale (Oriental Art Museum).
The architecture and decoration of the palazzo are impressive enough on their own, and the Modern Art Museum is the best place in Venice to see progressive Italian and European art. Even better, though, at least for a lukewarm art fan like myself, is the cozy café with fabulous views onto the Santa Croce section of the Grand Canal.
Marvel at the Famous Churches
Pre-10th century Chiesa San Giacomo dell’Orio is one of the oldest churches in all of Venice, although it was mostly rebuilt in the 13th century. In fact, it is so old that nobody can agree on exactly who San Giacomo dell’Orio was. My guess is an important 9th century saint, but I’m no expert.
Although it is located on the aptly named Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, the main façade and entrance are actually around the corner facing onto a small canal.
The weathered, unpretentious exterior lacks the wow factor of the more celebrated churches but the inside more than makes up for that with a surprising mix of historic decorations.
The stunning green marble column is hard to miss, as is the marble altar, and the “ship’s keel” ceiling is one of just two of its kind in Venice (along with San Stefano). This intricately carved wooden masterpiece is both artistic and functional, increasing the effectiveness of the building’s foundation (architecturally well ahead of its time).
Meanwhile, on the Grand Canal you will find the baroque church of San Stae, built originally in the 11th century and repurposed to serve as the Mocenigo family crypt in the 17th century. Previously it had been the family church of these rich and famous Santa Croce Venice residents.
Dedicated to San Eustachio, it has a relatively basic interior but the façade is truly exceptional when viewed from canal. It also features a large collection of statues from many famous Italian sculptors (Torretto, Tarsia, Baratta and more) and even starred in the final scene of “Don’t Look Now” with legendary Canadian actor Donald Sutherland (who, sadly, younger readers may know best as President Snow from the Hunger Games).
Last but not least, is none other than the largest church in Venice, the looming brick building of the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. As that is a bit of a mouthful, most people simply refer to it as the Frari. For example, “Do you want to go for a spin in my new frari?” Oh wait, no, that’s a Magnum PI thing.
The current incarnation of this Franciscan-Gothic church was completed in 1492 and it is now classified as a minor basilica and considered one of the three most important churches in Venice. At first glance, it may seem rather unassuming but the interior is among the most beautiful in the city.
It has 12 huge columns representing the apostles, numerous amazing statues and a fascinating set of celebrity tombs (Vecellio, Canova, Monteverdi, etc). Even the choir stalls are more picturesque than most. Plus, on top of all these architectural marvels, I Frari is home to a number of famous paintings, including two of Titian’s masterpieces, “Assumption of the Virgin” and “Pesaro Madonna”.
Check Out Palazzo Mocenigo
Located just in behind the Church of San Stae, this ostentatious palazzo fronts onto a gorgeous little canal. The former home of the wealthy and famous Mocenigo family, it was left to the city by the last descendant and is one of the top highlights of Santa Croce.
More of a showcase for 17th and 18th century fashions and furnishings than a true museum, it still offers a wide range of interesting sites and exhibits. Starting with the huge reception hall (filled with suitably pretentious family portraits), you can go on to explore the clothing, decorations and accessories. There are even perfumes you can smell test, like you are Christmas shopping at Macey’s (or snooping in your date’s medicine cabinet).
And if all that sounds a little, well, mortal for you, you’ll be thrilled to know that Palazzo Mocenigo also has its own resident ghost. Sure, the word “haunted” sometimes feels a bit overused these days but how else to describe the ghost of Bruno the Philosopher wandering the halls of the palace for all eternity seeking revenge on Giovanni Mocenigo for reporting him to the inquisition where he ended up burned at the stake? Don’t worry, though, he’ll probably leave you alone as long as you don’t use the flash when taking photos of the paintings.
See Traditional Life in the Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio
Don’t rush off after you visit the intriguing little Chiesa San Giacomo dell’Orio. The pleasant plaza that shares its name is an excellent place to relax on a bench, sip a drink in one of the local bars or simply watch the locals mingle in their favourite gathering spot.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, greenery is a rare commodity in Venice so the lush trees of Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio provide a nice change of backdrop, not to mention some welcome shade in the heat of summer.
Relax in Parco Pubblico Papadopoli
Another terrific green space in Santa Croce, Venice is Papadopoli Gardens, where you can enjoy the lush terraces and picturesque statues of this huge, 8,800-square-metre park. Built on the site of the long-gone Monastery of Santa Croce, it also offers plenty of shade and is a great place to kill some time while waiting for a nearby bus or shuttle.
Have a Glass of Wine at Bacareto da Lele
This unassuming hole-in-the-wall tapas restaurant is locally famous among Venetians for its fantastic food and shockingly un-Venice-like prices. You can get cicchetti for just €1 and a glass of wine for the same or less.
It is usually busy but still fast and relaxed at any time of day. You simply order at the counter, pay, then try to grab a spot standing around one of the barrels / tables outside. If those are full you can just sit along the canal and enjoy feeling like a local (however misguided).
Take the Kids to the Natural History Museum
Located in a superb medieval palazzo, the Natural History Museum has a wonderful collection of educational displays from dinosaur skeletons to local fish and current Italian wildlife. The written info is only in Italian but you can get audio guides in English and several other languages.
The beautiful building appeals to adults and the interactive exhibits are great for kids, including a few that even let them touch the displays.
Stop for a Gelato
Whatever sestiere you happen to be in, an Italian gelato stop is a must. Not surprisingly, Santa Croce has lots of great choices. However, one of the best is Gelato di Natura on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio (they even have vegan and gluten-free options), which fits the number one international rule of travel: pick the restaurant (or café, or gelato shop) with the longest queue of locals.
Best Santa Croce, Venice Restaurants: Where to Eat
In addition to the option of snacks and wine at Bacareto da Lele above, there are many great choices for places to eat in Santa Croce, Venice.
Even though this small restaurant has been fully discovered by tourists its still an excellent choice. La Zucca serves rustic comfort food with traditional Venetian / Italian dishes. They have a lot of vegetarian options, including a vegetarian lasagna.
Try for a corner table near the bridge to really enjoy a view with your meal.
Pizza Sofia di Kuch Vitaly
For a quick meal you can’t go wrong with a slice of pizza (or a whole pizza) from Pizza Sofia di Kuch Vitaly. The pizzas are freshly prepared and very reasonably priced.
Snag one of the outdoor tables overlooking the canal and revel in the opportunity to get away from the crowds.
Best Santa Croce, Venice Hotels: Where to Stay
Santa Croce Boutique Hotel
It may be only a 10-minute walk from the Rialto Bridge but that’s an important 10 minutes when it comes to getting away from the crowds. The Santa Croce Boutique Hotel even has an outdoor patio area where you can relax and enjoy the calm – very rare in Venice. This hotel is the perfect retreat after wandering the streets of Venice and the friendly staff will help to ensure that your visit is comfortable. If you are looking a midrange place in Venice, you can’t go wrong with this hotel.
Hotel Antiche Figure
If you’ve been dreaming of a room with a view of the Grand Canal you need to check out Hotel Antiche Figure. You can relax in your spacious room and watch the world go by (in a boat, usually). You will also enjoy the Murano glass and chandeliers, excellent included breakfast and classic furnishings.
Casa Caburlotto is a great budget option that still offers a private bathroom and included Italian-style breakfast. This former convent boasts historical surroundings and a private garden just a 5-minute walk from the Piazzale Roma square.
Santa Croce will never enjoy the fame and celebrity of San Marco, or even San Polo. But for an authentic Venetian experience sprinkled with a handful of the most important buildings in Venice, Santa Croce offers a fascinating mix. Plus, you’re going to need transportation at some point, you should at least check out Santa Croce on your way there and back.
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