Venice is the largest city in the Veneto region of Italy. The city is constructed masterfully upon the murky lagoon, whose waters surround it, protected from the Adriatic by a strip of land, a barrier island called the Lido.
The map shows Venice's six sestieri. If you counted seven it's probably because Giudecca is really part of the Dorsodouro.
You will probably arrive in Venice via one of three transportation modes. If you are coming in by train or car, you'll enter Venice on the upper left of the map. The train will stop in Mestre before taking the Venice Railway Bridge (1846) and stopping at Venice Santa Lucia station in the Canneregio sestiere. Arrivals by car take the adjacent Fascist era Ponte della Liberta and will be routed to the Piazzale Roma, marked by a red box on the map--or to the ship terminal to the left marked by the white area. You will park in the lot at Piazzale Roma and leave the car. Do not try to drive in Venice as a recent tourist did, just because the city's walkways are shown on a Google map. Cars are banned in Venice. Google maps show everything on Earth. Not everything is a road.
Otherwise, you'll arrive in Venice at the Venice Marco Polo airport, about six kilometers north of the city. The NASA map below shows the bridge to the mainland, the lagoon, Venice and islands, and the airport--with a string of water taxis going back an forth that appears as a white froth in the water. You can get a transfer for a water taxi direct to your Venice hotel from Viator.
Note that the photo is oriented with north to the right of the picture.
The Lido is the complete "barrier island" in the bottom center of the photo.
Both maps show the central canal that snakes through the heart of Venice. This is Venice's watery Superstrada, a place where the vaporetti (big bus boats), Gondolas, Traghetti (transport Gondolas to cross the canals) and larger service vessels zoom the s-curve. It's the Grand Canal, and its main symbol is a bridge, the tourist favorite Rialto.
Each of the six Sestieri have their specific charms and tourist attractions. Every traveler has a favorite. Here is a quick assessment of them.
Cannaregio is a large sestiere that stretches from Santa Lucia train station to the Rialto Bridge along the north side of Venice. Cannaregio has picturesque squares and canals and many residents live in this sestiere, giving it local flavor. The Jewish Ghetto is here, centered around the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, marked on the map. North of the campo is a series of east-west trending fondamente. A fondamenta or riva is a sidewalk along the edge of a canal, like the one shown in the picture on the right (and note that the fondamente are wonderful to walk at night). Fondamenta Misercordia is a good place to find restaurants. There are many shops, cafes, and wine bars along the fondamente. This is a very good place to rent a vacation apartment to live like a local, especially if the apartment has an altana, a Venetian roof terrace.
Another advantage of the Cannaregio is that you won't have too far to walk with your luggage from the train station. Exploring the rest of Venice on foot is easy.
Castello Sesteire is another place people like to stay. Castello is the quiet side of Venice. Tourists don't throng there, so in the evenings walking is pleasant. Boats for the islands of Murano and Burano leave from the Fondamenta Nove along the Northern lagoon. The Arsinale is here; the world's first assembly line whose shipbuilders were evidently fueled on great amounts of wine, could crank out a copy of a galley, the famous Venetian warship, during a typical Italian lunch.. A very interesting museum, the Venice Naval History Museum, is often overlooked by tourists. La Biennale di Venezia Arsenale is near the Museum.
This is the sestiere most favored by tourists; it's where you'll find the famous Piazza San Marco, Europe's "drawing room". Here, besides sitting down to a very expensive coffee, you can see St. Marks Basilica and the Campanile (bell tower), Doge's Palace, Museo Correr, Archaeological Museums and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. If you are on Venice on a day trip, you'll want to save your valuable time by having a pass to all these museums in your pocket. You can buy one from Select Italy: Museums Pass, Venice.
Many of Venice's top luxury hotels are stuffed into San Marco near the square, like the Baglioni Hotel Luna.
Dorsoduro is a large sestiere located across the Accademia Bridge from San Marco. It is home to the Accademia Museum and Guggenheim Art Collection, two of Venice's top museums. It's bounded on the south by the Guidecca Canal and the walkway along the canal is tranquil and scenic. Much of Venice's university is in Dorsoduro. Campo Santa Margherita is a popular spot during the day and has a fish and vegetable market. It's one of the best areas for nightlife, too.
The Rialto Bridge connects San Marco to San Polo, one of the oldest parts of Venice. At the foot of the Rialto Bridge in San Polo you'll come across the huge Venice fish market and open-air vegetable market, a good place to visit in early morning. San Palo has many food shops and bars and very good restaurants. It's a small but pretty sestiere with remnants of its medieval roots. The Frari church holds some Titian masterpieces.
San Polo has fewer hotels but there are some good bargains here. It's also a good place for a quieter gondola ride such as the Venice by Private Gondola ride that can be booked through Select Italy, especially if you feel uncomfortable discussing the price of a ride with the gondolier.
Santa Croce is next to San Polo along the Grand Canal. If you're arriving in Venice by bus or taxi this is the closest sestiere, and it's not far from the train station. Santa Croce is one of the least touristy parts of Venice and another of the oldest areas. The oldest parts of the University are in Santa Croce. It's home to one of Venice's most expensive restaurants, la Zucca, but also many good pizzerie. The tranquil Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio is a top gathering spot in the sestiere. IN Ca' Pesaro you'll find a Baroque palace housing Venice's Museum of Modern Art.
Venice presents a very nice opportunity to splurge, but if you're short on cash there are always some bargain options. Hostels, for example, aren't just for kids any more. Many offer private rooms and even suites.
Venice can be hot and humid in July and August, so as usual it's best to go in the shoulder seasons if the climate is a major factor in your vacation travel planning. September and October tend to be good times to go, but wait later and you'll get some interesting weather, including the clouds and chop in the picture above. Venice floods often in winter, although some find it interesting to survive the Acqua Alta. Spring is possibly the best time to go to Venice; you'll have 7 hours of sunshine in May.
February is Carnevale time. Expect a foggy mist to heighten the oddity of your celebrations.
Find current weather and historic climate charts: Venice Weather and Climate.
Before your trip you may wish to read what great writers have scrawled about Venice. See Historical Fiction Set in Venice.
Need to get from Florence to Venice? It's a popular route! See: Florence to Venice Travel
A Gondola ride is pretty expensive, but you didn't come to Venice to save money, did you? Less expensive is learning how to row a gondola, even at night. Check out: Vivo Venetia.
One of my favorite tours takes you inside the Doge's Palace and gives you a peek at the prison where Casanova was held. The Cicchetti tour introduces you to one of the joys of eating in Venice, the little bites with a little glass of local wine.