The city is divided into six sestieri (districts), and getting acquainted with them will help you get your bearings. Most Venice addresses list only the property's sestiere name and a number—however unhelpful this practice may be. But to make things easier, we have also given the name of the calle (street) or campo (square) where sights are situated.
At the heart of the city is the bustling, heavily touristed sestiere of San Marco, where you'll find the world-famous basilica of the same name as well as other sights like the Palazzo Grassi. To the east lies the fascinatingly workaday district of Castello. Across the Grand Canal to the south of San Marco, Dorsoduro is quiet and artsy, and home to two of the city's greatest art collections: the Gallerie dell'Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Further north, inside the great loop of the Grand Canal, the sestieri of San Polo and Santa Croce are packed with churches. To the north, and across the canal, is Cannaregio, where five 15th- and 16th-century synagogues mark the former Jewish ghetto. Across the Giudecca canal to the south is the honorary seventh sestiere, La Giudecca, whose southern edge is lined with bustling boatyards.
For a visual introduction to the city, click here for a GeoBeats video overview.
WHEN TO GO
To see the lagoon city at its emptiest and most atmospheric come in November, season of mists and acqua alta (tidal flooding: bring rubber boots) or January, between Christmas and Carnevale. August is sheer insanity: Avoid it if at all possible.
HOW TO GET THERE
Flights arrive at Marco Polo airport about five miles from the city center. Delta has a nonstop from New York; otherwise, you'll have to make a connection in Europe.To reach the city, get a water taxi (about $130) or the hourly ACTV motor launch, which makes stops at Murano and the Lido before reaching San Marco. If you're coming from elsewhere in Europe, consider the train—it approaches the city most scenically on a causeway across the lagoon from Mestre and deposits you directly on the Grand Canal. For train schedules and fares, check out the website for Trenitalia.
Although Venice is a city where you'll walk endlessly, from time to time you'll find that hopping aboard a boat is a necessity—and surprisingly pricey. A 40-minute gondola ride, for example, costs €80 (about $100) for as many as six passengers—and €100 (about $130) between 7 pm and 8 am. (Surcharges of €40 to €50 are added for each additional 20 minutes.) Water taxis are still more exorbitant; just a cruise along the Grand Canal can cost up to €80. Even tickets on the humble vaporetti (water buses) cost €6.50 on any combination of lines, valid for 60 minutes from the moment they are stamped (do this at quayside). A range of vaporetto passes is available, from a 12-hour ticket (€16) to a seven-day one (€50). Another way to keep costs down is to get your gondola kicks on traghetti, the large vessels for ten or so people that shuttle back and forth across the Grand Canal. The three-minute journey—which locals always make standing up—will cost you well under a dollar.
Venice in winter is cold and damp—also sometimes flooded—and summertime has roasting sun and mosquitoes, but whatever the season, consider leaving the Jimmy Choos chez vous. Endless walking, cobblestones, boat hopping, and church-tower climbing demand flats. Venice is also very stroller-hostile; pack the Baby Bjorn.
There are tourist offices at Giardinetti Reali, by the San Marco Vaporetto stop, at the train station (041-529-8727) and in the airport (041-541-5887). You can buy maps of the city, and pick up the useful monthly bilingual Ospite di Venezia-Guest in Venice. For a list of events happening in Venice, and more information on hotels, tours, restaurants and sights, check out the web site of the Venice Tourist Board.
In an effort to react more efficiently to peaks and troughs in tourist flows, the city council has set up the Venice Connected service which allows you to pre-book transport and museum passes, at discounted prices. You must book at least seven days before your arrival date. Passes can be picked up on arrival at the train station, airport and other Venice Connected offices.View Italy Factsheet