Just a short walk or vaporetto ride from the hustle and bustle of St Mark’s Square, the artsy district of Dorsoduro is where locals and in-the-know tourists hang out, says Emma O’Reilly
The ancient district or sestiere of Dorsoduro feels truly Venetian. Come here to escape the relentless crowds (and inflated prices) in and around St Mark’s Square, and to indulge in some of the most thrilling art and cultural experiences the city has to offer.
You’ll be able to ogle everything from contemporary and street art to Old Masters, in world-class museums; then souvenir shop direct from the workshops of Venice’s craftspeople. By day, in between seeing the sights, get blissfully lost in silent, canal-side streets.
As night falls, eat in cosy osterie or Michelin-rated restaurants, then hit Dorsoduro’s nightlife, which is positively energetic by Venetian standards. Alongside time-warp bacari wine bars full of locals gossiping and drinking, there are taverns with a bohemian vibe where you can nurse a drink well past midnight. What’s not to like? Those who visit Dorsoduro once usually come back for more.
Do Take a wander
Dorsoduro is rewarding walking territory, with something unexpected at every turn. Photo ops include Banksy’s The Migrant Child mural, near the Ponte di San Pantalon, and the best views of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge.
Check out the art
Get to know your Titian from your Tintoretto at one of Venice’s headline sights, the Gallerie dell’Accademia. You can thank Napoleon: he nabbed the best art from Venice’s churches and
put it on display here. For a breather from Baroque and Renaissance pomp, visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, with art from the 20th century onwards.
Go to church
Basilica Santa Maria della Salute was allegedly built by plague survivors to show their thanks to God. Its domes and spires still grace many a postcard, but tourists rarely venture inside to appreciate the art and frescoed ceilings. Talking of ceilings, fellow houses of worship San Pantalon and San Nicolo dei Mendicoli churches have ones to make you giddy.
Ride the canals
Can’t stomach €80 (£70) for a half-hour gondola tour? Instead, try Dorsoduro’s “traghetto” gondola ferry services to St Mark’s Square. The journey takes less than five minutes and you may have to share, but it costs just €2 and the views are dreamy.
Eat Gelateria Il Doge
This is where to find homemade ice-cream in a good range of flavours, including vegan and sugar-free options. The speciality is Crema Del Doge (vanilla with candied orange and chocolate). The gelateria is on the edge of Campo San Margherita square – perfect for people watching while indulging.
If you have just one blowout meal, this should be it. Feast on fresh seafood with dreamy canal and city vistas from Lineadombra’s floating terrace.
Osteria All Bifora
Rub shoulders with locals and students at Osteria Alla Bifora, also on Campo Santa Margarita. The food is simple and casual, with plates of local meats and cheeses, plus fancier dishes such as cuttlefish with black ink sauce and polenta. If the weather’s warm, grab an outdoor table.
Drink Campo Santa Margarita
Sip a Venetian Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco and sparkling water) at any number of bars (many open until late) in this social hub of a square – the beating heart of Dorsoduro – just down the road from the university.
Cantina del Vino Gia Schiavi
At this family-run bacari (wine bar), regulars stand to drink the local Fragolino sparkling red wine, accompanied by cicchetti – small slices of bread with delicious toppings. Cantina del Vino Gia Schiavi opens at lunchtime and again in the early evening.
Shop Loris Marazzi
This talented craftsman’s shop and workshop are opposite the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Loris Marazzi’s unusual and ultra-realistic wooden sculptures of clothes and accessories make for expensive but sensational souvenirs that will last a lifetime.
This is the place to buy a traditional Venetian mask (as worn during the Venice Festival). There’s a huge choice, including feather-adorned numbers and scary, beaked “plague doctor” masks. Ca’Macana also offers workshops where you can learn about the history of mask making and design one yourself.
There is a lot of Venetian tourist tat made using local Murano glass. Not at Designs 188, where it is crafted into exquisite modern jewellery – such as a single chunky glass bead on a thick metal mesh necklace – at surprisingly affordable prices.
Stay Ca Maria Adele
A small, romantic hotel, right on the canals. At Ca Maria Adele more is definitely more – whether that’s cherubs, velvet or chandeliers. If you’re not already swooning, up the ante with drinks on the terrace, overlooking the Grand Canal and Santa Maria della Salute.
This apartment, bookable on Airbnb, costs from £178 per night for up to four people. It has views of not just Venice’s canals but also of gondolas being made – at one of the city’s last remaining workshops, on Squero di San Trovaso.
Trying to fly less?
You can get to Venice from the UK entirely by train. Take the Eurostar to Paris, changing for the city’s Gare de Lyon, where
you can catch a TGV service to Basel, Switzerland. From there, take the train on to Zurich and from there pick up a Swiss Railways service on to Venice.
Fine with flying?
Airlines including Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways fly direct to Venice from various UK airports.
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