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Exploring Dorsoduro: the Best Things To See and Do in Venice's Student Sestiere

The Dorsoduro neighbourhood is the place to experience authentic Venetian life
The Dorsoduro neighbourhood is the place to experience authentic Venetian life | © Camilla Martini / Culture Trip
Often overlooked by tourists, Dorsoduro is an area teeming with Venetian student and residential life, but there are many things for tourists to discover. With its quirky bars, incredible food and world-class art, this area of Venice will win you over in a heartbeat.
Dorsoduro is where you’ll find much of the student nightlife in Venice | © Camilla Martini / Culture Trip

Overlooking the Giudecca Canal, Dorsoduro is one of Venice’s sestieri (the six districts the city is divided into). Its name derives from the Italian dorso and duro, or “hard ridge”, as this area of land is higher and more stable compared to the rest of Venice.

The district hosts the city’s main universities and is the heart of student nightlife; it offers a range of cheap and unusual bars but also lovely restaurants, beautiful galleries and interesting things to do. Here are the very best activities to make the most of Dorsoduro.

Cruise through Dorsoduro, stopping for a spritz every now and then | © Camilla Martini / Culture Trip

Enjoy a scenic walk to the Punta della Dogana

The Fondamenta delle Zattere is one of the most popular streets among resident Venetians, from students enjoying a coffee break to visitors having a break at the end of a long day’s exploring. A few minutes from the train station, you can use it as the starting point of one of the best strolls around Venice. Walk first towards San Basilio and then all the way to Punta della Dogana – the view over the Giudecca Canal is one of Venice’s most peaceful and picturesque. Make a quick stop at Gelateria Nico and try a gianduiotto, a chocolate hazelnut ice cream served in a paper cup filled with whipped cream.

A walk along the Zattere offers one of Venice’s best views – quite a feat in such a beautiful city | © A. Astes / Alamy Stock Photo

Lose yourself in some of the world’s best art

Venice has a great variety of art to see, and Dorsoduro is home to some of its most popular museums. For classical Italian art, the Gallerie dell’Accademia is filled with masterpieces by Leonardo, Giorgione and Titian. If you’re modern art is more to your taste, you’ll find works by Dalí, Ernst and Pollock among others at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The art patron’s former palazzo home is filled with the pieces she collected over the course of her life. The garden features beautiful sculptural works and Guggenheim’s own tombstone; she requested to be buried beside the graves of her beloved dogs, and you can pay your respects to them all on your way out.

Discover classical Italian masterpieces in the heart of Venice | © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

Witness some craftsmanship at Squero San Trovaso, where gondolas are made

Gondolas are not only the emblem of Venice but an example of great craftsmanship, as they all are hand-made. However, these beauties need constant maintenance, which is carried out in the squeri (boatyards). Often sitting in truly picturesque spots, such as the one next to Campo San Trovaso, you can come and see where gondolas are made and repaired. Stop for an aperitivo along the way at the Osteria San Trovaso, while watching the craftsmen work across the water.

The centuries-old traditions of gondola building and repair is maintained in this boatyard | © Peter Barritt / Alamy Stock Photo

Grab a Venetian bigoi pasta to go

As one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, there’s so much to see in Venice. Visitors cram in as much as possible over a few days, often choosing a quick meal over a good one. Don’t be tempted by the ease of a fast food joint, however: follow the example of the local students, and opt for a portable – and delicious – meal from a takeaway pasta place such as Bigoi or Pasta&Sugo. With a budget of €10 (£8.75), you can enjoy some bigoi (a thicker form of spaghetti typically found in the Veneto region) or any other pasta of your choice, accompanied by bread and a drink.

Indulge at the most famous pastry shop in Venice

Pasticceria Tonolo’s counters are overflowing with pastries, confections, cookies and other sweet treats; it’s easy to see why this shop is so popular with visitors as well as locals. It’s a Venetian institution, and a must-visit if you’re on the hunt for seasonal delicacies such as frittelle during Carnival, or focaccia at Easter. No matter what the season, stop by to marvel at the displays and leave clutching a paper bag stuffed with their delicately made, affordably priced delights.

Discover the Dorsoduro churches where art meets religion

You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the staggering beauty of Italian churches; filled with wondrous works of art and unbelievable architecture, they can be enjoyed as galleries as well as places of worship. When visiting Dorsoduro, you have plenty of choice – from overlooked gems like San Sebastiano Church to famously grand masterpieces like the Basilica alla Salute. Built to commemorate the end of the plague in 1631, the Basilica is the heart of the Festa della Salute, a traditional event that takes place every year on 21 November. During this celebration, a temporary bridge is built on boats crossing the Grand Canal; Venetians cross it as a pilgrimage and to light a candle as a homage to the Holy Virgin to keep them in good health.

Don’t overlook the lesser-known gem of Chiesa di San Sebastiano | © Ian Bottle / Alamy Stock Photo

Experience the best student nightlife in Campo Santa Margherita

Campo Santa Margherita is a lively place; people-watch here for a half an hour and you’ll see students flocking to meet their friends, elderly Venetians sitting outside bars with a strong coffee and keen chefs choosing the best vegetables in the local market. The campo, or square, is a hub of Venetian life and hosts some of the most popular bars in Dorsoduro, such as Il Caffè Rosso, Skillà Bar and Al Bocon Divino. Campo Santa Margherita is the perfect place to sip a Spritz, sample some cicchetti (Venetian snacks), browse the books at Marco Polo’s independent bookshop, or simply sit on a bench enjoying the sun and watching the world go by.

When in Dorsoduro, take a moment to sit and sip on a coffee in one of Venice’s beautiful squares | © Camilla Martini / Culture Trip