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Venice is, to many, a bucket list destination, and due to its relatively small size it can be tempting to try and tackle it in a day trip. But it’s worth taking time to explore each district of the city in more depth, as each has much to offer – as can be seen from the dynamic sestiere (district) of Cannaregio.
Spanning the north of the city, Cannaregio is one of the six sestieri of Venice. The etymology of its name is uncertain: it might come from the Regio Canal, which linked the lagoon to the Grand Canal and crossed the above-mentioned district or alternatively, from the large number of canneti (cane fields) which used to blanket the area.
Nowadays, Cannaregio is one of Venice’s liveliest areas, welcoming visitors from all over the world but also keeping an aura of authenticity that draws in Venetians. With its buzzing nightlife and tourist attractions, here are the best things to do and see in this amazing neighbourhood.
Located at the historical Orsoni Furnace, the Colour Library preserves more than 3,500 colours of Venetian smalti (coloured opaque glass) that have been used around the world to create some of the most awe-inspiring mosaics. They can be seen adorning the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Golden Room where Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, and the majestic Buddhas in Bangkok. In Cannaregio, you can immerse yourself in a kaleidoscope of colours by joining one of the Orsoni’s free guided tours on the first and last Wednesdays of the month – make sure you book ahead to visit this unique attraction.
Strada Nova is the main route that most tourists take to visit Venice’s famous landmarks, which has made it a hub of souvenir shops. From artisanal shops to high-end fashion houses, this street has everything you need to find the perfect gift. Walk past the colourful buildings and indulge in some shopping, be it for some handmade glass jewellery at Nerovenezia, a few traditional masks at Ca’ Macana Atelier or some perfume from the Santa Fosca Pharmacy.
When visiting Venice, your feet are your best allies. In a city with no cars, visitors spend most of their time walking. But what if you want something to munch on the go? The best solution is a fritoìn, a true Venetian classic. A fritoìn is a paper-filled cone of fried fresh seafood, easily consumed on the go and ridiculously delicious, especially when paired with an ombra (small glass) of white wine – don’t forget that prosecco originated from the Veneto region! To stop for one while shopping on Strada Nuova just head to Frito Inn, just after the Ponte delle Guglie.
Visiting a supermarket can grant a unique peek into a different culture – and on Cannaregio’s Strada Nuova, even more so. Here you can visit what is likely to be the most beautiful Despar in the world. Built inside the former Teatro Italia, which used to be a theatre and then a cinema, this supermarket revolutionises the concept of the grocery store. Pizzas, focaccias and wine are displayed in a scenic location, with a high ceiling, intricate frescoes on the walls and a stage tucked away behind the cured meats.
Made famous by Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the Venetian Ghetto is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 1516. Originally used as a foundry (gheto in the Venetian dialect, which gave the area its name), this was where the Jewish people of Venice were forcibly segregated and surveilled because of religious differences.
Despite its troubled history, the Jewish quarter today is a lovely place to wander in Cannaregio, a quiet spot tucked away from the busy Strada Nuova. Book a tour with the Jewish Museum to learn about the history of the area, or explore and try to find the three old, “hidden” synagogues (look for domes and arched windows which identify these places of worship).
Once you’ve finished walking through these historic streets, indulge in some kosher delicacies – there are many restaurants and pastry shops scattered through the area to give you a taste of traditional Jewish cuisine.
Talking about quiet spots, why not venture through Cannaregio to try and find the narrowest calle (street) in Venice? Located within one of the most secluded places of the city in a series of intricately twisting alleys, the dead-end street of Calle Varisco is surmounted by little arches and is only 53cm (21in) wide. Scenic though it may be, there’s a spooky legend behind this calle. It’s believed that the street punishes impure souls; no murderer can walk through it without the walls moving slowly closer together, eventually crushing the killer between them.
Offering a slice of genuine Venetian life, Fondamenta Ormesini is one of the best spots to enjoy a night out in Venice, from aperitivo to after-dinner drinks. Wander along the picturesque canals and admire the colours of the sunset while sipping an aperol spritz on one of the boats floating outside the bar Al Timon. For dinner head to Paradiso Perduto for fresh seafood and live music.
With more than 150 canals separating its islands, Venice relies on its bridges; nowadays, the city has 417, and each one is different. Walking around Cannaregio, you’ll see some of the most magnificent examples like the angular Ponte delle Guglie or Ponte dei Tre Archi (named for the triple archway leading over the water). Although most of Venice’s bridges are now equipped with parapets to prevent inattentive pedestrians from falling into the canals, they were originally without barriers. Only two without barriers remain; Ponte del Diavolo on Torcello Island and the unusual Ponte Chiodo in Cannaregio.
Cannaregio is the best point of departure for day trips across the lagoon; take the half-hour stroll from the train station to Fondamenta Nove and hop onto an ACTV ferry to sail towards the islands. The ACTV links Cannaregio to different destinations – among these are Murano, where the famous Venetian glass is made; Torcello, a small and quiet island filled with mysteries; and Burano, renowned for its colourful houses and Instagrammable surroundings.