A district of contrasts, Dorsoduro stretches from the port, via the panoramic Zattere and Grand Canal, all the way to the Punta della Dogana. Highlights for visitors include two foremost art galleries, the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, crammed with masterpieces ancient and modern, as well as Ca’ Rezzonico palace and magnificent churches, Santa Maria della Salute and San Sebastiano, the latter famous for its wonderful Veronese works. Literally the “hard backbone” of Venice, built on elevated islands of compacted subsoil, Dorsoduro used to be sparsely populated. Today, as home to most of the city’s university premises, it is full of lively cafés, bars and nightlife, concentrated in the market square, Campo Santa Margherita.
This broad waterfront took its name from the rafts of timber (zattere) floated downstream from the extensive forests in the northern Dolomite region which were managed by the Venetian Republic. The precious wood was either used for constructing palaces or transformed into masts and the like for the important shipbuilding industry. The tall-masted sailing ships and rowing boats that used to moor here have long since been replaced by motorized vaporetti and tourist launches, and nowadays the Zattere signifies lovely lagoon views and is perfect for a daytime or evening stroll.
Campo S Nicolò, Dorsoduro 1907 • 041 275 03 82 • Open 10am–noon, 3–5:30pm Mon–Sat, 9am–noon Sun
This Veneto-Byzantine church with an imposing square campanile (bell tower) is known to film buffs from Nicholas Roeg’s chilling 1973 film Don’t Look Now. Hidden in a maze of alleyways off the port zone, it has a pretty portico that doubled as a shelter for the poor. Founded in the 7th century, it is the second-oldest church in Venice. In the 1970s it was restored by the Venice in Peril Fund, who waterproofed the low floor.
This is the city’s most famous gondola repair and construction yard, though its days may be numbered. The combined workshop-dwelling is reminiscent of an Alpine chalet, as the first occupants came from the mountainous Cadore region. Closed to visitors, it backs on to a canal (Rio di San Trovaso), so it’s easy to watch the caulking and cleaning in progress.
Campo S Sebastiano, Dorsoduro 1907 • 041 275 04 62 • Open 10:30am–4:30pm Mon–Sat • Adm • www.chorusvenezia.org
This 16th-century church (see Chiesa di San Sebastiano) is a treasure trove of Paolo Veronese paintings. The artist devoted most of his life to its fresco cycle.
A reclaimed thoroughfare between the Zattere and Santa Maria della Salute, this stretch is dominated by a long building, now a school, where prisoners-of-war of the Republic who did not profess the Christian faith were held captive until they converted. This quiet backwater comes alive on 21 November with the Salute festivities.
The sprawling square of Santa Margherita, lined with houses from the 14th and 15th centuries, is the lively hub of western Dorsoduro. Market stalls, offbeat shops and cafés attract many young people. The colourful fish stalls sell live eels and lobster, the erborista aternative medicine, and the bakers some of the tastiest loaves in Venice. The former church of Santa Margherita, now an auditorium owned by the university, lies to the north of the square. Visitors can see sculptural fragments from the original 18th-century church, including gargoyles on the truncated campanile and adjacent house.
Campo della Salute, Dorsoduro 2 • 041 523 16 80 • 10am–7pm Wed–Mon • Adm • www.palazzograssi.it
This exciting addition to the Venetian contemporary art scene is housed in an imposing 17th-century customs building, the interior of which was renovated by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It contains important works, including pieces by British artists Rachel Whiteread and the Chapman Brothers, and offers fantastic views towards St Mark’s, San Giorgio and the two main canals of Venice. Tickets also grant entry into the Palazzo Grassi.
Fondamente delle Zattere, Dorsoduro 917 • 041 275 06 42 • Open 10:30am–4:30pm Mon–Sat • Adm • www.chorusvenezia.org
Set right on the Zattere waterfront close to the main ferry moorings, the Gesuati (also known as Santa Maria del Rosario) is often confused with the Gesuiti (Jesuit) establishment in Cannaregio. Taking over from a minor religious order, the Domenican friars had this church constructed in Classical style in 1726 by Giorgio Massari. Inside, the ceiling consists of three uplifting frescoes (1737–9) by Tiepolo, considered among his best work, portraying St Dominic amid glorious angels in flight.
Intended as a four-storey palace, this building never rose beyond the ground floor. It was in 1949, that the building was bought as a home by Peggy Guggenheim, a collector, dealer and patron of the arts. She had her vast collection of modern European and American art in this museum (see Peggy Guggenheim Collection), which was inaugurated in 1980. Today, Guggenheim remains Venice’s most visited sights. The light-filled rooms and the modern canvases provide a striking contrast to the Renaissance paintings which are the main attraction in Venetian churches and museums.
Handmade in papier-mâché and glittery plaster, Venetian masks are now strictly tourist fare, but they were once essential attire during Carnival, allowing aristocrats to enjoy themselves in anonymity. One unusual model, with a long curved nose, was used by doctors during plagues, its cavity filled with perfumed herbs to filter the diseased air.
The Accademia Galleries can be overwhelming, so focus your visit on a selection of its masterpieces, but don’t neglect the Carpaccios and Bellinis. After all that art, have a relaxing coffee watching the boats go by at Snack Bar Accademia Foscarini (Rio Terrà Antonio Foscarini, Dorsoduro 878/C; 041 522 72 81; closed Tue), a magical spot right at the foot of Accademia Bridge.
Next, head off east for a leisurely stroll, past Longhena’s work of art, the church of Santa Maria della Salute, to Punta della Dogana, a great spot for taking photos of Piazza San Marco. Turn back in the direction of the Zattere and Giudecca Canal. Lunch is recommended at Al Chioschetto (Zattere, Dorsoduro 1406/A), a bar right on the water’s edge.
As sunset approaches waste no time in occupying a table for a Spritz aperitivo at the trendy bar Margaret DuChamp (Campo S Margherita, Dorsoduro 3019; 041 528 62 55; closed Tue). It’s hard to better this as a place for people-watching, and an added bonus is the scent of jasmine that fills the air as night falls.
Calle San Pantalon, Dorsoduro 3749
A small but perfectly assembled selection of clothing and accessories is available at this shop run by a friendly mother-and-daughter team.
Calle del Fabbro, Dorsoduro 3282
This shop sells lovely handmade ornaments, souvenirs and jewellery inspired by traditional Venetian gondolas. Many of the items have been crafted using wood from real gondolas.
Rio Terrà Antonio Foscarini, Dorsoduro 878/B
Bulky ancient beads, made with vitreous paste and once traded in Africa, count as precious antiques. There are modern African wood artworks too.
Campo S Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2840
Detailed jigsaw models of Gothic palaces, flanked by wall panels and painted toy figures are handmade by this co-operative of female artisans.
Calle del Traghetto, Dorsoduro 2783
Everyone’s Christmas tree needs one of the joyous gilded cherubs lovingly crafted by wood-carver and painter Danilo. He also makes picture frames and furniture.
Campo S Pantalon, Dorsoduro 3701
Choose from a wonderful selection of Art Deco jewellery, Easter eggs, Christmas decorations and fine china.
Calle delle Botteghe, Dorsoduro 3182
Colourful glass bead jewellery is made right in front of your eyes by designer Simona Iacovazzi.
Campo S Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2762
This contemporary design store has minimalist pieces in wood and glass, as well as gorgeous ceramics.
Sacca della Toletta, Dorsoduro 1213
Specializing in art and architecture, this popular bookshop also has a great collection of guidebooks and novels in English.
Campiello Squelini, Dorsoduro 3235
This shop stocks original hand-woven fabrics, garments and bags in beautiful colours.
Zattere, Dorsoduro 922 • 041 522 52 93 • Closed Thu • €
This spot is Venice’s most renowned ice-cream parlour. Gianduiotto da passeggio – hazelnut and chocolate ice cream smothered in whipped cream – is a local favourite.
Zattere, Dorsoduro 780 • 041 520 64 66 • €€
Mediterranean and Venetian cuisine, including a wide range of vegetarian dishes, are served at this restaurant with a lovely canalside terrace.
Calle Lunga de San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2753 • 041 523 05 31 • No credit cards • Closed Sun • €€
Fine Italian wines accompany a superb menu at this no-fish restaurant (see La Bitta). Leave room for one of their delicious desserts.
Calle dei Preti, Dorsoduro 3815 • 041 275 03 86 • Closed Sun • €
Affordable meals and long opening hours make this a local favourite.
Rio Terrà Foscarini, Dorsoduro 979/A • 041 240 14 25 • Closed Mon • €€
Innovative Italian cuisine is offered here, in relaxing, designer modern surroundings. There is an inspiring choice of cold platters of cheese and meats. The wine list is impressive.
Ponte del Formager, Dorsoduro 366 • 041 528 63 96 • Closed Tue • €€
One of the city’s top restaurants, Ai Gondolieri specializes in game from the Veneto when in season.
Campo S Basilio, Dorsoduro 1527 • €
This great bar, frequented by students, serves sandwiches, pasta and salads.
Crosera S Pantalon, Dorsoduro 3764 • 041 523 72 09 • Closed Mon • €
Delicious, freshly baked almond biscuits and mini pizzas are just some of the treats at Pasticceria Tonolo, one of the city’s best pastry shops.
Campo S Margherita, Dorsoduro 3058A • 041 523 46 07 • Closed Dec & Jan • €
Treat yourself to the zuppa del doge (candied fruit, egg custard and sponge cake soaked in Marsala) at this great ice-cream parlour.
Ponte dell’Umiltà, Dorsoduro 19 • 041 241 18 81 • Closed Tue, Dec–Feb • €€€
Enjoy the waterside setting behind the landmark Salute church. Specialities on the menu include tuna tartare and sea bass in a salt crust.