Named after a castle possibly built here in Roman times, Castello is the “fishtail” of Venice. The western half of the district is crammed with historic highlights such as the churches of SS Giovanni e Paolo and San Zaccaria. However, half of Castello is taken up with shipbuilding, focusing on the historic Arsenale. The tree-lined Giardini is the venue for the Biennale.
Thronging with tour groups and packed with souvenir stalls, this quayside affords a lovely promenade past majestic palaces (now mostly hotels) and a much photographed 1887 monument to the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele. It is linked to Piazza San Marco by the elegant Istrian stone bridge Ponte della Paglia, named after the paglia (straw) once unloaded from barges here. This is also the best place for taking pictures of the Bridge of Sighs. At the eastern end is the Ca’ di Dio (“house of God”), a 13th- century hospice for pilgrims en route to the Holy Land.
This enchanting 15th-century palace with a pink Gothic façade is set on the magnificent waterfront near Piazza San Marco. After a string of aristocratic proprietors, it was taken over in 1822 by Joseph da Niel, who turned it into a hotel with an illustrious guest list, including Dickens, Wagner and Ruskin. In the 1940s an annexe was added amid great controversy – since 1102 no dwelling over one floor had been allowed on the site. The redeeming feature of the 1940s wing is the roof restaurant (see Hotel Danieli).
Riva degli Schiavoni, Castello 3700 • Open 10am–6pm Tue– Sun • Adm • www.pietavenezia.org
Inextricably linked with the composer and musician Antonio Vivaldi, this Classical-fronted church designed by Giorgio Massari belonged to the adjoining home for foundlings where he taught. It is best seen by attending an evening concert to appreciate Tiepolo’s uplifting ceiling fresco, exalting music and the young choristers, identifiable by the sprigs of pomegranate blossom they wear. The choir stalls accommodated both the singers and the nobility, who were not expected to mix with the commoners.
Aptly named after the Arab word darsina’a (“house of industry”), Venice’s formidable Arsenale shipyards at their peak employed an army of 16,000 to produce the fleets that sailed the Mediterranean, spreading and protecting the influence of the Republic through trade deals and naval superiority. With its innovative assembly-line system, the Arsenale could construct a galley in a few hours, notably in 1574 while the French king Henry III enjoyed a banquet. The stone lions that guard the entrance hail from Greek islands looted by Venetian commanders.
Chiesa di San Pietro di Castello • Open 10:30am–4:30pm Mon, 10:30am–4:30pm Tue–Sat • Adm • www.chorusvenezia.org
It is hard to imagine that Venice’s religious headquarters were here until 1807, when the Basilica di San Marco became the city’s cathedral. Linked to the rest of Castello by two broad bridges, San Pietro attracts artists for its evocative, forlorn air, and fun-lovers for the late-June neighbour- hood fair. Art lovers come for the church with work by Veronese and Coducci.
Dominated by the brick façade of the Gothic church SS Giovanni e Paolo, this breezy square welcomes visitors with a flotilla of outdoor cafés. Worthy of contemplation is one of the world’s most magnificent equestrian statues, a stylized 15th-century portrait of the great condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni. He left a legacy to the city on the condition that his statue be erected in front of San Marco, craftily “interpreted” by the governors as the nearby Scuola Grande di San Marco. Gracefully decorated with arches and trompe l’oeil panels by Lombard masters, the former confraternity serves as the public hospital.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Formosa • Open 10:30am–4:30pm Mon–Sat • Adm • www.chorusvenezia.org
A lovely rounded church on this sun-blessed square appears to spread in all directions, the result of a 7th-century bishop’s vision of the formosa (“shapely”) Virgin Mary’s request that it be built where “a white cloud came to rest”. Artworks are by Vivarini and Palma il Vecchio. The square is a good place for a picnic or a game of football, in lieu of the bullfights and re-enactments of Venice’s conquests held here in the olden days.
Campo S Francesco della Vigna, Castello 2786 • 041 520 61 02 • Open 8am–12:30pm, 3–7pm Mon–Sat, 3–6:30pm Sun
In the back alleys of Castello, this Franciscan church sports a combination of architectural styles courtesy of both Sansovino and Palladio, who designed the façade. The colonnaded cloister can be seen while you’re admiring Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child (1507). Another highlight is Veronese’s Virgin and Child with Saints (1551). Playgrounds have replaced the 13th-century vigna (vineyard).
A pleasant avenue lined with cafés and a market, Via Garibaldi was named when the eponymous general marched into Venice in 1866 as part of his campaign for Unification. Take a stroll to the Giardini (public gardens). To make way for the park in 1807, architect Selva demolished four churches and convents and a sailors’ hospice.
Barbaria delle Tole, Castello 6691 • Open for pre-booked guided tours only (email: [email protected]) • Adm
The sculptures on the façade of this almshouse church, built in 1575, were added by Longhena in 1674. Pass through the church to the Sala della Musica, where female wards of the orphanage once gave concerts.
The Giardini and its beautiful tree-lined avenues were inaugurated as an international exhibition area in 1895 under the entrepreneur Count Volpi di Misurata. Every two years, more than 50 countries send artists to represent them, each with their own pavilion custom-designed by some of the world’s leading architects, such as Alvar Aalto, Carlo Scarpa and James Stirling.
After a visit to the Gothic church on Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, wander through the city’s hospital. Although it is now ultra-modern inside, you can still appreciate the wonderful Renaissance façade, and a series of ancient courtyards and confraternity buildings. Continue the historic theme with a coffee and cake at old-style Rosa Salva (Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo, Castello 6779; 041 522 79 49).
Take a stroll, via Campo Santa Maria Formosa, to Campo San Zaccaria and the church with its Bellini painting, and Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni for its Carpaccio works. For lunch, Via Garibaldi is a good bet, at one of the cafés or at Il Nuovo Galeon (041 520 46 56; closed Tue).
Head east along Via Garibaldi, and detour briefly into the shady avenue for the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his followers. After a visit to the island of San Pietro di Castello, make your way back via the lagoon and the Giardini. A poignant sculpture to the female partisans of World War II can be seen at water level.
Head in the direction of San Marco, just past the mouth of Via Garibaldi. On the embankment is Angiò Bar, the perfect spot for a Venetian sunset together with a glass of wine, not to mention all manner of delicious snacks (Riva di S Biasio, Castello 2142; 041 277 85 55; closed Tue).
Calle del Pestrin, Castello 3876
Alessandro Merlin crafts original plates, cups and tiles with black and white designs based on lagoon fish or human figures in this tiny atelier close to the Arsenale.
Calle Forneri, Castello 5988
This artisan chocolate factory creates mouthwatering chocolates from traditional Venetian recipes. Special-ities include spiced hot chocolate and pralines. Book a guided tasting tour at [email protected].
Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, Castello 5174
One of the few authentic mask shops in town also sells beautiful ceramics.
Calle delle Bande, Castello 5275
You can find tempting gifts in the shape of marbled paper-covered boxes, greetings cards and writing paper with artistic letterheads here.
Salita Sant’Antonin, Castello 3496
This shop has an eclectic mix of design, art and creative objects, many of them sourced from local designers.
Calle Longa S Maria Formosa, Castello 5176
With ancient volumes piled high and Venetian-specific literature, this is a fascinating bookshop with a gondola full of books inside.
Salizzada del Pignater, Castello 3545
Senegalese artist Niang Moulaye creates beautiful handmade jewellery, combining ethnic African style with Murano glass bead-making techniques.
Salizzada S Lio, Castello 5825
This eclectic shop sells household items such as the quintessential Italian coffee pot, along with mobile phones and hardware.
Salizzada S Lio, Castello 5690
Ultra-modern footwear and quirky accessories are available here in the shape of bags, jewellery and garments for the young.
Calle Carminati, Castello 5641
A must for all serious shoppers, this store offers quirky handmade shoes in a fabulous range of incredible designs.
Calle del Pestrin, Castello 3886 • 041 522 70 24 • Closed Sun & Mon, Jan, mid-Jul–mid-Aug • €€€
One of Venice’s finest restaurants, Corte Sconta is known for its delicious seafood antipasti. Book in advance.
Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi, Castello 1254 • 041 296 03 60 • €
Housed in a former greenhouse, La Serra is perfect for a light snack after exploring the gardens of the Biennale.
Salizzada S Lio, Castello 5727 • 041 522 32 83 • Closed Dec & Jan • €
There’s inevitably a queue outside this popular gelateria. Try the tangy limone (lemon) or fragola (strawberry) ice cream or creamy gianduiotto (hazelnut-chocolate).
Secco Marina, Castello 736–738 • 041 523 71 02 • Closed Wed & Christmas • €
This cheery restaurant is especially popular during the Biennale art show. Mouthwatering pasta della casa (house pasta) includes seafood and vegetables. There is a pizza menu at dinner.
Campo S Marina, Castello 5911 • 041 528 52 39 • Closed Sun, Mon lunch, 2 weeks in Jan • €€€
Sample creative versions of Venetian and Italian fare at this well-reputed restaurant. In summer, diners can enjoy candelight dining outside.
Ponte S Provolo, Castello 4625 • 041 528 73 02 • Closed Mon • €€
This friendly eatery has good seafood options and regional dishes.
Calle Lunga S Maria Formosa, Castello 5183 • 041 523 07 44 • Closed lunch • €
An upmarket bar for wine lovers, Alla Mascareta also serves antipasti and main dishes.
Calle del Mondo Nuovo, Castello 5801 • 041 522 72 20 • Closed Sun & Mon, Aug • €€€
There is an unusual selection of fish, cheese and wines at this tiny, cosy restaurant.
Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, Castello 1341 • 041 523 81 73 • Closed Sun • €
A great vegan and vegetarian eatery and food emporium, Le Spighe is a must for those who don’t eat meat.
Campiello de la Pescaria, Castello 3968 • 041 522 38 12 • Closed Wed & Thu, 1 week Aug, 4 weeks Dec–Jan • €€€
Come here for sophisticated fish dishes and pair them with choices from the Italian wine list.