The second largest of Venice’s six historic districts, Cannaregio is arguably the best place to search for the ancient soul of La Serenissima. Alice Mulhearn reveals the finest sights, cicchetti bars and things to do in the zone…
Most visitors to Venice never get to see Cannaregio’s better side. For the enthusiastic day tripper, the district’s infamous Strada Nuova serves only as a thoroughfare; a tourist-clogged route to the main attractions. But duck into the nearest side street and it’s a different story. Here you’ll find the Cannaregio that Venetians love – a neighbourhood that offers up as many butchers and bakers as it does bars and osterias. It’s a place to enjoy small, tantalising vignettes of everyday Venetian life. The sight of fish stalls, piled high with small octopus; the gentle chug of cargo boats on a weekday morning; and the steady buzz of conversation at dusk, when locals crowd the pavements to enjoy an early evening spritz.
It’s a place to enjoy small, tantalising vignettes of everyday Venetian life. The sight of fish stalls, piled high with small octopus; the gentle chug of cargo boats on a weekday morning; and the steady buzz of conversation at dusk, when locals crowd the pavements to enjoy an early evening spritz.
Then of course, there’s the history. Cannaregio tells the story of Venice’s less aristocratic past. Here, cut off from the maddening crowd, you can find the world’s first Jewish ghetto with its narrow alleyways and towering old tenement buildings. There’s also the Chiesa Della Madonna Dell’Orto, an elegant but simple cathedral dedicated to the many ferryman and travellers that pass through La Serenissima. And at the furthest reaches of Cannaregio, the Isola di San Michele – Venice’s cemetery island. But more on that later…
To enjoy Cannaregio at its best, make sure you set an alarm. Early risers are treated to the sights, smells and sounds of the district stirring into life. First, grab something for breakfast from Panificio Volpe Giovanni, a hole-in-the-wall bakery stocked with traditional kosher treats. Then take a stroll along the Canale di Cannareggio, past the fish stalls and haggling Venetians, to watch the cargo boats bring in their haul.
Cannaregio, like the rest of Venice, doesn’t fare well with maps. But don’t worry, sooner or later you’re bound to run into the Jewish Ghetto. Want to know you’re on the right track? Look up. The buildings in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo are uniquely tall – a seventeenth century solution to the intense overcrowding caused by forced segregation. To better understand this fascinating corner of Venice, head to the Jewish Museum. Here you can take a tour of the Ghetto’s three oldest synagogues – a must for anybody wanting to get to grips with the sobering history of this important section of the city. Before you leave the Ghetto, don’t forget to pop into Plum Plum Creations. Here you can watch the incredibly talented Arianna Sautariello create her distinctive etches of Venetian scenes. Not only does it offer a wonderful glimpse into the city’s artisanal traditions, but also the perfect excuse to pick up some unique souvenirs.
To truly get off the beaten track, jump on a water bus from Fondamente Nove towards Cimitero. Within 10 minutes you’ll have arrived at the Isola di San Michele – Venice’s Island of the Dead.
Time for a coffee break?. Get ready to brace the crowds on Strada Nuova (it’s worth it – we promise). At Torrefazione Cannaregio you’ll find what is probably the best coffee in Venice. Yet despite its Shoreditch interior and huge selection of beans, at one euro a pop this is far from your typical hipster hangout. Now you’ve ventured into Cannaregio’s thoroughfare, it would be rude not to grab a bite at Frito Inn – a hole in the wall selling paper cones stuffed to the brim with salty battered vegetables and seafood.
To truly get off the beaten track, jump on a water bus from Fondamente Nove towards Cimitero. Within 10 minutes you’ll have arrived at the Isola di San Michele – Venice’s Island of the Dead. Decreed as a cemetery in 1837, this is unsurprisingly the most peaceful of the islands. Yet a walk around the carefully tended graves offers a slice of Venice that few others see – a glimpse of everyday life in this extraordinary city.
Once the tourists head back to their hotels for the evening, Venice takes on a life of her own. And Cannaregio is no different. Here the locals spill out onto Fondamenta della Misericordia for an obligatory aperitivo and most importantly, a cicchetto or two. A Venetian version of tapas, cicchetti are light bites to accompany your spritz – and Cannaregio offers up the best of the best. Start your cicchetti crawl at Al Timon, a friendly bar with arguably the best bar snacks in town, then it’s onto Paradiso Perduto – a raucous, soulful place where you can enjoy your cicchetti alongside live poetry readings and jazz. In fact, if food is your thing, then Urban Adventures organise a well-reviewed cicchetti and wine tour of the district led by an expert that will give you a deeper insight into the local cuisine.
If you’re growing tired of Venice’s famous aperol aperitivo, make sure you call into Vino Vero. A spritz-free zone, here you can find organic wine produced by the owners themselves. If you still have room for dinner, check out Osteria ai 40 Ladroni for delicious fresh seafood. If it’s a warm night, grab a table by the water and watch the world go by. In Venice, there’s nothing better.
Riccardo is 24, and studying at the Ca’Foscari university in Venice. He says that Cannaregio is a favourite destination for students in a city that usually falls short in the nightlife department:
“What I like most about the district is that it doesn’t look like a maze with squares everywhere. Instead it’s a series of parallel avenues linked by a web of bridges. The best part is Fondamenta della Misericordia, where you can find Santo Bevitore – a craft beer place that serves great craft beer from all over Europe. Then there’s Paradiso Perduto, where you can also have a good lunch of local dishes – definitely not vegetarian friendly but delicious!
By day I love walking through the Jewish Ghetto. Sometimes it feels like another world because many of the people who live there barely speak Italian, let alone English. But it’s all in the frame of an Italian city.”
If you can it’s a good idea support one of the lovely local hotels and B&Bs in the area, rather than a member of an international chain. A great choice in Cannaregio is Hotel Ca’ Dogaressa. Overlooking the bustling Canale di Cannaregio, this hotel has buckets of Venetian glamour without the hefty price tag. Meanwhile, for a wide selection of Venice apartments try locally-based experts DolceVita Apartments. They have more choice than anyone else in the Floating City including many flats in Cannaregio. Their prices are very fair and they offer a free cancellation service up to 30 days before arrival.
Finally, don’t forget to read up all our La Serenissima travel tips on our weekend break guide to Venice, where we go into more detail about nearly every aspect of the Floating City. Otherwise you can save time and money by booking your airport transfers, public transport cards and skip-the-line tickets to La Doge palace via Get Your Guide.
Feature photo by Erin Johnson.