Saturday, May 31, 2014

Finding Your Way in Venice Italy is Tricky (But Not Impossible)

Unlike other Italian cities, Venice is not laid out in a typical grid system where you arrive at your chosen street and then follow the numbered buildings until you reach your destination. Instead the city is designed around a labyrinth of narrow alleyways that twist and turn and often suddenly terminate at a dead-end.

So how do you navigate the streets and alleyways of Venice?


  • First, understand the topography. Venice consists of more than 100 small islands separated by approximately 170 canals. There are six neighborhoods or districts (sestieri): Dorsodoro, Santa Croce, Cannaregio, San Paolo, San Marco, and Castello. Your destination will be in one of those neighborhoods. Knowing in which district your destination is located is good but it's only half the story.

  • Next, the Grand Canal divides the city in half. There are four bridges that connect the two together (and sometimes it can be a challenge to find one to cross over to the other side). If you don't mind spending a bit of cash, you can take one of the many water taxis (a gondola in which you stand up for the short ride) to get to the other side. For a few Euro, you can simply cut across where you want to rather than meander among the convoluted alleys trying to find one of the four bridges.

  • Having the address, "2343 Castello," only tells you the district and the building number, which by the way, are assigned randomly, 1 to 6,000. Numbers on buildings do not go in order, many are not numbered at all. Written addresses list the district followed by the building number. Street names follow in parenthesis.

  • It's also helpful to know the various street types (map abbreviations are noted in parenthesis):
    old building in Venice Italy
    • canale: canal
    • calle (c or cl): street
    • sottoportego: an alley that goes underneath a building
    • rio: narrow canal
    • rio terra: canal that has been filled in
    • campo/campiello (cpo): small piazza or square
    • ramo: connect two streets or canals
    • fondamenta (f): a street that runs along side a canal
    • corte (cte): courtyard 
    • salizzada (sal): main boulevard

  • A map is helpful in that it will lead you to the general area of your intended target but it won't get you right to the front door. For that, you'll need patience, luck, and a sympathetic local to point the way.


  • Look for the bright yellow signs with black arrows posted all around the city to help you find your way. Venice is a tourist mecca so therefore the signage will point you to all the major sites.


  • Fortunately, Venice is a pretty small city. So even if you do lose your way, after a few minutes of meandering you will eventually get back on track. Besides, getting lost in Venice is half the fun--that's where you'll come across the true city and her people.

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