Points of interest and Venice tourism : the Grand Canal delineates the six main central neighbourhoods (sestieri). The heart of the city is San Marco, cradled by the great lower bend of the Grand Canal, the Venice of tourist brochure legend. Much of don’t-miss Venice is here, but if you want to get away from the tourist crowds head for the backwaters and boatyards of the quieter districts.
To the east is Castello, hard-working, lived-in and traffic- free; to the south, bohemian-chic Dorsoduro is crammed with artistic treasures; to the north, peaceful Cannaregio’s off-the-beaten-track churches are a delight; and, in the eye of the lagoon, Santa Croce and San Polo are full of monuments and ideal places for wandering. The key sights of San Marco are linked by three main thoroughfares forming a rough triangle: from the piazza San Marco to the Rialto Bridge, from the Rialto to the Accademia Bridge and from there back to the piazza. Sumptuously laid out in Byzantine, Gothic, classical and late Renaissance styles, the piazza is crowned by the Basilica di San Marco.
The original church was built as a private chapel for the Doge and a shrine for the remains of St Mark in 830. The grand structure we have today dates from its reconstruction in the 11th century. The basilica, with every surface of its interior covered in 4,000 square yards of golden mosaics, is testament to the Venetian links with Byzantium. To see the square from another angle catch the lift to the top of the bell tower (Campanile di San Marco) on the square. From here you have a 360-degree panorama of the city. Alternatively, and ideally, stroll through the square at dawn and be amazed by the serenity.