Home to Venice’s ancient shipyard, the Arsenale, and to its leafy Giardini, the Castello is one of the few places in this city where one can find deserted squares and open park spaces, and, says contemporary art curator Francesco Bonami, “escape the tourist mayhem.” The famously garrulous and outspoken Bonami lives in New York but knows the area well, having worked on the 1993 Venice Biennale and serving as director of its much-debated 2003 edition (critics called it unfocused; supporters praised its different points of view). He also curated recent shows at François Pinault’s two museums on the Grand Canal. And, Bonami, once an aspiring artist himself, still paints occasionally. To him, the Castello—even more so than other parts of Venice—is a place in which to wander. “It’s easy to get lost,” he says, “but there are always pleasant surprises.”
This is the Michigan Avenue of the Castello, its Magnificent Quarter-Mile, lined with shops, bars and cafés. On weekday mornings there is a lively outdoor market with vendors selling fish and fresh produce. The atmosphere is like that of a small village—a real village, not just a tourist trap. Via Garibaldi is also the driest spot in Venice. The street (actually a filled-in canal) is unusually wide, so you really feel like you’re on solid ground.
Il Nuovo Galeon
One of the best spots to eat on the Via Garibaldi, this simple, friendly ristorante is great for spaghetti with tiny clams called telline. Dinner, $65. At 1308 Castello, Via Garibaldi; 39-041/520-4656.
Just across from Il Nuovo Galeon is a small bar with a green awning that makes the best tramezzini (little sandwiches filled with crab, ham, cheeses) in the entire Castello, perhaps in all of Venice. It’s a perfect afternoon snack with a cold beer or an ombra, one of those tiny glasses of wine that Venetians drink all day long. Tramezzini and small plates, from $2. At 1820 Castello, Via Garibaldi; 39-041/521-1361.
Among the only green spaces in Venice, the Castello’s Giardini are amazing. The part of the gardens that contains the national pavilions used during the biennales (closed when no exhibition is on) is a kind of survey of architecture from 1930 up to the eighties, with buildings by Alvar Aalto, Gerrit Rietveld and Carlo Scarpa. It’s obsolete—there’s no Chinese pavilion, no African pavilion—but it’s quite fascinating. And it’s very nice to continue walking through the public gardens down to the tip of the island, with views across to the Lido. Enter from Via Garibaldi or along the waterfront Viale dei Giardini.
Most of the city’s old shipyard is under Navy control and off limits to the public, though a few buildings are used for exhibitions during the art and architecture biennales. Even when closed, it’s worth a visit to see the Porta Magna, the Renaissance gateway guarded by marble lions. At Campo dell’Arsenale.
Osteria Oliva Nera
A short walk from the Campo dell’Arsenale, this small, friendly spot with paper tablecloths serves smart contemporary fish and meat dishes. It’s known for its very good stuffed zucchini flowers, a house specialty. Dinner, from $60. At 3417–8 Castello, Salizada dei Greci; 39-041/522-2170; osteria-olivanera.com.
Trattoria Da Remigio
Just next door to Oliva Nera, this neighborhood favorite serves great Venetian classics like baccalà, calamari and squid risotto. It also does a particularly good sgroppino, an after-dinner drink made with vodka, lemon sorbet and ice. Dinner, from $50. At 3416 Castello, Salizada dei Greci; 39-041/523-0089.
Museo Storico Navale
Located on the waterfront along the Riva San Biagio, the Naval History Museum may be one of Venice’s lesser-visited sites, but it has a fascinating collection of historic gondolas and ship models. At 2148 Castello, Riva San Biasio; 39-041/520-0276.
Osteria di Santa Marina
Back in the more heavily touristed part of the Castello, near Rialto, this fantastic fish restaurant has an especially good raw bar. The atmosphere is elegant but informal and unpretentious. Reservations are essential. $ Dinner, from $75. At 5911 Castello, Campo Santa Marina; 39-041/528-5239.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.