Originally a reedy cane (canna) swamp, the sestiere of Cannaregio is the largest in Venice. The section east of the Canale di Misericordia, closer to Piazza San Marco, was a high-rent district, with fancy palazzi and churches, ranging from the cool Renaissance perfection of Santa Maria dei Miracoli to the Baroque extravagances of the Gesuiti. Marco Polo lived here, as did Titian; as an added plus it has some of the most perfect canal views in all Venice.
West of the Canale di Misericordia is the Cannaregio of the cramped bittersweet confines of the Ghetto, and the tarnished tourist tinsel of the Lista di Spagna; like any part of Venice it has its share of good, or at least interesting, churches.
But best of all is the Cannaregio in between, still wrapped in the silence that once enveloped the rest of Venice. Crumbling and piquant, it offers one of your best chances to see the city behind the glitz; here children play tag on the bridges on the broad fondamenta; shirts, sheets and some amazing examples of Italian underwear flutter gaily overhead; old men and cats soak up the sun in front of unnamed bars. The cavernous, narrow lanes of Venice spread into broad parallelograms in northern Cannaregio, of long straight lanes and canals, horizons and horizontals open to the setting sun.