November 26, 2018
Venice is truly one of the world’s most jaw-dropping cities. Entirely built on canals, it’s an exquisite jigsaw of swirling canals, twisting alleyways and extraordinary architecture.
But choosing where to stay in Venice takes a bit of thought, as each of its six districts – known as sestieri – has its own distinctive personality. And then there are the outlying islands in the Venetian lagoon, which also make an appealing option.
If you can’t decide which Venice neighbourhood to stay in, have a look at some of these ideas.
If you want the greatest hits of Venice on your doorstep, join the multitude of visitors gravitating towards the district of San Marco. You’ll be within strolling distance of Piazza San Marco and its attractions – the wildly ornate Basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the soaring Campanile bell tower and the square’s graceful 16th century arcades. You’ll also be by the busy waterfront, the Riva degli Schiavoni, which is filled with gondolas, water buses and taxi boats. Shoppers head straight for the trio of lanes known as Le Mercerie, where Italian and international brands are wedged into tiny boutiques.
The Grand Canal envelops two-thirds of the district, home to many of San Marco’s stately Renaissance palaces. If you want to stop for a more affordable coffee than you can get in Piazza San Marco, relax in the wide expanse of Campo Santo Stefano. While you might find a few affordable B&Bs, hotels and cafés, San Marco isn’t really the place to save money. But if you want to splash out, you’ll find some of Venice’s poshest hotels and most sophisticated bars here.
If you carry walking along the waterfront of Riva degli Schiavoni, you’ll find yourself in Castello, the largest sestiere in Venice. At first you’ll think you’re in the buzziest district in the city, but just behind the waterfront is a relatively quiet warren of alleyways that hints at a different world. Eventually you’ll stumble upon squares with some of Venice’s loveliest churches, including San Zaccaria and the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
If you’re travelling with kids, Castello makes an attractive base thanks to the gardens of the Giardini Pubblici, one of the few green spaces in Venice. Art lovers will be familiar with the gardens, as they’re the setting for the Biennale arts festival that sets up shop from June to November on alternative years.
Discover the more authentic side of Venice in Cannaregio, which sprawls north of San Marco. Here it’s much more residential and much less touristy – you’ll see washing hanging from lines over the alleyways and hear the sound of artisans in their workshops while locals drift along the canals in their small boats. It’s also home to the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world, an atmospheric district of kosher bakeries, restaurants and B&Bs. Among the low-key bars and restaurants of Cannaregio is the busy shopping street of Strada Nova – which will seem very bustling once you’ve wandered through the more serene parts of the district.
Cannaregio is one of the more affordable areas to stay in Venice, with charming B&Bs and hotels and restaurants that don’t charge a fortune. It’s also handy for water bus journeys to the islands in the lagoon, not to mention the main railway station. At the same time, the district has its grand side too, with majestic Renaissance palaces lining the Grand Canal.
Foodies make a beeline for San Polo, home to the Rialto food markets that are just on the other side of the Rialto Bridge. Even if you’re not shopping for food, it’s a lively spectacle that’s worth catching in the morning before the stalls close at lunch.
That’s the cue to do a trawl round the district’s little bars known as bàcari, where you can snack on the Venetian version of tapas – cicchetti. Enjoy the wide open space of Campo San Polo, one of the settings for Venice’s outdoor festivals.
Next door to San Polo is laid-back Santa Croce, which often gets overlooked by visitors. Like Cannaregio, it offers a taste of real Venetian life, with relaxed little squares and affordable places to eat and stay.
It’s also convenient if you’re arriving from the airport, as it’s a short walk from the main transport hub of Piazzale Roma.
If you’re on the hunt for a rare Venetian park, you can enjoy the cooling greenery of the Giardino Papadopoli.
Hugging the southern side of Venice is Dorsoduro, which makes an attractive base for a wide range of visitors and budgets.
Culture buffs can enjoy the treasures of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Accademia as well as the opulent church of Santa Maria della Salute.
The Zattere quayside that runs along the southern edge is a big favourite with families taking in the fun atmosphere – not to mention the ice-cream pit stops.
At some point, everyone ends up in Campo Santa Margherita, where there’s a wonderfully animated buzz in the café-filled square.
If you can’t decide on which Venice neighbourhood to stay in, you could always try one of the islands in the Venetian lagoon. For a classic seaside experience, take the vaporetto (water bus) to the Lido, which has miles of sandy beaches lined with beachfront hotels. It’s also a chilled-out spot for exploring by bicycle, which, for obvious reasons, is rather difficult to do in Venice itself. The Lido is where the Venice Film Festival is held every September, so expect prices to shoot up during that time.
Bringing bright splashes of colour to the depths of the lagoon is the island of Burano, whose rainbow-coloured fishermen’s cottages are pure enchantment. Although visitors throng the island during the day, evenings bring a calm ambience that really gives you a sense of getting away from it all.
Carry on even deeper in the lagoon to reach the island of Torcello, home to elegant churches dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. There’s an even stronger sense of remoteness here – it is, after all, an hour by boat from the main city – which would appeal to anyone wanting a peaceful haven after a busy day of exploring Venice.