You probably know Venice as the magical ‘floating city’ located in northern Italy that is connected by hundreds of bridges and breathtaking canals. While you may have seen this place in movies or read about it in books, there is nothing like seeing it for yourself in person! With an extremely vast history and tons of fascinating things to do in Venice, this ‘city of bridges’ makes for the perfect Italian getaway. Planning a trip to Venice and are not sure where to stay? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Whether you want to stay in the heart of it all, near the main transport hubs, or in a quieter area where you can reflect in the beauty of the city without loads of tourists, there is a place for you in Venice. This insider’s guide to the top places to stay in Venice, Italy, will cover the main attractions and points of interest in each of Venice’s six quarters, also known as sestieri. Furthermore, we will give you a quick rundown on what to expect in each neighborhood of Venice, including the mainland, in terms of costs and crowds!
The Touristic Heart of the City: San Marco
If you choose to stay in San Marco, the city’s top tourist attractions such as St. Mark’s Basilica will be right at your doorstep!
If waking up next to Venice’s main attractions sounds like a dream come true, you may want to consider staying in the neighborhood of San Marco. This small yet culturally significant area is home to some of the city’s top attractions including St. Mark’s Square, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the towering Campanile, and the Doge’s Palace. Staying in this prime location in the heart of Venice’s touristic district really does have its perks. For example, in the mornings you can easily be one of the first people in line to enter the grand basilica or surrounding museums! Likewise, you can take a quick late night stroll to enjoy the monumental views without all of the crowds before heading straight to bed.
Did I mention San Marco is also home to some amazing shopping? So, if you are in the market for designer clothing, luxury goods, or typical Venetian souvenirs- you’re in luck! There are also a ton of restaurants, cafes, and bars nearby so you’ll never have to go too far to get a bite to eat or order that much needed morning espresso. With so much to do nearby, there are loads of luxurious hotels in San Marco to choose from. However, be prepared to pay a premium price for this convenient location, because being right next door to the city’s most photographed monuments comes at a steep price. Besides being a generally expensive area for accommodation, San Marco is also packed with tourists. Thus, if you are on a budget or are looking for more peace and quiet, you may want to look elsewhere in Venice for lodging.
Stay in Castello to See a Quieter Side of Venice
Escape the huge crowds of the city center by opting to stay in the quiet but nonetheless beautiful zone of Castello
In contrast to the extremely busy and touristy neighborhood of San Marco, Castello offers a more personal and tranquil take on the city. Once you go a bit further east away from the main tourist attractions in St. Mark’s Square, you’ll often find that you have the picturesque streets of Castello to yourself. As the largest of the six Venetian sestieri, this district is home to a variety of hotels and B&B’s that are very reasonably priced. Keep in mind however, that if you are arriving from the Santa Lucia train station, you will have to walk quite a ways to get here. Of course, you could rather opt to take a water taxi to save you the hassle of carrying your luggage over all of those bridges. Once you make it to your accommodation though, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what Castello has to offer during your time in Venice!
Despite its local feel, there are still plenty of beautiful churches, peaceful gardens, and interesting cultural attractions in the Castello district that are worth a visit. For one, the Venetian Arsenal is an enormous complex of former Byzantine shipyards and armories that once led the Venetian Republic to the forefront of naval power during the Middle Ages. Another main draw of this area for art lovers is the Venetian Biennale, an organization that is known to hold various events and exhibitions in the sectors of art, architecture, dance, cinema, music, and theatre. The famous Venice Art Biennale is held during odd numbered years in the city and features a wide range of Contemporary visual art exhibits made by top artists from around the globe. You can visit labiennale.org to learn more about upcoming exhibitions and events.
Feel Like a Local in Cannaregio
Cannaregio is full of history and retains a local feel to this day, thus it is a terrific place to stay while visiting Venice!
Though the far western point of Cannaregio contains the bustling Santa Lucia train station which is great for travelers who need to catch an early train, you’ll notice the feel of the district begin to change the further away you get from the station. This district is the most populous neighborhood in the city in terms of local residents which translates to adorable storefronts and family-owned restaurants everywhere you look that cook up some amazing regional specialties! Since many tourists don’t end up making their way to this part of town on a short trip, you’ll probably be able to find a pretty great deal on accommodation here. Keep in mind however, that Venice is still one of the most expensive places for travel in Italy so you’ll still want to have a good amount of money saved up for additional expenses.
My personal favorite aspect about Cannaregio is its cultural richness, much of which arose in the neighborhood’s Jewish Ghetto made famous in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Dating back to 1516, the Venetian Ghetto once housed the city’s Jewish community that was forced to remain within the designated area during certain hours of the day. Today, two of the five Venetian synagogues are still in use while the others can be visited with the same ticket used to enter the fascinating Jewish Museum. Besides being the home to many local residents, Cannaregio also features stunning bridges, exquisite churches, and lavish palaces. For one, the picture-perfect Ca d’Oro Palace which is located along the Grand Canal, is known to be one of the best preserved examples of Venetian Gothic architecture.
Soak Up the Charm of Venice’s Smallest District: San Polo
Though San Polo is the smallest of the sestieri, it packs a big bunch and is home to the famous Rialto bridge!
Despite being the tiniest district in the city of Venice, staying in San Polo sure offers a lot of perks! This small sestiere is well known for being one of the oldest areas in the city complete with endearing architecture, historic churches, windy pathways, and some pretty famous tourist attractions. The Rialto Bridge lies at the heart of the commercial district in San Polo and is well known for its unique design realized by the architect Antonia da Ponte in 1519. Just a couple minutes walk away you’ll find the Rialto Market where vendors sell a boatload of fresh foods in the mornings and early afternoons, along with Campo San Polo, the second largest square in Venice.
Though the larger pathways in San Polo surrounding the Rialto area are often frequented by tourists, once you veer off the main roads you’ll discover plenty of hidden treasures and quaint canals. These calm stretches of water make for the perfect place to hail a gondola ride and enjoy an intimate journey through the historic center of Venice. While there may be less Venice hotels to choose from in San Polo due to the neighborhood’s small size, there are still some great options that even feature views of the Grand Canal, also known as Canal Grande (but this comes at a hefty price, of course.) Nonetheless, accommodations in San Polo can offer a unique charm in close proximity to the Rialto Bridge. Plus, you’ll always be within arms length of the surrounding districts!
Dorsoduro: Art & Culture Mecca in the City Center
This fascinating district is home to two of Venice’s prized art galleries
If you are an art history buff who plans to hit up as many museums as possible during your trip to Venice, Dorsoduro may be the place for you! This youthful and lively district located in the Venice city center is just a short walk away from the popular tourist attractions of nearby districts but also houses some must-see spots of its very own. The Accademia is perhaps the most famous art gallery in the city and houses pre-19th century works by master artists such as Bosch, Bellini, Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese. Right outside this museum, you’ll also find Ponte dell’Accademia, a show stopping wooden bridge that connects Dorsoduro to San Marco. Another must-see gallery in this neighborhood is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a museum showcasing modern artworks in the styles of Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Futurism, Surrealism, and more.
Due to Dorsoduro’s close proximity to Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University, this neighborhood is also known to have an upbeat nightlife scene! One bustling square to check out once the sun goes down is Campo Margherita where you’ll find students and locals enjoying a drink (most likely the region’s specialty drink, Spritz) in good company. Dorsoduro is also home to one of Venice’s most photographed churches, Santa Maria della Salute, which is celebrated for its ornate white exterior and prime location at the end of the Grand Canal. Though this area is pretty trendy, you can still find decent deals on lodging here. So, if you don’t want to spend loads of money but still be close to the top sights in Venice, consider looking in Dorsoduro.
Stay Connected in Santa Croce
Located near the main transportation hubs of Venice, Santa Croce offers many affordable and convenient places to stay
The last of the six Venetian sestieri that we will discuss, also happens to be the least touristy. Located in the northwest islands of Venice, this area houses some of the biggest transportation centers in Venice. The first, being Piazzale Roma which is often the pick up and drop off points of those traveling to Venice by bus or taxi (it is also the starting location of many day trips from Venice.) Nearby, you’ll also find large parking garages for you to leave your car in for the day (because in case you haven’t noticed, there are no scooters, let alone cars in the historic city center of Venice!) Though it is possible to reach the top attractions of Venice by foot in about 20 to 30 minutes, you can also opt to reach them by the ferry, water taxi, and vaporetto (Venice’s water bus system) ports conveniently located in Santa Croce.
So what is there to do in Santa Croce? Besides observing some beautiful examples of architecture, you can view incredible paintings inside of the Church of San Giacomo dell’Orio, have lunch in the surrounding piazza, visit the Natural History Museum (which happens to be located inside of a large medieval palace overlooking the Grand Canal,) see modern art in the Ca’ Pesaro, or check out Palazzo Mocenigo, a museum that houses an fascinating collection of costumes and fabrics. Though there are definitely some worthwhile things to see in Santa Croce, it is not very popular among tourists so it is fairly easy to find affordable accommodation in this relatively quiet district. Plus, if you have to head out of the city by bus or car, you won’t have to travel too far with all of your baggage!
Save Money by Staying in the Beautiful Mainland District of Mestre
Though you are a little further away from the main tourist attractions, staying in Mestre can save you big bucks!
Looking for an inexpensive hotel in Venice? Just because you want to see the many canals of Venice doesn’t mean you have to stay in the historical center itself! The mainland of Venice offers just as much charm and can be a lot more affordable than staying in the touristic heart of the city. Thus, Mestre is the perfect home base for travelers on a budget! Inhabited for nearly 1,000 years, this historic neighborhood is now the most populated area of mainland Venice. Thus, you can expect to find plenty of restaurants, bars, and shopping that show you a more genuine and authentic side of Venice.
Though you may not have heard of Mestre before, there are still lots of things to see and do here that make for a memorable vacation. For example, you can visit the Duomo di Mestre, have a picnic in San Giuliano Park or even take a stroll through the heart of the city, Piazza Ferretto. The nightlife in Mestre is pretty great as well as bars generally stay open for much later than those on the islands of Venice. To reach the historic area of Venice that you are coming for however, you can pay a small public transport fee for a bus ticket that drops you off at Piazzale Roma. From there, it is a scenic walk or short boat ride away to the top attractions in St. Mark’s Square. You can also opt to pay a bit more for the train that drops you straight off at the Santa Lucia train station- it’s that easy!
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