Choosing the best area to stay in Venice goes such a long way towards making your trip to the city special. It is truly unique, a tiny settlement built on islands of sand and mud that became one of the greatest cities of medieval Europe. It has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and in peak season it can be very overcrowded and expensive, with mid-range doubles going for as much as €300, so as well as considering where to stay in Venice you often have to look at areas to stay in Venice including the outskirts, staying in the outskirts of the city or even outside it altogether.
I have made over ten trips to Venice, staying as far away as Padua, an hour away, and as close as 100 metres from Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square). There are six districts in the city in which you can base yourself, as well as the outlying islands of the Venetian lagoon, the mainland overspill of Venice, Mestre, and beyond, elsewhere in the Veneto region.
Our area by area guide gives you the low-down on what to expect from each, including what is entailed getting around, waterbus stops, what to see there, and distance from your arrival point and the main sights. And above all it will help you decide on what the best area to stay in Venice is for you.
Getting to Venice from the Airport
Venice has two airports, both on the mainland: Marco Polo and Treviso.
Marco Polo is the closer of the two, and there are three ways of getting from to Venice from Marco Polo airport. Alilaguna run waterbus services from the airport, with two routes, Blue and Orange, running all year. The Blue route runs around the east side of the city to San Marco and on to the Cruise Terminal on the other side of the city, and the Orange route runs down the Cannaregio Canal before heading down the Grand Canal to San Marco. If you buy tickets online, a return from the airport to San Marco works out at only €25, a great bargain.
Water taxis can cost a whole lot more. They’ll take you as close as possible to your Venice accommodation, but will set you back over €100, as much as you’d pay for a night in a four-star hotel in most European cities.
The number 5 bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma bus station used to be a great bargain, but the fare rise in the last few years means you don’t really save much using it. It’s €8 one way or €15 return, but by the time you factor in onward tickets on the waterbus (vaporetto) it works out as much as the Alilaguna option. And the approach from the water is much more exciting and inspiring than the land and bridge one.
Getting to Venice from Treviso airport is very simple – regular buses meet the Ryanair flights and go direct to Piazzale Roma.
Getting Around Venice
There are two ways to get around Venice: by boat and on foot.
The best way of getting around is by vaporetto. These vessels ply the main routes up and down the Grand Canal, and around the north and south of the city, as well as the outlying islands in the lagoon. A 72 hour ticket costs €33, while a 7-day pass costs only €50 – with these you can get everywhere.
You can also use water taxis to get around – but a single fare across the city will probably set you back more than a week on the vaporetti.
One of the icons of Venice is of course the gondola, and most are only available for hire for slow, romantic journeys around the canals of the city. Some are also used for public transport – the traghetto (plural traghetti) is a wonderful part of the Venetian experience. They are gondola ferries across the Grand Canal, mainly used by locals who stand up as they are rowed from one side to the other. A one way ride costs €2.
Walking around Venice is a wonderful experience, especially getting off the beaten path. Bear in mind that there are a lot of bridges, and therefore a lot of steps to negotiate.
Much of the city is a labyrinth of narrow streets, alleyways and underpasses beneath houses, and the numbering system is confusing. The building numbers do not follow any sequence. They are simply door numbers for the whole sestiere or district. So you’ll need specific, detailed instructions from your hotel or accommodation provider telling you how to get there. So you’ll need something more along the lines of, “Get off the boat at Zattere, turn right before the bridge, cross over the next bridge on the left, then it’s 20 metres to the right, the red door.”
Venice’s sestieri, or districts
Venice is divided into sestieri (literally ‘sixths’). On a map, the city proper – a series of over 100 islands – looks a little like a fish facing the left hand side of the page. The western sestieri, Santa Croce, San Polo and Cannaregio, are the fish’s ‘head’, the eastern sestieri, Castello, is the ‘tail’, Dorsoduro is the ‘underbelly’, and San Marco, to the east and north of the Grand Canal, its heart.
San Marco is the busiest part of the city because it’s where most of the important sights and best views are concentrated: St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) and Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the views out from the waterfront to San Giorgio Maggiore and across to Santa Maria della Salute are all within a 200 metre radius. This area is one of the most beautiful cityscapes on the planet.
San Marco sestiere is where many luxury Venice hotels are concentrated. There are many hotels near Piazza San Marco, and hotels on the Grand Canal Venice, particularly between San Marco and Accademia bridge, and these are among most expensive options in the city.
Away from the waterfront, the San Marco sestiere is fascinating, mostly a warren of backstreets and canals hiding some of the best secrets in the city and some of the most romantic hotels in Venice. The Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal connects the northern end with San Polo.
Some of the main streets – the Mercerie to the north, Calle Larga XXII Marzo leading west towards Accademia – are full of upmarket boutiques and very busy, but it doesn’t take long to find a quiet corner to savour the extraordinary surroundings. The walk west along the latter is one of the most beautiful in the city, past the extraordinary Baroque façade of Santa Maria del Giglio, and the crowds soon thin out: along here you’ll find some of the best hotels to stay in Venice. Campo Santo Stefano, close to the Accademia bridge, and the area around the Sant’Angelo vaporetto stop, are especially lovely.
Wherever you stay in San Marco, you’re unlikely to be any more than 20-30 minutes from the Piazza.
Verdict: outstanding location, and you pay a lot for it in peak season – but watch out for some amazing low season offers.
Vaporetto stops: Rialto, Sant’Angelo, Giglio, San Marco (Vallaresso or Giardinetti) – all 1; San Samuele (2),
Traghetto stops: Riva del Carbon to Fondamenta del Vin (just down from Rialto); Sant’Angelo to San Toma; Giglio (Campo del Traghetto) to Salute (Calle Lanza); Dogana (Calle Vallaresso, outside Harry’s Bar) to Punta Della Dogana
The sestier of Castello, the largest in Venice, extends from the Rio de Palazzo which runs beneath the Bridge of Sighs, all the way to the reclaimed island of Sant’Elena, the easternmost point of the city proper. It also encompasses a large section of the northern shore of the city.
Castello’s sights and views are spread throughout the district, and so are the hotels in Castello Venice. Another great Venetian walk is the 15-minute walk stroll from San Marco up to Campo Santa Maria Formosa, a beautiful wide square with one of the best-known churches in Venice, and probably as far as you can be from a vaporetto stop. From here you walk around the church and continuing along Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa to the Ospedaletto church and turning left to the Basilica of Santi Giovanni and Paolo.
Some top end hotels such as the Danieli occupy prime spots along the Riva degli Schiavoni, the wide waterfront walkway with great views to San Giorgio Maggiore. The backstreets leading onto the Riva have an array of hotel and apartment rental options. These hotels near San Marco Venice are as little as five minutes’ walk from the Piazza. I know several people who have stayed in this area, and they have all said that it’s probably the best location to stay in Venice.
Along Riva degli Schiavoni, you pass the Rio dei Greci, one of the most beautiful canals in the city with the campanile of San Giorgio dei Greci leaning a few degrees out of the perpendicular to get into your shot. By this point, accommodation options thin out considerably: from here, you’re more likely to come across rental options than hotels. Three Venetian blocks along, you reach the Museo Storico Navale, and the ceremonial gateway to the Arsenale, Venice’s ancient shipyard, now a sprawling naval base.
Continuing along the Riva, you then reach Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, the widest street in Venice and, soon afterwards, the Giardini Pubblici, the venue for the Biennale Arts Festival. Beyond here is very much a residential area: the main sights are the view back to San Giorgio Maggiore and the Salute (famously painted by Monet) and the former cathedral on the nearby island of San Pietro di Castello. This stretch is well served by the #1 vaporetto making its regular runs back and forth from the city to the Lido. If you’re looking for an apartment in Venice and don’t mind a short journey back to the main sights, this area could well be worth looking at.
The north of Castello has relatively few sights – much of it is taken up by the Arsenale, and a lot of it – especially around San Francesco della Vigna – is residential, with two quite remote vaporetto stops serving this part of the city – so it’s usually only the keener walkers and explorers who make it here.
Vaporetto stops: San Marco (San Zaccaria) – 1, 2, 5.1, 5.2; Arsenale, Giardini, Sant’Elena (all 1); San Pietro di Castello, Bacini Arsenale Nord, Celestia, Ospedale (4.1, 5.1)
Cannaregio is the first part of Venice that many see, situated in the north western part of the city and home to Venezia Santa Lucia railway station. The Grand Canal runs along the southern shore of the sestiere for a third of its course, and the streets running parallel to the north, Lista di Spagna and Strada Nuova, are usually very busy. Most hotels in Cannaregio Venice can be found in this area. The streets around the east end of the district, around Santa Maria dei Miracoli church, also tend to have a steady flow of visitors.
However, the rest of the district – even including the Cannaregio canal, its main water thoroughfare – is relatively quiet and off the tourist track. Apart from Ca’ d’Oro, which has its own vaporetto stop, the one area visitors head for is the Ghetto, the area to which Jews were confined for over 250 years.
To the north, Cannaregio is mainly residential, with a couple of parks a rare sight indeed. This is right off the beaten path, undiscovered Venice. It’s well worth the journey to this part of town to just see the church of Madonna dell’Orto and Tintoretto’s amazing Last Judgment. It’s also an area where you may well come across some bargain BVenice apartments for rental.
The sestiere is well served by the vaporetto network, with stops along the Grand and Cannaregio canals and along the northern shore with one of the main hubs at Fondamente Nove, only a 15-20 minute walk from Rialto.
Verdict: A good bet in the right areas, with bargains in the quieter parts, but be prepared for some long walks, especially early or late in the day, or vaporetto transfers.
Vaporetto stops: Ferrovia, San Marcuola, Ca’ d’Oro (1); Guglie, Crea (Cannaregio Canal), S. Alvise, Orto, Fondamente Nove (all 4.1 and 4.2)
Santa Croce has Piazzale Roma, the bus station and arrival point for many, but the rest of the district tends to be overlooked by visitors in favour of the more popular sights at the other end of the Grand Canal. But if you’re looking for 3 star hotels in Venice, and don’t mind a boat ride the length of the Grand Canal to the main sights, Santa Croce could be the best place for you to stay in Venice.
Santa Croce has some wonderful surprises. The al fresco pizzeria on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, with tables next to a canal, has one of the most alluring settings in the whole city. But each time I’ve stopped by, I’ve waited and waited, and given up each time before reaching the head of the queue. A short distance away, Ca’ Pesaro houses one of the two best modern art collections in the city.
Its proximity to the railway and bus stations means its hotels get regular custom, and the main sights can be as little as a 30-40 minute vaporetto ride away. The south of the sestiere, facing the Giudecca Canal, is a bit further away from the sights, but even here you’re only a few minutes’ walk from well-connected vaporetto stops. If you’re looking for hotels near Venice cruise terminal, then the Santa Croce sestiere is ideal.
Some hotels in Santa Croce Venice face directly onto the Grand Canal, including the sumptuous San Cassiano, housed in the medieval Ca’ Favretto palazzo.
Verdict: A good option if you don’t mind a ‘commute’ down the Grand Canal, or prefer to be near the main entry / exit points to the city.
Vaporetto stops: Piazzale Roma, Riva de Biasio, San Stae (1, Grand Canal); Santa Marta, San Basilio, Tronchetto, Tronchetto Mercato
San Polo is one of Santa Croce’s two eastern neighbours, tucked in along the curve of the Grand Canal that includes the Rialto Bridge and the atmospheric markets nearby.
It’s a much less touristed, more workaday area than San Marco, and its relatively central location and good vaporetto connections make it a good candidate as a base for your time in Venice. Some hotels near Rialto bridge are on the San Polo side
The focal point of the sestiere is the wide open Campo San Polo, one of the largest public spaces in Venice, and a great place to watch the world go by or just play football.
It’s only a short walk from there to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the vast cavernous basilica, and nearby, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, home to many great works by Tintoretto.
Verdict: A good bet with good connections to San Marco.
Vaporetto stops: Rialto Mercato, Rialto, San Silvestro, San Toma (1)
Traghetto stops: Fondamente del Vin (for Riva del Carbon), near San Silvestro; San Toma (for Sant’Angelo)
Dorsoduro covers more ground than San Polo – from Santa Croce in the west to the Dogana, the old customs building at the eastern end of the Grand Canal – and has several different areas to consider, all with good connections with the main sights across the Canal.
It has plenty of sights of its own, from the Baroque beauty of Santa Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal, to the Galleria dell’ Accademia and, a short distance along, Ca’ Rezzonico and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, but the backstreets and canals in this area are some of the most beautiful in Venice. One of the best places we’ve ever stayed in the city was an apartment on the Rio degli Ognissanti with a view over the Squero di San Trovaso, a busy gondola repair yard. The hotels in Dorsoduro Venice are some of the best in the city, with everything from palatial splendour on the Grand Canal to small backstreet pensioni available.
Dorsoduro has a more youthful feel than the other sestieri, as many students from the nearby Ca’ Foscari University live there. Campo Santa Margherita has a few bars and pizzerie frequented by the students, all much more reasonable than across in San Marco.
The vaporetto connections add to Dorsoduro’s credentials as a possible base, with three stops along the Grand Canal and Zattere on the southern side, the Giudecca Canal. These bring the San Marco area within quick, easy reach, and the Accademia bridge also makes the San Marco area accessible on foot.
Verdict: On balance, possibly the best sestiere to base yourself in.
Vaporetto stops: Ca’ Rezzonico, Accademia, Salute (1); Zattere (2, 5.1, 5.2, 6, 10),
Traghetto stops: Salute (for Giglio), Dogana (for Vallaresso San Marco).
Technically part of the Dorsoduro sestier, Giudecca is a very different proposition. It’s a series of eight islands linked by bridges to the south of the city, next to the island and church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Parts of Giudecca are more recent and different in feel to the rest of Venice. Giudecca is the one part of the city which became industrialised in the 19th century and some of the factories and warehouses still remain – the vast flour mill, Molino Stucky, is now the Hilton. There are also plenty of other hotels in Giudecca Venice, and towards the east of Giudecca, the biggest of the hostels in Venice Italy can also be found.
Most of what you would want to see is along the north-facing waterfront, including Palladio’s two churches, the Redentore and Zitelle. The four vaporetto stops are all on this section of shoreline.
The area is a very convenient option – with the way the vaporetti are timetabled, it’s actually quicker to get to San Marco on the number 2 than it is from Dorsoduro. The number 2 also stops at San Giorgio Maggiore, Palladio’s beautifully situated Basilica, and one of Venice’s must-see sights.
Verdict: Well worth considering.
Vaporetto stops: Sacca Fisola, Palanca, Zitelle, Redentore (all 2, 4.1, 4.2)
Venice’s long, narrow beach island is only a few minutes’ boat ride from Sant’Elena in the city, but is a step back from a timeless world into the 21st century, because of the presence of cars, those rectangular metallic boxes on four wheels that are driven along asphalted thoroughfares on terra firma called roads that you soon forget about when you’re in the city.
It’s only about 600 metres from the lagoon side of the island to the sea, and there are buses to help you with the journey. There are hotels along the seafront, and tucked away in the side streets.
The beach is partly private (where you pay for your few square metres of sand, sunbed and parasol) and partly public (where you don’t). There is a section of free beach near the end of Granviale Santa Maria Elisabetta, which runs from the vaporetto stop.
Some of the Lido Venice hotels offer some astounding deals (€250 rooms down to as low as €60) in the low season, especially if you don’t mind the bracing breeze coming in off the Adriatic.
It’s also worth considering as a base if you’re travelling with kids – a spell at the beach can break the day up quite beautifully.
Verdict: Very convenient, only 20 minutes from San Marco, but staying there doesn’t have the magic of being in the city itself.
Vaporetto: Lido (1, 5.1, 5.2, 10, 11)
Mestre is Venice’s mainland overspill, the convenient alternative to living on a network of low-lying islands liable to flood for a few hours for almost half a year, and sinking by an estimated millimetre each year. Far more Venetians live on Mestre than in the old city: I’ve met about fifty Venetians on my travels around Europe, and they all live in Mestre, and wouldn’t ever countenance living on the islands again.
Many choose to book Mestre Venice hotels to keep costs down while being very easy to reach. There will be times when the lowest room price in the city will be € 200 – 250, and that will just about get you a shoebox. You’ll normally get a comfortable room in Mestre for half that amount. If you’re considering staying there, it’s worth checking out hotels near Mestre train station Venice as services between there and the city’s station, Santa Lucia are fast and frequent.
Verdict: It may lack character, but it doesn’t matter. It’s five minutes on the train to Santa Lucia, so 10 minutes from riding on the Grand Canal and around 50-60 minutes from the main sights. You’ll get plenty of time to savour the magic of Venice. Well worth considering.
Transport – check train times at the Trenitalia website.
Lido di Jesolo
Lido di Jesolo (pronounced ‘yezolo’) is a purpose-built seaside and package holiday resort to the north east of the lagoon. I can remember neighbours taking their kids here back in the early ‘80s, and it’s been popular ever since. There are many Lido di Jesolo hotels and apartments to choose from, with prices peaking in summer.
If you’re bringing a brood with you, this is probably a good bet, they’ll get plenty of beach and pool time, and a day trip or two (by bus and boat around 50 minutes each way) should be an easy enough sell.
Verdict: Good if you have kids and only want to see Venice or Burano on a day trip or two. If you’re travelling without kids, we’d suggest staying closer to the city.
Transport: a combined bus and boat day ticket costs 19.50 €
Elsewhere in the Veneto
The first time I went to Venice I was travelling on a budget, and keen to save every lira (it was a long time ago) I could, so I opted to stay in Padua (Padova) – a 40-minute train journey out of Venice.
It turned out to be an inspired choice. I stayed somewhere 20 minutes from the station for less than £20 a night. I was two minutes from what became one of my favourite squares in Italy, the Piazza delle Erbe, ten minutes from the Cappella degli Scrovegni, whose astounding interior was painted by Giotto da Bondone in what was possibly one of the earliest works of the Renaissance. Then there was the Caffe Pedrocchi, which has been serving coffee and sumptuous cakes for almost 200 years. And the Basilica of St Anthony, on the furthest edge of the old city, is one of the most amazing churches I have ever visited.
On that trip I spent four days in Venice and four nights in Padua, and left feeling I hadn’t done justice to either. So the next time I was in the area, I made a point of staying in Padua for a couple of days, and discovered even more. It is an outstanding city to visit, somehow completely under-rated. I’ve been back a few times over the last twenty years or so, and can recommend several great hotels in Padua.
Vicenza and Verona, half an hour and an hour further west along the railway, are also mentioned as possible places to stay when visiting Venice. My advice is that both are fine if you just want to make a day trip to Venice, but I wouldn’t consider travelling back and forth several times. You would spend too much time travelling and miss out on Venice and the city in which you’re staying. Both are worth at least two days by themselves.
Verdict: Padua is a great place to stay if you’re looking to save on costs or are visiting during peak festival times when Venice gets booked out. But that’s as far away as I’d recommend staying.