The Best Areas to Stay in Venice
There’s no city in the world quite like Venice. A former republic built on the water, Venice has been inspiring imitations for centuries; there are at least twenty contestants for ‘Venice of the East/South/North/Tropics’, and the name immediately conjures up visions of show-stopping architecture and romantic gondola rides along canals. While there is no single “best” neighborhood to stay in Venice, where you end up staying will define your experience and may mean that you spend considerable time walking and/or taking vaporetti (water buses). Venice proper is made up of six sestieri (districts), with several more outlying neighborhoods where you could base yourself. The biggest attractions are concentrated in the San Marco sestiere, followed by Dorsoduro and Cannaregio. Venice is wonderfully walkable, but getting from the northern fringes of Cannaregio to Piazza San Marco can be time-consuming. There are excellent hotels all over the city, though many of the best are concentrated in the most popular sestieri.
Located in the southern part of Venice and separated from San Polo and Dorsoduro by the Grand Canal, San Marco is the oldest and grandest part of the city where you’ll find the Piazza San Marco surrounded by iconic architecture. It’s also the busiest and most touristy, with a vaporetto hub and crowds of visitors day and night, particularly along the waterfront. Away from the Piazza San Marco, the tiny streets are quieter and a joy to explore.
Adjoining San Marco to the east is Castello, Venice’s largest neighborhood, with the Arsenale (historic shipyard) at its heart. Despite its proximity to the buzziest part of Venice, the pace of local life in Castello is sedate and serene, partly assisted by the presence of the city’s botanic gardens and proliferation of tiny, tranquil plazas. Some of the city’s most important churches are found here, too.
Across the Grand Canal from San Marco and bordering Santa Croce and San Polo to the north, Dorsoduro is a fantastic mix of heavyweight attractions and authentic local life. Apart from the major art galleries and palaces, there are some excellent places to eat (besides the neighborhood produce market) and lively nightlife, fueled by the large student population.
Unofficially part of the Dorsoduro sestiere, but in actual fact, a separate island south of Dorsoduro and across the San Marco canal, Giudecca has worn many hats over the centuries, from a place of exile and aristocrat retreat to an industrial hub and military barracks. Besides several beautiful churches, it’s a low-key part of the city and home to many artists’ studios.
A labyrinth of centuries-old lanes, San Polo is not only the smallest neighborhood but also one of the most historically significant. West of San Marco and across the Grand Canal via the famous Rialto Bridge, San Polo is packed with beautiful churches and is home to some of Venice’s best restaurants as well as a bustling produce market. There are some excellent neighborhood bars here, with a handful clustered around the Campo San Polo.
Santa Croce borders San Polo to the west and is the city’s least touristy neighborhood, home to the bus station, cruise ship port, and vaporetto hub. Besides the old-school, family-run restaurants (with particularly rich pickings around the San Giacomo square), and affordable accommodations, there’s a handful of sights here with a focus on contemporary art and natural history. And it’s an easy walk to San Polo’s nightlife.
Encompassing both the train station and the world’s first Jewish ghetto, complete with beautiful synagogues and a museum of Jewish history, Cannaregio is located in the northern part of the city. It’s across the Grand Canal from Santa Croce and San Polo and bordered by San Marco and Castello to the south and east, respectively. Densely inhabited by Venetians, this is one of the most authentic neighborhoods with low-key bars and eateries.
Murano is just north of Venice proper, reachable via a short vaporetto ride from Cannaregio. The island has a long and illustrious history of glass-making and Murano glass creations are still considered to be among the world’s finest. It’s also a quiet and unique part of the city to stay in.
Almost an hour’s vaporetto ride from Cannaregio, Burano is a small island in the northern part of the Venetian lagoon, famous for its long tradition of making elaborate lace and its colorful fishermen’s houses.
Long, skinny, with straight streets and cars, and an outlier in terms of vibe when compared to the mazes of canals and narrow, pedestrianized streets that define the rest of Venice, Lido de Venezia is located to the east of Venice proper. Reachable by vaporetto from Castello or Cannaregio, its attractions comprise a proper sandy beach, art deco architecture, and a clutch of good restaurants.
The Best Places to Stay in Venice
Best Areas in Venice for…
- Best Neighborhoods in Venice for Sightseeing: San Marco, Dorsoduro, Cannaregio
Venice’s most popular sights are concentrated around or near the Piazza San Marco, so San Marco is a natural choice for culture vultures. If you’re specifically interested in art, then Dorsoduro’s concentration of heavyweight museums and galleries are along the Grand Canal, an easy walk from San Marco. And if Jewish history is your passion, you can’t leave Venice without visiting the centuries-old Jewish ghetto, museum, and synagogues in Cannaregio.
- Best Neighborhood in Venice for Nightlife: Dorsoduro
Venice isn’t particularly renowned for its nightlife, but Dorsoduro is popular for its cluster of lively bars that are concentrated mostly around the Campo Santa Margherita, fueled by the large student contingent residing in the neighborhood. For a more sedate drinking scene, it’s worth trying the bars in the tiny streets of San Polo and also around the Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio in Santa Croce.
- Best Neighborhoods in Venice for Food and Restaurants: San Polo, Cannaregio, San Marco, Dorsoduro, Castello
There is no single best neighborhood for eating out in Venice, and the overall quality of restaurant food in the city tends to be pricier and poorer than in other parts of Italy. That said, there are some terrific places to eat out, particularly for Venetian specialties of lagoon fish and seafood, ranging from Michelin-starred creativity to hearty meals in family-run, neighborhood osterias and ciccheti (Venetian tapas), served with a glass of local wine from small producers in several bars. There is wonderful fine dining in Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Marco, and Castello, and excellent ciccheti bars in Cannaregio and San Polo. It’s worth asking your hotel/guesthouse for specific recommendations and avoiding restaurants displaying picture menus and actively trying to entice diners.
- Best Neighborhoods in Venice for Families: Castello, Lido de Venezia, Giudecca
Castello is a good choice, particularly the quieter eastern end, where you’ll find the Botanic Gardens and Venice’s largest park; it’s only three stops on the vaporetto from the Piazza San Marco. Lido de Venezia is very family-friendly, with a large beach, playgrounds, and parks and hotels catering to families, but it’s a 25-minute vaporetto ride from Venice’s main attractions. It’s also worth considering Giudecca, a short vaporetto hop from San Marco and very quiet compared to most other sestieri.
- Best Neighborhood in Venice to Stay for First Timers: San Marco
If you dream of stepping out of your hotel and finding yourself on Rialto Bridge, or of turning a corner and ending up on the Piazza di San Marco, then San Marco is the sestiere for you. It’s a particularly good base if your time in Venice is limited, since that’s where many of Venice’s top attractions are concentrated. Alternatively, consider staying in Dorsoduro, also packed with attractions and just across the Accademia Bridge from San Marco, or in the western part of San Polo near the Rialto Bridge, since you’d be an easy walk or short vaporetto ride from the Piazza San Marco.
- Most Romantic Neighborhoods in Venice: San Marco, San Polo, Cannaregio
It’s a really tough call since so much of Venice is comprised of photogenic narrow canals filled with gondolas, ideal for romancing your other half. But if we had to choose, it’s hard to beat San Marco (particularly the Rio di San Luca area and adjoining canals), Rio di San Polo (that cuts across San Polo and Santa Croce, plus San Polo’s smaller waterways), and Cannaregio (particularly around the Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo). San Marco and San Polo feature luxurious, romantic hotels, some in centuries-old palaces; for no-holds-barred romance, choose one overlooking the Grand Canal.
- Best Neighborhoods in Venice for a Local Vibe: Cannaregio, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, Castello
Away from the crowds of San Marco, Venice’s most authentic neighborhoods include Cannaregio, where a large proportion of Venetians live. Parts of Castello and Santa Croce offer an unvarnished slice of local life, with family restaurants and unpretentious bars dotting the otherwise residential streets. While Dorsoduro has its share of attractions, it’s also home to Venice’s large student population and has a very youthful vibe.
- Best Neighborhoods in Venice for Walking: Cannaregio, San Polo, Santa Croce, San Marco, Dorsoduro, Castello
Venice is a pleasure to explore on foot, which may come as a surprise since the city is renowned for its canals and gondolas. But all six of its sestieri (districts) are made up of mazes of tiny pedestrian streets, and one of the joys of being in Venice is wandering these streets without any particular goal and just seeing what’s around the next corner. And if your legs get tired, then just make your way to the Grand Canal and catch a vaporetto.
- Safest Areas of Venice
Venice is one of the safest cities in Europe. Pretty much all neighborhoods are safe to walk around at any time of day. In particularly touristy neighborhoods such as San Marco and Cannaregio, normal precautions against pickpockets apply.
- Unsafe Areas of Venice
There are no specifically unsafe neighborhoods in Venice, though the part of Cannaregio around the Santa Lucia train station is exceptionally busy during the day and somewhat sketchy by night. Watch out for pickpockets on vaporetti and also in any seriously crowded place such as the Piazza San Marco. Also, be careful near the canals; every year, several people drown after falling into a canal while inebriated. Finally, fall and winter occasionally see periods of acqua alta, when the water rises and the city streets flood.
The 10 Best Neighborhoods in Venice for Tourists
1. San Marco
Even in a city brimming over with architectural wonders, nothing prepares you for San Marco. The oldest sestiere in Venice dates back to the 9th century, and the grandeur of the Piazza San Marco has been blowing the socks off visitors for centuries. Venice’s largest and most impressive square has long been the city’s spiritual and political core and is surrounded by such iconic buildings as the Basilica San Marco, renowned for its stunning Byzantine mosaics, the Gothic labyrinth that is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), and the Museo Correr which hosts fantastic art exhibitions. Besides the Piazza San Marco, San Marco boasts palaces open to the public, plenty of designer shopping, two iconic bridges (Ponte dell’Accademia and Ponte di Rialto), and some wonderfully scenic gondola rides along the narrow canals. However, San Marco is also the most crowded neighborhood, restaurants and bars tend to be pricier than elsewhere, and it’s well worth buying tickets to its biggest attractions online to avoid waiting in queues.
2. San Polo
Venice’s smallest (but one of the liveliest) sestiere is one of Venice’s oldest neighborhoods, home to the Rialto – a tangle of ancient lanes that’s the city’s oldest settlement. In the 11th century, Venetians who sought refuge here from Attila the Hun started trading in lagoon fish – something which continues to this day at the Rialto Market. Apart from the Rialto Bridge that connects San Polo to San Marco, heavyweight attractions here include the Church of San Giacomo di Rialto (the oldest church in Venice), the Campo San Polo (the second-largest square in Venice, surrounded by some excellent bars), the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (famed for its paintings by Tintoretto), and the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (the final resting place of Titian and home to some of his best works). Proximity to some of the city’s biggest attractions and best restaurants, and the opportunity to experience a local’s Venice are part of San Polo’s charm.
3. Santa Croce
The least touristy of Venice’s sestieri, Santa Croce borders San Polo and Dorsoduro to the north. It encompasses some of Venice’s major transport hubs, such as the Piazzale Roma bus station (and major vaporetto stop) and the main port. Its western part is not hugely scenic and rather overlooked by visitors, but is very convenient for public transport to other parts of Venice. Most of Santa Croce’s attractions are concentrated in the eastern part of the district and include the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art, Oriental Art Museum, Natural History Museum, and Fondazione Prada. The neighborhood is home to some wonderful, unpretentious trattoria, with a cluster around or near the San Giacomo dell’Orio square, which also features a magnificent church.
This former industrial sestiere in the northwest part of Venice is particularly renowned for the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo – the world’s first Jewish ghetto that takes its name after the local word for “foundry”: geto. Though Jews have lived in Venice since the 12th century, medieval Venice gave persecuted Jews fleeing from elsewhere in Europe an area of their own, with the proviso of a sunset curfew. The Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum) and the synagogues are among the highlights in Cannaregio, as is the Strada Nova shopping street, Ca d’Oro (a beautiful Venetian palace open to visitors), Venetian Renaissance Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, and Church of Madonna dell’Orto (where the famed painter Tintoretto is entombed and some of this best works are displayed). Densely populated by Venetians, Cannaregio has a wonderfully ‘local’ feel to it and is also one of the most affordable parts of Venice to stay in. The train station is located here, and there are excellent vaporetto connections to other parts of the city.
South of San Marco, Dorsoduro is the city’s most vibrant sestiere, but still maintains a very local vibe. There’s a wealth of sights here as well as a lively produce market on the main square, plenty of wallet-friendly eateries catering to the student population of the Ca’ Foscari University, and a cluster of bars around the Campo Santa Margherita that get busy in the evenings. Dorsoduro’s top attractions include the Gallerie dell’Accademia (Venice’s most famous art gallery), a wealth of contemporary art inside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the baroque extravagance of the Ca’Rezzonico canalside palace, and the Chiesa di San Sebastiano. Some of the best hotels are south of Campo Santa Margherita.
Bordering San Marco to the west, Castello is the largest of Venice’s sestieri but is much quieter than its showy neighbor and a very authentic place to stay. Here you can wander the narrow streets and observe kids playing soccer in the tiny squares and locals exchanging gossip from their windows. Much of Castello is within walking distance of some of the city’s biggest attractions, but without San Marco’s crowds. Dating back to the 13th century, Castello is centered on the historic shipyard and naval complex of Arsenale that hosts the Venetian Biennale. Other highlights include the Zanipolo (one of the most significant churches in Venice with the tombs of 25 doges), famous artwork inside the San Zaccaria church, ornate decorations inside the 15th-century Scuola Dalmata di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni Grande di San Marco, vast public gardens, and Santa Maria Formosa church and square.
Venice’s unofficial seventh sestiere (district) and sometimes counted as part of Dorsoduro, Giudecca sits across the water from Dorsoduro and San Marco, and consists of several islands linked by bridges. In the 9th century, it was a prison island, home to aristocratic rebels banished from Venice proper. Later, it became a retreat for nobles, then an island of factories and military barracks. Today, it attracts young creative types, priced out of other sestieri, and is dotted with artists’ studios and independent shops. Apart from the sedate atmosphere and terrific views of Venice proper, highlights include a monastery and several churches, including the grand Palladian Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore. Several vaporetti connect Giudecca to San Marco and Dorsoduro.
A long, narrow island to the east of Venice proper, Lido is a bit of a shock to the system after Venice, with regular streets dotted with art deco buildings and cars instead of medieval lanes and canals. It was once a beach retreat for European aristocracy and Hollywood stars, and though it isn’t quite as glamorous as in years past, it’s the one place near Venice with a proper sandy beach. It’s a fun place for a day trip, even if you don’t stay here, with some decent restaurants. In September, it hosts the Venice Film Festival.
Composed of seven sections, separated by canals and linked by bridges, the island of Murano, just north of Venice proper, has a long and distinguished history as part of the Venetian Republic. Venetians have been practising glass-making since the 10th century, and in the 13th century, the whole industry was moved to Murano because of the fire hazards of glass-blowing. The art of glass-making is very much alive on the island – there’s a Glass Museum – and Murano is a wonderfully serene place to stay, with a few hotels and guesthouses and a smattering of restaurants. Murano is reachable by frequent vaporetto rides (10 minutes) from the Fondemente Nove dock in Cannaregio.
At the northern end of the Venetian lagoon, and a 50-minute vaporetto #12 ride from the Fondemente Nove dock in Cannaregio via Murano, Burano has long been renowned for its intricate lacework that used to adorn Europe’s aristocracy. Lace-making still survives as a craft; the workshops and the Lace Museum aside, Burano is a wonderful place to walk around and admire the colorful fishermen’s houses. It’s worth staying here overnight to experience the island’s distinctive vibe and cuisine (the specialty is risotto de gò, prepared with a particular type of lagoon fish). A bridge connects Burano to the adjacent, quiet island of Mazzorbo, home to some of the best wine in Venice.