There are six different districts known as sestieri, with San Marco home to all of the major attractions, although Dorsoduro and Cannaregio offer plenty of delights of their own. San Marco is the oldest part of the city, home to famous St. Mark’s Square and its iconic landmarks. It’s the busiest area but the tinier streets away from the piazza offer a quieter setting while being within short walking distance of many attractions. Each neighborhood has a different vibe, from hip and trendy, edgy and alternative to chic and upscale. While the top spots tend to be more expensive, they make getting around easier as well won’t have to worry about taking taxis or the bus.
Venice is in a class of its own with no city in the world quite like it. Built on the water, it’s renowned for its gondolas that wind through picturesque canals and its magnificent architecture. When it comes to where to stay, it will depend on your travel style, preferences, and interests.
San Marco was named after the city’s patron saint. It’s the heart of Venice and despite being one of its smallest sestieri, it houses the majority of landmarks. If you want to be just steps from the Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, and Piazza di San Marco with attractions like St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace, this is it. You’ll easily be able to see the top tourist sites and enjoy the famous square during the early morning hours when it’s much quieter or late in the evening. San Marco is also home to the famous Caffe Florian that opened in 1720 – it’s the oldest café in the world and one of the best places for people-watching. There are many restaurants here and plenty of vaporetto (water bus) stops as well. This is where you’ll find the most luxurious hotels, so expect to pay the highest prices for the privilege of staying here.
The entire city of Venice is romantic which makes it difficult to choose the best neighborhood for romance-seeking couples. There are pretty canals with gondolas throughout much of the city that are ideal for those special moments together, but San Marco is arguably the top spot. Its prime location allows for breathtaking views of the lagoon and nearby islands. It also offers many luxury honeymoon-worthy hotels. Just keep in mind that the closer you are to St. Mark’s Square, the pricier they’ll be. After all, this is where you’ll find the famous five-star Aman Hotel where George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin’s unofficial wedding ceremony took place. Another option is San Polo, the smallest of the city’s sestieri, also hosts some ultra-luxe hotels that are set within centuries-old palazzos. It borders the Grand Canal on one side and the quieter Dorsoduro and Santa Croce neighborhoods on the other.
Venice isn’t a party town, but Dorsoduro is the university district and with its prominent student population, not only does it tend to be less expensive with some well-priced luxury hotel options, but it’s the best place for nightlife, home to some hopping clubs and late night bars. They’re primarily centered around the Campo Santa Margherita which is the beating heart of the neighborhood and the main socializing spot for locals, tourists, and students alike. There is a great collection of 14th-and 15th-century homes that have been converted into shops, market stalls, restaurants and bars that stay open past midnight. It’s also one of the best places outside of St. Mark’s Square for people-watching. Those who stay here will also have easy access to some of the city’s top art museums, including the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Gallerie dell’Accademia, and the former church of San Sebastiano.
Generally, the same neighborhood for first-time visitors to Venice is the best for sightseers too: San Marco. With the top sights concentrated near or around St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), it’s a natural choice for those who can afford a pricier hotel stay. You’ll be close to St. Mark’s Basilica, a prominent example of Byzantine architecture along with Doge’s Palace, which showcases the power and the wealth of ruling Venetians. Wake up early and stroll beneath the great astrological clocktower with no one else around and then fuel up with an espresso while people-watching at Caffe Florian, here since the 18th century. Dorsoduro is another option that will put you within a short walk of St. Mark’s Square while enjoying the wealth of museums and galleries and potentially a more affordable hotel. If you’re passionate about Jewish history, stay in Cannaregio with its centuries-old Jewish ghetto, synagogues, and museum.
There is no one “foodie” neighborhood in Venice. You can find some great places to dine, with the best typically focused on Venetian specialties like fresh fish and seafood from the lagoon, anywhere from neighborhood family-run osterias to Michelin-starred restaurants. But there are also plenty of overpriced, less-than-average meals here too. The key is to avoid eateries that display menus with pictures and/or have someone actively trying to entice customers in. Santa Croce offers some authentic Venetian restaurants serving local aperitivo bar food and some of the best seafood dishes while Castello has a restaurant for every budget, including trattorias for unpretentious home cooking. Cannaregio is a good area for wallet-friendly meals too, particularly the farther you venture from the Grand Canal. You’ll find great fine dining in San Marco and a wide range of options, including delicious dishes that are value priced in Dorsoduro too, thanks to the high student population.
The most authentic neighborhoods will bring you away from the crowds around St. Mark’s Square. Cannaregio is where a significant portion of the Venetian population lives. With the busy Santa Lucia train station and water bus stops at its western edge, it might not seem like it would be the quieter side, but when you get off the well-worth paths between Santa Lucia and the Rialto area, its personality starts to shine. The streets are lined with bakers, butchers, and florists instead of fast-food joints and chain stores, yet it’s just a quick boat ride or a 20-minute walk from the tourist center. Parts of Santa Croce and Castello are good for a taste of everyday life in the city with family-run restaurants dotting mostly residential streets. There are some high-end hotels overlooking the canals that separate Castello from San Marco along with a handful of moored boats at Santa Elena Marina for unique accommodation.
San Polo is in a great location and it’s also well-connected to other popular districts like San Marco, but it’s less chaotic and less expensive. If you’re visiting Venice as a family, it’s one of the best neighborhoods to stay in, with a wide range of attractions for all ages and a ton of food choices, making it easy to keep the younger ones entertained and happy. There are water bus (vaporetto) stops throughout the neighborhood, so you won’t have any difficulty exploring other areas either. The more tranquil eastern end of Castello is another good choice, home to Venice’s largest park and the botanical gardens. Plus, it’s just three stops on the water bus to St. Mark’s Square. One of the most family-friendly neighborhoods is Lido de Venezia, which has parks, playgrounds, and a large beach but it will take you 25 minutes by water bus to get to the main attractions.
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