Where to stay in Venice

Originally posted as an answer on Quora.

What people consider the “center” of Venice is really all of Venice – the outskirts are all off the island itself.  If you’re anywhere on the actual island of Venice or even Giudecca (essentially, if you’re anywhere other than Mestre), you’ll find narrow streets (some no wider than your outstretched arms), canals at every turn with quaint bridges to cross over them, and very similar architecture (Moorish windows, crumbling facades) most of which date back to at least the 17th century. Staying anywhere in the center, you can’t go wrong in that the main thing to “do” in Venice is to just “be” in Venice.  It’s probably the most interesting urban environment you’ll ever experience and it’s no wonder it’s been claimed, time and time again, to be either the most beautiful city in the world or the most romantic — or both.

Anywhere in Venice, views like this are a dime a dozen:

If you find the photos compelling, experiencing it in real life will blow you away – it’s hard to imagine an urban, “modern” city with no sounds of cars.  As the largest car-free city in Europe (and maybe the world) you hear the lapping of the waves in the canals and the sounds of people in their kitchens.  On the narrow cobblestoned streets you’ll hear heels going clickity-clack from blocks away.  On a cold, foggy night, it’s spooky and romantic and beautiful, and amazingly, it’s essentially the same Venice of hundreds of years ago, and thankfully this experience is not exclusive to one high-priced area.  If anything, you’ll find this side of Venice more off the beaten path than on it.

If you arrive in Venice by plane, you’ll land in either the Marco Polo or Treviso airport, both of which have a shuttle bus that takes you to Piazzale Roma, which is as far as buses and cars can get into the city and also nearby the main train station, Santa Lucia.  From there you have water taxis called vaporetti that go down the Grand Canal or outside the lagoon to stops on the outer edge.

Once in Venice, you’ll get around either on foot or by canal.  Expect to get lost often and end up at dead ends.  Water taxis are expensive and gondolas, although an interesting perspective to see Venice from, and the original means of Venice transport, are VERY expensive and hard to justify.

As for having the sites nearby, there are some good tourist places to visit, such as the Doge’s palace, the Accademia and the Guggenheim museum, as well as famous monuments like St. Mark’s square and the Rialto Bridge in the southern part of Venice.  Farther afield you have the islands of Murano and Burano if you want to see how the glass artisans work.  For the most part, you’ll walk and walk and walk, and get lost plenty.  If you want to be nearest to the “stuff” you’d probably want to be around San Marco or the western side of Castello, but those are also pretty busy areas where the soul of Venetian life has made way for souvenir stands.  Between the Rialto and St. Mark’s is one main thoroughfare that is hard to get away from.  You can wander off that beaten path but for some frustrating reason you just end up back on it.

My favorite sestiere (Venice is split into 6 neighborhoods called sestieri) is Cannaregio. It’s one of the few quarters that has a long avenue that goes pretty much from the old Jewish Ghetto (near the train station and worth doing a tour of) down to the Rialto bridge, which is pretty much the geographic center.  There are many chicheti bars (Venetian tapas) that are worth visiting.  You can also drink a special kind of Venetian champagne called Prosecco, as well as a version I’ve only seen in Venice which is called Prosecco Spento (imagine bubbleless champagne…).

The neighborhoods of San Polo and Dorsoduro also feel less touristed and are great places to get lost in.  Giudecca, once the site of palaces and gardens, then an industrial area, and now making a comeback, is also a quaint spot and has nice views of St. Mark’s and the basilica as you enter by a quick ferry ride.

Apart from one B&B in Mestre – because we liked them and thought we should offer an alternative – and a cozy guestroom on Venice Lido, all our properties are central and part of the quintessential Venice experience.

For another post that shows more pictures, area by area, with some comments by our Venice expert, Laura Bauerlein, click here.

by Steven Brenner

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