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Where to Stay in Venice: Live Like a Local in These 6 Characterful Areas

Looking to explore the winding canals and grand architecture of Venice? This guide highlights the city’s neighborhoods and a collection of top attractions to give you an idea of where to stay in Venice.

The word Venice just evokes images of old-world gondolas breezing down quaint canals, side streets peppered with authentic Italian restaurants, and top museums and galleries hidden away in grand, ornate buildings, doesn’t it?

It’s such a magical city. Set on its own island you’ll step back in time to a world where heritage pulses through traditional artisan crafts, curly-wigged aristocrats wander past elaborate palaces, and masquerade balls are all the rage.

I mean, what’s not to love about that?

Venice is filled with so many amazing sights, from the beautifully iconic St. Mark’s Square to the humped bridges that pop up over the intricate system of waterways, but it’s difficult to know where the best places are to stay. This destination guide should help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Whether you’re looking to explore the lesser-known districts of Venice with their ancient architecture and peeling squares or whether you want to hop from major sight to major sight, there is somewhere perfect for you to hole up in the city.

The Neighbourhoods of Venice

The districts of Venice are also known as sestieri, and each one bursts with its own unique personality and its own set of things to do, from the attraction-heavy San Marco neighbourhood to the quieter alleyways of Cannaregio.

Cannaregio

Perhaps the most authentic area of Venice, Cannaregio boasts a labyrinthine maze of peeling alleyways and tall, intricate architecture. It’s home to the popular Jewish Ghetto, with empty squares and tiny bridges that hump over the canals.

Staying in this neighbourhood? Well there’s lots for you to be getting on with, then! You can wander the streets of the Ghetto and dip in and out of the beautiful churches that line the streets. If you’re looking for a pocket of peace and quiet then this might just be your best bet.

San Marco

On the other side of the spectrum there’s the San Marco district, which houses most of the major attractions including St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. This means that, whilst it is the epitome of Venice, it can also get very crowded, particularly in peak season.

Not to worry, though! There are still numerous backstreets and hidden passageways that tourists haven’t discovered yet, so put down the map and allow yourself to get lost.

Dorsoduro

This Venetian neighbourhood offers a little bit of everything, from charming, store-lined streets to a buzzing and lively nightlife. It’s set around the Accademia museum and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which makes it the perfect hotspot for any art lovers out there.

During the day it’s a creative hub of culture and, when darkness falls, all the students and trendy young folk emerge from the woodwork and fill out the cosy bars and restaurants.

Castello

Looking to get to grips with the local Venetian lifestyle? Then head to Castello, the oldest and most authentic of the city’s sestieri. The cobbled streets and bustling piazzas paint the perfect picture of Venice, complete with gossiping old ladies and locals grabbing their early morning coffees.

In times gone by Castello formed the city’s naval dockyard, but today it houses a number of great attractions, including a grand selection of churches like the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Church of San Zaccaria.

San Polo

From the largest to the smallest sestiere. This is one of the oldest neighbourhoods, evident in its rustic, peeling buildings and ramshackle streets. But it’s also one of the most popular tourist haunts in the city, thanks to its array of artisan shops and miniscule, family-run cafes.

The Rialto Bridge is plonked in this district and there are also a large amount of elaborate, dome-roofed churches jutting up amongst the narrow alleyways.

Santa Croce

If you’re really looking to get away from the crowds then lose the map and head to this sestiere, which actually doubles up as Venice’s vibrant transport hub. Despite its diminishing popularity, it still harbours a selection of cool sights, including lively piazzas and numerous regal palazzos.

See what I mean about a vast selection of neighbourhoods? It’s almost impossible to choose where to stay in Venice purely for this reason. Good job, then, that the city is fairly small and easy to get around!

Now we’ve looked at the different places where you can hang out, sip cappuccinos, and marvel at the elaborately dressed local folk, let’s move on to what you can actually do whilst you’re there (away from the major attractions).

Get to Know Lesser-Known Venice

So, you want to get away from the crowds and really absorb the authentic atmosphere of Venice? No problem!

Meander through markets

Markets are hugely popular throughout the city, selling everything from locally made crafts, boutique clothes and, of course, piles and piles of freshly caught fish. Just a little warning – the latter doesn’t smell too good, but seeing the weird and wonderful selection of seafood is worth having to hold your nose for a short while.

On Tuesdays you can head to the Quattro Fontane, which holds a busy local market jam-packed full of clothes, shoes, textiles, household items, and local produce. Or there’s the Rialto Market. Little bit of advice: visit this one early to reap the benefits. It packs out pretty quickly so you’ll want to jump in before the crowds if you want to experience it at its best. Oh, and don’t forget that peg for your nose.

Admire the Artisan Lifestyle

Artisan crafts are huge in Venice. Literally huge. I mean, you can’t even walk down a street without seeing seventeen million trinket shops and curiosity stores. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but you get the gist.

For culture lovers Venice is practically heaven. There’s the opportunity to learn how to cook like a local with a professional Italian chef (seriously, why would you not?!), you can try your hand at glass-blowing on the colourful islands of Burano and Murano, and then there’s always the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of attending a well-dress masquerade ball in one of the old palazzos.

Ditch the directions

Once you’ve seen all the necessary sights (you know, you kind of have to – it is Venice, after all), chuck your map in the nearest bin and get a’wanderin!

Wind down little alleyways until you reach dead ends, take a left when everyone else is taking a right, and sit outside as many cafes as you can, sipping on cappuccinos and spying on the elegant and slightly magical lifestyle of the local Venetians.

Are you heading to Venice any time soon? Or have you been and have some great tips to divulge? Let us know!

About the author

Lizzie

I am a tea-loving freelance travel writer and blogger with over three years’ experience creating blog posts, articles, copy, and content for international travel brands, booking sites, hotel chains, and travel guides. I've had stories published in National Geographic Traveler and The Huffington Post, and work circulated with the Lonely Planet Magazine. Travel is my biggest passion, and in the past few years I've explored 30 countries. I've bungee jumped in South Africa, sipped tea on the streets of Sarajevo, and I recently moved to a small town just outside Barcelona to start a new adventure. I currently spend my time running two of my own travel blogs and helping brands to create beautiful stories that span the globe. My main aim, though, is to encourage people to get out there and explore the big wide world!