With its twisting canals and bobbing gondolas, its Renaissance church domes and coffee-clinking piazzas by the Adriatic, Venice reigns as one of the most iconic cityscapes on the planet. It’s amazing, but not just because it’s built on water! A onetime trading empire that spread to China and India found its epicentre here, which explains the sheer grandeur of the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Square. Italian artistic movements flourished in the workshops, too – a hop to glass-mad Murano or the acclaimed Galleria dell’Accademia should be enough to show that. In addition, honeymooners and sightseers are beguiled by Venetian street life and culture, whether they’re walking the Rialto or whizzing down the Grand Canal.
If you’re keen to join them, you might want to consider bagging yourself an Airbnb in Venice. They offer something a little different to a conventional hotel, in the form of self-catering apartments or private rooms in managed properties. There are some corkers on the menu amid the canals, and this guide can help you home in on the top districts and even some individual rentals that could be perfect for you…
Venice has seen a huge explosion of Airbnb listings since the service first arrived in the city in the early noughties. It’s raised a lot of concern among locals about increasing rent prices and gentrification, so there are now tighter restrictions when it comes to registering new short-term lets in the City of Canals. For travelers, the service continues to run totally as normal. It’s perfectly legal and could even be your ticket to some of the very best self-catering flats and private rooms in town. Just know that all guests are usually asked to pay a small tourist tax and present their ID or passport upon arrival.
Where should I stay in Venice Airbnb?
Venice is one of the more complex Italian cities to find your way around. Why? Well, it’s set on an archipelago of islands out in the Adriatic Sea – that’s why! The main area you’ll want to have on the radar in surely San Marco(1). It’s the heart of town and the home of the main piazza. From there, going north opens the atmospheric Cannaregio(2) or even the market-filled streets of San Polo(3). Going south across the wide waterways offers the relatively sleepy Dorsoduro(4) and even-sleepier Giudecca(5). For good links to the mainland and the train station, you could consider a stay in Santa Croce(6). For a real escape and some authentic Venetian arts and crafts, it’s got to be Murano(7).
Home to Venice’s most amazing sights
People watching on St Mark’s Square
Rich in history and culture
Almost ridiculously expensive
Packed with tourists
No visit to Venice could be complete without dipping your toe in the San Marco area. Wedged into a bend on the Grand Canal, it’s the stomping ground of the greatest Venetian attractions of all – St Mark’s Square, the Gothic-Orientalist medley of St Mark’s Basilica, the red-hued campanile tower. You’ll be clicking the camera at every corner and be swamped with medieval and Renaissance-era sights. Immersion in all that does bring some downsides: San Marco is notoriously touristic (especially when the cruise ships are in) and uber-expensive. It’s certainly not the choice if you’re watching the euros.
The most populated neighbourhood over on the Venice Lagoon is the Cannaregio. Historically, this was the Jewish Ghetto, which was only liberated and connected with the greater city in 1797 with the arrival of Napoleon. These days, it’s an atmospheric and mesmerising place, filled with pastel-painted mansions that lean and lurch over each other before wide piazzas that bustle with life and craft markets. Hidden churches like the chapel at Santa Maria di Nazareth and plenty of 16th-century palaces make up the main sights, but it’s really all about enjoying the street scenes and the local cafés.
The labyrinth of San Polo is the Venice you might just have been waiting for. Dead-end alleys shoot in directions you don’t know, murky canals bisect the main thoroughfares, age-stained churches crown the piazzas – it’s the sort of area where you can really feel the long, long histories of the city. Perhaps more than anything, San Polo is known for its vegetable, fish and fruit markets, which pop up on the squares near the Rialto Bridge each day. Talking of the Rialto Bridge, you should head there to get the best photo angles of the Grand Canal, or even catch a vaporetti (water taxi) out to other parts of the city.
The Dorsoduro is the long south edge of the central Venice archipelago. It’s considered far more local and low-key than San Marco, which is actually just a short walk over the bridge to the north. Culture vultures are sure to be entertained by the presence of institutions like the Gallerie dell’Accademia – by far the best art gallery in the city. Street walkers are rarely unimpressed by the bustle and authentic vibes along Calle Sant’Agnese – a land of Aperitivo joints and classic Italiano cantinas. The other great thing about Dorsoduro is the peace and quiet. A lot of its Airbnbs are tucked into hidden corners and crannies, so you’re more likely to get a long and comfy night’s sleep.
A fragment of the main Venice archipelago that lies to the north of the most popular parts of the city, Murano is primarily known for its long history of glass making. Travelers still venture here in search of the wares, which are handmade in beautiful vintage workshops all over the town (be warned – it’s expensive). But Murano is also a great place to go for an escape from the hubbub of the Grand Canal. It’s around 20 minutes by ferry from the downtown but a world away in character, sporting relaxed cantinas and wine bars and seafood trattoria next to reflective Adriatic waterways.
The main bus terminals, the cruise ship docks, Santa Lucia train station, and the end of the Liberty Bridge that links the city’s islands to the mainland all meet at Santa Croce. That makes this one of the most accessible parts of the archipelago. Surprisingly, it’s also one of the quietest and most authentic. As most visitors instantly hop on the vaporetti to St Mark’s, the streets here are left to local coffee drinkers and dominos players. The areas closer to the Grand Canal’s northern terminus tend to be the liveliest.
Giudecca dashes between the beaches of the Venice Lido and the old churches of Dorsoduro. An island on its own, it enjoys a far slower pace of life than the main heart of the City of Canals. The soaring dome of the Chiesa della Santissimo Redentore keeps watch over it all, but, for the most part, the buildings are stoop and low, fronted with terracotta paint and topped with red tiles. It takes just under 10 minutes on a water taxi to get from Giudecca to the mainstay parts of Venice, but lots of travelers will prefer to hang around and hop the lagoon-side pizzerias and coffee shops.
You can cosy up in your lounge and watch the gondoliers punt their boats right by the window in this unique canal-side property. It’s compact but filled with charm – think exposed redbrick walls and creaking timber ceilings. Two well-appointed bedrooms are on offer to host up to four guests, each with their own private ensuite.
With a touch of the Adams Family about it, this haunting and old-school mansion sits out in the western corner of the Venice archipelago. That gives it good walking access to some of the most happening nightlife quarters, but also the bars and markets of San Polo. The outside is all weathered stonework strewn with ivy vines. The inside is toned down modernism with whitewashed walls and space for four guests.
You can spread the family out between three bedrooms in this large apartment on the fringes of San Marco district. The location should make it easy to organise sightseeing outings to St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace – they are both within walking distance. Inside, a duo of bathrooms and a quaint but cosy lounge make it a top place to retire to with the whole crew.
You’ll have the whole group feeling like rich Venetian merchants if you rent this grand mansion-flat out on the far eastern edge of San Marco. Steeped in history, it channels the medieval and Renaissance feel of the town with painted frescoes, classic furniture and dangling chandeliers. Space is in abundance thanks to six separate bedrooms and a capacity for parties of 16.
Crank up the romance of Venice to all new heights in this Airbnb Luxe apartment. It’s a chance to live like the 1% for a few days, in a pad that opens onto visions of reflective canals and honey-hued palaces that date back centuries. The living room is the perfect place to cosy up together after long bouts of sightseeing, and there’s even an extra bedroom if you wanted to turn it into a double date.
Booking hotels in Venice can be a notoriously pricy process. The establishments that dot areas like San Marco and San Croce are surely up there with the most expensive in Italy – perhaps even the world. Airbnb, on the other hand, can help cut costs. Apartments with multiple bedrooms could come in cheaper than hotels because they let you share the price of a trip with your whole travel group. In addition, there are regularly weekly discounts on offer. Oh, and you can score self-catering facilities to save money on eating out (which is sure to be one of your main outgoings on the side of the canals!).
On the flip side, Venice’s hotels have a reputation for luxury and opulence that you might not want to miss out on. Take somewhere like the grand Hotel Nani Mocenigo Palace. It puts you in a centuries-old palazzo amid the famous churches and piazzas of the Dorsoduro area, and comes with frills like dedicated housekeeping, marble-clad bathroom ensuites, and a gorgeous al fresco bar and garden. We can see why you might be tempted!