The best Venice bars paint a picture that's different from anywhere else in Italy – and the world, for that matter.
Local drinking traditions range in scope, price and, of course, choice of liquor. Take the high-social and inexpensive giro d'ombra (giro means stroll and ombra is a slang term for wine), for example: it's basically a Venetian pub crawl that asks of participants to drink at one bar and then another with friends in tow – all while consuming cicchetti, traditional small snacks served in bacaris.
A classic Venetian spritz after work is as elemental to life on the island as water taxis are to transport, and enoteca wine bars are as plentiful as footbridges. A new breed of inventive cocktail lounges and live music hotspots keep the scene fresh, along with some hidden gems tucked into the city's top restaurants and hotels.
The best bars are found far from the bustle of the main attractions, so put on your walking shoes, wander about, get lost and, most importantly, slow your pace. Here’s your guide for getting beyond tourist meccas and experiencing the true essence of Venice, one tasty sip at a time.
Best bars in Venice
This daytime-only bar tucked in San Polo, not far from Rialto Market, is among Venice’s most classic bacari. Locals crowd the standing-room-only space while selecting cicchetti from the display counter, along with glasses of vino bianco, rosso or spumante. The folks from the gracious family behind the counter are pros at welcoming everyone who enters, even when jammed. Make eye contact, point to order, then move out of the way. Not a place for large groups or impatient attitudes.
Elegant and playful Il Mercante aims to take cocktail lovers on a journey. “The Merchant,” located near Campo de Frari in San Polo, tells stories of world exploration through expertly-crafted cocktails featuring exotic spices and flavors like The Captain’s Death, a dangerous concoction of pepper-infused gin. A clever menu key helps dial in desired level of sweetness and intensity. One sip and you’ll understand why the bar was named among the best in Italy by prestigious Gambero Rosso.
This artful wine bar in Dorsoduro lives up to the name, meaning “inspiration” in Italian. Works of local artistry, from hand-crafted glassware and lighting fixtures to an upcycled wooden bar, share the spotlight with an eye-popping selection of wine bottles lining Estro's walls. This is the place to experience a breath of fresh, modern Venice while sampling small regional producers and organic wines. Daily menu specials and small bites are above par too.
A cool, neighbourhood vibe permeates this tiny canal-side bar in Cannaregio, offering a glimpse into local life far from the tourist trail. Hip, young Venetians spill outside onto the fondamenta from early afternoon until wee hours, sipping Spritz or sampling craft brews while devouring particularly tasty cicchetti and hearty sandwiches. Order at the bar and snag a wooden bench inside or, with luck on your side, a coveted outside table.
In a city where breathtaking views are never in short supply, the 8th floor terrace of Hilton Molino Stucky stands above the rest. Hop on a water shuttle from Zattere promenade to the luxury hotel, housed in a former flourmill on the island of Giudecca, for an unrivaled sunset perch and inventive cocktails like Grain 24, a gin-pleaser infused with pomegranate seeds. Drinks are pricey, as should be expected for the panoramic wow-factor. Frequent DJ sets and a no-reservations policy only add to the goodness.
A changing selection of wines by the glass is scribbled on chalkboard, oysters on half shell top the counter and other specialties are often written on wine cartons, setting a casually delicious tone for this Cannaregio wine bar. Grab a seat out front, around a wine barrel-turned-table, with a cool glass of Prosecco or Soave to while away a hot Venice afternoon. At La Cantina, the raw fish platter is a Venetian specialty not to be missed.
Locals love the festive atmosphere and friendly young staff of Dorsoduro wine bar Osteria Ai Pugni. With a location near the university, the crowd is a mix of all ages and prices are low by Venice standards. Creative spirit shines through in playful décor of wine bottle chandeliers and local artwork along with once-a-month DJ sets. The bar often hosts wine tastings with producers, always a not-to-be-missed event.
With exposed brick walls, wood-beamed ceilings and wine selections beautifully etched with chalk, this Santa Croce wine bar oozes old-world charm. The friendly owners Andrea and Katia are always behind the bar and happy to guide you through wines of the Tri-Veneto. Order a cheese and charcuterie board (the family-made salami is outrageous). Bonus, this sweet spot stays open late.
This Santa Croce watering hole, known as “La Poppa,” packs in locals and visitors until everyone spills out of doors. Wednesday nights feature live music of varying genres, from rock to folk and jazz. There’s nothing fancy or slick about this spot, by design. Expect a hipster coffee-house vibe, cheap and tasty cocktails – try the house specialty Zaza, a potent punch of rum and fresh ginger – and a friendly, young crowd.
Venice’s only bar dedicated to showcasing local jazz musicians is a low-lit, romantic spot attracting jazz aficionados and music-lovers from around the world. Sets at Venice Jazz Club start around 9pm, five nights a week and feature the VJC-house quartet, usually joined by special guests. Tickets are generally $20, including one glass of wine, beer or cocktail.
This canal-side Cannaregio spot named “true wine” takes its expertly-curated, ever-changing selection of wine offerings seriously, yet without any sip of pretense. An oft-Instagrammed sign highlights the passion, “No Spritz because we love wine,” and playfully sets the tone. Grab a window seat at Vino-Vero for a view of the main attraction, wine bottles stacked all the way to the ceiling, along with a peek into life along the canal.
This neighbourhood gem boasts tables in the shade of umbrellas and trees in one of Santa Croce’s prettiest little squares (campo), near the Church of San Giacomo dall’Orio. Sample a range of the region’s famed Prosecco, from bubbly spumante and still tranquillo to unfiltered options, known as prosecco col fondo, while watching as locals walk their dogs, play with their kids and go about daily life. Bonus, you can buy bottles to take away, too.
In a city rich in superlatives, enjoying drinks in a palace only seems natural. Bar Longhi, housed in The Gritti Palace Hotel, offers regal cocktails (with a royal price tag) and a romantic terrace along the Grand Canal. Inside, the bar is the epitome of Venetian grandeur, with Murano glass chandeliers and paintings by famed 18th century Venetian artist Pietro Longhi, the bar’s namesake. Even a classic Spritz will set you back 20 euros, so splurge on the famed Bellini or extra dry martini for a taste of something special.
For beer lovers, “The Holy Drinker” is a holy grail. With 20 beers on tap, including a good selection of regional craft brews, sports on TV and free Wi-Fi, this Cannaregio-favourite offers a uniquely Venetian twist on the classic pub experience. Travel around Italy with Lambrate from Milan or Elav from Bergamo or stay local with Lucky Brews. Whiskey lovers rave about the spirit options as well.