Despite its a bevy of bars and streets and canals packed with tourists, Venice, Italy, has a surprisingly low-key nightlife scene. Unlike Rome or other Italian cities where parties often spill out onto the streets and last into the wee hours, Venice closes down on the early side, when most visitors return to their hotels after an exhausting day of sightseeing. Still, for those seeking an after-dinner drink, live music, or just the chance to mingle with locals, Venice doesn't roll up the sidewalks after nightfall.
Here are our top picks for some of Venice's best bars and clubs, as well as districts good for bar-hopping.
With its proximity to the Università Ca' Foscari and its distance (about 2 kilometers) from Piazza San Marco, it's no wonder this lively, bar-lined square – one of the largest in Venice – attracts a younger, more local, and more late-night crowd. Pick a bar, any bar, from the 10 or so drinking establishments fronting the campo. Favorites include Margaret DuChamp and Caffe Rosso. Most of them stay open until 1 or 2 a.m., every night of the week.
Cannaregio is Venice's most populous sestiere, so the bars along its fondamenta, or canalfront on the Rio della Misericordia tend to be cheap, friendly, and lively. This is a great area to come for dinner and stay for a post-dinner bar crawl, with many places staying open until 1 am. Il Paradiso Perduto, Al Timon, and Vino Vero are local favorites.
In the Dorsoduro sestiere not far from the university, Cafe' Noir mixes highly creative cocktails and stays open late every night of the week – a winning combination in early-to-bed Venice. They've also got a great wine and beer selection and, like almost every place in Venice, tasty bar snacks and cicchetti if you need something to nibble on.
With live music from an in-house quartet or guest musicians most nights of the week, Venice Jazz Club is a chilled-out spot to take in a concert and sip a cocktail, wine, or beer. The musicians are first-rate and the ambiance is dimly lit and bohemian – just like you'd expect a jazz club to be. Concerts start at 9 pm and end at 11 pm.
The atmosphere is cheerful and light-hearted in this hotel bar, which serves equal parts tourists and locals. Friendly bartenders, good bar snacks, and a slightly campy scene keep things playful. In a corner of Venice that usually closes up early, this is a precious late-night find, open until midnight. Live music is featured a few nights per week.
Patrons of Il Mercante come for the most artfully crafted of craft cocktails and stay for the hip, young crowd and the ambiance akin to being in the living room of your most cultured friends. Venice's history as a spice trading center is reflected in the creative and elaborate drinks as well as in the decor, which features antique maps and vintage furnishings.
Located atop the Hilton Molino Stucky on Giudecca Island, the Skyline Rooftop Bar is famous for its splendid views of the Venice skyline. It's also an incredibly stylish place to drink a martini or one of the bar's bespoke cocktails. Warm weather events might include jazz concerts or DJ sets.
There are a few cliches in Venice: singing gondoliers being one of them and Harry's Bar being another. And while Harry's attracts far more tourists than locals, it's still fun to tipple in a bar where Hemingway once did the same. The Bellini cocktail was invented here, and extra-dry martinis are a house specialty. Drinks are overpriced, because all that history and atmosphere costs extra.
Harry's Bar may have its literary cache, but Caffè Florian has a front seat on one of the greatest scenes in the western world: St. Mark's Square. Opened in 1720, the cafe bills itself as the oldest in Europe. Either in its gilded parlors or on the expansive terrace on the square proper, have a dizzyingly expensive drink and an experience to savor for a lifetime.
Night owls with money to burn might take their chances at the Casinò di Venezia, or Casino of Venice, which has been separating guests from their cash since 1638. The casino, which is much more formal and subdued than those in Las Vegas or just about anywhere else in the world, is housed in a 15th-century palazzo. Casual-chic attire is the norm, and the drinks aren't free, but it's open until 2:45 am.
Rialto/Fondamenta Vin Castello
As you cross the Rialto Bridge from the direction of San Marco, just hang a right on the Fondamenta Vin Castello and you'll soon come upon a cluster of restaurants that will happily serve you an after-dinner drink. Though few stay open past 11 p.m. or midnight, this is a lively stretch of pavement to watch boat traffic on this busy stretch of the Grand Canal.
Nightclubs of Mestre
If DJs, darkened discos and dancing into the wee hours are a requirement during your trip to Venice, do as young Venetians do, and head mainland to Mestre. Cavernous spaces, affordable rents and an industrial vibe mean the party can go on until dawn. New spots seem to come and go, but Molocinque has survived and remains popular. Berry Juice is a gay-friendly spot.
Summer Clubs of Lido and Jesolo
When things get a little too steamy in Venice, young Venetians head to Lido or Jesolo, the two beach towns on the narrow strips of land that separate the Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Here, summer-only beach bars rent sun-loungers and umbrellas during the day, then turn into thumping discos at night. For a glimpse at a very Italian slice of nightlife, it's great fun. Aurora Beach Club is one of the more stylish picks.