Venice may not be renowned for its nightlife, with most of its citizens tucking themselves in bed well before midnight, but Venetians do like a tipple, particularly at aperitivo time.
The city boasts more bars than you can shake a cocktail stick at, from spectacular rooftop views to hole-in-the-wall music joints, and whether you prefer to be shaken or stirred, our list will help you find your perfect watering hole.
Take in the view from Giudecca's Skyline Bar
There are plenty of reasons to love rooftop Skyline Bar, despite its slightly awkward location on Giudecca island. First off, you get a free shuttle service from the city across the Giudecca Canal. Secondly, it offers great views of southern Venice and thus multiple photo ops. Then there is the lengthy – and idiosyncratically translated – cocktail menu. A nice touch has been to provide a Venetian take on the classics, with the drinks covering the six sestieri (districts) of the city. The free boat ride makes a cocktail (€16-20) at this glamorous hotel bar an affordable treat.
Join the young, hip crowd at Osteria da Filo
Known to locals as 'La Poppa', this buzzing watering hole has a great wine list and cocktail selection (€3.50-6), including the Zaza, a mean house speciality involving copious amounts of rum and fresh ginger. One of the few venues in Venice offering live music (early evening on Wednesdays), Osteria da Filo is crammed with a young hipster and alternative crowd. On Wednesdays, arrive early to grab a comfy sofa or seat near the stage; alternatively, squeeze yourself in at the bar. The music ranges from traditional swing to contemporary jazz with local and international acts performing. The staff are friendly and the mood convivial.
Bring out your inner Bond on the Terrazza Danieli
A Venetian institution, the Danieli Hotel has been frequented by James Bond, as well as featuring in 2010 comedy The Tourist. From May to September, the Terrazza Danieli is open for aperitifs on the roof. Take in the stunning views of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Doge’s Palace as you sip on a soothing Bellini (cocktails €15-18) after the heat of the day. In winter, head to the ground floor bar for a cosier aperitif.
Drink in the luxury at the Bar Longhi
The newly restored Bar Longhi at the Gritti Palace hotel is sumptuous, elegant and the epitome of luxury. The interior is all marble and Murano glass and even boasts paintings by eighteenth-century artist and local son Pietro Longhi. The bar has a delicious eponymous signature cocktail, the Longhi, consisting of Campari, vermouth and stock orange liqueur, as well as an extensive cocktail list (€19-22). Sink into a plush sofa as you look out onto the Grand Canal in one of the loveliest hotels in the city.
Sip on a sun-downer at the Villa Laguna
During summer one of the best places in the city for a sun-downer is the bar at the Villa Laguna hotel on the Lido. The decking is right on the waterfront and offers a view of the city and her islands. Brush the sand off your feet after a day on the beach, order a spritz or classic cocktail (€12-16) and check out the setting sun as it steeps Venice and the lagoon is a rich rosy-orange glow. The Lido might boast fancier hotels with views of the Adriatic Sea, but none of them can match a summer sunset seen from here.
Gaze on the Grand Canal at Ancora
Offering outdoor seating overlooking the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal, swish Ancora (ancoravenezia.it) is ideal for lunchtime aperitifs among the hubbub of the market. Indoor evenings are a more relaxed affair, though the place gets pretty full at aperitif time. Plates of mixed cold cuts, local fish or Normandy oysters can be washed down with a fine array of cocktail options (€9-15). There is live music occasionally and the bar closes late (by Venetian standards), at 2am.
Exotic and inventive cocktails at classy Il Mercante
At the foot of the bridge in Campo dei Frari, this Venetian stalwart (ilmercantevenezia.com) has recently undergone a facelift and is now all velvet sofas and low lighting. Though offering great breakfasts and snacks, as well as mouth-watering lunch options, this pretty bar changes management at cocktail hour and becomes a creature of the night. An inventive and fabulous cocktail selection (€8-16) is conjured up before your very eyes by Alessandro and his knowledgeable and super-friendly staff. They occasionally squeeze in some live music in the early evening. And if you grab a sofa upstairs by the window, you will be facing the impressive Gothic facade of the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
Get cosy with the locals at Osteria All’Alba
A bar the size of a postage stamp, this rough and ready haunt is a favourite with Venetians. Hidden down a side street at the bottom of the Rialto Bridge, music lovers and drinkers converge at Osteria All’Alba for DJ sets, cocktails and bar snacks – the mini sandwiches with inventive fillings are a particular favourite. This is neither the prettiest bar in town, its walls covered in messages from previous patrons, nor the classiest, but the cocktails (€5-8) and lively atmosphere more than compensate for any dearth of elegance.
Find inner beauty at Mestre's Blind Spot
While not actually in Venice itself, this swish new bar (cocktaillab.it) is worth the bus ride across the causeway to Mestre (Venice's mainland district). Situated in a tower in a supermarket car park, the inauspicious location makes the surprise even greater when you arrive on the 18th floor and find yourself in glamorous surroundings that are more redolent of Milan than workaday Mestre. A dazzling array of traditional and new-fangled cocktails (€9-12) are served with supreme elegance by the gracious waiting staff. Sit back and gasp at the views from the closest thing to a skyscraper in the area. And if you’re not too squiffy, you can continue your evening at the equally wonderful Japanese restaurant Aki on the floor below.
Wine and dine in style at Caffè Centrale
One of the first cocktail lounge bars to open in the city, this venue tucked in a quiet street behind St Mark’s Square hasn’t lost its appeal. If you are coming by taxi or gondola you can make a classy and dramatic entrance by mooring at the bar's private dock. Along with its heftily priced but delicious food menu, Caffè Centrale serves a mean cocktail (€9-18), with classics intertwined with imaginative new concoctions. Book the table on the tiny deck to enjoy the gondolas gliding by as you imbibe.