Few cities boast as long a high season as that of Venice, beginning with the Easter period. May, June, and September are the best months weather-wise and, therefore, the most crowded. July and August are hot -- at times, unbearably so (few of the one- and two-star hotels offer air-conditioning; when they do it usually costs extra). Like everything else, hotels are more expensive here than in any other Italian city, with no apparent upgrade in amenities. The least special of those below are clean and functional; at best, they're charming and thoroughly enjoyable, with the serenade of a passing gondolier thrown in for good measure. Some may even provide you with your best stay in all of Europe.
I strongly suggest that you reserve in advance, even in the off season. If you haven't booked, arrive as early as you can, definitely before noon. The Hotel Reservations booth in the train station will book rooms for you, but the lines are long and the staff's patience is often (understandably) thin. For 1€, they'll try to find you a hotel in the price range of your choice; on confirmation from the hotel, they'll accept your deposit by credit card and issue you a voucher, and you pay the balance on your arrival at the hotel. There is a similar hotel reservations booth at the airport, but it charges a bit more.
Another alternative to reserve the same day as your arrival is through the A.V.A. (Venetian Hoteliers Association), tel. 041-522-2264, or online at www.veneziasi.it. Simply state the price range you want to book, and they'll confirm a hotel while you wait. There are offices at the train station, in Piazzale Roma garages, and in the airport.
Recent state-imposed ordinances resulted in stringent deadlines for the updating of antiquated electrical, plumbing, and sewage systems -- costly endeavors. To make up for this, small one- and two-star hotels raised their rates, often applying for an upgrade in category for which they're now potentially eligible. Even more properties stuck TVs on the desks and hair dryers in the bathrooms to garner that extra star so they could inflate their rates during the Jubilee Year 2000. Then, of course, came the euro, and prices jacked up yet again. The good news is that now you'll have accommodations of a better quality; the bad news is that yesteryear's affordable finds are slowly disappearing. The rates below were compiled in late 2009. You can expect an annual increase of anywhere from 2% to 10%, depending on the category, but you might be hit with an increase of as much as 20% if the hotel you pick is one that has been redone recently.
A few peculiarities about Venice hotels have everything to do with the fact that this city built on water does not consistently offer what you might take for granted: elevators, light, and spaciousness. Venice hotels often have tiny bathrooms. The rooms are generally smaller than elsewhere and can be dark, and canal views aren't half as prevalent as we'd like them to be. This doesn't mean that a welcoming family-run hotel in an atmospheric neighborhood can't offer a memorable stay -- just don't expect the amenities of the Danieli or Grand Canal vistas.
Seasonal Considerations -- Most hotels observe high- and low-season rates, though many are gradually adopting a single year-round rate, and the high-end-range hotels generally adapt their prices to availability. In the prices listed below, single figures represent rack rates, because the price varies too widely depending on availability; when a range is listed, they represent low- and high-season rates unless otherwise noted. Of course, you will almost always get a deal when reserving through the hotel website ahead of time. Even where it's not indicated in the listings, be sure to ask when you book or when you arrive at a hotel whether off-season prices are in effect. Check the site for special offers. High season in Venice is about March 15 to November 5, with a lull in July and August (when hotel discounts are often offered). Some small hotels close (sometimes without notice or to do renovation work) November or December until Carnevale, opening for about 2 weeks around Christmas and New Year's at high-season rates.
Hotel ai do Mori -- Good news for weary legs: The larger, family-oriented rooms are on the lower floors in this elevator-challenged hotel just around the corner from San Marco. Can-do English-speaking Antonella has a solution for every problem.
Antica Locanda Sturion -- Scottish-born Helen or her daughter Nicolette will settle you into any of the spacious rooms, two of which provide the special thrill of a Grand Canal view within sight of the famous Rialto Bridge. One caveat: The 69-step hike to the lobby may be a deterrent for little ones or for those who haven't mastered the art of traveling lightly.
Hotel Bernardi-Semenzato -- Owner Maria Teresa moonlights as an English teacher. As a mother of three, she's the perfect host for families, who will appreciate the renovated rooms that easily pass as triples or quads.
Pensione Guerrato -- Young, euro-conscious families will enjoy the inexpensive rates of this former convent, where an informal and casual atmosphere is nurtured by the upbeat brothers-in-law who run it as if it were their home. Kids should get a kick out of being in the middle of the market's hubbub right on the Grand Canal and within steps of the Rialto Bridge. Spacious rooms are an added plus.
Expect most (but not all) of the least expensive suggestions to be in or near the train-station neighborhood, an area full of trinket shops and budget hotels. It's comparatively charmless (though safe), and in the high season it's wall-to-wall with tourists who window-shop their way to Piazza San Marco, an easy half-hour to 45-minute stroll away. Vaporetto connections from the train station are convenient.
You don't stay on Giudecca -- the only one of Venice's main islands you must access by boat -- for the atmosphere, the sights, or the hotel scene (though it does host the official IYH Hostel, an utterly average hostel that's terribly inconvenient, especially with its curfew). You come for only two reasons: the Cipriani and the new Palladio Hotel and Spa.
On the Lido
The Lido offers an entirely different Venice experience. The city is relatively close at hand, but you're really here to stay at an Italian beach resort and day-trip into the city for sightseeing. Although there are a few lower-end, moderately priced hotels here, they are entirely beside the point of the Lido and its jet-set reputation.
If you are looking for a more reasonable option -- and one that's open year-round -- check out the modern Hotel Belvedere, Piazzale Santa Maria Elisabetta 4 (tel. 041-526-0115; fax 041-526-1486; www.belvedere-venezia.com). It's right across from the vaporetto stop, has been in the same family for nearly 150 years, and sports a pretty good restaurant and a free beach cabana. It charges 80€ to 311€ for a double.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.