Short-term rentals are more popular than ever (in Venice and elsewhere), but don't book until you've read our advice.
Staying in private accommodation has a long history in Venice. In the 19th Century, the city was like flypaper for artists, aristocrats, and cultural strivers from countries such as Britain and the United States, who would stay for several months (and sometimes longer), usually in rented rooms or dwellings.
That tradition continues today, but with a vengeance: Thanks to the World Wide Web, it's now almost as easy to book a vacation apartment in Venice's historic center as it is to reserve a hotel room.
Still, there are caveats to consider before plunking down a deposit on a holiday flat that you haven't seen. Here are some observations and tips to keep in mind:
1. Know your Venice geography and topography.
Look for an apartment near your arrival and/or departure point.
If you're coming from Venice Marco Polo Airport, you'll want a flat near an Alilaguna airport boat stop, a canal that can be reached by water taxi, or the Piazzale Roma (where airport buses and land taxis arrive from the Venetian mainland).
If you're arriving and departing by train, an apartment within walking distance of the Venezia Santa Lucia Railroad Station will be your best bet.
Before booking an apartment on the ground floor, be sure that you aren't at risk from acqua alta, or tidal flooding. This occurs mainly from October through March or April, but it can happen at any time of year. If the tide is higher than the floor of your apartment, you'll find yourself wading in brackish and unsanitary water from the drains or nearby canals.
(Vulnerability to flooding depends on location. For example, the Piazza San Marco has minor flooding even in the summertime, while some neighborhoods--such as Sant'Elena, near the historic center's eastern tip--hardly ever get wet.)
2. An apartment isn't a hotel.
If you want services--or even if you just want help close at hand when something goes wrong--stick with a hotel or B&B, or make sure that your apartment is in a serviced building with multiple vacation apartments and a 24-hour reception desk.
3. Most apartment buildings in Venice lack elevators.
Is mobility a problem for you? Are you traveling with bulky or heavy luggage? Don't get stuck in a building where you'll need to haul your bags up several flights of steps.
4. Checking in can be a hassle, especially if you're arriving late.
Apartments with keycode entry aren't yet common in Venice. Some landlords use lockboxes that let you enter a numeric code to get your keys. (The lockbox can be by the apartment's front door or at a nearby luggage-storage facility such as Vaise.)
Such convenience is rare, however: Normally, you'll collect your keys from the landlord or an agent at a prearranged time. If the hour is late, you may be required to pay an extra fee.
5. Cancellation can be expensive.
With a normal hotel reservation, you can cancel at any time before the day of arrival without penalty. Apartment rentals usually require a firmer commitment, with big penalties (sometimes up to 100 percent of the rent) if you change your mind. Be aware of the cancellation policy, and buy trip insurance if you can't afford to lose your rent in an emergency.
Also, you'll often need to pay all or most of the rent at the time of booking, and security deposits aren't uncommon.
6. Payment can be a nuisance.
When you stay at a hotel, you normally present your credit card when you check out.
Apartment payment policies vary: Some landlords accept payment by Visa, MasterCard, or American Express, but others expect cash via PayPal or a bank draft.
You may even be asked to pay a deposit by wire transfer and the balance of the rent in banknotes upon arrival. Complicated (and sometimes costly) payment arrangements may be fine if you're staying a month or two, but if you're visiting for only a few days, you'll want to keep things simple.
7. Extra fees can add up.
No matter where you stay, you'll need to pay the Venice tourist tax. It's cheap--only a few euros per day--but you'll normally be expected to pay it in cash up front, so have some euro banknotes and coins handy when you arrive.
Other fees, such as cleaning fees or additional service fees, can push the rent up quickly.
If you dislike service fees, avoid HomeAway and Airbnb. Our hotel and apartments partner, Booking.com, is more transparent than many of its competitors, and it's a good choice if you're staying for 28 days or less.
Also read our article on Garbage and recycling collection for apartment renters.