Venice is a sight everyone should see at least once in their life. Gondolas weave through a maze of canals, while the dappled reflection of sunlight highlights ornate Renaissance footbridges.
Polished teak water taxis tie up in front of 15th-century palaces, dropping wide-eyed visitors into the elegance and bustle of St. Mark’s Square. Beauty, history, and a confident Italian swagger are everywhere, from the casual style of locals enjoying a ristretto (a short, concentrated espresso) at a sidewalk café to the vibrant Titian frescoes on chapel walls.
Tarnished by horror stories of $18 coffees and $600 restaurant bills, the city’s reputation for being expensive has a kernel of truth. It can be costly. Nevertheless, with a little local knowledge and some insider tips, you can enjoy the city for less than you ever imagined.
Indulge In Some Free Sightseeing
Venice surprises visitors by offering many of its most famous sights for free, including Piazza San Marco, the Basilica of San Marco, and the Bridge of Sighs. And on the first Sunday of every month, state museums cost nothing to enter.
Alternatively, you can find world-class art by peeking into almost any church that takes your fancy. One of my favorites, Santa Maria dei Carmini, is free and contains paintings by a young Tintoretto. One of the richest churches for art, despite its plain exterior, is Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. It houses Titian’s majestic Assumption of the Virgin, as well as a wooden sculpture of St. John the Baptist by Donatello. Entrance is $4.
For a panoramic view, I love to visit the free roof terrace of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a luxury department store. You can easily book your 15-minute slot online. Visitor Judith Standen says, “We timed our visit for sunset and spent 15 minutes gazing at this impossibly beautiful city and the Grand Canal, tinged red and orange.”See: Dfs.com/en/venice/t-fondaco-rooftop-terrace.
Getting Around on a Budget
Venice’s canals are not just pretty, they’re the thoroughfares of the city. Most locals use the vaporetto water buses for everyday transport. They’re affordable transport, with the added benefit of getting you to parts of the city most tourists never get to. If you plan to visit islands like Burano, Murano, or Chioggia, a vaporetto three-day ($50) or seven-day ($75) pass is a good investment (a single ticket costs $9.30).
You can use the vaporetto n.1 or n.2, which chug down the Grand Canal, as a cheap tour bus. Or pop over to Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore (vaporetto n.2, stop San Giorgio), where entrance to the Palladio church is free; it contains two late paintings by Tintoretto. The adjacent bell tower provides a cheaper alternative ($7.50) to climbing St. Mark’s campanile. You see Venice as it really is—an aquatic city floating like a mirage on the water—as opposed to the urban view from St. Mark’s.
Gondola rides are expensive and commercialized, but you can experience an authentic locals’ version for just $2.50. The Grand Canal traghetto—a large gondola rowed by two standing oarsmen—ferries passengers across the canal at Campo Santa Sofia. Locals stand up on the crossing, but personally, I’m happier perching on the gunwales to avoid embarrassing rescue operations.
Affordable Food That Actually Fills You
“Venice on a budget” advice often recommends skipping restaurants and visiting traditional bars for cicchetti (Venetian tapas). However, as any Italian will tell you, this aperitivo food is not intended to fill you up. In fact, with cicchetti costing $1 or $2 a mouthful, a satisfying meal can get costly. For proper (filling) lagoon fare at reasonable prices, head to the fishing town of Chioggia, just south of Venice.
The scenic, if slightly tortuous, route requires taking the vaporetto n.1 to the Lido, then the mixed bus/vaporetto line 11 to Chioggia. The trip takes about 90 minutes. Visit Da Nicola, a traditional canal-side osteria with a simple modern interior and a chef who comes to your table to tell you what’s fresh that day, at $12 to $18 a main. If it’s in season, try the moleche, deep-fried little crabs, which are a specialty of the Venetian lagoon.
Good-Value Accommodation Options
Good-value accommodation is not impossible to find in Venice. For 18th-century Venetian elegance, try the Ca’ Dogaressa in the Cannaregio district. Its brocaded rooms with Murano glass chandeliers start as low as $85 in off season and $165 in high season. In summer you can enjoy breakfast by the canal and relax on the roof terrace. Hotel Rosa Salva is located very close to St. Mark’s and boasts the rare quality of spaciousness. Rates start from $125 in low season and $185 in summer. For travelers on a tighter budget, try the We Crociferi hostel in the Cannaregio area, located inside a restored convent. Double rooms range from $70 to $135. Although basic, there is a beautiful arcaded cloister and a stylish, spacious bar area.
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