If you’ve ever dreamed of gliding down the Grand Canal on a gondola or getting lost in the labyrinthine streets of Venice, you’re not alone. Venice, with its rich history, stunning architecture, and unique waterways, is a dream destination for many. But there’s a common myth that’s been floating around – that Venice is an expensive city and is out of reach for budget travelers. Well, we’re here to bust that myth.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to experience the magic of Venice without burning a hole in your pocket. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore Venice on a budget!
In this Venice on a Budget Guide, you’ll discover:
- How to debunk the myth that Venice is too expensive for budget travelers and why it’s worth visiting, even on a shoestring budget.
- Tips on planning your budget trip to Venice, including the best times to visit for cheaper flights and accommodations.
- Recommendations for affordable accommodations in Venice, from hostels and budget hotels to apartment rentals.
- Strategies for finding affordable places to eat and drink in Venice, including tips on local markets and budget-friendly local cuisines.
- Suggestions on how to explore Venice’s iconic sights and hidden gems without breaking the bank.
- Insightful tips on getting around Venice on a budget, including walking routes and using the city’s vaporettos.
- Encouragement to explore off-the-beaten-path attractions in Venice for a unique and affordable experience.
Why Visit Venice on a Budget?
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “visiting Venice is going to be expensive.” First, let’s set the scene. Imagine a city built on water, where the streets are canals, and the cars are boats. Picture ornate palaces and Venetian churches, their facades faded from centuries of standing guard over the lagoon.
Envision the vibrant hustle and bustle of the Rialto Market, the quiet charm of an off-the-beaten-path campiello (small square), and the mesmerizing sight of the sun setting over the lagoon. That’s Venice for you.
Venice is not just a city; it’s an experience. It’s a place where history, art, and Italian culture intertwine with unique experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. And the best part? You don’t need to be a millionaire to experience it. With a bit of savvy planning and insider tips (which we’re about to share with you), you can enjoy the wonders of Venice without breaking the bank.
So, are you ready to embark on an unforgettable Venetian adventure? Let’s dive into how you can experience Venice on a budget!
Planning Your Trip to Venice on a Budget
Understanding the Importance of Planning
When it comes to traveling on a budget, planning is key. It allows you to anticipate potential costs, find deals, and make choices that can save you money. This is especially true for a city like Venice, where prices can vary significantly depending on factors like the time of year and how far in advance you book your accommodations and flights.
Best Times to Visit Venice for Budget Travelers
Venice can be quite crowded (and expensive) during the summer months and during the Carnival in February. So, if you can, try to visit in the off-peak seasons – early spring or late fall. Not only will you find cheaper flights and accommodations, but you’ll also get to enjoy Venice without the massive crowds. Plus, you’ll have a chance to see a more authentic side of the city when it’s not overrun by tourists.
Read our guide to the Best Times to Visit Venice, where we break down weather, temperature, saving tips, and holidays by month.
Tips on Finding Affordable Flights to Venice
There are plenty of budget airlines that fly to Venice, and if you’re flexible with your dates, you can score some pretty good deals. Here are a few tips:
- Be Flexible: The more flexible you are with your travel dates, the more likely you are to find a cheap flight. Midweek flights are often cheaper than weekend flights, and flights at less popular times of the day (like early morning or late night) are often less expensive as well.
- Use Flight Search Engines: Websites like Skyscanner, Momondo, and Google Flights can compare prices from multiple airlines and show you the cheapest options.
- Set Flight Alerts: If you know your travel dates well in advance, set up flight alerts on these websites. They will notify you when the price for your specified route drops.
- Use an Airfare Bargain Finder: Sites like Going.com (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) scan the internet for bargain deals. But the catch is you only have a limited time to purchase your ticket (sometimes only 24 hours), and you have limited travel dates to choose from. We scored a non-stop, roundtrip flight from Newark (EWR) to Milan-Malpensa (MXP) for $359 in 2021 and then again from Philadelphia (PHL) to Marco Polo Airport (VCE) for $475 in 2023.
Consider Travel Insurance
While this might seem like an extra expense, travel insurance can actually save you money if something unexpected happens, like a last-minute trip cancellation or a medical emergency. Just make sure to read the fine print and choose a policy that fits your needs.
By following these tips, you can plan a trip to Venice that’s enjoyable and fits a tight budget.
Where to Stay in Venice on a Budget
Accommodation can be one of the biggest expenses when traveling, but don’t worry, there are budget-friendly options in Venice too.
For the backpackers out there, there are several hostels in Venice that offer cheap beds and a chance to meet other travelers. Some even offer free breakfast!
If you prefer a bit more privacy, consider budget hotels or B&Bs. They might not be right on the Grand Canal, but they offer comfortable rooms at a fraction of the price of luxury hotels.
Some other great options include:
- Check Out Vacation Rentals: Websites like Airbnb and VRBO offer a wide range of vacation rentals in Venice, from private rooms to entire apartments or houses. These can be a great option if you’re traveling with a group or planning a longer stay. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to cook some meals at home, saving you money on dining out.
- Look for Last-Minute Deals: Some hotels offer discounted rates for last-minute bookings. If you’re flexible with your accommodations, this can be a great way to save money.
- Stay on the Mainland: If you’re really on a tight budget, consider staying on the mainland in Mestre. It’s just a short train ride away from Venice, and accommodations here are significantly cheaper. Trains will take you directly to Venezia Santa Lucia train station, which is at the northern end of the city.
Remember, the key to finding budget accommodations in Venice is to book early, be flexible, and consider options beyond the traditional hotel stay.
Staying in Cannaregio
Cannaregio is the largest district in Venice and also one of the least touristy, which makes it a great option for budget travelers. We stayed in Cannaregio during our last three trips to Venice, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Accommodations here tend to be cheaper than in more touristy areas, and you’ll get a chance to experience a more authentic side of Venice.
Plus, Cannaregio is home to several notable landmarks, including the Jewish Ghetto, the Madonna dell’Orto church, and the Ca’ d’Oro palace.
There are also plenty of local markets, shops, wineries, and restaurants where you can eat and shop like a local without paying tourist prices.
Staying in Dorsoduro
Dorsoduro is another great option for budget travelers. This district is known for its bohemian vibe, with plenty of art galleries, local boutiques, and charming cafes.
Accommodations here are also more affordable than in San Marco, San Polo, and Santa Croce, and the district is just a short walk or vaporetto ride away from major attractions like the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Bell Tower, and St. Mark’s Basilica.
Dorsoduro is also home to several notable landmarks, including the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of my absolute favorite museums, the Accademia Gallery. Plus, you’ll love exploring the district’s picturesque canals and narrow streets.
Staying in Santa Croce
Santa Croce is another district in Venice that offers budget-friendly accommodations. It’s a bit quieter than some of the other districts, which can be a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Santa Croce is home to the Piazzale Roma bus station, the main transportation hub and parking area, making it a convenient location if you’re arriving by bus. The district also boasts several notable landmarks, including the Fondaco dei Turchi and the Church of San Giacomo dell’Orio.
Plus, you’ll find plenty of local eateries where you can enjoy delicious Italian cuisine without the high tourist prices.
By choosing to stay in less touristy districts like Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, and Santa Croce, you can save money on accommodations and get a more authentic Venice experience.
Our complete guide on Where to Stay in Venice includes details on each neighborhood, local landmarks, best hotels, and best restaurants.
Free Landmarks to Visit in Venice
Stroll Around Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco, is often referred to as an “open-air museum.” Take your time to stroll around, soak up the atmosphere, and admire the historical buildings that surround the square. It’s one of the few large public squares in the city and it’s completely free to visit. Here, you’ll find several notable landmarks:
1. Admire the Exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica is the most iconic building in Venice. Its Italo-Byzantine architecture is a sight to behold. While there is an entrance fee to get inside the Basilica, it’s completely free to admire the detailed façade from the outside. Look out for the four bronze horses that stand above the central portal and look for the detailed mosaics that line each half dome along the entrance.
2. Marvel at the Doge’s Palace
Adjacent to the Basilica is the Doge’s Palace, a stunning example of Venetian Gothic architecture. This was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. While there’s a fee to tour the interior, the intricate façade and courtyard are free to admire.
3. Ponder the Bridge of Sighs
Head over to the Ponte della Paglia and take a look at the world famous Bridge of Sighs. You’ll know you’re at the right place because there will be a massive crowd of people all staring at the same thing. While you can’t walk across the Bridge of Sighs without paying to enter the Doge’s Palace, you can view it from below.
4. Look Up at the Campanile
St. Mark’s Campanile, or bell tower, is the tallest structure in Venice and offers panoramic views of the city. There’s a fee to take the elevator to the top, but it’s free to admire the tower from the square. Listen for the ringing of the five bells, each of which historically had a specific purpose, from calling the Senate to marking midday.
5. Watch the Clock Tower
The official timekeeper of Venice since 1499, the San Marco Clock Tower, or Torre dell’Orologio, is another notable building in the square. The clock displays the time, the phase of the moon, and the Zodiac sign for the current month. It’s a marvel of Renaissance engineering. Be sure to look for the two bronze figures who strike the bell hourly.
Visit the Churches of Venice
The best part about visiting Venice on a budget is knowing you don’t have to spend any money seeing the majority of the city’s finest artworks. Whether you’re interested in sculptures or paintings, Venetian Churches and Cathedrals have some of the best art anywhere in Italy.
San Zaccaria: A Blend of Gothic and Renaissance
Nestled in the heart of Castello sestiere, San Zaccaria is a monumental Catholic church with roots tracing back to the late 8th century. Originally a monastic church, it has undergone numerous restorations and renovations, resulting in an intriguing mix of Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles.
Inside, you’ll find awe-inspiring frescoes, marble sculptures, and the renowned San Zaccaria Altarpiece, a masterpiece by Venetian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini.
Don’t miss the eerie yet fascinating flooded crypt beneath the church.
Church of Madonna dell’Orto: A Gothic Marvel
The Church of Madonna dell’Orto, located in the Cannaregio sestiere, is a breathtaking example of Gothic architecture.
Constructed in the early 14th century, it houses the miraculous Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated.
The interior is equally impressive, boasting gothic arches, stained glass windows, and two masterpieces by Tintoretto: Idolatry of Golden Calf and the Last Judgement.
Santa Maria della Salute: A Baroque Beauty
Santa Maria della Salute is a standout landmark in Venice, perched on a small island at the entrance to the Grand Canal.
This 17th-century Baroque masterpiece was designed by architect Baldassare Longhena and constructed between 1631 and 1687 as a token of gratitude from the Venetians for being spared from a plague outbreak.
The exterior is adorned with statues by Gianbattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, while the interior houses works by Pietro Liberi, Antonio Zanchi, Jacopo Guarana, and Giambattista Crosato.
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari: A Franciscan Gem
The majestic Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, located in San Polo, the heart of Venice’s main island, is one of the city’s largest churches.
Its impressive facade, made from Istrian stone, houses numerous art treasures, including Donatello’s St. John the Baptist, Bernardino Licinio’s Madonna with Franciscan Saints, and Palma il Giovane’s Martyrdom of St. Catherine from Alexandria.
Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo): A Resting Place for Doges
Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo), situated in the Castello sestiere, is one of Venice’s largest churches and the final resting place of 25 doges. Built in 1236 as a Dominican convent, it showcases a blend of Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles.
The exterior is crafted from red brick with ornamental terracotta, green marble, and white Istrian stone decorations. Inside, you’ll find a wealth of frescoes and paintings, including The Adoration of the Shepherds by Paolo Veronese.
Exploring the Bridges of Venice
Venice, the city of canals, is renowned for its intricate network of waterways and bridges. Wandering through the city, crossing bridges, and admiring the unique views they offer is an experience that won’t cost you a dime. Let’s delve into some of the most famous and picturesque bridges in Venice:
The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and most iconic bridge spanning the Grand Canal. Its distinctive arch and row of shops make it a favorite among tourists. The bridge offers a fantastic view of the canal and is a great spot for photos.
Academy Bridge (Ponte dell’Accademia)
The Academy Bridge is one of only four bridges to span the Grand Canal. It offers an unparalleled view of the canal, including the magnificent Santa Maria della Salute Church. The bridge is a wooden structure and is a great spot to watch gondolas glide by.
Bridge of Three Arches (Ponte dei Tre Archi)
Located in the Cannaregio district, the Bridge of Three Arches is the only three-arched bridge in Venice. It spans the Cannaregio Canal and offers a unique perspective of the city’s waterways.
Scalzi Bridge (Ponte degli Scalzi)
The Scalzi Bridge, also spanning the Grand Canal, is one of the main pedestrian crossings in Venice. It connects the Santa Lucia train station area with the rest of the city. The bridge’s name, “Scalzi,” translates to “barefoot” in Italian, a nod to the barefooted Carmelite monks who once resided in the nearby church.
Bridge of Fists (Ponte dei Pugni)
The Bridge of Fists is a small and lesser-known bridge in the Dorsoduro district. It’s famous for an old Venetian tradition where rival clans would meet to settle disputes in fistfights. The bridge’s name comes from this tradition, and you can still see the white marble footprints where the fighters would start.
Remember, while these bridges are famous and offer beautiful views, part of the charm of Venice lies in its smaller, less crowded bridges. Don’t hesitate to wander and discover your own favorite spots!
Visit the Public Gardens
The Public Gardens, or Giardini Pubblici, is a large park in the Castello district. It’s a great place to relax, have a picnic, or just enjoy the greenery. The gardens are also home to the Biennale Art Exhibition every other year.
The Charm of Giardini Pubblici
The Giardini Pubblici is a breath of fresh air in the heart of Venice. This expansive park in the Castello district offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city. Here, you can relax under the shade of trees, enjoy a picnic by the pond, or simply take a leisurely stroll along its well-maintained paths. The park is also home to several statues and monuments, adding a touch of historical charm to its natural beauty.
The Biennale Art Exhibition
Every other year, the Giardini Pubblici transforms into the epicenter of contemporary art as it hosts the Venice Biennale Art Exhibition. Artists from around the world showcase their works in national pavilions scattered throughout the park. While there’s an admission fee to enter the pavilions during the Biennale, you can still enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the event for free as you explore the park.
Explore the Local Markets
Venice has several local markets where you can browse for free. The Rialto Market is the most famous, offering a wide range of fresh produce, seafood, and Venetian specialties. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, it’s a great place to experience the local culture.
The Rialto Market
The Rialto Market is a must-visit for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the local culture of Venice. This bustling market, located near the iconic Rialto Bridge, is a feast for the senses. Here, you’ll find a wide array of fresh produce, seafood, and traditional Venetian specialties. The vibrant colors, enticing aromas, and lively chatter of vendors make for a truly authentic Venetian experience. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, simply strolling through the market and soaking in the atmosphere is a rewarding experience in itself.
Other Local Markets
While the Rialto Market is the most famous, Venice is home to several other local markets worth exploring. These markets, scattered throughout the city’s various districts, offer a wide range of goods, from fresh produce and seafood to antiques and handicrafts. Exploring these markets is not only a great way to experience the local culture, but also an opportunity to discover unique souvenirs and gifts. Plus, browsing is completely free!
Venice on a Budget: Recap & Additional Money-Saving Tips
- Skip the gondola ride: while it can be fun to sit back and relax while someone guides you through the Grand Canal, it’s an expensive experience for 30-60 minutes. While we enjoyed our gondola ride, it didn’t make or break our trip.
- Come Prepared for Rain: Venice’s weather can be unpredictable, and it’s not uncommon to experience sudden rain showers. To avoid paying inflated prices for umbrellas from local vendors, pack a small, travel-sized umbrella or a lightweight raincoat.
- Take Advantage of Free Attractions: As we’ve discussed, many of Venice’s churches and landmarks are free to visit. Spend your days exploring these sites, and save your money for other experiences.
- Buy a Venice City Pass: If you plan on visiting multiple museums or taking some vaporetto rides, consider purchasing a Venice City Pass. It can save you money on entrance fees and public transportation.
- Stay Outside the City Center: Accommodation in Venice can be expensive, especially in the city center near St. Mark’s Square. Consider staying in the surrounding areas like Mestre or even on the Lido. You’ll find more affordable options, and it’s just a short and scenic vaporetto ride into the city.
- Shop at Local Markets: For those staying in accommodations with kitchen facilities, shopping at local markets can save you a lot on food expenses. Rialto Market is a great place to buy fresh produce, seafood, and Venetian specialties.
- Walk Everywhere: Venice is a compact city, and one of the best ways to explore it is on foot. Not only is it free, but you’ll also stumble upon hidden gems that you might miss otherwise.
Experiencing the magic of Venice doesn’t have to break the bank. With a bit of planning and some savvy choices, you can enjoy the city’s rich history, stunning architecture, and unique culture without overspending.
From exploring the city’s iconic landmarks and charming neighborhoods to savoring its local cuisine and vibrant markets, there’s a wealth of experiences to be had that are light on the wallet but rich in memories.
So pack your bags, lace up your walking shoes, and get ready to discover Venice on a budget. Remember, the best things in life aren’t things, they’re experiences. And in Venice, the best experiences are often free. Happy travels!