Visitors to Venice can’t help but admire its bridge-crossed canals, cobblestone streets and romantic rides down the canal with singing gondoliers. But many visitors may forget about all of that because of the high prices! The city’s expensive, touristy restaurants, kitschy souvenirs, and fancy hotels can quickly drain your vacation funds. However, having been to Venice many times, I found that if you learn to live like a Venetian, you’ll find that the city’s greatest pleasures are simple, effortlessly stylish, and inexpensive. Yes, you can visit Venice on a budget!
First, staying in Venice on a budget takes some forethought. Most savvy travelers learn that visiting in low season (November – March) is a good way to get a lower rate — up to 50% off. And, there are a few hotels that have fair rates and you won’t have to sacrifice location. The first is the Locanda San Barnaba. A 3- star hotel located in a 16th century palace, it doesn’t have an elevator but it has great Venetian charm. Beautiful wood beamed ceilings, a rooftop terrace and garden, original frescoes and a hearty buffet breakfast, all make this a top choice on my list of inexpensive hotels. Next choice on my budget list is the Venetian Apartments. They have nine properties under 1000 euros per week. The least expensive, Casetta Grassi studio apartment at 695 euros per week, is located near San Marco and it even has a washing machine and air conditioning.
Skip the tourist trap restaurants in St. Marks Square and join the Venetian Café society. Hip Venetians hangout around Campo Santa Margherita. Here, they can enjoy the artsy, intellectual atmosphere of Il Caffè or the e-generation vibe of the Café Noir where you can have a cappuccino, biscotti and 30 minutes of Web-surfing for about $4. At lunchtime and in the early evening, you can satisfy your hunger pangs with cicchetti, the Venetian version of tapas. Bancogiro Osteria da Andrea (Campo San Giacometto, San Polo 122) serves cicchetti, fish, and vegetable platters in a candlelit, vaulted interior. And you can peek at the Grand Canal out the back windows. Or try Osteria Ai 4 Feri (Calle Lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2754A), it is always packed with crowds clamoring for the spaghetti !
With gondola fares at $55 for 50 minutes, it’s no surprise that most Venetians use them only for special occasions. An affordable, if less romantic, alternative is to take a traghetto (ferry) across the Grand Canal from one of eight crossing points; try the Santa Sofia ferry at the Rialto market. The packed trip may last only a couple of minutes, but who’s counting when you’ve paid just 40 cents? For a more scenic ride, grab a front seat in the Number 1 or Number 82 vaporetto as it wends its way down the Grand Canal ($2, one way). Savvy visitors who do Venice on a budget, book a Venice Card at $52 for a week. It must be purchased 48 hours in advance of use, though you won’t have to spend another cent on public water transport.
Here are a few tips on seeing the sites for less: If you are planning on visiting churches in Venice, purchase a Chorus Pass from the Foundation for the Churches of Venice (Calle della Passion, San Polo 2986; 39-041/275-0462). It will allow you to see 15 sites for just $7. See what the locals are doing around town by picking up a free copy of Un Ospite di Venezia, a bilingual events magazine distributed at hotels and tourist offices. See the major sites, like St. Marks Cathedral, in the late afternoon, as most of the tours can be bought for half price.
Last but not least, enjoy all Venice has to offer. Many of Venice’s secrets are discovered by simply walking around and venturing down the little, half-hidden lanes and the smaller Venice canals and alleyways. If you don’t see a mass of tourists in the area you are exploring, then you have found the right spot !