Yes, Venice may be one of the most touristy cities in the world, but that doesn’t have to mean it’s crazy expensive…
Ahhhhh Venice. The romance. The gondolas. The Aperol Spritz. The food. The price tag.
Well, truth is – it doesn’t have to cost you five month’s salary for a jaunt to the world’s most picturesque (sinking) cities. In fact, we think we did it pretty cheap indeed. Here are the tricks of the trade.
- Consider not staying in Venice, per se. We stayed out in Mestre, and although it’s not Venice as such – we stayed in a quaint wee hotel with a banging breakfast for 124 euro for four nights. Try beat that for one night on the island.
- Use public transport. As with much of Europe, this relies on the honesty system and while we did have moments where we didn’t buy a ticket (we couldn’t find the ticket machine and felt unashamedly guilty the whole time), it’s very cheap regardless.
- Don’t go on a gondola. I know, it’s a mind-shattering concept. The prices are set at 120 euro per trip (so for god’s sake please stop trying to haggle. It’s literally a price set by the government FFS) so it’s not exactly the sort of thing you can splurge on if you’re on a backpacking budget. However, you can take a much shorter jaunt across the canal on a passenger gondola, which we outline below.
- Don’t even think about eating or doing basically anything in St Mark’s Square. Cause a coffee is likely to cost you 10 euro. And the pleasure of sitting to drink it is gonna cost you extra too.
But here’s where we get a little more specific…
You don’t need to go to Venice only to be transported by gondola everywhere you go. Venice is an extremely walkable city, and just about everywhere is connected by a plethora of (incredibly photogenic) bridges. What we did was plot a few points that we wanted to see on a map, and then just trotted around for the day seeking them out.
If the above isn’t for you because, well, too much effort, then just show up in a spot with some other people and have someone else do the hard work for you. We found these walking tours incredibly useful in Venice, because they give you a lot of history to the city too, without making you feel completely overwhelmed.
Plus, you decide how much you pay at the end in the form of a tip for your guide – so it can be as expensive or as cheap as you’d like it to be. However, tips tended to hover around the 10 euro to 20 euro per person mark. Give any less than say, a fiver, and they won’t say it – but you’re a total jerk.
Libreria Acqua Alta
You’ve probably seen many pictures of that old staircase made of damp old books and wondered WTF it is and why everyone’s taking pictures of it. Well, it’s inside the Libreria Acqua Alta, and it’s well-known because it’s kooky. This quirky bookstore has books everywhere – in a gondola or a bathtub in fact – and outside in its little courtyard, is the staircase made of books that has you climbing up to a pretty great viewing platform over the canal. The bookstore is quite happy to let people stroll in off the street just to see the famed book staircase, but it’s well worth checking out the rest of the shop too.
Flag the gondolas for a traghetto
Who wants to pay 80 euro for a boat ride? Not us, that’s for sure – so instead we paid a whopping 2 euro each for a gondola ride across the Grand Canal. Sure, the entire journey lasted about 1 minute in total, but for the gimmick alone it was worth it. Follow the traghetto signs anywhere along the Grand Canal and find the nearest landing.The boats cross the canal at seven points, so you won’t have to look far to find one. Boats shuttle back and forth across the river almost constantly, so you won’t be waiting for a vessel long. When the boat comes along, make sure you’re facing backwards as the boat will turn around as it heads back out across the river. Until 1854, the famous Ponte di Rialto was the only bridge across the Grand Canal – so this was how the Venetians got around once upon a time, and even today.
At the end of the day, this is a gondola simply without the bow trimmings, the man in fancy dress and the gaudy chairs – so you’re effectively getting a more authentic experience anyway.
Visit Murano or Burano islands
Known for their glass blowing and colourful houses, these islands are much quieter than the main drags of Venice, but every inch as beautiful – perhaps even more so. Murano is literally known as ‘Glass Island’, and is where some of the world’s most incredible glass blowers once made things for royalty and the likes, and these days cater to everyone from tourists to overseas retailers. It’s an incredible place to watch what goes into the craft.
The water taxi/ vaporetto across is only a couple of euro, and you can head into one of the glassblowing factories on Murano for a free show of the incredible craftsmanship that goes into each product. We’d advocate for taking something small away as a souvenir because even though it’s literally the most breakable thing you could buy, it’s bloody beautiful.
Eat and drink
Osteria Al Squero
This charming little cichetti spot is down by the boat workshop (if that means absolutely anything to you. It didn’t to us, so we just plugged it in Google Maps, as per) and will almost certainly be rammed with people. Seats are hard to come by here, and for good reason. An Aperol Spritz, served in a plastic cup, is 2.50 euro and an accompanying cichetti is 1.40. What. a. steal. No wonder there’s always people standing outside, or sitting on the wall next to the canal, simply because it’s so popular. The ambience is lively and fun, and you’ll easily find yourself sitting here for several hours and then coming away with a huge bill of… well, about 12 euro.
Bacareto de Lele
Perhaps my favourite wee spot due to it being somewhat of a local secret, this little sandwich shack serves up mini sandwiches with a variety of fillings for one measly euro, and a plastic cup of wine for even less than that. There’s absolutely no sitting room here, and regardless, the place is absolutely full to bursting usually – with a huge crowd milling about the streets too. It’s almost become a victim of its own success recently, but there’s no denying it’s bloody great value. We watched in wonder as plates upon plates of sandwiches were pumped out from the kitchen, and were just about licked clean within 30 seconds flat.
This street stall in the centre of Venice was a happy little surprise. No, it’s not your typical Venetian cuisine and yes, it is basically just deep-fried goods – but there’s a reason it’s constantly recommended by locals. Grab yourself a paper cone full of lightly-battered and deep fried seafood or vegetables, and snack on it as you wander past the idiots paying 30 euro for a sandwich at the cafes nearby. The food here is light, tasty, and definitely doesn’t taste like your typical fast food.
It’s a bit of a mission to find, but you’ll be bloody happy when you do scout it out. These are some of the best sandwiches in Venice, stuffed full of local, fresh produce. As with most restaurants in Venice, it’s a tiny wee shop with little sitting room, but grab one for a wander around the quieter streets around it.
A local joint we found around our hotel but a notable mention nonetheless, this small restaurant does exceptional pizzas and cheap wine at low prices. Better yet, there’s a lot of choice – with about four pages of pizza options – and the portions are big. It’s not worth travelling for, but if you’re staying in Mestre it should absolutely be on your radar.
Hotel Villa Adele
Being the stingy couple we are, we immediately chose to forgo the views, iconic status and all around allure of the hotels in Venice itself, and stayed near the train station in Mestre instead. Thinking we would be miserable out in the ‘burbs, we were pretty prepared to be slumming it unhappily – but were pleasantly surprised. Our hotel was basic and clean, but had a delicious breakfast which made up for every other aspect of mediocrity. It was also 125 euro for four nights, which is just bloody ridiculous. Considering the only downside to staying out here is a 15 minute bus ride which we barely paid for most of the time anyway (not for lack of trying, mind you), we’d happily stay out here again. It was peaceful, there’s a cheap pizza joint around the corner, and we weren’t jostling with selfie stick-wielding crowds just to get into the front door of our hotel. Bliss.