Ah Venice – city of love, light, history, romance… and tourists. All those visitors mean one thing for travellers in Venice – premium prices on accommodation, food, drink, attractions and everything else. The famous gondola ride now costs in excess of €85!
But while there is undoubtedly a unique thrill to be had in exploring those cheap, off-the-beaten-track destinations, sometimes you want to experience the world’s most famous cities. After all, there must be a reason why millions of visitors keep flocking back!
Venice doesn’t have to be beyond the budget of backpackers in Italy, and it makes a fantastic summer weekend away. So how to come back with your bank balance still in tact? Here’s 10 things to do in Venice that won’t cost you a fortune.
We’ve got loads of hostels in Venice at great rates.
1. Get lost among the beautiful streets
Forget the tourist trail and ‘must-see’ attractions with their pricey admission fees – the best way to soak up the iconic atmosphere of Venice is to get lost in its picture-perfect streets. Twist and turn through the maze of historic bridges, hidden piazzas and tiny streets that make up the city, and leave your map at home.
You might take a few wrong alleyways and dead-end on a canal, but just as often you’ll turn a corner to discover a sweet spot for a coffee or a narrow panorama through the heart of the city that will take your breath away.
2. Look behind the scenes
The coach tours don’t get much further than Piazza San Marco, so step away from the crowds and you’ll find there’s a very different city that slumbers beneath the tacky shops of the main square. West of the Grand Canal, Dorsoduro is the place where many locals go to eat, drink and live the dolce vita. The Campo Santa Margherita is a lively hub of everyday urban life and tends to be an affordable place to enjoy a meal or a drink. Head to one of the bacari (a sort of Italian tapas bar) and eat cicchetti (small snacks) with the residents, washed down with a glass or two of chilled ombra (local wine).
3. ‘Spritz’ yourself
Harry’s Bar (a former haunt of Ernest Hemingway) might be one of the city’s most famous and romantic venues, but with one of their signature cocktails a whopping €14 a glass, it’s not exactly a backpacker’s haunt. For a treat that’s equally Venetian (and equally alcoholic), enjoy a spritz al bitter – a local mixture of prosecco, soda and Campari or Aperol that’s long been a favorite drink in the city and costs a much more attractive €2.
4. Try the traghetto
The iconic romantic gesture in Venice is still a gondola ride, but you can get the same cultural effect (well, almost!) with a traghetto ride for half a euro. These ferry-like gondolas act as buses, crossing the Grand Canal where there are no bridges. With their gondoliers decked out in striped shirts and wide-brimmed hats, they’re surprisingly old-fashioned, and a much more authentic way of getting about the city than the tourist-orientated gondolas!
5. Splash out on a lunch
Away from the dreaded menu turistico signs crowded at the Rialto and Piazza San Marco, there are a number of trattorie in the city (especially around Dorsoduro) where you can get a set lunch menu (menu operai) for a very decent price. Even $10 is enough for a hearty meal outside of the more popular evening service.
6. Pick up a bottle for the Piazza
You can’t avoid San Marco during the whole trip – but to revel in its unique sights and sounds on a budget, buy a bottle of local wine from a Nave de Oro (off license). Then find a spot to people watch without paying a small fortune for your drink. You might even be treated to some top class music for free, such as the orchestra at Caffe Florian.
7. Explore the Mercato di Rialto
The markets behind the famous Rialto bridge are a wonderful assault on the senses; vendors yelling to sell their products, colorful fruit, fresh fish and meat, a strong aroma of herbs and spices… The large number of stalls and people browsing are packed into a small area, giving it a hectic but vibrant feel. Enjoy the atmosphere, or get some fresh ingredients for a reasonable price if you’re heading for a picnic lunch or self-catering.
8. Swim and sunbathe
Venice is more than just an urban spectacle – it’s also an island (technically it’s a series of tiny islands) set in a lagoon and surrounded by shallow blue waters. Other interesting islands are located nearby; there’s unspoiled Torcello, Burano for sunbathing and Lido for summer nightlife. Although these islands are far from undiscovered, there are more opportunities to escape the jostle of Venice’s streets here, and they’re very easy to get to by water bus or taxi.
9. Enjoy Jewish Cannaregio
Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice may have cemented the idea of a grim Jewish ghetto into the minds of many drama-lovers, but the real Jewish area is a pleasure to explore today. Cannaregio is atmospheric (it’s also been romantically described as ‘secretive’), with its top attractions including the stunning Ca’ d’Oro palace on the Grand Canal, the attractive Fondamenta della Misericordia (a great place for an evening stroll) and the marble Santa Maria dei Miracoli – arguably Venice’s most beautiful church.
10. Scale the Scala Contarini del Bovolo…
If you’re after a view of Venice with a difference, head to the Scala Contarini del Bovolo near Campo Manin. Tucked away in a small courtyard is a wonderful staircase within the palace, and from the top you’ll see some of the best panoramas of this unique city.
Thanks to JoeDuck, n_willse, ChodHound and KAZ2.0 for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were suitable for use at the time of publication according to the Creative Commons License.
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Have you visited any of the places above? Let us know if they’re any good below…