The first and perhaps best budget travel tip for visiting Venice involves selection of dates for your trip.
Be warned: if you visit Venice in summer, the experience will be far different than an off-season stopover. Plan to be patient and wait in line for major attractions. Look for higher peak-season prices, too. If this is your only season of opportunity, by all means go. But plan ahead and know that you will be sharing this beautiful place with thousands of others.
Cool and Less Crowded in Winter
Notice the people in this picture are wearing coats. Although mild compared to Stockholm or Berlin, Venice is not a tropical city, and winter temperatures sometimes plunge below the freezing mark. You might even see an occasional snowfall. Spring is mild but cool breezes off the water can be a bit uncomfortable at times.
If you're willing to don a jacket or sweater, there are huge travel benefits to be enjoyed during a winter visit.
Notice something else in this picture? Pigeons outnumber people. This too is an afternoon scene in St. Mark's Square. But there is room to stop and admire the stunning architecture and the artwork of centuries past. The budget hotels won't be as crowded -- you might actually find a room. There might be exhibits or attractions closed for remodeling at this time of year, so be sure your favorites are open before booking. If you're willing to travel in the off-season, you will reap more value in popular Venice.
Fall is an excellent time to visit, but be aware that from October-January you could encounter what Venetians call Acqua Alta or High Water. During this time, hotels will loan guests high boots, and a few streets or alleys could become difficult to navigate.
Reserve Hotel Rooms to Avoid Disappointment
These young travelers were camped just outside the Santa Lucia railroad station, which is the "front door" for most people who visit Venice. Perhaps they were just waiting for the next train out of town. But a number of people arrive here with no hotel reservations and then are surprised to find that rooms in their price range are gone.
In tourist season, that could result in paying for a much more expensive room than your budget allows or camping out at the train station. Even budget travelers who love spontaneity should perform a Venice hotel search and book prior to arrival. Find a room that is located in the areas you want to visit and at your price. Also consider searching in nearby mainland Mestre, a place sometimes lacking the aesthetic qualities of Venice. Nonetheless, rooms are available there at more reasonable prices.
Passes Are a Must
Although Venice is known for its waterways, you will spend a lot of time walking on terra firma. It is one of the more pedestrian-friendly cities on the planet. But you will find yourself in need of water transportation.
The water bus here is known as a vaporetto. They are used by tourists and business people much the same way a subway works in other cities. You can even buy passes that are good for multiple rides. That's a good idea for this reason: a single-ride ticket on a vaporetto is expensive at €7 ($8.25 USD). Although good for 60 minutes, you can do much better on price. Consider a 24-hour travel card, called Biglietto ventiquattro ori in Italian, for €20 ($24 USD). There are also 48-hour cards for €30 ($35 USD), 72-hour cards for €40 ($47 USD) and a seven-day pass for €60 ($71 USD).
If you'd like to add attraction discounts to savings on vaporetto trips, consider buying a Venice Card. The Gold Pass includes the 72-hour vaporetto pass, public wi-fi, free admission to four attractions, and a discount book covering other entry fees in the city for €59 ($69.50 USD).
Take a Self-Guided Tour
At some point in your visit to Venice, you are likely to tire of walking. Use your vaporetto passes, stake out a front or back seat, and simply ride for awhile. It's a great way to observe and admire the ornate beauty of architectural Venice. Some people do this with guidebooks in hand, while others simply settle back and enjoy the views without a lot of prepared information.
These trips also produce some nice photographic opportunities, so have your camera at the ready. There are very few places where you can take an affordable boat ride through centuries of history. So hop on board and pay only passing attention to the vaporetto's destination. In summer, you'll probably have to wait out a number of stops before an outside seat opens. It's worth the wait, it's already paid for, and you'll remember the experience for a long time.
Beware of Veiled Sales Pitches
Murano glass is world-renowned. This stunning product is produced on an island of the same name in the Venetian archipelago. You could find a tour of one of the factories very interesting, and you might want to buy some Murano glass or have a piece shipped home.
Be aware that some hotels will work out a "special boat ride and tour" that they say is free with the price of your room. Some of these trips turn into high-pressure sales visits. You'll be escorted to a showroom after the tour and you'll be told this is your last chance to buy Murano glass. Your hosts will feign disbelief and even offense when they learn that after all of their efforts, you don't want to buy.
Don't allow yourself to be embarrassed into buying something you can't afford or don't want. It is actually quite common for people to take the tour, thank their hosts, and politely exit the showroom without buying. Whatever you're told about this "last chance," remember that there are scores of showrooms throughout Venice and Italy offering Murano glass products at competitive prices.
Gondola Advice: Save Your Money
Perhaps you've always dreamed of a gondola ride in the Grand Canal. Some people who come here and partake of the experience say it is unforgettable. If you're determined to do it, be sure you budget for what will be a pricey experience.
How much? The cost can vary widely by the length of trip and the services a gondolier provides. The local government has established a sort of "going rate" of €80 ($94 USD) for a 40-minute ride taking up to six passengers. The rates rise to €100 ($118 USD) in the evening and can go even higher during special events.
Important: do not assume that these going rates are routinely observed. Gondoliers might serenade you and charge an additional €20, even though you did not ask for a musical interlude. During busy periods, that 40-minute standard might shrink to allow for more trips.
Confused? Add in a language barrier and there can be some distressed passengers when it comes time to pay.
If you must take a gondola ride, please be certain you negotiate exact costs before you start. If a quoted price bothers you, walk away. There are plenty of gondoliers who are not out to gouge visitors.
If this isn't at the top of your Venice wish list, skip it. Save money for other splurges.
Eat Main Meals Outside Touristed Areas
This outdoor cafe on St. Mark's Square is a pleasant place to sip a cold drink and watch humanity pass by your table. People have been doing it for centuries. But you should think twice about having a full meal in such prime tourist areas, especially in Venice.
Prices are set for maximum profit--and to be fair, many proprietors in such places have to pay much steeper overhead costs than their counterparts outside the iconic centers of the city. But they also profit from tourists who will shrug and pay the tab, figuring it is the going rate for a meal in an unfamiliar place.
A few vaporetto stops from St. Mark Square is Accademia, which leads into the Dorsoduro section of the city. Here, you'll find lower prices and fewer tourists. You might also find something closer to an authentic Venetian meal.
Start or End a Cruise Here
Venice is a popular cruise stop, and many of the itineraries either begin or end here. It's a great place to combine a tour of Italy with a cruise on the Adriatic to Croatia, Greece or Turkey.
You can get from the train station to the cruise terminals on foot, but it is a fairly long walk, and, at times, less than pedestrian friendly. You'll pass through the Piazzale Roma, which is webbed with bus stops, parking garages and general confusion for the first-time visitor.
If your cruise ship starts its itinerary here, you benefit from a floating hotel room and meals aboard ship. It's a great way to avoid the high prices of Venice and yet still experience this beautiful city.
Visit Venice's Neighbors
When it comes time to set sail from Venice, consider allowing some time to visit other cities in the region.
Trieste, Padua and Verona are short distances by train. Some budget travelers prefer the less expensive rooms and meals available in these cities. In the case of a visit to Padua (Padova), you can connect by train dozens of times a day in as little as 30 minutes travel time and for €10 or less. Milan is about three hours by train; Lake Como is roughly four hours; to the south, Florence is as little as two hours away and a second-class fare sometimes comes in under $50.
Be aware that faster trains on these routes could cost more money. Strongly consider second-class fares and remember that there are bus routes that sometimes prove more convenient and frugal than the trains.