Venice is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Italy. If Venice is on your itinerary, you will need to do some research ahead of time in order to visit this magnificent city and still keep to your budget. One downside of visiting this tourist mecca is that it makes it all too easy to pay top euro for food, accommodations, and tours. Find out what is worth it and how to avoid the splurges won't really enhance your experience.
When to Visit
Opt for the off-season if at all possible. By visiting in early March, you may be able to spend 40% less for a budget room that might not have been available at any price if you were visiting in July. The March air in Venice will be brisk, but probably no more uncomfortable than the heat of high summer. Do beware that, in autumn, annual flooding sometimes closes key attractions.
Find Your Home Base
Look for rooms closest to the places you want to visit—even if those lodgings are a bit more expensive. You'll save money and precious time on commuting. Reasonable rooms in Venice tend to be very small and sometimes at the end of several steep stairways. Sacrifice the room with the view and lace bedspreads, but don't sacrifice safety or cleanliness.
Highly touristy areas like Rialto and the Piazza San Marco are packed with expensive and somewhat impersonal eateries. These are the kind of places where ill-prepared tourists drop big bucks for a light meal and then complain about it for years. Instead, gravitate to where the locals eat. Venice's Dorsoduro section (main vaporetto line to Ponte dell'Accademia) is filled with neighborhood trattorias that are festive and cheap. Here or in San Polo, you dine with the natives for a fraction of the cost the tourists are paying in slightly more convenient locations.
Gondola rides are romantic but very expensive—a one-time experience, at best and it can be argued effectively that gondolas should be skipped altogether. Instead, plan on using Venice's system of vaporettos, which is a sort of floating bus service. you can look up standard vaporetto fares in advance to help with your budget planning, but you will likely find the best fares come with one of the passes. There is a 24-hour ticket, a 48-hour ticket, and a seven-day pass available. If you pay in advance, discounts are possible through VeneziaUnica.
Try the Islands
Nearby Murano Island is known for its glassblowing artisans. It tends to be a bit touristy, but well worth a look. The demonstrations are free, but some end in the showroom, where there is often a not-so-subtle pressure to buy.
Burano Island is known for its fine lace and for pastel-colored houses that fishermen at sea can spot as landmarks. A 40-minute ferry ride is required to reach Burano, but the trip is a nice change of pace after hours of navigating narrow Venetian streets.
Wander and Explore
Time is money on vacation, so don't waste either commodity. Many first-time visitors spend time trying to follow guidebook recommendations for restaurants and shopping. The problem is that Venetian addresses are confusing, even to the locals and once you add a language barrier to the equation, it can become nearly impossible to find that little restaurant that serves perfect pasta. Make your own discoveries by following one simple rule: Leave the tourist zones and explore on your own.
Make the Most of Venice
There are other ways to make your experience in Venice memorable that have nothing to do with seeing all of the sights in the guidebook. Craft your own special vacation by thinking outside the box. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Plan to picnic: Little groceries are filled with fresh meats and cheeses, and the vistas for enjoying such delicacies are numerous. Best of all, it comes at a fraction of the cost for a sit-down restaurant meal.
- Allow time to walk aimlessly: Walking tours cost nothing and often turn up the most memorable places in a city like Venice.
- About the touts at the docks or train station: Sometimes the budget hotels that are perfectly fine send aggressive salespeople out to find patrons. It rubs some of us the wrong way, but listen to their pitch if you don't have a room. Much of the time, their offers are legitimate. Insist on seeing a map that shows the location. Some places that are sold as centrally located are miles from where you want to be situated.
- Learn a few words of Italian: A few simple phrases like please, thank you, how much, excuse me and "do you speak my language?" do wonders for public relations. Strangers are more apt to show some kindness when visitors make the attempt to speak in the local language.
- Use the tourist office to book tours and other activities: Hotels offer this service, but the prices and arrangements are sometimes less pleasing. Contact the APT and get impartial answers.
- Visit nearby Padua: It's a short train ride from Venice, an interesting town in itself, and often much more reasonable for overnight stays.