Venice, Italy is a city known for its canals, beauty, art, food, and most of all, expeeeeensive prices. Sitting down for a dinner at one of the main restaurants in Piazza San Marco can easily rack up a bill of hundreds of euros. So what’s a low-budget traveler to do? Check out this guide for help planning your affordable Venice adventure!
Getting to Venice
The first advice I would give is to visit Venice in a time that is not June-August. We visited in October and while the weather wasn’t perfect, we barely had to wait in lines and there was hardly anyone in Piazza San Marco at night. I’ve seen Venice in the summer, and it is a nightmare. Unless you like fighting through seas of tourists and waiting in long lines in the hot, humid weather, I would definitely not recommend it. The best times to visit are late spring or early fall.
Depending on the origin city, direct flights to Venice are some of the most expensive out there when it comes to flying into Italy. So it’s time to play the system! Fly into a less expensive city, such as Milan or Rome, and book a beautiful and comfortable train ride through the Italian countryside. This will even bring you to the train station that is much closer and more convenient than the airport in Venice.
Compare prices and book flights at: adioso.com
Book train tickets at: raileurope.com (note that ages 17-26 have a lower rate).
My personal routine for finding the best and most affordable lodging is by checking Booking.com & AirBnB, then comparing the best options of each. When it comes to Venice, your best bet is going to be staying in an independently-owned apartment, or Ca’. On our last trip, we found an amazing one that I would definitely recommend, which is called Ca’ Bibi Rooms.
The owner is incredibly friendly, helpful, and full of recommendations. When we arrived she let us drop off our luggage in the room, then walked us through all of her recommendations of where to eat and what to do. It seems she runs the whole place by herself, cleans the bathroom every day, and will even make up the room if you want. The room we stayed in was the smallest and most affordable, but it was still perfect for our needs. There was a shared bathroom, but it was never an issue. However, if that sounds unappealing to you, there are other larger rooms with private bathrooms. There is also a shared space with a basic kitchen and dining table. Overall, we had a wonderful experience.
If you’re traveling through the airport, there are pretty much three main options: the public bus system, a vaporetto (the water bus), or a water taxi. Unless you’re really shelling out money on this trip, I would not recommend a water taxi; they will run you about 100-150 euros.
The second option is utilizing the public bus system. There are a few bus lines that will take you all the way from the airport to a relatively central bus station, which will only cost you 2,40 euros. If you’re staying near the bus station, this will probably be your easiest and cheapest option. However, if you are staying anywhere that you would not want to drag your bags to from the station, I would definitely recommend taking the vaporetto.
The vaporetto will run you back 15 euros/person, but it will most likely take you much closer to your final destination. Plus you get the cool experience of riding a water bus all the way across the expanse of water that separates the airport and Venezia itself.
If during your travels, you either want to skip a long walk or get to one of the other islands, only reachable by water, there is a water bus system that runs within Venice. I’ve used it a few times and while it is cool, the price outweighs its usefulness.
Venice is a city packed full of restaurants, stores, and lodging, and while the most easily-found places are expensive, there are absolutely some hidden gems of affordability. While I have some recommended places here, you can easily find a place on your own just by wandering around and sticking persistently to your budget. I have yet to go to a place in Venice with subpar food, and while I’m sure they exist, your odds are good that wherever you sit down you will find a delicious meal. But whatever you do, stay away from the very crowded, tourist-infested areas, namely Piazza San Marco.
Some other things to keep in mind: service charge or cover charge is included in the check, so while you do not have to tip, don’t let it stop you from tipping a particularly awesome server. Also note that most places will not provide tap water; if you ask for water you will be ordering a bottle of either still or sparkling water that you pay for. Finally, keep in mind that while there are plenty of public WC/toilets, you will have to pay 1,50 (in coins only) for entry. There are some hotels that will let you use their bathroom, but you’ll have better luck if you just use restrooms in restaurants where you eat or at museums you visit.
For breakfast, we got crepes from a place called La Maison de la Crepe for 4,00 each. There are plenty of pastry shops and little similar crepe places.
For lunch, there are two places we went to that I would recommend. The first is a quick food pasta & pizza place, called Happy Pizza/Aldo Pasta on Calle dei Fabbri, about 5 minutes walking from Piazza San Marco. For 7,00 each, you can get a to-go box of your choice of a pasta/sauce combination. It was just as delicious as pasta at any sit-down place, and you can take it wherever you want to enjoy.
The second place was a sit down restaurant called Trattoria Misericordia, located on Fundamenti Misericordia in the Cannaregio neighborhood. It’s a less-crowded area with water-side seating and wonderful service, and we ended up paying 39,50 for bruschetta, two pasta dishes, a glass of house white wine, a Coke, and a bottle of water.
For dinner both nights we stopped at random restaurants and got an individual pizza each. Both were amazing, and for very low prices (I paid 7,00 for an entire margherita pizza, Connor spent 10,00 for a 4 Formaggi pizza); we recommend getting your own pizzas for dinner, as they won’t run you very much, they’re very filling, and we’ve yet to found one we didn’t like.
Another option is the restaurants that provide prix-fixe menus for lunch or dinner. While we did not try this on the most recent trip, I did do this the last time I was in Venice, and it’s a very affordable way to get a lot of good food.
Gelato! Don’t forget to get gelato. Don’t worry too much about the price, even the stands in Piazza San Marco are only 2,00 for a scoop. One of my favorite nights was wandering around San Marco, listening to the dueling quartets, eating that one scoop of gelato.
When it comes to wine, I wouldn’t really recommend ordering it at a restaurant. It’s not insanely expensive, but it is certainly much cheaper at a market, which is what we did. We got a bottle of white wine from a market near our lodging for 7,59, less than the price of a glass at a restaurant.
Things to Do
You could spend an entire day just wandering the different neighborhoods of Venice, but if you want to take in the main landmarks, you need not spend more than 20,00.
Entry into St. Mark’s Basilica is free, but certain sections of the inside do require a small entry fee. If you just want to see the main room, feel free to walk around at any pace you like, but keep in mind that during the summer there will probably be a long line to get in.
Also important: For entry into the Basilica and Doge’s Palace, you may need to check your backpack or luggage. I would recommend just not bringing either; I got away with a small purse, but the woman in front of us was stopped from entering with a normal-sized backpack. You will also need to dress appropriately for a church (no tank tops or short shorts), and they request silence in respect of the building.
If you want to enter the Doge’s Palace, you will need to buy a 20,00 museum pass, which also grants you entry into the Museo Correr, the Archaeological Museum, and a few rooms of the Biblioteca. The last three of these are all connected, so it is very easy to visit all of them. Considering how much you can see with this one pass, I would definitely say it’s worth it, especially for the Doge’s Palace. It’s gorgeous and huge; you could easily spend hours walking its many corridors, which even lead down to the basement prison and the historic Bridge of Sighs.
After visiting the main sites, you can explore the Jewish Ghetto, find the rest of the main piazzas, explore another island such as Guidecca, or just let yourself get lost. My personal favorite pastime would definitely be letting yourself get lost; I’ve found some really cool specialized shops and restaurants this way. During Biennale, a yearly art festival, you can also find art exhibitions and crazy sculptures.
Have a personalized, unique Venice experience. Get lost. See what you find. Challenge yourself to find your way back without pulling out your phone.
That is the best advice I can give about Venice: just wander and explore. That is how you will find your favorite restaurant, your favorite building, your favorite memories. Don’t sacrifice your commitment to finding something affordable. It will be worth it, and overall, will feel more unique than the commercialized experience thousands of tourists shell out millions for every year.