Venice Travel Guide
If, like I did, you start your journey in Western Europe and work your way east, Venice may strike you as your first, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. Up until now, while many things have been new, most have still seemed slightly familiar. Major case in point, roads have been roads and cars have been cars. Well get ready. Venice is about to turn all of that on its head.
Venice’s historical and geographic features make it a beyond-unique place to visit. It’s so far removed from conventional cities that at times it feels like more of a renaissance fair or amusement park. Unfortunately, this also means you’ll be paying amusement park prices for much of the experience. But all is not lost. If you know where to look, you can still enjoy much of what Venice has to offer without breaking your budget.
What to Budget
€15-100 per night
How much you’ll spend on accommodations will vary wildly based on where in relation to the main island you want to stay. If you want to stay right in Venice-proper, be prepared to spend the big bucks. Budgeting aside, this really isn’t worth it. Venice doesn’t have much of a “night life” to speak of. Everything starts to shut down at dusk, and at best, you might find a few (very expensive) restaurants open later in the evening.
Do yourself a favor and stay outside the city. If you’re down to rough it a bit, there are some great nearby camping options where you can rent a tent or cabin. My last two times in Venice, I stayed at a campground named Camping Rialto. It’s super affordable, and there is a city bus that picks up right at the entrance to the campground that will take you to Venice in about half an hour. Check it out some of the other options at Hostel World.
Going out to Eat
€5-30 per meal
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. Eating in Venice is expensive and overrated. You can’t find a proper pizza anywhere (brick ovens are illegal on the island), many restaurant menus carry a small disclaimer saying they use frozen pasta, and pretty much every place will charge you a “coperta” or sitting fee on top of your bill. Yes, not only do they charge you for the food, but for the privilege of sitting to eat the food as well.
That’s not to say there aren’t any good restaurants, I’m sure there are many, but not in a backpackers’ budget. The trick here is to eat a big breakfast before going into the city, and stick to smaller take-away items, such as paninis, while there.
At this point, there’s pretty much just one place I eat at consistently when I’m in Venice. Bigoi is an absolute hidden gem. For about €5, you get a large cup of freshly made pasta topped with cheese and your choice of sauce. Best of all, there’s no coperta. This place is genuinely amazing and I can’t recommend it enough for lunch on the island.
€7 per hour and up
This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but Venice doesn’t have buses or a subway system. If you want to go anywhere on land, you’ll be walking. Don’t worry, there is still the option to get off your feet by making use of Venice’s water taxis and public ferry, the vaporetti.
The taxis are incredibly expensive (and for the love of god, don’t take a gondola ride unless you want to spend 3-4 days of your budget in less than an hour), but the vaporetti is a pretty decent option starting at €7 for an hour, or €20 for a 24 hour pass. I would suggest walking everywhere on the main island (very doable), and only utilizing the vaporetti when visiting one of the satellite islands like Murano.
€0-15 per day
Personally, I think the best attraction in Venice is the city itself. How often are you somewhere that uses waterways for roads? You could easily spend your time in Venice exploring the winding alleys, admiring the architecture, or simply watching the tourists spend far too much on their gondola rides. It doesn’t have to cost you a thing.
If you do want to check out some paid attractions in the city, the average museum costs will run you somewhere between €8-15 depending on what you’re trying to see.
How to Save
Forget the Restaurants
I can’t bring myself to ever pay a coperta. I just won’t do it. Having worked in restaurants for many years, I know how inflated food prices are already. You mean to tell me that on top of this, they want to charge customers for the privilege of sitting down as well? I’ll pass.
Skip the sit-down restaurants and opt for cheaper to-go options such as street vendor sandwiches, or homemade pasta from Bigoi like I mentioned above. Trust me. You’re much better off for it.
Free Walking Tour
One of the first things I do when I get to any new city is check out the free walking tours. Not only is it priced to fit my budget; I find the tour guides tend to go above and beyond as well, as their income comes entirely from tips. Yes, the tour itself is free, but if you enjoy it, be sure to reward your hardworking guide for their efforts.
Time Your Bathroom Breaks Wisely
While a great deal of Europe is plagued with pay toilets, Italy seems to take personal pride in making it difficult for you to find and use a bathroom. Venice in particular, with it’s extremely limited real estate, is a challenge. You’ll be hard-pressed to even find a pay toilet outside of the central train station.
No, more than likely you will find that the only public restrooms in town are conveniently located in bars and restaurants. Said establishments will also refuse to let you use it unless you are a paying customer. I get it, they need to make money and aren’t in the free bathroom business. But in a city that seems intent to take your every last euro, this is just the cherry on top of the budget-breaking sundae.
What you need to do it plan your bathroom breaks carefully. Grabbing some take-away for lunch? Use the bathroom. Stopping for a quick drink? Use the bathroom. Even if you don’t feel like you need to go in that moment, just use the bathroom because you don’t know when the opportunity will present itself again. If nature calls and the timing isn’t convenient, something as cheap as a cup of coffee will still suffice to give you bathroom privileges.
Don’t Buy Murano Glass on the Main Island
One of the coolest souvenirs you can find in the area is Murano glass (more on that in the next section). While you can easily find it in stores on the main island of Venice, it will come with quite the exorbitant markup. Also, there is an ongoing issue with stores passing off cheap, generic glass as “Murano”. Save yourself the trouble and money and take the short boat ride over to the real Murano. You’ll have a much better selection of products, you’ll save money, and it’s guaranteed to be the real deal.
Eat at Bigoi
Of course I am going to start with a food recommendation in Italy. As I mentioned twice above, Bigoi is truly one of the hidden gems of Venice. Don’t waste your money on overpriced (and possibly frozen) pasta and ludicrous sitting fees. Instead, for about €5, you can get fresh take-away pasta that you can watch being made right in front of you. You really can’t ask for much better.
Try An Aperol Spritz
A classic Italian cocktail; an Aperol Spritz is a great way to fight back the summer heat in Venice, loosen up a bit, and not break the bank while doing so. Most out-of-the-way bars and cafes will offer these for just a few hours, so if you’re looking for a quick refresher, give this a shot.
Visit the Outer Islands
When most people picture Venice, they think only of the main island. However, there are several satellite islands that absolutely warrant a visit. My personal favorites are Murano and Burano, and you can easily visit them both in a single afternoon.
On Murano, you can watch as master glass blowers prepare their latest works of art right in front of you. The island is famous for its legendary glass and the skill of these craftsmen are second to none. If you’re interested in souvenirs, you can find everything from jewelry, to dishes, to pens; all made of glass, of course.
The nearby island of Burano doesn’t produce anything noteworthy, but is incredibly famous for its aesthetics. It’s a lot like a Kardashian, but actually worth your time. Here, you will find row after row of colorful, brightly-painted houses. You can see some of them in the featured image at the top of this post. It’s an art geek’s dream come true.
Liberia Acqua Alta
In a place like Venice, flooding isn’t just a danger; it’s a fact of life. Rather than trying to fight the tides, one bookstore has embraced it. Liberia Acqua Alta is a beautiful old bookstore found on the main island. Since books and water don’t tend to mix, this store has come up with the brilliant solution of storing their books in bathtubs, waterproof containers, and even a massive gondola right in the center of the main room. Basically, when the waters start to rise, all of their products rise with it. Be sure to check out their back patio area as well featuring a staircase made entirely of books.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Venice around the end of January/beginning of February, you can experience one of the world’s most unique celebrations; Venice Carnival. A tradition dating back to the 11th century, the Carnival is a massive open-air festival held throughout the city. Historical fancy dress and carnival masks are standard attire, so be sure to have your camera on hand.