How To Travel Venice On The Cheap

Budget Travel, Italy — By on August 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Charlotte Hammond

Special To The Lost Girls

Venice is easy to fall in love with but it’s also a difficult city to do on the cheap. Even the Venetians struggle with their city’s price tag. Each year about 1,000 inhabitants flee the city due to lack of employment and high prices. Venice is essentially built on a swamp-like lagoon and is made up of 100+ tiny islands connected by canals. Due to its location, Venice imports nearly everything. The city struggles with acqua alta and frequent flooding. For better or for worse, Bella Venezia is becoming more of a massive museum than a livable city.

Still, don’t let sticker prices on Venice deter you from Italy’s arguably most stunning and artistic city. Seeing Venice is about the closest you can come to time travel: wander its carless, lamp-lit streets by night and you will swear you have fallen out of the dimension of 2012.

Plan ahead and prioritize your sightseeing in Venice and it will forever be a highlight of your European travels.

Where To Stay  Unfortunately, hostels are scarce in Venice, but the few it does have are true to the city’s ambiance and in a state of crumbling austerity. Bed and breakfasts and small hotels are also a good lodging option. Look for locations away from Piazza San Marco to get a richer Venetian experience and a better price.

Palazzo Zenobio—Though difficult to find at night, this hostel, located in the Campo San Barnabo district, was converted from a small palace into a hostel. The rooms are comfortable and a decent continental breakfast is served each morning in the still grand-ish courtyard. A double or a triple room will run you around 25 euro a piece.

Domus Orsoni—It’s worth it to splurge a little for an uncommon B&B scenario like this one. Domus Orsoni (domus means home inLatin) is down a few hard-to-find alleyways in the Jewish Ghetto, a beautiful area which, even for Venice, is quiet, almost hauntingly so. The B&B, run by two women who will only speak to you in brisk Italian, also serves as an artist’s studio for making mosaic glass. The lobby of Domus Orsoni is a glittering gallery of the work of artists who have passed through. Mosaics also adorn the headboards in all five of the guest rooms. Several of the rooms open up to the courtyard where you can see impressive gardens and elegantly crumbling garden statues. A double room can be had for 100 euro.

Where To Eat  The import-only setup definitely makes its mark on Venice’s restaurant prices. Your best bet is to spring for a sit-down lunch where you can get 3-course lunch bargains from quality osterias that will fill you for a full afternoon of sightseeing. Opt to picnic for dinner by stopping by a grocery for bread, cheese and salumi –deli meats among the Italians’ edible fortes.

Stop by the Pescaria or fish market, near the Grand Canal, where Venetian fish merchants have hawked the fruit of their lagoon for hundreds of years. Browse spiny crabs and cuttlefish among other fresh finds.

Enoteca ai Artisti  Great for budget-conscious oenophiles, get cheese plates and tasty pasta dishes for around 15 euro each. The location is ripe for people-watching. Dorsoduro neighborhood, Fondamenta de la Toletta 1169.

Casin dei Nobili  A low ceilinged interior with cluttered walls, this osteria/pizzeria’s prix fixe menu at lunchtime is a cheap treat at 20 euro. This place does great things with shellfish and pasta. Top off your lunch with a carafe of house wine. St. Barnabas neighborhood. Dorsoduro 2765.

How To Save On Sightseeing  Venice is paradise for lovers of romance and art. The city flourished through the Middle Ages and became a prosperous Renaissance empire. Titian was among the artists who solidified Venice as an artistic cultural authority that rivaled Florence. In the early 20th century, Peggy Guggenheim sauntered into Venice to carve out a place for a new tour de force: modern art, with a dream to elevate American artists. Her home on the Grand Canal is now a museum hosting a masterful permanent collection of Pollacks, Mondrians, Picassos and more.

Like Rome and Florence, the main sites in Venice can be expensive. To still get in blockbuster art and Venetian culture be choosy where you spend on entrance fees.

As mentioned above, take in Dada, Surrealism and Cubism on the Grand Canal at the Peggy Guggenheim collection. The entrance fee for students and guests under 26 is a superb bang-for-your-buck at 8 euro.

Basilica di San Marco, the cornerstone of the super-famous square with the symphony orchestra and infamous pigeons, is a must-see. The exterior alone is a knockout: you can test your Art History 101 retention trying to identify the myriad architectural styles on its façade. Entrance to the basilica is free, entrance to the treasury and palace attached is under 5 euro.

Friari Church—Though outwardly modest in Gothic brown brick, the Friari Church, or church of the brothers of the Franciscan order, is a shrine to the intersection of art, nature and spirituality. The site is out of the way and seldom crowded despite housing stunning art in situ, or in the location it was intended to adorn. Start by taking in the nave with pointed arches and modest wooden beams. St Francis of Assisi, leader of the Franciscan movement in the Catholic Church, loved to emphasize humanity and God’s creation which is reflected in the contracted religious pieces throughout the Friari Church. Highlights include Donatello’s sculpture of an anorexic-looking John the Baptist and Titian’s Assumption of Mary.

A midnight stroll. Arguably the best way to see Venice at the best price – gratis – walking the city at night is nothing short of magical. Venice is safe to walk at night, even for a woman alone, and the soft glow given off from the street lamps and the few restaurants housing late diners give the canals and the low lying city buildings an ethereal quality. Don’t get too lost in the romance though, bring your map or you may not find your way back to the hotel before dawn.

Charlotte Hammond is an English teacher and budding italophile currently planning her next relocation abroad. You can find her personal travel blog at 

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