Boy, this has been a long time coming! I planned and executed my first solo trip, first weekend trip, and first excursion to Venice, Italy in January of this year and am just now getting around to this post. Whoops.
Venice is one of those places that everyone with the means and motive should absolutely go to visit someday, and soon—especially since it’s sinking and shit, apparently. There is a definitive magic to this place, which, from that first moment, feels like it is both out of time and out of this world. And yeah, sure, parts of it are overcrowded tourist traps and the birds and would probably kill for a stray crumb, but all of that also exists side-by-side with a quieter Venice, the one you find in between the slow-moving canals and colorful facades. Here’s how to find a piece of that magic without breaking the bank.
Part I: General Notes for the Budget Traveler
1. Don’t Waste Your Time
To be completely honest, Venice can be seen in 2 or 3 days. Or less, really. It’s most popular as a day trip for a reason, is spectacularly small and easy to navigate, and, while beautiful, is pretty dry in the activities department for the average budget traveler. [The exception here being holidays like Carnival.]
So when booking your trip to Venice, keep that in mind. If you’re flying in from a different continent, look into putting some other Italian cities on your itinerary as well!
2. Best Times to Visit
During the summer this city is abysmally crowded during the day, but more or less clears out over night. [Again, day trippers!] It’s also hot, dry, and sunny, unsurprisingly, although a lot milder than some of its fellow Italian cities.
Spring and fall are mild, but early spring brings flooding—which, surprisingly, isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker! When the city floods, you can find an entirely new Venice. The warmer, milder months are typically more crowded [April, May, September, October], so it’s your call.
My visit was in the low season, during early January, and while there were definitely more tourists than locals, the crowds were significantly thinned out. However, Venice does get surprisingly [freakishly?] cold, and there was snow on the ground, so pack accordingly!
Venice is a major tourist hub, and with that come typical tourist problems. Avoid over-priced hotels and restaurants, tourist traps like those gondola rides, and general scams and tomfoolery. Be smart! [You don’t need me to say that, you’re a pro.] Also, never eat in any restaurant in the areas where tourists are most abundant. [In & around San Marco, along the water.] It’s just not worth it.
4. Venice is More Than Just Venice
The small sinking island we all picture when we hear the name ‘Venice’ is only part of a larger establishment. Also worth visiting [if you have more than a day or two and more than the literal $5 I had for this entire trip] the islands of Burano, Murano, and Torcello are all vaporetto-accessible and day trip-worthy.
Part II: How to Get There/Move Around
1. Finding Cheap Flights
Obviously this part is location dependent, but generally, flights from within Europe to Venice are extremely cheap, with a variety of options available. However, direct flights from the US tend to be a lot more expensive. If time allows it, catch a flight to a cheaper Italian destination—Milan is one of the first places to come to mind—and then catch a bus, train, or connecting flight to save big! For more on budget transportation in Europe in general, check out this handy guide I wrote on the subject.
2. Airports. There Are None
One of the biggest problems I had during my trip to Venice was airports. Just airports. With RyanAir, I flew into Treviso, which is a whopping 40 km away from the city. Almost every budget airline connecting to Venice lands here.
There’s a shuttle bus system place, which I ended up taking. Unfortunately, while convenient [they coordinate all their buses to actual flight times so you’re never late], it cost about 20€ each way, which definitely made me feel a lot less slick about my $22 roundtrip plane ticket purchase.
There are a number of options available, and I’ll now point you in the direction of this TripAdvisor article that helped me out a lot with this problem!
3. Moving Around the City
I spent my entire time in Venice on foot [I didn’t have time to go to Murano/Burano/etc. this time around, unfortunately]. This is totally doable—just do your very best to try to get a good sense of your bearings. [If you have a couple of days in Venice, why not spend that first morning on a free walking tour?] Venice is truly a labyrinth, and if I didn’t have Google Maps and the free wifi from one restaurant at hand, I would likely not be alive today.
Vaporetto water taxis hit up most major transportation hubs, and although I chose to walk, they’re something to look into.
Part III: Where to Sleep
Hotels in Venice are really expensive, and they tend to get even more expensive during the times of year during which travelers are most likely to visit. Yikes. Unless it’s an absolutely emergency and the only other option is sleeping on the sidewalk, a savvy budget traveler would do well to avoid these. If you’ve racked up those hotel points, though, go for it!
There we go! AirBnb tends to be my go-to when it comes to finding cheap accommodation. It’s very safe, usually quite private, and overall really chill. My AirBnb in Venice was a dream: quiet, WiFi gratuit, and about 30€/night for a last minute booking in a huge, comfy room. Personally, I’d consider this the best option, but as always, shop around. [Also, if you’re a solo traveler, it can get awkward/lonely.]
If you’re more of a hostel kinda person or AirBnb seems too pricey, then you can easily find a multitude of options on HostelWorld. Don’t be put off by anything that seems a little ‘out of the way,’ because Venice is seriously small and your eating prospects will be better anyway. Also, hey, meeting people! Quality hostels in Venice can also get a bit expensive, however.
Part IV: What to Eat
1. Maybe Don’t
This is really just a disclaimer, because I ate almost nothing in Venice and don’t particularly regret it. To be fair, I had no money and the affordable dining options in the tourist-focused part Venice are legitimately not good. Nope, good Venetian food now resides on the mainland [along with most of the locals]. Still, there are some hidden gems to be found. [Note that these are all based on recommendations and not personal experience.
2. But Also, Do.
It would be a shame to visit Venice and not sample any of the food, so I’ve congregated a bunch of recommendations from the Internet//people I know, so although I didn’t have to time to try these out for myself, the map at the end of the post will include all those recommendations in purple. Note that NONE of them are near the tourist-y areas and are somewhat out of the way!
Part V: What to See
1. Major Attractions
-Bridge of Sighs: This is one of those classic Venice photo ops that you just can’t miss. No need to cross, seeing as you need to get a ticket into the Doge’s Palace to do so. Just snap a selfie and enjoy!
-St Mark’s Basilica // Square: The classic, of course. Although one of the most crowded parts of Venice, it’s interesting to wander around the square and see the intricate architecture of the church, so don’t miss out on this one!
-Rialto Bridge // The Grand Canal: The canal is beautiful and wonderfully busy with boats. Rialto Bridge is a perfect place to take in the canal in its full glory.
2. Off the Beaten Path
–Libreria Acqua Alta: My AirBnb was actually right above this, to my delight! I have a passion for interesting bookshops around the world, and this one, with its kooky decor [including a full-sized gondola and a staircase made out of waterlogged books] and constant flooding certainly makes my list. They also sell some delightful postcards and bookmarks, for anyone who wants a keepsake but doesn’t feel like spending that hard-earned ca$h money on a book.
Part VI: What to Do//Not Do
1. Skip the romantic gondola ride
If you’re a budget traveler, blowing upwards of 80€ for a spin around the canals in a gondola probably isn’t that appealing of an option. If you just want to spend some time on the water, opt for a water taxi instead—okay, it’s not super romantic or anything, but it’s astronomically cheaper.
2. Opt in for a free walking tour
One of my biggest regrets regarding my trip to Venice was the fact that I went in completely blind. Sure, I got a lot of nice photos, but I would have had a more fulfilling experience with a little bit of that extra historical knowledge in my head. I’m now a free walking tour buff and recommend that everyone else becomes one too, especially in a place as labyrinthine as Venice. Seriously, sacrifice a couple hours in the morning with other tourists for the sake of learning. It’s free!
3. Take a stroll at night
Okay, maybe not the thing I did, which was shamble aimlessly through the deserted streets at 4 AM on my way to the bus stop, but Venice is quite beautiful and safe at night, and the crowds thin out significantly. With the light glistening off of the canal waters and the storefronts softly aglow, it’s pretty darn magical. Watch out for the birds, though.
What are some of your best budget suggestions for Venice?