How to get around Venice on the cheap.
Venice! There’s nowhere else in the world like it! We all know what springs to mind: the canals, the gondolas, the stunning Basilica San Marco, Doge’s palace. There really is an endless list of things that make Venice one of the most magical places in the world. There is one thing that the guidebooks often fail to mention; it can be really expensive!
I don’t know if I’ve just been living in Yorkshire too long or if I’ve always been a bit stingy, but I’m always very conscious of how much money I’m spending when I’m abroad. You can imagine my shock when, in Venice a couple of months ago, I ended up paying 14 Euros for a bowl of Tortellini. I only got about 8 pieces of pasta. It was probably the best 8 pieces of tortellini I’ve ever had, but that’s beside the point. Just so you don’t fall into the same tourist trap I did, here’s a few tips on how to survive Venice without breaking the bank:
1. Avoid buying anything in St. Mark’s square
St. Mark’s square is one of the most amazing parts of Venice. The stunning Basilica overlooks this bustling square and its obvious why millions of tourists make their way here every year. The square is lined with cafes and restaurants, each selling amazing Italian food. It will all cost you an arm and a leg though, and literally a 5-minute walk from the square you can find more restaurants… No surprise they’re selling the same food for two-thirds of the price.
Fair enough, it’s nice to stop for a coffee or grab a bite to eat outside in the square, but it’s hard to justify paying 3 euros for a bottle of water. On top of this, make sure you dodge the people selling souvenirs in the square. As tempting as these are, you can find them for about a fifth of the price in gift shops, further away from St. Marks square. I managed to get two Venetian masks for 4 euros from a gift shop in one of Venice’s quieter areas, and there were cheaper ones in the shop as well. There are more affordable places to get gifts for back home – so only buy in St Mark’s square if you’re comfortable with getting knowingly ripped off.
Your best bet for buying any Venetian glass would be to head over to Murano, a small island that’s just short boat trip away from Venice. Here you’ll be able to watch craftspeople make some of the sculptures for free, which is worth going to see. Plus, the sculptures themselves cost about a fifth of the price that you’d pay on the island of Venice. Murano makes an awesome day trip as well if you’re looking to get out of Venice for a couple of hours, so I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re really keen on getting to a market, there is a market near Rialto bridge where things aren’t as pricey as they are around St. Mark’s. However, as a general rule, you’d be better off buying souvenirs in small gift shops away from the main hustle and bustle of Venice.
2. Choose your accommodation wisely
Like many other things in the city, finding cheap accommodation in Venice can be tough. In other destinations, the price of a private hostel room or even a budget hotel isn’t too far from the price of a hostel dorm, but not in Venice. If you’re travelling solo, I’d recommend dorms when in Venice, especially if you’re looking to keep the cost down. From my experiences, staying in dorms is much more fun anyway, especially if you’re travelling alone as they’re a great way of meeting people. If you fancy a bit more luxury for a lower price, opt for one of the many hotels set either in Mestre or near the station. These are slightly cheaper places to stay in Venice than right in the centre and there are regular buses that will take you to the island. It’s also worth remembering that often Venice’s hotels are actually cheaper than its private hostel rooms!
3. Get the right Gondola
Venice’s gondolas are one of the most famous things about the city, it just wouldn’t be the same without them! As you walk through Venice, you’ll constantly pass a canal that will have one of the signature black boats floating past, with an elderly American couple inside being steered by a young bloke in a stripy shirt. It is one of the iconic images of Venice – and in true Venetian fashion, it costs a bomb.
If you’re really on a shoestring budget, then it’s probably best to enjoy the gondola from afar. If you are determined to go on one though, then avoid the area by Doge’s palace. Many tourists get there because it’s the nearest Vaporetti (water bus) stop to the Doge’s palace and St. Mark’s square. If you get off the Vaporetti here, you’ll pass hundreds of parked gondolas on the 2-minute walk to Doge’s palace. Don’t touch these with a barge pole (or gondola paddle) unless you’ve got extra deep pockets!
Because thousands of tourists pass that stretch every day, enterprising gondoliers realised they could charge pretty much whatever they liked and still get a good number of customers – all blissfully unaware they’re paying up to double what the price traditionally should be. If you’re going on a gondola, your best bet would be to go to one of the stands near the Rialto bridge. The gondolas around there charge 80 Euros for a 25-30 minute gondola ride, and they can take up to 6 people. As I said, it’s still not a cheap deal, but that’s the going rate in Venice. If you really are tight for cash it’s probably best to give the gondola a miss and admire them from the Vaparetto…
4. Get out of the touristy areas
This is true for pretty much every city, but probably more so in Venice than anywhere else. When I told an Italian friend of mine about my measly 8 pieces of pasta, he simply rolled his eyes – clearly I ate right in the middle of the tourist area. He recommended heading to the area around Campo Santa Margherita – in the Dosoduro district of Venice. Dosoduro is a much more authentic area of the city that is still largely untouched by tourists.
The university is also located here, making Dosoduro the student district. Like most of its kind, it’s home to plenty of modest and affordable cafes as well as some quirky indie shops, which are again cheaper than the touristy areas. This is also where you’ll find some of the best bars in Venice which attract a young, local crowd (obviously, it’s where the students are!).
Venice isn’t exactly renowned for its nightlife but if you fancy a few pints without having to extend your overdraft, this is the place to do it. It’s more than just bars too – there are plenty of beautiful buildings and churches in the area and Campo Santa Margherita often has a farmer’s market, where you’ll also be able to pick up a few souvenirs. You’ll also be able to escape the constant streams of tourists for a breather and get a taste of what Venetian life is really like.
Locals will always know the best way of getting by in their own cities so following their lead on this is definitely a good shout if you’re on a budget.
5. Get the Vaporetti
Venice is really well connected by Vaporetti and they’re by far the easiest way of getting about, so I’d definitely recommend getting a Vaporetti pass. You can buy a 24-hour pass for 20 euros, a 48 hour one for 30 euros and a 72-hour pass for 40 euros. I know this sounds like a massive amount just for transport, but it will be the easiest way of getting around and you’d be saving so much compared to if you travelled by water taxis or gondolas. This pass covers the vaporetti, which work as well as any other form of public transport that you’d find in other cities, as well as buses taking you to and from the mainland. It also covers boats going to some other local islands, such as Murano and Burano, which you can combine to make a really good day trip.
If you’d rather not spend this much on transport you could just buy a return bus ticket from the mainland to Venice itself and just get around the island on foot. That said, Venice can be very confusing to walk around. The maze of canals – all of which look very similar – mean you’ll struggle to avoid going around in at least a few circles. If you’re not going anywhere in particular, this can be a nice way of seeing Venice. It’s never unpleasant getting lost in a beautiful city, but if there are specific places you’d like to go, take the vaporetti – it will make life 10 times easier.
Whatever you do though, don’t take the water taxis if you’re tight for cash. They’re not Ubers – they’ll cost you a bomb, and Venice can be a difficult place once you’ve run out of cash (trust me, I learned that the hard way!).
Overall, Venice is a truly magical place and it should definitely be on your bucket list. We can’t deny that if you head towards the tourist traps it can be easy to burn through your money very quickly. However, there are many ways of getting around this, and the fact that it can be expensive shouldn’t put you off planning a trip. Ultimately Venice is always worth it – there’s nowhere else like it in the world.
Words – Tolly Byrne