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Alexander Meddings

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Known famously as the “Floating City”, Venice has always been a city of merchants. From the banks of its canals and mudflats stretched a sprawling empire whose territory spanned from Cyprus in the south right up to the Dolomites in the north. Forming both the beating heart and the muscle of this mercantile superpower was Venice’s fearsome fleet, to which one fully fitted-out warship could be added at the height of the Venetian Republic every, single, day.

Times, of course, have changed, and to ensure that their floating city doesn’t go under, Venice’s merchants have had to abandon their former wares of textiles and spices and take up a new trade in tourism. Unsurprisingly, they have taken to this trade like ducks to water, but their proficiency in extracting a high price from those who visit – together with Venice’s unrelenting popularity – poses problems for budget-conscious travellers.

The good news is that, with a little insider knowledge, you can get plenty out of Venice without breaking the bank. Whether it's finding affordable accommodation or discovering cost-effective activities, this guide will help you make the most of your visit to Venice.
Where to stay in Venice on a budget
Accommodation will be your biggest expense in Venice. Its hotel rooms are the most expensive in Italy, costing an average of €190 per night, and since the main island lacks the space to build any more accommodation, prices are unlikely to fall. 

To save shelling out for expensive accommodation, people sometimes stay on the mainland, in Mestre, and commute to Venice by bus. But this will soon be a false economy. The recently trialled tourist tax, which charges day-trippers €5 per day to visit the city, looks set to be reintroduced in 2025 at double the rate – bad news for anyone visiting Venice on a budget. Many travellers will likely resign themselves to pricey hotels or lengthy commutes from Mestre, but monastery stays in Venice offer a convenient and affordable alternative. 

The Casa Per Ferie Ca' Leone XIII is perfect for those looking to board on the main island while keeping costs to a minimum. The Salesian guesthouse is situated in the Castello district, close to the Giardini della Biennale, which is home to the main venue for the annual Biennale International Art Exhibition. The guesthouse comprises 30 rooms (mostly singles) and includes a daily continental breakfast and a wide range of amenities. It also features a terrace overlooking Saint Mark’s Basin and the Biennale Gardens. 

Unlike many other monastery guesthouses, the Casa Per Ferie Ca’ Leone XIII does not operate a curfew, meaning that you are free to explore Venice without any constraints on your time.

Book your stay today

Budget-Friendly Activities in Venice
While accommodation and transport are likely to take up the lion’s share of your budget, the good news is you can save elsewhere. Venice’s main sites are free, its cicchetti bar snacks are cost-effective and nutritious, and its main island is easily walkable (as long as you have Google Maps), meaning you only need to set foot on a Vaporetto (waterbus) if you’re cruising the lagoon. Here are our top recommendations for budget-friendly things to do in Venice:

Start at Saint Mark's Square and Basilica
The first stop on most people’s Venice itinerary is Saint Marks’ Square and Basilica – and for good reason. The city’s only sizable square is home not only to the most ornately decorated Byzantine basilica in Italy but also to the architecturally magnificent Doge’s Palace and immersive Correr Museum of Arts and Antiquities. 

Unfortunately, Saint Mark’s Square is also Venice’s worst-kept secret, with thousands of tourists disembarking here each day. You cannot come to Venice without stepping inside the basilica (entry €3) and seeing its 8,000 square metres of golden mosaics for yourself but steer clear of any nearby cafes and restaurants as the area is full of tourist traps. 

Insider tip: Get to Saint Mark’s Basilica early to avoid the lengthy lines. Although the basilica opens at 9:30 am, you’ll want to be there at least an hour to 45 minutes beforehand to beat the queues. Another option is to book timed entry tickets, but they tend to sell out quickly (and spaces are limited anyway).
Visit the Venice Biennale
If your visit coincides with the Venice Biennale (typically from May until November), you should make a point of going. This international art exhibition is one of the longest-running cultural festivals in the world, attracting top artists and architects from around the globe. 

This year’s exhibition – Foreigners Everywhere (Stranieri Ovunque) – features 88 national participants, and showcases works from 20th century Latin America, Africa, the Arab world, and Asia. The Biennale is renowned for being political, provocative, and groundbreaking, and this year’s exhibition is no different, focussing on artists who are themselves foreigners, immigrants, expatriates, diasporics, émigrés, exiled, and refugees. 
If you’d rather not commit to getting a ticket, there are also some free exhibits and installations throughout the city. A three-day ticket will set you back €40.50 and grants access to all 88 pavilions. If you’d rather not commit yourself to getting a ticket, there are also some free exhibits and installations throughout the city.

Drift in and out of Venice’s other churches
Often overlooked by tourists, the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo is a treasure trove of art and history. After the fifteenth century, it became the venue for the funerals of Venice’s doges (rulers of the Venetian Republic), and twenty-five of them are buried here. The basilica boasts an interior to match such a prestigious purpose, and you’ll find plenty of awe-inspiring artworks, funerary monuments, and private chapels. 

As you leave, make sure to check out the monumental entrance to the adjacent hospital, which also contains the Scuola Grande di San Marco and the Museum of Anatomical Pathology.
Ride a Vaporetto down the Grand Canal
Hopping on the Line 1 Vaporetto and riding it through the S-shaped Grand Canal is the quintessential Venetian experience. Venice is meant to be seen from the water, and this route will take you past palaces, fondachi (the residences and warehouses of affluent merchants), and the unmissable Rialto Bridge. 
For the best value, consider a single ride (€9) or a timed pass rather than a multi-day pass if you plan to explore mainly on foot, and time your journey to the early morning or late evening.

Visit the Galleria dell'Accademia
Art enthusiasts should not miss the Galleria dell’Accademia. Its collection spans the Byzantine to the Renaissance era and showcases masterpieces by the likes of Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto and Tiepolo. Not to forget then the “Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo da Vinci, one of his most recognisable masterpieces.

A standard adult ticket costs €15, though a range of concessions are available – including an early morning ticket (purchasable between 8:15 and 9:00 am) at a reduced rate of €10.  

Enjoy a free glass-blowing demonstration
Traditionally, the island of Murano is home to Venice’s historic glass-blowing industry. But you don’t have to catch a Vaporetto over to Murano to immerse yourself in this tradition. Vecchia Murano is located just a five-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica and offers free five-minute glass-blowing demonstrations that give you great insight into the mastery behind this prestigious Venetian profession. The end of the demonstration is followed by a visit to the shop (where purchases are appreciated but by no means essential). 
Take a boat trip to Murano or Burano
While Venice’s main island offers enough to occupy you for the duration of your stay, it’s well worth taking some time away from the crowds and visiting other locations on the lagoon.
Murano is renowned for its glass-making, and testament to the historical skill of its inhabitants is the fact that this small island was able to monopolise medieval Europe’s manufacturing of mirrors. Like the rest of Venice, Murano now rests on its past laurels, as its glassware faces increasing, knock-off competition from parts of Asia and Europe. But the island still has charm, and is great for souvenir shopping (though not if you’re on a budget). 

The island of Burano, which has historically specialised in lace, is situated far further north of the main island, over an hour by Vaporetto. But its beautiful pastel-coloured houses (which have now come to characterise every picture postcard image of Burano) make the trip well worth it. Visit on a clear day and you’ll be able to see the distant snow-called Alps from Burano.
Try traditional cicchetti at Enoteca Schiavi
Aperitivo culture is big in Venice, with locals enjoying glasses of locally produced prosecco and cicchetti snacks at all hours of the day; and if you’re visiting Venice on a budget, the cicchetti-prosecco combination is the way to go. Cicchetti are essentially small snacks or side dishes, typically consisting of bite-sized sandwiches, tapas-style meatballs or olives, and bruschetta or polenta topped with seafood, artichoke hearts, and meat and vegetable combos. 

Our favourite cicchetti place is the canalside Cantina del Vino già Schiavi in the Dorsoduro district, but you can duck into any Venetian wine bar (so long as it’s full of locals)! 

Getting Around Venice without breaking the bank
For many, navigating Venice's calli (alleys) and canals is the best thing about exploring Venice. But while walking is the best way to see the city, sometimes a Vaporetto ride is necessary.

Before purchasing a multi-day Vaporetto pass, consider how often you’ll actually need to use it. For infrequent trips, single tickets or a timed pass might be more cost-effective while for single rides, like a cruise down the Grand Canal, a one-time ticket will suffice – letting you soak in the scenery without breaking the bank.

Finally, if you’re looking to do Venice on a budget, don’t take a gondola ride or a private water taxi. For a gondola, you won’t pay anything under €80 for a 30-minute tour while the price of a water taxis from/to the airport starts at €120. 
Visiting Venice Sustainably
Venice’s struggle with over-tourism is no secret, and while the municipality tries to introduce measures to curtail ‘hit and run’ cruise passengers and daytrippers, the onus of responsibility ultimately falls on the individual. Spending your time away from the beaten path, eating local, and staying in monastery accommodation means supporting the city in a more sustainable way. 
Daily costs in Venice
Hostel room (dorm bed): €25 - €110
Standard room for two: €90 - €230
Self-catering apartment: from €165
Public transport ticket (Vaporetto): €9.50 one-way
Coffee (standing at the bar): from €1.50
Sandwich (panino): from €2.50
Dinner for two: €46 - €185
Glass of wine: €1.40 - €5.50
Average daily cost per person: €140
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