Seven Ways to enjoy Venice stress-free and within budget
Venice, Italy is one of the worlds top destinations – and for some, one of the most disappointing. Crowds except in winter, sky high prices, scams, generally poor restaurants… some might as, is it worth even going there? Here’s my list of tips to enjoy Venice stress-free and stay within a reasonable budget!
While there are many alternatives to visit picturesque towns built on the water, like Chioggia or Comacchio, that have art galore (Padova, Florence), and local Venetian cuisine ( any of the aforementioned and Treviso), Venice remains very special.
Nowhere else in the world will you find an ancient city built on stilts, with boats the only means of transport, full of amazing noble historical architecture and art.
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Stay in Venice, not on the mainland to enjoy Venice stress-free
Bit controversial, perhaps – many say stay in Mestre and take day trips, but nothing beats spending the night in Venice when the city purges the day trippers, have a drink in one of the wine bars and enjoy the unique atmosphere.
If you book early, about six months, you are likely to find some brilliant deals on excellent hotels, including those a stone’s throw from St Marks Square. If you this is your fist visit, I recommend staying somewhere centrally and just deal with the hoards of visitors tramping through the narrow lanes from 8am.
I have reviewed a few accommodation options in the end, from frugal to four-star, and stayed in most of them. Here, it is absolutely crucial that you book in advance as much as you can.
Get the ACTV public transport pass
When you arrive, unless you are interesting in clocking up 40k+ steps in a day, buy an ACTV Venezia ticket. Unless you plan to see tons of museums, this is the best deal. A two-day pass currently costs 35 Euro, a seven-day pass is 75 Euro – airport trips not included. There is no need to pre-book – just walk to the ACTV booths at Piazzale Roma (if you arrive by bus/airport bus) or Ferrovia (if you arrive by train) and buy it on the spot. There’s another ACTV booth on the Tronchetto (car park) and in San Marco.
Be prepared to walk a lot
Even using a lot of the vaporetto services, you will end up walking a lot. Venice is flat, with good paved walkways everywhere, and the only motorized transport is on the water – it is pretty great for walking. You are not even allowed to ride a bicycle in Venice. The only mild irritations are walking detours due to narrow lanes and lack of bridges, and climbing steps up and down the bridges.
Bring the comfy shoes with good ankle support and leave anything not suitable for walking long distances at home unless you are doing some red carpet or photo thing. Same for clothes. Something stylish will go down well, but there is absolutely no need for elaborate daily changing outfits for sightseeing, and most restaurants, even the more fancy ones, are fairly casual. It’s absolutely no fun hauling wheelie cases across bridges, and water taxis are expensive.
And, once you have admired San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, get away from the main tourist sights. Venice has less than 50.000 inhabitants now, with the central areas pretty much given over to tourist facilities. Walk outside the San Marco neighbourhood to explore the city properly. Some of my favourite areas for exploring are Cannaregio, especially in the beautiful quiet area around Madonnna dell’Orto, and Dorsoduro.
Research your restaurants and make reservations
Venetian cuisine is well famous and special, shame you notice little of it in Venice – except for the ubiquitous chichetti and spritz. If you visit less famous towns in Northern Italy, they are much stronger on their aperitivo hour. Anyway… try not to fall for the canalside restaurants with menus in 15 languages that are half empty. Good restaurants in Venice tend to be packed to the rafters, and you really ought to make reservations a day or two ahead, especially for dinner.
For a casual lunch, head to a wine bar for a glass of wine and chichetti. The Rialto Market area has loads of choices. My favourite is Cantina Do Spade for quality varied chichetti at reasonable prices, and Cantina Do Mori, the oldest bar in Venice, for atmosphere. Vino Vero is great if you are in the Madonna dell’ Orto area.
For a full sit-down meal, consider lunch, La Palanca on the Giudecca remains my favourite if you wish to eat some fresh fish-heavy traditional Venetian food, or Trattoria Al Gazzettino (https://algazzettino.it). Yes, the latter is quite the cliched Italian Restaurant but the food is excellent.
A chain I like to recommend is Rossopomodoro. Very good Neapolitan style pizzas and the usual Italian classics in good quality. The Venice branch is literally next to St Marks Square, and yes, usually packed, but the queues move fast.
Don’t do all “Must Do’s”
One reason why I love to visit Venice and not, say, Chioggia, on repeat is the elaborate architecture and wealth of treasurers Venice has. But wanting to see all can quickly become overwhelming.
So, as someone who loves Renaissance art, I have picked places that aren’t on top of everyone’s list and fared very well on that. I bought a Chorus Pass, which, for 12 Euro, lets you visit 12 churches with some amazing art by Tintoretto, Veronese, Bellini and others. Some other churches such as Madonna dell’ Orto (perhaps the one with the most varied art on display) charge a moderate entry fee, others, such as the tiny but art-laden San Christosomo are free to visit.
I also recommend visiting one of the “Scuole” for more artwork in situ. I went to the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni to see the Vittorio Carpacchio “St George” cycle. On my last trip I went to a great Carpacchio exhibition at the Doge’s Palace. After all this art, my mum and I were pretty saturated on the High Arts and never made it to the Galleria Accademia.
I don’t need to climb every tower. The (free) view from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi terrace is fine for me. You need to reserve well in advance, though!
Gondola ride? Well, it is a “Must Do” for many people and is easy enough to do, as prices are fixed. It was on top of my list for my mum. After three days and numerous vaporetto rides, she said “well let’s eat and buy some bloody good perfume for the money instead, I have seen so much already” . I think I know Venice quite well, having visited five times or so, but the only time I set my foot in a gondola was using the public Traghetto to cross the Canale Grande, and I do not feel like I missed out.
We also visited some other museums and galleries – starting with a self guided tour of the Teatro de la FEnice, the opera house of Venice. From there, we visited the Museo Fortuny. I had wanted to visit sonce my foirst trip in 1998, and always was it clsoed or unter restoration. It is definitely not one of the mainstram sights, but I love the work of Mariano Fortuny, and it’s well displayed in his excentric former residence, a renaissance palazzo.
Shopping is more than glass and masks
When you walk the narrow lanes between the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco, you will inevitably find international chain stores, cookie cutter souvenir shops and many shops selling “Murano Glass”.
First, note that only a souvenir you still enjoy at home makes a good souvenir.
If you love the food, the Rialto Market every morning except Sundays has some pretty good portable produce, like sundried tomatoes, porcini mushrooms and even risotto mixes for the lazy. You can buy a decent packt of risotto rice in a branch of Coop for 2-3 Euro.
We ended up buying some super-niche Italian perfumes as souvenirs, partly because a lot of brands are not available easily in Germany. I bought a Carthusia scent I love in 2021, which has become my favourite scent, so I went back to Profumeria I Muschieri di Rosa e Antonietta for something new.
And if it has to be glass? Well, there is definitely nice glass to be bought. A small fraction of what is sold in Venice, even on Murano, is actually made in Murano. If the price is right, you may not care, and some of the smaller items, like drinking glasses or millefiori jewellery, cost very little and make a lovely keepsake. If you are looking for the real deal, head to Murano to one of the showrooms of established makers. I also was there during the Campo San Stefano Antique Market which is a treasure trove for antique and vintage Murano glass.
I bought glasses at Carlo Moretti. Not only were they extremely welcoming in their Murano Showroom, they do a wide range of simple elegant glass ware, all mouth blown, with prices starting at a budget-minded 50 Euro. Definitely modern classics.
Visit off Season
Not much in Venice is off season, except November, early December and January, when the city if often blighted by extremely high tides and flooding, making walking in the lower lying areas, including the central area around San Marco, difficult to impossible.
I have always visited outside summer, and last time was March which, in my view, was ideal. Maybe even a bit earlier, after carnival, is a good time to visit. In March, you get decently long days, balmy temperatures (if it’s not raining) and pretty civil prices and short notice restaurant reservations.
Where we stayed – and some more recommendations
You can stay for less than 100 Euro in relative grandeur, and there is almost no limit at the top. But with a bit of planning, you can find somewhere beautiful without busting the budget.
If you are on a budget, my top choice is Casa Caburlotto. For about 45 Euro, you get a very comfortable private room with shared spotless bathroom in a beautiful well maintained building in a quiet yet central part of Venice. It is not a prime tourist area, which is exactly what I love about it. There is even a free breakfast.
Another great budget option a bit off the beaten track but excellently positioned is the Ostello AMDG. Not to be confused with the much fancier Collegio AMDG next door -which is also good. This is now my favourite area of Venice to stay. Great connections as it is next to a major vaporetto stop, and about 8 minutes walk to Canale Grande in the other direction. It’s student accommodation and fairly spartan – we paid 70 Euro per night, put up with it being a building site, but slept really well and had no issues with cleanliness or noise whatsoever.
If you are a night owl or prefer to be close to the main sights, consider the Casa Favaretto facing the Giudecca Canal, less than five minutes walk from the Arsenale public transport stop, and 10min walk from St Marks Square about 55 Euro for a double. Another really god one in this price bracket is Al Vecchio Forno, a bit deeper in Castello but only 100m from the Riva degli Schiavoni in one of the prettier parts of Castello neighbourhood, with doubles from 59 Euro.
For classic damask and velvet-laden Venetian style on a modest budget, try the Residenza d’ Epoca San Cassiano, a four-star small hotel in a prime location on the Canale Grande, with doubles as low as 88 Euro a night.
When I visited with my mother, I booked some nights at the Hotel Palace Bonvecchiati for 120 Euro per night including breakfast. They sometimes have special offers, and this place was truly special – a huge room with all the bells and whistles. The hotel has a somewhat funky 1980’s vibe and a bit of patina here and there but I loved our bright orange bathroom and huge bedroom. They have a sister property around the corner called Hotel Bonvecchiati which is more done in Ritz style, with a great canal side terrace.
Sometimes you can get great deals on really superb hotels, especially mid-week, such as the five-star Canale Grande-facing Bauer Palazzo for 240 Euro for a double, or the four star Canale Grande H10 Hotel Palazzo Canova for 179 Euro.
But I shall spare you the top end luxury due to lack of personal experience! It’s totally illusory I would stay there.
The Small Print
I visited Venice about five times between 1998 and 2023 and would consider myself a fairly knowledgeable tourist. While my hostel days are (mostly) over, my travels are usually on a mid range budget, and I travel independently 90% of the time, making ll travel arrangements myself. This post serves as an inspiration to get the best out of your Venice trip without being overwhelmed by crowds.
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If you have any comment or question, please feel free to leave a comment or email me!