Despite its enduring reputation as a playground for the world’s elite, some of Venice’s finest moments are surprisingly affordable. The beautiful Grand Canal can be cruised on a budget-friendly water bus, a glass of prosecco in a backstreet bar costs as little as €1.50 a glass, and many quintessential Venetian experiences are completely and blissfully free.
Some of the city’s most celebrated sights don't cost a thing. Admission to the shimmering interior of the Basilica di San Marco is free of charge. Built in AD 828 this architectural wonder is clad in precious marbles from Syria, Egypt and Palestine and over 8500-square metres of gold mosaic. Free guided tours run by the diocese between April and October explain the theological messages in the mosaics, while a bargain €2 gives you access to the Pala d’Oro, where you’ll find the bejewelled casket of St Mark.
Likewise, across the Grand Canal, the architectural tour de force that is Longhena’s Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is also free to visit. The unusual domed octagon structure bears similarities to Graeco-Roman goddess temples and is said to have mystical curative properties. The sacristy (admission €3) is a wonder within a wonder, containing 12 Titian masterpieces.
Many Venetian churches, like La Salute, contain priceless artworks and are well worth visiting, especially if you pick up a Chorus Pass (adult/reduced €12/€8; valid 1 year; chorusvenezia.org), which gives you access to 16 churches, including I Frari and San Sebastiano. Without the pass you’ll pay around €2.50 to €3 each for individual admissions.
The real beauty of Venice is the city itself: an architectural masterpiece of floating palaces in Istrian stone. Grab a map and get lost in its winding calli (lanes). Lanes spinning out from Piazza San Marco, such as Calle Larga XXII Marzo and the Frezzaria are lined with artisan jewellers, antique dealers, glass merchants and fashion showrooms.
Admission-free commercial galleries such as Galleria Traghetto and Galleria La Salizada showcase contemporary Italian art and photography. In San Polo, the frescoed arcades of Ruga degli Orefici shelter glass artisan Attombri, while round the corner fishmongers and farmers still hawk their wares in a timeless spectacle at the 700-year-old Rialto Market.
Away from glittering window displays, long walks down fondamente (canalside paths) such as the Zattere, the Riva degli Schiavoni and Cannaregio’s quiet Fondamenta de la Sensa and Fondamenta dei Ormesini offer scene-stealing moments with views over the wave-tossed lagoon or glassy canals.
Best of all, the 3.5-kilometre route of the No. 1 or 2 vaporetto (waterbus) down the Grand Canal offers a fantastic budget tour of the city for just €7. Passing some 50 palazzi, six churches and backdrops featured in four Bond films, it spans a thousand years of history, from the fancy Venetian Gothic Ca’ d’Oro to the neoclassical Palazzo Grassi.
And if your visit to the city won't be complete without boarding a gondola, you can book a non-exclusive 30-minute ride with Tu.Ri.Ve (turive.it) for €31 per person, instead of the usual eye-watering €80.
Maintaining one of the highest concentrations of art and architecture on the planet doesn’t come cheap, and visiting Venetian museums can be a costly exercise, with each museum entry averaging between €10 and €20. One exception is the fairy-tale Palazzo Franchetti, which hosts free exhibitions. State-run museums such as the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Palazzo Grimani and Ca’ d’Oro are gratis on the first Sunday of every month, so it may pay to schedule your visit to coincide with that.
If you’re planning to visit three or more museums, including the Doge’s Palace, the Civic Museum Pass (adult/reduced €24/€18; visitmuve.it), which offers entry to nine civic museums, should save you money.
In addition, if you’re visiting the city between May and November, the annual art and architecture Biennale offers a wealth of opportunities for art-loving travellers on a budget. While entry to the main pavilions is pricey, mushrooming fringe events (90 at the last count) don’t charge admission and offer access to hidden corners of the city usually off-limits to the public.
Tucking into cicheti
Even in unpretentious osterie (taverns), meals cost slightly more in Venice than they would elsewhere in Italy. However, cicheti (Venetian tapas), served at lunchtime and from 6pm to 8pm, are some of the best culinary bargains in the country. Ranging from simple spicy meatballs and salt cod crostini to Bassano asparagus and plump lagoon shrimp wrapped in pancetta, they can easily do duty as dinner.
Budget between €1 and €6 per serving at the following top spots:
All’Arco – Market-fresh morsels with zingy prosecco close to the Rialto
Osteria alla Vedova – The best meatballs in town at a veteran osteria
Dai Zemei – Creative concoctions from the food- and wine-obsessed twin (zemei) patrons
Osteria al Squero – Classic cicheti with a view of a gondola workshop
Vino Vero – Contemporary cicheti served with biodynamic wines
Happy hour in Venice begins around 6pm at backstreet bacari (hole-in-the-wall bars). If you’re prompt, you might beat the crowds to the bar for un'ombra (a ‘shade,’ meaning a small glass of wine), which can go for as little as €0.60 at cupboard-sized Bacareto Da Lele and local social club Cantine Aziende Agricole.
Campo Santa Margherita and Campo Cesare Battista also attract happy-hour throngs of students, tourists and locals alike – but for a drink in local company, duck behind the Rialto Market to Al Mercà or Cantina Do Spade, drink the good stuff at Bacaro Da Fiore in San Marco and Cantinone Già Schiavi in Dorsoduro, or seek out Al Timon in Cannaregio and Bacaro Risorto in Castello.
With rooms at the famous Gritti Palace costing a cool €500, finding your dream Venetian digs may seem a daunting prospect. The good news is, in the last decade, the number of Venetian properties available for rent has quintupled, keeping prices competitive. It's easy to find a bargain Airbnb pad (airbnb.com) or snap up rooms at authentic B&Bs such as Casa Baseggio, Allo Squero and B&B San Marco, for €40-100.
For travellers on a shoestring, a slew of new hostels and renovated religious quarters means bunking down on a tight budget can now come with waterfront views and a central location. Design-conscious Generator Hostels, has revamped the Gen Venice on Giudecca island, which rocks a sharp, contemporary interior and bunk beds with views of the Zattere. Nearby the Redentore’s monastic cells cloistered around a cypress-lined garden have recently been renovated into comfortable ensuite rooms at Foresteria Redentore. Student digs at Ostello Jan Palach and We Crociferi are open to the public once school is out.
If you’re going to be using the vaporetto (water bus) more than three times a day, instead of spending €7.50 for every one-way ticket it’s well worth investing in an ACTV Tourist Ticket (1 day, €20; 3 days €40), which you can purchase at any of the HelloVenezia ticket booths. People aged 6 to 29 can get a Rolling Venice card and a three-day travel card for €29.
The absolute cheapest way to transfer from Venice Marco Polo Airport to the city is to catch a bus to Piazzale Roma, which costs €8. However, unless you're staying very close to Piazzale Roma, the Alilaguna boat shuttle (alilaguna.it) is usually a better choice, as it serves all the major vaporetto stops in Venice, including San Marco, Rialto, Fondamente Nove and Zattere, as well as the islands of Murano, Certosa, Lido and Giudecca. The ticket costs €14 one-way if bought online (cheaper than the bus plus vaporetto) and there’s no need to change or buy another ticket at busy Piazzale Roma. Board at the airport dock, which is about a 10-minute (signposted) walk from the airport building.
If you’re flying in to Treviso Airport with Ryanair, the cheapest way to get to Venice is to take the ATVO bus (one-way €12) to Piazzale Roma. From there you can jump on a vaporetto to your final destination.
Last updated in September 2017