Tour Venice, Italy, on a Tight Budget
Venice, Italy, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a top destination for travelers. But if you’re on a tight budget, you may have crossed it off your bucket list. Don’t! Many ways can be discovered to reduce the expense and make it possible for you to enjoy this delightful city!
Highlights of a Tour of Venice
Getting to Venice
Getting to Europe is the biggest expense for most Americans. Airfare is never inexpensive, but search carefully, and you can save considerable money. If time is not a consideration, you might drive to a nearby big city that’s an airline hub. That may save several hundred dollars. Also consider finding the least expensive destination in Europe and taking a train from there to Venice. Check the Venetian calendar for festivals and national and local holidays, such as Carnival, which lasts for 10 days before the start of Lent. If you’re planning to be in Venice during such times, expect crowds, so be sure to make airline and hotel or campground reservations well in advance. And you may also expect higher prices than usual. September and October are not as crowded as summer months, and you may find less expensive airfares then. Be sure to consider the weather in the different seasons; you may need to bring rain gear or an umbrella.
Saving on Airfare
In 2016, depending on all the usual variables, a round-trip flight from Amarillo, Texas, to Venice and back, for example, might cost about $1,600, while it could be about $1,100 from Dallas to Venice and back. Round trip from Dallas to Frankfurt, Germany, and back could be approximately $1200. Then add the cost of train fare to Venice
Watch for baggage fees; in addition to a carry-on daypack, it’s best to put all your belongings into one large backpack, wheeled suitcase, or duffle bag, and check it free. A hefty fee is usual for a second bag.You’ll likely land at Venice Marco Polo Airport, on the mainland, about 5 miles north of the city. It is connected by bus lines, across the causeway, to the train station and the bus station in Venice. Another smaller airport, Treviso, about 20 miles north of the city, provides access to some of the budget air carriers. It too provides easy access to the city of Venice. If you’re driving in Europe or using the trains, Venice is convenient, with that causeway on the northwest corner of the island providing for motorized vehicles and rail traffic, with parking and access to the Santa Lucia Train Station. The main part of the city itself is built on two islands, with 150 canals and 400 pedestrian bridges, accessible only by boat or foot traffic. Altogether, 118 islands are included in the greater city area.
The exchange rate in October, 2016, was 1 EUR=1.11 USD. If you use an ATM card, your bank statement will show how many euros you received and their value in U.S. dollars.
Financial Transactions in Venice
Italy is part of the European Union, so the euro is the common currency. Local banks abound, with ATMs available everywhere, so you can keep an adequate supply of euros for all your needs. Cash is most handy, but major credit cards are also accepted. Many stores, banks, museums and restaurants are closed in the middle of the day for a “siesta,” so be sure to check ahead. Most Italians, especially those employed in tourism, as are many of the 60,000 residents of the city of Venice, speak and understand enough English for transactions to be simple.
Prices for Accommodations
In 2016, prices started from about $9.50 per night per person for campsites, $17 for a room in a hostel, and $50 for an inexpensive hotel room for one or two people.
Accommodations in Venice
Once you arrive in Venice, if not before, decide on your accommodations. Depending on your budget, consider the following options:
- Stay in inexpensive hotels.
- Check area hostels.
- If you’re really scrimping, go camping.
I prefer camping because you can easily get to know fellow campers, many from around the world. Several campgrounds are available on the mainland, some on the western side of the lagoon surrounding Venice and several more on Punta Sabbioni, on the Adriatic coast to the east of Venice’s lagoon. All of these have restrooms with showers, and some even provide bidets. Most have access to transportation into the city by shuttles or small ferries, but check schedules because some don’t run early enough or late enough to accommodate all needs. For example, if you’re taking the train out of Venice west toward France or Spain, you’ll need to catch your train early in the morning, earlier than the shuttles from campgrounds can get you to the railroad station, so you’ll need to stay overnight in the city.
You can make reservations ahead of time for hostels, inexpensive hotels, B&Bs, and even some campgrounds by going online. In some hostels, you may share bathroom facilities with other visitors, you may find yourself in dorm-room type facilities, and some of these may even place both genders in the same dorm room, so you’ll want to check ahead to ensure the accommodations are acceptable to you. Also check the websites of monasteries, as many welcome tourists. Another option is to go to the train station, out on the steps, where many men are milling through the crowds peddling inexpensive hotel rooms for a night. Most speak English, carry business cards, and will walk with you to the hotels they represent, usually down narrow calli (the alleyways between canals). A hotel may not have an elevator, may require you to go up a back stairway, and perhaps even provide a room that’s separated from its private bathroom by several hallways. But the accommodations are often very clean and quiet in quaint old, luxurious hotels with fine furnishings and may be very convenient to the train in the morning at a surprisingly low cost. Don't give money to the "guide" but to the desk clerk when you decide on a hotel. The hotel will tip the guide. Take a look, and if you’re not pleased, tell your guide what you don’t like, and he can help you choose another or find you someone who can.
The Location of Venice, Italy
Beautiful Venice is built on more than 100 islands in the northeast part of Italy. Zoom in for more details.
Prices for Public Transportation in Venice
In 2016, cost for transportation starts as low as 7.50 euros (equivalant to about $8 in U.S. dollars) for a one-way vaporetto (waterbus) trip across Venice. A day pass, which includes unlimited rides on both bus and vaporetto (or alilaguna), is a cost-effective alternative at about 20 euros (about $25), a 3-day pass for 40 euros or a 7-day pass for 60 euros. Many more-inclusive passes are available that include entry into many of the museums, churches and other attractions throughout the city, including transportation. Costs range up to 125 euros for a 7-day pass.
Transport Around Venice
Transport around the city is readily available. Of course, walking is the least expensive and perhaps the most pleasant way to see the sights. Bridges over all the waterways provide routes, as well as lovely views. For public transportation, check the official tourism website of the City of Venice. On it, you can purchase a City Pass Venecia Unica for public transportation only, or you can include entrance to many tourist sites in the city, such as churches and museums, and even book special tours. Tailor the card to your preferences; prices vary. Much of the travel in the city is by vaporetto, the large, slow but dependable water buses, which take thirty or so people through the canals to their destinations. Remember, no cars, trucks or other motorized vehicles are allowed. Water taxis are small power boats in the style of classic speedboats; they're made to carry two to eight passengers, but they are rather pricey. Gondolas are fun and romantic but much too expensive for most budget travelers.
Going to Venice?
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Dining in Venice, Italy
Food is another aspect of your trip on which you can save money. Of course, Venice is famous for its cuisine, but you can find restaurants in differing price ranges. If you choose to splurge on a traditional Italian meal overlooking the Grand Canal, of course you’ll pay a premium. But you can leave off the salad, the wine, and the dessert and not break the bank. Many other options exist, including small neighborhood bars with light snacks, local pizzerias, and fast food.
Almost any time and place that you eat in Venice will likely be crowded, with a waiting line. If you’re willing to share a table, you have an advantage. If a party that’s already seated has spare seats at its table and you look friendly and willing --or if you go up and ask--you might be invited to join them, allowing you to be seated much earlier than waiting for your own table. Conversely, if you are seated and have spare seats, watch for others that you’d welcome to your table and just motion to them or have your waiter ask if they’d like to join you. Sharing can enhance your dining experience and prevent your feeling guilty for lingering over your meal while others are waiting. I have met many people that way from other places and shared experiences and viewpoints.
Yes, McDonald’s and Burger King have set up shop in Venice. You’ll find basically the same menu as at home, with comparable prices. No, not glamorous but dependable. And their public restrooms are important. Not only Americans but people from around the globe are drawn to these icons.
Or stop by one of the small markets in the city and buy a loaf of crusty bread, some cured meat, cheese, fruit, soft drinks or wine, find a small bench, a stairway, or low wall to sit on while you eat a satisfying meal.
Gelato is renowned as the favorite dessert in Venice. Many gelaterias serve tasty but standard fare, some from mixes imported from large cities, but a few are handmade and quite pleasing to the connoisseur without much damage to your budget. Gelato is similar to ice cream--good, rich, really smooth, with many flavors -- and especially tasty after a long day of hiking around the marvelous, ancient city.
Touring is the main impetus for the crowds in Venice. If you’re on a tight budget, you can still visit almost everything listed in the guidebooks but see only the exteriors, not the interior, avoiding the entry fees. The churches and museums are among the most exquisite in the world, and they’re almost all within walking distance of San Marco Piazza, the cultural center of Venice. It’s easier to understand why the city contains so much elaborate architecture and extravagant décor if you realize that Venice was one of the most powerful and wealthy city-states in the world during the Middle Ages. The area around San Marco Piazza will be very crowded at midday because the big cruise ships drop off thousands of passengers at a time. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy seeing the crowds and sharing their enjoyment. But if you go early in the morning or later in the afternoon, you’ll avoid the rush.
Most of the city is worth seeing. The exteriors of all the attractions listed below are free, other than the cost of transportation to them. The highlights include the following:
- Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) includes the scenery, the architecture such as the clock tower, from the 15th century, the columns supporting the lion and crocodile, and the huge flocks of pigeons in the square where they are fed by visitors. (Feeding is banned, but the ban is widely ignored.)
- Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica) is the revered basilica where the body of St. Mark is believed to have been buried and where tourists can spend hours admiring the architecture, the artistry and the symbolism of this exquisite building.
- The Grand Canal, a 2-mile-long waterway, runs in a backward “S” curve through the main island, south to north, forming the major water corridor through the city. It’s the main “street” of Venice. Three bridges cross it, and it’s traversed by gondolas, vaporetti, and other types of boats. Just watching traffic on that waterway can entertain travelers for hours.
- The Bridge of Sighs is an enclosed bridge with stone bars, spanning a canal just east of the Ducal Palace (Doge’s Palace), which is adjacent to Saint Mark’s Basilica. The Bridge of Sighs was built in 1600, linking the prison with the interrogation room in the Doge’s Palace. Legend has it that the name was chosen because prisoners sighed when crossing the bridge, knowing that was their last view of the city, as they headed for their cells.
- The Campanile is the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica, the tallest building in Venice, at 323 feet, and one of the most recognizable. It’s a replica of the original, which collapsed in 1902. It originally stood as a watch tower and lighthouse.
- Ponti di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) was the first bridge built across the Grand Canal, near the center of the city. It was originally built in 1181, adjacent to the Rialto Market, considered the “Wall Street of the Middle Ages” because of the vast amount of commerce conducted there, with huge cargo ships bringing products from throughout Europe and Asia. But several versions of the bridge were of wood and other unstable materials that collapsed. The permanent stone version was completed in 1591. It is a fascinating, ornate, covered bridge wide enough to accommodate food stalls under the portico.
- The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (St. George the Great) is a Benedictine church on St. George ’s Island, its own small island, south of St. Mark’s Square on Venice’s main island. It was designed by Palladio and completed in 1610. It’s highly visible across St. Mark’s Canal, but for a closeup, take the vaporetto across.
- Murano, an island north of the city, can also be reached by vaporetto. It has been noted for its glasswork since 1291. Watch the skilled glassblowers produce the most imaginative vases and other glassware of fabulous shapes and colors. But if you’re really on a tight budget, DO NOT make any purchases!
- Watching large cruise ships passing through Canale di San Marco near St. Mark’s Square can be quite entertaining. Some of the largest ships have been banned at times in Venice, but even the smaller ones, at least two a day, dominate the skyline as they float by.
Many other enticing opportunities await those who don’t mind spending more money, especially including the interiors of many of the locations above, which display some of the most famous paintings in the world. With further investment of money and time, check out the following:
- art museums
- the naval museum, which includes a variety of boats
- the elevator up to the top of the Campanile, from which even the Alps can be seen
- and the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiori, from which can be enjoyed an amazing view of the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace, which was the original seat of government
Study the History of Venice Before you Go
Your visit will be more interesting if, before you leave for the city, you become acquainted with the history of Venice, the geography and ecology of its surroundings and its economy. But whatever you do, just GO! "I wish I hadn't gone to Venice," says no one ever!
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© 2016 Janda Raker