How to See Venice on a Backpacker’s Budget
Venice is easily one of the most fascinating and celebrated cities in Italy (and the world), yet its charm, beauty, and popularity come at a price. But just because you’re on a backpacker’s budget, it doesn’t mean you should skip it altogether. Seeing Venice on a budget can be done, and many of the city’s most rewarding experiences won’t cost you much at all. Get the most out of Venice without spending a fortune.
Wondering how to get to Venice by train? Venice is about 3.5 hours from Rome, 2.5 hours from Milan, and just under 2 hours from Florence.
How to see Venice on a budget
1. Walk the streets
The best activity in Venice is also the cheapest. Getting lost in the web of alleyways, streets, and bridges won’t cost you a cent, and it’s thoroughly rewarding. Forget your map and just follow your gut. You’ll retrace your steps, stumble across the same buildings, meet interesting locals, and get a true sense of the city. You can never truly get lost on the island – somehow you’ll always end up back at the Grand Canal, and you can trace it back to the more familiar landmarks.
2. Skip the gondolas and private water taxis
Taking a gondola ride may be a quintessential Venice experience, but it’s also the most overpriced. When you feel a pull towards the waters, skip the gondolas and water taxis and opt for the vaporetto or water bus. Water buses run on scheduled lines. They’ll get you to where you want to go, with all of the scenery included, at a fraction of the price. You can even purchase travel cards that will allow you to hop on and off for three days. This is particularly useful if you’re staying on one of the nearby islands.
3. Sleep on the mainland
Space in Venice is at a premium, and this means that even budget accommodation can be pricey. If you’re on a tight budget, look just off the island for accommodation. There are several hostels, camping facilities with fixed tents, and hotels on the mainland that are significantly cheaper and often better quality. If you choose accommodation on the mainland that’s on the main bus routes, you can be there in a few minutes and save a lot of cash. Make use of booking sites like HostelWorld, Airbnb, and Booking.com to compare price and location, and be sure to read the reviews.
4. Find the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous landmarks in Venice. It’s totally free to view – so add it to your list for Venice on a budget. This architectural marvel is located just around the corner from St. Mark’s Square. Although you can’t walk across it without paying to visit Doge’s Palace on the other side, it’s actually more beautiful from a distance.
5. Get an aerial perspective
A journey to the top of St. Mark’s Campanile will cost you around 8 Euros, but it’s well worth the investment. This imposing clock tower that stands alone in a corner of St. Mark’s Square offers dramatic 360-degree panoramic views over all of Venice, including the lagoon and nearby islands. Save this excursion for the mid-point of your trip – this will give you an opportunity to see where you’ve been, retrace some of your steps, and plan what to explore next.
6. Walk the Ponte di Rialto
Venice’s Rialto Bridge is another impressive landmark and it won’t cost you anything to visit. While it dates back to the late 1500s, these days it’s lined with overpriced curio stores and trinket shops. The views of the Grand Canal below make it a worthwhile bridge to cross, but as with many of the city’s beautiful bridges, this one is just as impressive when viewed from the island.
7. Eat on the go
If you’re happy to eat with your feet dangling over the edge of the canal – which is the best way in Venice – skip the sit-down restaurants and coffee shops and opt for a meal on the go. Coffee and pastries rule the morning breakfast runs, tapas-like bar snacks are common at bars around lunchtime, and pizza slices make for the perfect Venetian dinner.
8. Shop at the markets
Venice’s Mercato del Rialto is a thriving market in the heart of the city, and it’s a great place to soak up the atmosphere and find a reasonably priced glass of wine and bite to eat. It’s at its busiest on Friday and Saturday mornings, and is worth a visit even if you don’t intend to buy anything.
9. Explore the surrounding neighborhoods
The magnetic pull of the touristy center of Venice is hard to resist, but don’t forget that the outlying neighborhoods offer better prices and equally intriguing attractions. Once you’ve explored the tourist guide top 10s, take a walk to Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, or Campo Santa Margherita where you’ll find different atmospheres, new attractions and cheaper prices.
10. Go window shopping
The stores in Venice are often garish and overpriced, which makes them perfect for a bit of browsing and window-shopping. Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s safer not to pay for seemingly unique or exclusive items. Venice’s carnival costume shops can be particularly entertaining. You can also visit many of the island’s Murano glass factories and stores for free, where you may be lucky enough to witness a glass blowing demonstration.
11. Go in the off season
You may have heard horror stories about Venice in the winter, but many of the concerns about flooding, torrential rains, and icy weather are over-exaggerated. Venice in winter has a whole new appeal – misty mornings, quiet streets, and lower prices often make for a more enjoyable experience.
Venice is a destination that many people will tell you that you simply can’t miss. Because of this, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overspending, or to avoid it all together. But venture into this spectacular city with a bit of caution, and you’ll leave with a magical memories and a wallet that’s not dramatically thinner than when you started. See Venice on a budget, then continue your European rail journey through the rest of Italy!