I love Venice, Italy. And, I love to save money in Venice. I have been lucky enough to spend a month at a time in this dreamlike city six times in the last dozen years. And, I return as often as possible. I can't think of another place I would rather spend time than in Venice.
The entire city is a piece of art and a symbol of endurance. It was the home of the longest lasting empire in history, the first assembly line, the first electricity in Italy, and its treasures and islands fascinate and inspire tourists, scholars, artists, writers, and poets.
I am sure that over the past two years, Venice has changed. The pandemic stopped tourism in it tracks. Cruise ships are docked out of town. There were reports of dolfins frolicking in the canals. Its tourist crowds are dissipated during the day as they used to be only in the evenings.
Once, an overnight in Venice was a luxury because of the hotel expense. Today, the emergence of Airbnb, VRBO and other short term rental operations allows those of more modest means to spend the night in Venice. Small supermarkets are springing up in the middle of town. Only five years ago, the supermarkets were at the edges of town and hard to find.
However, Venice can still be expensive. I think it is a worthwhile expense. There is no city on the planet that can rival Venice when it comes to uniqueness, art, silence, bells, and a relaxed way of life. If visitors live a bit like locals, they can experience a different Venice than the harried tour group members and can have an affordable holiday. But, give yourself time. Venice is not to be dashed through. One must slow down and savor its history, art, beauty, flavors, sounds, and its shift in time.
1. Walk — you don't need a boat pass
For the one-day visitor, a boat pass is imperative. However, for locals and for longer-term visitors, the expensive boat pass can be avoided for days at a time. The current prices are €7.50 per ride or €20 for a day pass, €30 for a two-day pass, €40 for a three-day pass, and €60 for a seven-day pass. The expense is the bad news.
Venice is really a walking city. The narrow streets are fascinating and evocative. There are more than 400 bridges across canals. And, there is no better way to explore Venice than by foot.
2. Stay at short-term rentals
As explained in the introduction, the short-term rental systems have transformed Venice. Finding a room or apartment for around $100 a night and even less is easy. Renting a local apartment also allows travelers to save money by shopping locally and provides a respite to exhausted sightseers. Make sure to get a place in the city of Venice. Mestre is nothing like magical Venice. It is less than beautiful and only geographically close.
3. Find the supermarkets
Ask the locals where to find the supermercato. They will tell you. There is a giant Co-op across the canal from the train station near the bus station and Piazzale Roma vaporetto stop. And, another big supermercato is along the Giudecca Canal near the San Basilio vaporetto stop. However, over the past six years, smaller supermarkets have been tucked into unassuming spots in the middle of town.
4. Great pizzas, pasta, and ice cream
Venice is one of the ice cream capitals of the world. I have two favorite spots — Gelateria Alaska in a nondescript neighborhood in Santa Croce, and Il Doge on Campo Santa Margherita and Campo San Toma. These two ice-cream makers also serve vegan fare. Plus, anyone on a budget can purchase pasta or pizza in scores of small restaurants. Most of these small trattorias are excellent. Heck, it is hard to ruin pizza and pasta. You may come across a wonderful and romantic spot right along a canal.
5. Cichetti (like Spanish tapas) for lunch or dinner
The tradition of cichetti is very Venetian. Locals crowd popular spots at lunch and just before dinner to have "sombras" (small glass of pinot grigio) and cichette. Some of the best are constrated near the Rialto Bridge and in Dorsodurn along Rio de San Trovaso. At lunch with Venetian friends, we would wander from bar to bar, having a sombra and a cichetti at each. Finally, we would stagger home for a nap.
6. Visit the free sights
Most of the best sights in Venice are free. Here is my quick list of free places that should not be missed — St. Mark's Square, the Basilica of St. Mark, Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Rialto food market, the Ghetto, back streets, Santa Maria della Salute, and the islands of Murano and Burano.
7. Use museum passes (Church Pass, Doge's Palace etc., Naval Museum)
To visit most of the churches in Venice the Church Pass is a wonderful savings. For only €12, enjoy entrance to 18 different churches. The Museum Pass costs €24. It gets visitors into the Doge's Palace, Ca' Rezzonico, Ca' Pesaro, Fortuny Museum, and others. It is well worth it. Purchase at any of the museums. If planning to visit the Doge's Palace, purchase your Museum Pass at the Museo Correr (at the other end of St. Mark's Square) to avoid the long lines at the Doge's Palace. With the pass in hand, visitors can bypass the long lines to purchase tickets.
The Venice Museum Pass does not allow access to the Secret Itineraries of the Doge’s Palace and the Clock Tower.
8. Bottles of wines from casks — Vino Sfuso
I enjoy wine. In Venice, there is no reason to purchase bottled wine. Go to small cantinas where the staff will fill plastic bottles of wine for you from a giant cask. Prices are around €1.30-€1.60 a liter. That's a bargain. Ask the locals for the nearest "sfuso."
9. Bread stores and pastries for breakfast
One of the real joys of travel and life in Europe is fresh bread all day long. Bread matched with fresh pastries in the morning are hard to beat. Wherever you stay, one of the first orders of business is to ask the location of the nearest best bread store and where to find the best pastries. Then frequent that spot every morning. Heavenly.
10. Dance on St. Mark's Square
Waltzing on St. Mark's Square to the orchestras playing at the surrounding caffès is wonderfully romantic and can transport you to another reality. Plus, it is free.
In a sentence: Save money in Venice by walking, buying museum passes, drinking wine from kegs, visiting free sights, eating like a local, and dancing the night away.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 12 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.