8 Ways to Save Money and Time in Venice
As one of the most visited cities in Europe, Venice is not surprisingly also one of its priciest. The merchants of Venice are notorious for extracting a metaphorical pound of flesh from your wallet each time you fetch it out of your back pocket. It’s therefore not always easy for budget travellers to spend time in the lagoon city to enjoy its unique aesthetics. Not easy, but not impossible, that is. Here we offer up eight ways to save money and time in Venice for travellers who need to watch their pennies, or need to make the most of limited time there.
1/ Travel in the Off-Season
Venice has long been a tourist hotspot since even before it became de rigueur for young aristocrats from Western Europe to visit La Serenissima from around the mid-18th century onwards. Its decline as a major maritime and economic power after the mid-17th century would have been even more precipitous had it not been for the income generated from curious foreigners wishing to behold the astonishing art and architecture of the lagoon state. Numbers increased still further as English-speaking tourists followed the trail left by celebrity visitors like Lord Byron and Charles Dickens, or John Ruskin after the publication of ‘The Stones of Venice’. Its popularity in the Anglo-Saxon world increased still further when famous American artists took up temporary residences, such as the painters John Sargeant and James Whistler, and the author Henry James.
These days Venice is such a white-hot tourist destination that special measures have been introduced to limit the visitor influx to protect the delicate city and lagoon ecology, such as a prohibition on cruise ships over 100,000 tons and a cap on new hotel development. Therefore to get the most out of your own visit it’s more enjoyable and thrifty to visit in the off-peak season – late October to late April.
2/ Invest in a Venezia Unica City Card for Vaporetto Travel or Simply Walk
With no motorized wheeled traffic permitted in Venice, the quickest way of getting around is by water bus (vaporetto). Even so, Vaporetto travel is notoriously expensive (7.50 EUR per ride at the time of writing), so if you’re going to rely on this particular form of transport for getting from one end of the city to the other, you could potentially end up shelling out a lot of cash. It, therefore, makes sense to pre-purchase a Venezia Unica City Card and redeem your voucher as soon as you arrive. At 20 EUR for the first day, you’re already saving money after only three journeys, and the value for money only gets better the longer you stay – 30 EUR for two days and 40 EUR for three days.
On the other hand, Venice isn’t that large a city and if you’re fit enough and don’t mind the risk/adventure of potentially losing yourself in the labyrinthine lanes and alleyways of the six Venetian sestieri (districts), then simply relying on shoe leather and healthy menisci will save a lot of money and help you discover parts of Venice that you’d otherwise never see. It’s quite feasible, for example, to explore St Mark’s Square and the rest of San Marco and then wander over to see Castello along with the Arsenale and the Biennale Festival grounds all in one day before heading back to your hotel.
3/ Take a Vaporetto from Marco Polo
If you’re arriving by air at Marco Polo Airport then the most convenient way of getting into the city is by vaporetto from the landing stages found near the arrivals hall. You could take a bus from the airport to Piazza La Roma, but then you’d probably still have to take a water bus to get anywhere near your hotel. An Ali Laguna water bus from the airport (as opposed to ACTV vaporetto that service the city) is admittedly an additional expense since it’s not included in the standard water transport that you can purchase with the Venezia Unica City Pass (though you can add it to your individual package), but you get it cheaper if you purchase online and then redeem your voucher at the Ali Laguna counter as soon as you emerge from baggage claim – 14 EUR as opposed to 15 EUR.
This only works, however, if the Ali Laguna vaporetto stops at a landing stage close to your hotel, since unlike the ACTV workhorse no. 1 vaporetto it doesn’t stop at every single landing stage along the Grand Canal.
4/ Stay on the Mainland in nearby Mestre
It’s true that it’s hard to beat the glamour and romance of staying in a hotel by a Venetian canal and watching the gondolas glide by, but if you’re on a particularly tight budget or can’t find anything during one of the city’s many arts festivals, then the next best option is to stay just across the causeway in the Venetian district of Mestre. It doesn’t have the kudos and cache of Venice, but then it also doesn’t have the same resounding ka-ching of the cash registers either, since you’re more likely to find reasonably priced accommodation in Mestre than across the water in the Most Serene Republic. Moreover, Mestre is accessible by car, so you can park your car at your hotel there.
And it’s not a stretch at all to get across the causeway very quickly and easily via either tram or train, especially if you’re near the rail station or the T1 tram line between Piazzale Cialdini and Forte Marghera. You can reach Piazzale Roma in Venice in about 15 to 20 minutes from a hotel in this area, with trams running at 10-minute intervals throughout most of the day. And if you have the ACTV company’s travel card loaded onto a Venezia Unica City Pass for the expensive water transport in Venice, then you can use it on the trams as well.
5/ Invest in a Museum Pass and Chorus Pass
And speaking of that Venezia Unica City Pass again, it’s undoubtedly a big money and time-saver to add at least a Museum Pass and possibly a Chorus Pass to your City Pass package. If you’re only in Venice for a day or two, then consider purchasing at a minimum a St Mark’s Square Museums pass, which will give you priority access to the Doge’s Palace, Museo Correr, the Archaeological Museum, and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana. You’ll find this pass definitely comes in handy in jumping the long queues waiting to get into the exquisite Doge’s Palace. If you’re staying longer, then the more encompassing Museum Pass will get you into the Doge’s Palace plus ten other civic Venetian museums like Cà Rezzonico, Ca' Pesaro, the Glass Museum on Murano Island and the Lace Museum on Burano Island.
If you’re a dedicated culture vulture, then you’ll want to add the Chorus Pass to your City Pass package in order to see incredible works of art by the likes of Titian that still remain in situ exactly where they were meant to be. This pass will give you free access to the 16 churches of the Chorus Circuit, including Churches of San Stae and Santo Stefano, and the Church of the Gesuati. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the largest monastery churches, the Frari or the Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
There are also complete packages available that combine public transport, St Mark’s Square museums, civic museums, Chorus Circuit churches, free wifi, and a range of store and restaurant discounts, among other benefits. Go to the Venezia Unica website to find out more.
6/ Make a Reservation to Visit St Mark’s Basilica and the Bell Tower
The magnificent Basilica of St Mark is free to one and all, but the heavy security creates a bottleneck at all times of the year, particularly during the summer months when queues to get in can snake for hundreds of meters in and around the square. You can forgo the soul-crushing experience of waiting one or two hours to go inside by making a reservation for a specific time slot for 3 EUR. Make your booking here - you can even do so as little as 10min in advance. It’s also possible to avoid almost equally long queues to go up the campanile directly outside the basilica by making another separate reservation here. Both services are available during the busiest seven months of the year from 1 April to 2 November.
7/ Eat Your Main Meal at Midday
The Venetian reputation for some of Italy’s lowest quality cuisine has been turned around in recent years with chefs using more fresh local produce, making it worth the effort of tracking down a decent eatery. And like many European countries, the main meal tends to be consumed in Italy in the middle of the day. That’s when you have the best chance of finding a reasonably-priced hot meal if you’re prepared to look around. It’s therefore possible, with a little effort, to find meals costing about 15 EUR a head all over town.
Each of the city’s six sestieri has a clutch of osteria where you’ll not only find good quality budget cuisine, but also a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Such establishments are few and far between at the western end of San Marco where some of the most expensive restaurants are located, but there are a gaggle of them just north of the basilica along Calle Bembo. Another good hunting ground for low priced osteria is along the street of Via Garibaldi near the Arsenale in the largest sestiere of Castello, while Cannaregio is a good few south of the Jewish Synagogue along the main precinct of Rio Tera’ San Leonardo or north-east of the Synagogue along Fondamenta degli Ormesini. Over on Dorsoduro, you’re bound to stumble upon a few low-cost gems around Campo San Barnaba, particularly down Calle Lunga de San Barnaba.
8/ Take a Traghetto Instead of a Gondola or Share a Gondola
The one abiding image that everyone has of Venice is of its gondolas and stripe-shirted gondoliers. A gondola ride is virtually a mandatory activity for many visitors, but it’s not for the faint-of-wallet as a half-hour ride will set you back a minimum of 80 EUR. There’s no negotiation possible with the gondoliers, as the price is fixed by their guild. On the other hand, they’ll normally take four people in their boats, so if you’re alone or part of a couple you can find others to share your ride with. Try to do it discreetly and out of hearing a range of the gondoliers though, as they discourage the practice.
One other way to enjoy a gondola ride on the cheap is to jump on a traghetto for a short trip from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. A traghetto looks exactly like a gondola, but these short crossings cost as low as 2 EUR but are just long enough to experience lounging back in these unique boats and taking a selfie on the Canal with various Venetian palazza in the background. There’s a popular traghetto crossing, for example, between the Rialto fish market and Campo Santa Sofia close to Ca’ d’Oro.
Overall, Venice has a bad rap as an overpriced destination, but while you’ll definitely spend more money there than elsewhere in Italy and lose time standing in queues or navigating the crowded lanes around St Mark’s Square, it’s still possible to stick to a lower budget and make efficient use of your time if you know where to go. The expert travel consultants at Go Real Europe know how to plan an itinerary package accordingly, so contact one of them today and they’ll be more than happy to draft up a sample itinerary for you.
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