Venice – undeniably one of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe and it can also be one of the priciest. If you’re lucky enough to get accommodation during high season, you’ll be fighting your way through the alleyways and lanes with the throngs of other tourists trying to find their way to San Marco.
While San Marco is indeed worth the visit, I’m going to share some useful and simple tips that made our trip to Venice accessible, easy and at the budget of two, long-term travellers.
Visit in the Winter
Yes, of course we all know of the undeniably beautiful summer weather in this part of Italy and we envision ourselves visiting Venice in the summer - sipping espressos in San Marco Square in a chic outfit with a head scarf and huge sunglasses, a la Audrey Hepburn. Just me? Okay, nevermind, but at any rate, obviously it’s nicer to travel in the summer. Unfortunately, that’s what the rest of the world thinks and Venice is not big. Visiting Venice in the winter usually means cheaper hotel rates, better accommodation availability and, perhaps best of all, less crowds.
We visited Venice in February and while there were some cold days, we were able to enjoy our espresso outside, just fine. What we found most enjoyable, though, were finding those empty canals and laneways with no crowds, other than the streets around the San Marco Square area.
The light during these days was perfect and being in the city in low season let us get a feel of how the locals live, how they move around and spend their free time. It was never so cold than we couldn’t walk around and it was easy to buy onward train and bus tickets.
Stay outside the city
This is perhaps the best secret of all: you don’t actually have to stay in Venice to get all the benefits of Venice. Consider staying in one of the smaller, outlying towns surrounding Venice and get the best of both worlds – close proximity to the city but experience in a city with only locals, no tourists and cheaper everything – restaurants, accommodation, supermarkets and transport.
We recommend checking out the small city of Noale, just 30 minutes outside Venice via direct train. With no tourist infrastructure to speak of in the winter, it was a sleepy city during the weekdays, with some interesting ruins, a couple of supermarkets and small cafes. On the weekend evenings, the local wine bars come alive and there is live music and a friendly, local buzz.
Buying train tickets anywhere in Italy is simple, as the Trenitalia ticket machines are accessible in multiple languages and the schedules are easy to follow. We were so happy we were staying in a quiet town and got to see how people lived outside the city.
More interestingly, it has a lovely, covered wooden bridge, a picturesque river, interesting history and beautiful architecture throughout its centre. Well worth an afternoon trip!
Choose Airbnb instead of a hotel
With kitchen access, you can make your breakfast at home before you go out and you’ll have all the benefits of private accommodation, without the extra cost of a hotel. Many vacation rental properties have maps and other tourist information and staying with a local is a great way to learn more about the local area.
You can even use my Airbnb referral link here and get a hefty discount off your first booking!
Pack a lunch
Speaking to those on a budget, we found it much easier to just pack a baguette and cheese and use our money to go out for dinner instead and enjoy more coffees on the terraces. We travel for about six months at a time and quite simply cannot afford to eat at restaurants for every meal, unless we cut our trip shorter.
This is especially an issue in places like Venice, where it is said that if you’re restaurant has an English menu, you’re paying too much! We just bring some food and snacks along and use more of our money on plane tickets and accommodation.
Spend more time away from San Marco
San Marco Square is probably one of the best known sites in Venice and has been featured in many films. Home to the amazing Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco, or St. Mark’s Cathedral, this area of the city is definitely worth a visit. The cathedral in all its ostentatious, gold-gilded glory is stunning and the area surrounding the square also features some interesting sites.
But we far preferred the areas closer to Santa Lucia Station, like Dorsoduro, Cannaregio and the Jewish Ghetto and San Polo, especially since it was off season. Visiting San Marco felt very touristy and synthetic and the streets surrounding the square are filled with all the high-end branded shops you get in any city.
Huge Chinese tour groups filled the streets and there were times it was hard to get down the lanes, even in February. The other areas I mentioned above felt authentic, had no chain stores, more local people, quiet cafes without tourists and sometimes no English on the menus.
There were also no ridiculous 6 EUR table charges as you see around San Marco Square. We were able to wander around these areas and get great photos with no people and imagine what the area was like hundreds of years ago.
Consider Your Splurges
This is again for the budget traveller, but you’ll need to consider how far you want your money to stretch in Venice and what you want your splurges to be. It is worth noting that the gondolas in Venice are regulated by the city and all charge the same price. They start at 80 EUR for a 40 minute trip and go up from there.
You’ll notice there’s a reason no Italians take gondolas, even the tourists. They are crazy expensive and touristy and they just didn’t seem like a worthwhile investment for us.
No judgement on those that feel otherwise, but for us, we just rather put that money towards accommodation and food to be able to stay longer. Although a traditional form of transport, it just felt like this was a touristy thing and not for us.
This is not to say that we wouldn’t do this some day – we used to think that taking a canal boat in Amsterdam was horribly touristy and it is, but when we finally took that night boat tour we thought it was well worth it. But it just wasn’t for us on this trip.
And we felt the same about the famous museums and galleries. While Venice has some worthy spots to check out, including the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, we just felt the city IS a museum and we didn’t want to be indoors for a huge chunk of our valuable days.
If you’re travelling on a budget, choose how you want to spend your cash. This will depend on how many days you have and your budget. If you only have a couple of days, it is worth it to know that Venice is easily accessible on foot and you won’t feel like you’ve missed out if you don’t visit museums or take gondolas.
I hope these easy and simple tips will make your budget trip all the better and you’ve gained some insight into how to do this wonderful city on the cheap, with less stress. What are your top tips for travelling Italy on a budget? Hit me up with your suggestions!