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Ah, Venezia! It’s as beautiful as the photographs. It’s so gorgeous and so enriched in history that it makes you angry. Surely no place can actually live up to all the wistful songs and glamorous movies! Yet, it does. It’s just that stunning. The grandeur of the basilica mixes perfectly with the charm of back alleyways, slithering canals, and churches tucked away against fresh markets. The Grand Canal is as busy as a motorway with vaporetti full of locals and tourists alike popping from the Rialto to San Marco. You will get lost trying to navigate the side streets and canals, and that’s part of the Venice experience. You’ll come across a random square where there’s a sudden music festival, or wander past a church choir practicing in a 17th century house. It’s the best city I’ve ever gotten lost in, Venice. It’s even a better place to explore when you have a travel partner who equally likes just wandering around.
It’s not a place for nightlife and everything shuts down by nine in the evening. So if you’re looking for a party city in Italy, go to Rome. No, Venice is a destination for sights, sounds, and smells. It’s drenched in history and it’s a living museum to the past glory days when it ruled the trade scene. Here you’ll be walking along the canals with gelato or a glass of wine, gobsmacked by the beauty of it all. All that said, don’t worry, Venice offers lots of entertainment and it’s a place everyone needs to go.
Now, I needed to go to Venice for a variety of reasons. It was a blight on my travel map and was frankly embarrassing I hadn’t been there yet. Also, I had just finished Ezio’s adventures in the Assassin’s Creed series and desperately needed to go geek out. Thankfully my friend Sora was equally as much an AC fan, and so we jetted off.
Now, if you’re already based in Europe, getting to Venice is pretty easy and relatively cheap. RyanAir flies to Treviso Airport, which has a bus to Mestre and Venice for super cheap. It takes about an hour. Otherwise Venice’s Marco Polo airport is very nearby the city, as in, you can take a boat if you really wanted to.
So here’s my guide, for you, about how to do Venice cheaply and really experience it!
When To Go
Whatever you do, don’t go to Venice in the summer. The canals will smell, it’ll be insanely crowded, and hot. These for a good trip do not make. Instead go in the spring or fall, where it’s much quieter and still beautiful. I headed there in April, and it was perfect weather. We could walk around in short-sleeves or with just a light sweater, and the crowds weren’t bad at all. We had alleyways to ourselves and the boats were never that jam packed.
What To See
There is a LOT to see in Venice, and at the same time, you can see the big sites in a day or two. You’ll find the best treasures by wandering around. However, here’s my list of things not to miss, and they also won’t break the bank.
1) Piazza San Marco
It’s the largest public square in Europe, with a gorgeous arcade filled with luxury cafes and a host of museums. Two rival cafes play music on opposite sides of the square, and the exquisite Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco sites at the center of it all, with the Campanile di San Marco bell tower standing guard. The best part of San Marco is just walking around and taking in the sights and sounds. Sure, you can pay to go up the Campanile for a view of Venice, but I found I was much more interested in what was on the ground and wasn’t interested in waiting in a line for a view. It’s free to get into the Basilica, and better if you go in the morning to avoid queues. It’s a beautiful example of Byzantine architecture, filled with golden mosaics. Beware of pigeons.
Vaporetto Stops: San Marco Vallaresso, San Marco Giardinetti
Walk: Follow the signs that say SAN MARCO, you’ll get there eventually.
2) Palazzo Ducale
Home of the ever powerful Doge of Venezia. The Palazzo Ducale is an intricate and stunning Renaissance palace. The Doge’s Palace was the heart of the political life and public administration of the Venetian Republic, and the Doge was the head of all of it. If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’ll know this place well, and will be pleased to know they re-created it pretty faithfully.
A ticket costs €16 and is valid for the Doge’s Palace, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, so it’s a great deal, especially if you’re a museum fan. For an additional €20 you can take a secret tour of the Doge’s apartments and rooms where major decisions in the Republic of Venice were made called Secret Itineraries.
You can buy tickets online at http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en/home/ or at the door.
Vaporetto Stops: San Marco Vallaresso, San Marco Giardinetti, or San Zaccaria.
Walk: Follow the signs that say SAN MARCO, it’s to the right of the bell tower and connected to the Basilica.
3) Ca’ Rezzonico
I’m a big fan of palaces and stately homes, and while I know these aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, you cannot miss the Ca’ Rezzonico palazzo. Dedicated to noble life in 18th century Venice, the Ca’ Rezzonico is as much a home as it is an art museum. There’s a throne room, a Chinese styled salon, and Giambattista Tiepolo frescos in a decadent ballroom.
More information and tickets, which are just €8 and €5 for students, can be bought at http://carezzonico.visitmuve.it/en/home/ or on site.
Vaporetto Stop: Ca’ Rezzonico
Walk: Oh god, don’t. We got SO LOST. Just take the vaporetto. Or if you can find the big brown bridge, it’s next to that. We spent two stubborn hours trying to find this. Don’t be us.
The grand market bridge over the Grand Canal. It’s a fascinating piece of architecture and you don’t realize just how big it is until you get there. It’s mostly souvenir shops now, but there’s some nice glass shops as well. The views are also beautiful of the entire canal. The Rialto Market is nearby and every morning you can grab cheap fresh fruit and vegetables.Vaporetto Stop: Rialto Mercato or Rialto.
Walk: Follow the signs for RIALTO.
5) Go island hopping!
There’s a few islands a bit farther from the main cluster. These have their own charms and offer beautiful views of Venice from a different angle. Guidecca has its own church and bell tower. Lido, while it takes a good half hour to get to from San Marco, it has a beach town feel and of course, the beach! On Murano you can go glass shopping.
Vaporetto Stops: For Guidecca: Molino Stucky, Palace, Redentore, and Zitelle. For Lido: Lido Casino, Lido Santa Maria Elisabetta or San Nicolo. For Murano: Museo and Venier.
DON’T GO ON A GONDOLA!
I know, it’s so tempting. It’s romantic and iconic and you’ll get to see a lot of the little canals, but you’re going to have to sell your first born. For forty minutes it’s €80, and that’s higher at night. You can negotiate a lower price, but your ride is going to be cut substantially shorter, and you’re not going to have as nice a ride and your gondolier is going to cut off some major sites.
Besides, there’s so many gondolas out and about there’s frequently traffic jams. It’s funny to watch from one of the bridges as gondoliers yell angrily at each other in frantic Italian, but I imagine it’s less funny being stuck on one of those gondolas and the traffic is cutting away on your time.
You can see as much of Venice on the vaporettos, which you can get a twelve-hour pass for €18, or just walking around.
What To Eat
Venice isn’t known for their pizza or pasta (in fact most Italians say it’s the worst in Italy), but if you’re a seafood fan, then you’re in luck. There’s a fresh fish market every morning near the Rialto, and there’s never ending seafood restaurants to satiate your fishy needs. Also grab cichetti, which are seafood appetizer-like bites, to save some cash.
The pizza, despite not being as good as down south (which is AMAZING, go to Sicily!), is still tastier than anything you’re going to get outside of Italy. Instead of sitting down somewhere, head to a ‘pizza al forno’, where you can buy it by the slice. They’re scattered everywhere, but we were fond of the little place in Campo Santa Margherita.
For gelato I cannot recommend Alaska Gelateria with their host of typical and crazy fun flavors (rose and celery, anyone?). It’s in the Santa Croce area at 1159 Calle Larga dei Bari. Also, in our favorite Campo Santa Margherita, head to Gelateria Il Doge, which is amazing, and also has soy and rice milk based gelato. As two vegan travelers, we were very very excited. Il Doge always had a line, so it’s a popular place.
Food is pricey in Venice though, so if you’re on a budget like we were, we made a habit of heading to one of the few Billas in Venice to grab groceries and cook back at our lodgings. Groceries were pretty cheap, especially the pasta.
Where To Stay
First off, if you’re on a budget, forget about staying on the Venetian islands. Not happening, even Lido is pricey. I’ve rarely seen hotels so expensive as those in Venice, and the ones that are cheaper… you don’t want to stay in them. Instead, you’re going to want to go across the causeway into Mestre. Stay with me, here!
Venezia Camping Village (http://www.veneziavillage.it/en/il-camping/) is FIVE MINUTES from Venice. FIVE MINUTES. All you have to do is catch the bus (Numbers 5 and 19) to and fro, and they depart every fifteen minutes intervals and go until midnight. It’s only going to run you €1,50 each way as well, and the campsite can sell you bus tickets if you don’t want to buy them on board. A friend and I stayed in a bungalow for five days for €100 a piece. That’s it. You can’t get a hotel in Venice for €100 a night! Each bungalow has its own kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. It’s all you need and the grounds are fairly nice. The village also has a pool and hot tub which you can go into for an extra fee. But to be honest, you’re going to be spending a lot of your time in Venice anyways. It’s all you need and it’s a fraction of the price.
Camping Village Jolly (http://www.camping.it/english/veneto/jolly/) is about equal distance away from Venice and has similar prices. So it’s all about which you like the sound of better. They have a private shuttle bus, but it only goes at certain times.
There are few places in the world more beautiful than Venice. It lives up to all the hype and you’ll be instantly enchanted, it’s inevitable. So grab your walking shoes, your camera, and go there… because it’s sinking. Okay, not for a good few more decades, but it’s a place that should be experienced sooner rather than later, don’t hesitate, just go.