Although it may not be what it once was, Venice remains and will always be one of the most spectacular and iconic cities in the world. There are so many amazing sights to see here – in this article we’ll describe our favorite things to do in Venice on a budget.
The current day version of Venice is a little grungy, the canals are a bit polluted, the local population has dwindled, and small alleyways are often packed to the gills with cruise ship passengers in town for just a day. Buildings are vacant and flooding is common. The city is, quite literally, slowly slipping into the ocean. Venice is a place whose pinnacle has likely passed, but its has infinite stories to tell and its present form deserves every bit of adoration and appreciation as when it was the heart of an empire.
Modern Venice, Italy
In many ways, Venice feels like it is on its last breath, clinging to life as tides slowly rise inch by inch. But it has a certain beauty, a sort of eerie charm, that can only be felt while walking the labyrinth of twisting streets and maze-like canals.
Venice needs to be appreciated for what it is. It isn’t clean, it isn’t serene, and it isn’t what you imagine it will be. It is a city on its last leg and visiting the island as it fights back against the overlapping waves of over-tourism, a decaying infrastructure, and global warming is a beautiful experience.
10 things to do in Venice on a budget
Visiting Venice doesn’t have to break the bank. Below you will find a list of our favorite budget friendly experiences in Venice:
- Take a classic Gondola Ride on the Venetian Canal
- Try fresh seafood at Mercado Rialto
- Visit St. Mark’s Square
- Take a day trip to Burano and Murano
- See modern masterpieces at the Guggenheim
- Visit the Bridge of Sighs
- Bar hop Venice’s cicchetti Bars
- Tour the Accademia
- Get lost in Venice’s maze-like streets
- Visit the Grand Canal at night
1. Take a classic Gondola ride on the Venetian Canal
Cost: €32 ($39) per person — Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Yes, it may be overpriced and a little cliché, but taking a gondola ride on the Venetian canals is an unforgettable experience. There are some outrageously expensive options out there (think private serenades), but if riding a gondola in Venice is something you want to check off your bucket list, you can make it happen without busting your budget.
Gondola rides are priced are by the boat, which can typically hold 6 passengers, making it cheaper on a per person basis if you have a larger group or are willing to share a ride with strangers. We took this 30-minute Gondola Ride booked via Viator for €32 per person, shared with 4 other people.
Exploring Venice’s canals from the water was a unique experience, and we were happy we did it. Truthfully, having a few strangers in the boat with us didn’t detract much from the experience.
2. Shop for local produce at Mercado Rialto
Cost: Free — Time: 30 minutes
The magnificent Rialto Bridge crosses the Grand Canal by St. Mark’s Square. The Rialto Market is held near the Rialto Bridge, with vendors selling locally caught fish of the day as well as other fruits, vegetables, and spices. The fish market is an age-old tradition, dating back nearly 1000 years. Purchasing fresh fish and produce at the market is also a great way to save money instead of eating out during your time in Venice.
The market is held Tuesday through Sunday from 7:30 AM until around noon.
3. Visit St Mark’s Square & Basilica
Cost: Free – €5 ($6) — Time: 1 hour
Monday – Saturday: 9:45 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday: 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM
St. Mark’s Basilica was originally built in 829 to house the remains of St. Mark, patron saint of Venice. The Basilica with its five domes as it stands today was rebuilt in Byzantine style following a fire in 967, and completed in 1071. St. Mark’s Basilica is free to enter, but if you want to visit the San Marco Museum inside for a cool view over the square, it will cost you €5. You can also climb the Campanile for €8 to see an awesome view of the city and canals below.
Also located on St. Mark’s Square to the left of St. Mark’s Basilica is the Doge Palace, former home of the Duke, which you can visit for €18.
Fun Fact: St. Mark’s Basilica has over 500 columns and capitals, most built in Byzantine style.
4. Take a day trip for Burano & Murano
Cost: €15 – €20 ($18 – $24)— Time: 4 – 5 hours
With just a 45 minute vaporetto ride, you can escape the crowds of Venice to visit two islands on the Venetian Lagoon, Murano and Burano. Burano is a fisherman’s village known for its brightly colored buildings and authentic lace-making. Famous for its glass-blowing, Murano resembles a smaller version of Venice, featuring its own Grand Canal.
If you purchase an ACTV Venice Travel Card (€20 for a one-day pass) the Vaporetto ride to Murano and Burano is totally covered.
Read more about taking a day trip to Murano and Burano here:
5. See modern masterpieces at the Guggenheim
Cost: €15 ($18) — Time: 1 hour
10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice is a gold mine for modern art. Here you’ll see works by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, founders of the revolutionary style of art, Cubism. You’ll find strange masterpieces by Salvador Dali and Max Ernst in Surrealist fashion, and hectic paint splatter pieces by Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock.
Although the art at the Guggenheim may leave you more confused than anything, keep an open mind – you may find modern art a welcome change from the traditional Renaissance sculptures and paintings of the Virgin Mary you’ve likely been seeing a lot of in Italy. That being said, if you have no interest in abstract art, this is probably not the museum for you.
You may purchase tickets online here.
6. Bridge of Sighs
Cost: Free — Time: 15 minutes
One of the most famous bridges in the world, the Bridge of Sighs was built to connect the Doge Palace to the prison across the canal. The bridge gets its name from an old legend that prisoners used to sigh as they walked across the bridge, catching their last view of Venice before being led to their prison cells or execution chamber.
The best place to catch this awesome view of the Bridge of Sighs for free is from the Ponte de Paglia (Paglia Bridge), located on the Grand Canal just past St. Mark’s square. You can also walk across the Bridge of Sighs by going through the Doge Palace.
7. Cicchetti bar hop
Cost: $20 – $40 per person — Time: 2 hours
Venice’s cicchetti serve wine and delicious small bites in the early evening, usually from 4:00 – 6:00 PM. Typically served in small cramped bars, you’ll have to put in some effort to get a few bites, and most cicchetti bars have very limited seating so be prepared to stand while eating.
Hopping from cicchetti bar to cicchetti bar was one of our favorite (and most budget friendy) experiences in Venice! Our favorite bar was Cantina da Spade, and we highly recommend adding it to your list. All’arco and Cantino do Mori are also great options for cicchetti.
Skip dinner and opt for a night of cicchetti – it’s cheaper than a sit down meal and you get to try a wide variety of dishes! Be sure to start early, as the cicchetti bars do start running out of food around 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM.
8. Tour the Accademia
Cost: €9 ($10) — Time: 1 hour
Tuesday – Sunday: 8:15 AM – 7:15 PM
Monday: 8:15 AM – 20:00 PM
The Gallerie dell’ Accademia houses an impressive collection of masterpieces from the 12th through 19th century. A few highlights include Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi and Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin. If you are an art lover, Venice’s Accademia is a must do.
Tickets are just €9 and reservations are useful, but not required. You can book tickets online here.
Fun Fact: The Accademia also houses DaVinci’s famous Vetruvian Man, but the masterpiece is so fragile it cannot be exposed to light for extended periods of time. It is typically on display at the Accademia for just a few weeks every 6 years!
9. Get lost wandering Venice’s maze-like streets
Cost: Free — Time: 1 hour
The streets of Venice are narrow and disjointed. Getting around in Venice can feel like you are trapped in a maze when you’ve got somewhere to go. Spend some free time aimlessly wandering the Venetian alleys, and you’ll discover new beauty around every turn.
10. Visit the Grand Canal at night
Cost: Free — Time: 1 hour
You absolutely must visit the Grand Canal at night! There is something just a little magical about the lights reflecting over the water and lighting up the intricate Venetian fascades. Pick up a bottle of wine and sit by the water enjoying the peace and quiet of a Venetian evening.
Getting Around in Venice
The cheapest and easiest way to get around Venice to the take the Vaporetto, a public water bus.
Each ride on the Vaporetto costs €7.50 one way regardless of how far you are traveling, if purchased as individual tickets. Although Venice is very walkable, if you take public transportation even just a few times, this can really add up.
Venice Travel Card
If you are planning to use the Vaporetto at least one more time to get around in Venice, its worthwhile to purchase an ACTV Travel Card. These cards given you unlimited use of the Vaporetto, including the trip to Murano and Burano, for a given amount of time:
ACTV Travel Card Tickets
1 Day: €20
2 Days: €30
3 Days: €40
7 Days: €60
Children and young adults age 6 through 29 can purchase tickets at a discounted rate with a special Rolling Venice card, which gives you special discounts at various local businesses, museums and other attractions. See the complete list here.
Budget Tip: the Rolling Venice card is make financial sense if you plan to purchase at least 2 days of public transportation in Venice.
3 Day ACTV Travel Card + Rolling Venice Card: €28
You can purchase ACTV Travel Cards and Rolling Venice cards online here.
The alternative to taking the Vaporetto is to hire a water taxi. Water taxis are incredibly expensive, so avoid this unless absolutely necessary.
Getting to Venice
The easiest way to get to Venice is the fly into the Marco Polo Airport. To get into Venice from the Marco Polo Airport, take the Alilaguna water bus via the orange line to the San Marco Vaporetto station, where you can purchase Travel Cards and catch a Vaporetto down the Grand Canal.
If you are traveling by train, you will arrive at Santa Lucia train station, from which you can walk a few minutes to the Piazzale Roma station. By train, Venice is located:
- 1 hour 30 minutes from Verona
- 2 hours form Bologna
- 3 hours 30 minutes from Milan
- 4 hours from Florence
- 4 hours 30 minutes from Rome
- 6 hours form Innsbruck, Austria
- 8 hours form Lucerne, Switzerland
Where to stay in Venice on a budget
We stayed in a lovely AirBnb in Mestre, on the mainland just across the canal from Venice. Although staying across the canal is a bit more logistically complicated and requires travel into the city each day, hotel and AirBnb costs here are significantly cheaper. Mestre is a great option for those visiting Venice on a budget.
From Mestre, you can get into Venice by taking the T1 Tram to Piazzale Roma, the Vaparetto station at the start of the Grand Canal. Transportation on the tram is included with a ACTV Venice Travel Card.
Tip: Beware of pick-pocketers on the tram (and Vaporettos), especially at night. We caught a thief in the act of trying to reach into my purse on the tram from Venice to Mestre.
What to wear in Venice
In the summer, it can get very hot in Venice, especially packed into crowded Vaporettos, so wear something light and expect to sweat.
Like many places in Italy, conservative dress is often required or highly recommended in Venice. In order to enter St. Mark’s Basilica you may not have bare knees or shoulders. If you plan to visit St. Mark’s, make sure you wear long pants or a maxi skirt and pack a cardigan or jacket to pull on at least while inside.
Planning a trip to Italy? Check out our fast-paced 9 day Italy itinerary to help you make the most of your trip, including two days in Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice.
Let us know how what you think of our favorite budget friendly things to do in Venice in the comment below!