Venice On a Budget: A Backpacker's Guide to The City of Canals

September 30, 2016

It's no secret that Venice is expensive, but with Alice Ford's expert tips and tricks you can visit the City of Canals on a budget and still have an amazing time.

Truman Capote Once said that “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go” and he was absolutely right. An exhilarating, culture-rich city of picture-perfect canals and waterside palazzi, Venice can be a disorienting and intriguing labyrinth of streets and people. With virtually no cars on the island, getting around is done by foot or boat, a world far different than most of us are used to. 

Nowadays, more than 18 million tourists a year visit Venice, outnumbering the locals by two to one on any given day. While this hasn’t taken away much from the infinite charm of the city, it has made it more expensive. As a backpacker you may be thinking that coming to Venice is out of the question, but with a few tips and tricks, Alice Ford of Alice's Adventures tells us how to enjoy this mesmerising city on a budget.

Getting Around

Vaporetto station, Venice, Italy

Arriving into Marco Polo airport there are several options to get you to the island of Venice. For instantaneous immersion into the Floating City, hop on the Alilunga water taxi. As a guide, tickets usually come to around €27 for a return and €15 for a one-way ticket and are available at the airport or on-board. If you really want - or need - to make every penny count, buy your ticket online to save a euro or so. The Alilunga boats are bright yellow so you shouldn't have a problem spotting them, but there are three lines so it’s best to consult a map before you buy a ticket. Top Tip: Only buy your tickets from official sources and don’t be led astray by people approaching you and asking if you are looking for a water taxi - these are usually private water taxis and they will cost you an arm and a leg. You can also take a bus, which is much cheaper, if less scenic, at usually around €8 for a one-way ticket and €15 for a return.

Once you’re in the city, things become a little easier. Since there are no cars in Venice and only teeny tiny streets, getting around is either by foot or boat. The Venetian water taxi is called the Vaporetto which runs 24 hours a day. Depending on how many days you’ll be in Venice it would be wise to purchase a Tourist Travel Card for the Vaporetto which is also valid for most land-based public transport in Venice, Lido and the other islands.

Bargain Hack: Buy a round trip Alilunga ticket to Murano for only €13 online and then use your Vaporetto water taxi card to get you to your hotel. It will be a longer travel time but could save you as much as €15.

Where To Lay Your Head

San Marco Square at dusk, Venice, Italy

Finding affordable accommodation in Venice can be difficult, especially during the summer months when many festivals take place such as the hugely popular Venice film festival La Biennale and the Historical Regatta (dragon boat races). Most importantly, avoid February at all costs as this is when Carnevale pulls in huge flocks of visitors. If you're really looking to make your euros stretch, we recommend visiting off-season and during the week. Staying for two or three nights will allow you to see all of Venice’s best attractions and still get you out with a few coins in your wallet. We recommend booking a room at Ca’ dei Fuseri, a charming and cheap B&B that will place you just a few steps from Piazza San Marco. There's even a cute roof terrace where you can enjoy breakfast with a view of the magnificent San Marco’s Bell Tower.

If you are traveling with a group and can split the cost, Airbnb may be a good option. Your best bet of finding something for under €100 a night is to search mid-week in the Biennale neighbourhood which is roughly a 15-minute walk to Piazza San Marco. Top Tip: While browsing for accommodation, you might see a lot of inexpensive hotels and rentals in Venice Mestre. This is actually on the mainland closer to the airport, and not in central Venice.

Bargain Hack: If you don’t mind being a little outside of the city centre, then staying on the island of Lido di Venezia is a great way to save money and still be in a great location. Lido is located right across the canal from Venice proper and can be easily reached by the Vaporetto. Lido has some great cafés and restaurants and even a public beach should you want to escape the usual tourist attractions for a day of relaxing. We love the Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria for its extremely pleasing Art Nouveau façade and decor, and Vaporetto water bus stop just five minutes walk away.

Eat and Drink Like a Local

Tapas in Venice, Italy

Food is often the thorn in every budget traveller's side, and Venice can easily be a place where your food budget multiplies if you’re not careful. Top Tip: Save money at lunch by opting for a café over a restaurant for lunch and forgo the table for a standing spot at the bar - it costs more to sit at a table than it does to stand, so blend in with the locals by enjoy your meal at the counter and save some money to put towards a slap-up dinner instead. 

Going for 'cichetti' or Venetian tapas at a Bacaro is also a great way to eat well for less. Found all over the city, these Venetian wine bars usually offer happy hour prices between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. These small plates are usually inexpensively priced between €1 and €4. Cichetti often focus on seafood but whatever is fresh that day is a good bet. Pair it with an Aperol or Campari Spritz or a cheap glass of Ombra (happy hour wine in a small glass). Our favourite is Taverna Al Remer. Although it can be a little difficult to find, this taverna offers a fantastic assortment of delicious bites in a buffet setting all for just €5 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday 

Bargain Hack: Avoid eating in tourist areas like San Marco's square and the Rialto bridge, where prices are even higher and many restaurants disappointingly subpar.


A gondola in Venice, Italy.

There is nothing more Venetian than a Gondola ride, but with prices coming in at about €35, a ride through the canals can wreak havoc on your budget. The price of gondola rides is set officially so it should cost the same with whoever you chose, however they are more expensive at night. You can sometimes negotiate a smaller fee, but keep in mind that this will lower your trip time. Top Tip: Book ahead of time with a company like Viator and you should shave a few euros off the price. And while there's no doubt it's top on the list for a couples activity, bear in mind that the price is usually set per trip rather than per person so if you can make up a group of six, you'll spend comparatively little.

Bargain Hack: If you simply can't stretch for a traditional gondola ride, take a Traghetto. Traghettos are empty gondolas used to ferry passengers back and forth across the grand canal and typically only cost somewhere between €0.50 and €2. Look for signs along the Grand Canal that say Traghetto and jump straight in.


Have we missed any tricks or tips? Let us know on Twitter @travioor or post a comment to Travioor's Facebook page.

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Alice Ford Alice is a travel writer, blogger, host and spokesperson with a passion for adventure, nature and conservation. She’s also the owner and CEO of eco hotel booking website, TravGanic, and a Hollywood stunt woman (Transformers, Star Trek, Entourage). To date she’s visited 30+ countries.