Although Venice is an expensive city, a little planning can save a lot of money. To get away from the crowds and noise, consider staying in the Dorsoduro area, a short way from the Grand Canal over the Accademia Bridge. This senestra, as sections of Venice are known, has many museums, galleries and churches but is less expensive–and far less frenzied–than other parts of the city.
Where to Stay
Check into booking a room in one of the former monasteries or convents now turned into hostels. The Istituto Canossiano San Trovaso, Fondamenta de le Romite, Dorsoduro 1323, does not offer a concierge or food service but there is a kitchen for your use as well as free Wi-Fi and the place is spotless. A single room costs €70 per night; a double €110, both plus city tax.
Another possibiity is the Hotel Bella Arti, Rio Terrà Foscarini, 912/A, with doubles about $109 per night. Although it has no restaurant, Belle Arti serves breakfast.
Eating Well, Less Expensively
For cheap, delicious eats, there are several atmospheric bacari, bars that serve ciccheti, small snacks typically accompanied with a glass of wine, all day and evening. Ciccheti come in many guises, from sliced fried polenta topped with creamy cod, meatballs or crostini topped with sardines or pesto mixed with ricotta; most cost €3 each, some less.
Cantina del Vino Già Schiavi, 992 Fondamenta Nani, is a wine shop-cum-bar serving chichetti; a few doors along is Osteria al Squero. At both, a glass of wine is about € 1.50. Or, accompany your meal, (often selected by pointing to the items you want in a glass case), with a classic neon-orange spritz of Aperol with Campari and prosecco, about €3. The Cantina is across the canal from Venice’s only remaining “gondola garage” where boats go for servicing, fun to look at while you eat outside in warmer weather. At both bars you are likely to eat standing, rubbing shoulders with students, artists and locals.
Sights Worth Seeing in Dorsoduro
With Dorsoduro as your base, many remarkable sights are close by. Ca’ Rezzonico, a magnificent 18th century palazzo, has several glorious ceilings by Tiepolo; a gasp-worthy throne room, the ‘Green Lacquer Room’ with fabulous examples of chinoiserie and other delights. An entrance ticket is €10 but once there you can easily occupy hours wandering through the many rooms.
One of the must-see churches in Dorsoduro is small San Sebastino, laden with works of art by Veronese who is buried here. Legend has it that the painter found sanctuary in the church after fleeing murder charges in his home town of Verona. Consecrated in 1548, the church was built after plague left the city and honors a saint associated with the disease. Works by Titian, Tintoretto and others are also on view. Campo San Sebastiano, admission €3 but if you buy a Chorus pass, €12, available at any of the many associated churches, admission to all is free.
Gelato and Canals—Made for Each Other
At some point you’ll want a gelato. Gelateria Nico has been dishing out this treat since 1937 at Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo. The specialty flavor here is praline which you can eat strolling along Fondamenta Zattere, the waterfront on the Canale della Giudecca that separates Dorsoduro from Giudecca island.
(Canal factoid: those with sidewalk on one side are called riva; ones with sidewalk on both sides are fondamenta). A walk along the Zattere is always a delight; the sun shines warmly on this side of Venice and art galleries urge you to enter for free.
Tip: If you run into heavy rain during your stay and neglected to pack boots, the moment the heavens open hawkers appear on every corner selling bright-colored plastic coverings that pull up over your shoes and are lightweight, packable and affordable at €8.
A morning walk to the Rialto fish market costs nothing and is a wonderful way to see Venetians shopping for all manner of fish and shellfish as well as gorgeous flowers and vegetables. Wander around the many stalls including one that traffics in horsemeat. If you need a loo, there’s a clean one right at the market that costs € 1.50. The Rialto markets have been around since roughly 1057; the produce area is open from 7:30 AM to 2 PM Monday through Saturday; the fish market has similar hours Tuesday through Saturday.
Hop a Vaporetto
Compact Venice is made for walking but if you’re going a long distance, you’ll probably travel by vaporetto. If you plan to take more than a single trip in a day, the multi-day tourist travel card at €20 is a good buy. (A regular single adult vaporetto fare is €7.50.) To avoid excess boat rides, try to consolidate your sightseeing destinations.
Burano for Lace and Bussola
One of the most interesting day trips from Venice (that requires vaporetto travel) is a visit to Burano, the island of lace-making where the houses are painted in bright pinks, greens and yellows. If you own property on this island and wish to repaint, you apply to the government and learn what colors are available for your particular house. In addition to lace, Burano is known for bussolà, a round “cookie” that’s vaguely like a shortbread and keeps for a long time so the wives of island fishermen used to send them along with their husbands for sustenance on long hauls.
From Burano, it’s an under-ten minute vaporetto ride to Torcello, the island that’s the oldest continually populated part of Venice. Here in the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, with a foundation dating from AD 639, are incredibly well-preserved 12th century Byzantine mosaics still blazing gold thanks to careful conservation. The Last Judgment on the west wall is complete with smirking skulls and angels sticking hay forks into people. Admission is €5 but skip buying an audioguide–it’s not terribly enlightening and your eyes can do the work.
Venice is never going to make the list of budget destinations, but you can explore the beauty and history of this amazing city without breaking the bank. With a little planning, you can afford to make your dream vacation to see the world-famous canals and experience the romance of Venice come true.
Mari S. Gold is a New York City-based freelance writer who contributes to many magazines and websites. Among the topics she covers are food, travel, health, and the arts.