Venice can be an extremely expensive city, especially when eating out and getting around. Here are some suggestions on how to save money in La Serenissima by approaching the city like a well-informed insider.
Sitting down to consume at Italian cafés costs more than standing at the counter: nowhere charges more for the honour, though, than Venice, particularly if you’re outside, in St Mark’s Square and there’s a palm orchestra playing. The mark-up can be over 500 per cent.
Eating out in Venice is fiendishly expensive, but perch at the counter and opt for the dish of the day or a selection of cicheti (bar snacks), and the tab will be far less daunting.
The average Venetian punctuates his or her road from work to home with a series of ombre (or ombrete) with friends: consumed at the bar, these small shots of red (ombreta rossa) or white wine (ombreta bianca) will cost 2 euros or less.
Austrian rule in the early 19th century gave Venice the spritz al bitter, a killer concoction of white wine, campari and soda water. Downed at the bar, it shouldn’t cost more than 2.50 euros.
Venetians are famously sweet-toothed and this extends to unusual times of day: Bonifacio (calle degli Albanesi, Castello 4237) is a great place to join local munching delicious pastries with their evening aperitivi.
The magnificent fin-de-siècle Café Florian on Piazza San Marco can be one of the most expensive places to enjoy a drink in Europe – if you opt for a table, that is. People in the know bag one of the four stools at the bar and have their cappuccino or apertivo at close-to-regular bar prices.
The exuberant market stretching from the north-western foot of the Rialto bridge (mornings, Mon-Sat) is the best, most colourful, place to stock up on picnic fare. For a gourmet touch, get fishy delights at Pronto Pesce Pronto (Calle della Beccaria, San Polo 319).
Perhaps the cheapest lunch you’ll get in Venice is served at Alla Basilica (Calle degli Albanesi, Castello 4255, www.allabasilicavenezia.it), the restaurant inaugurated in 2009 by the Venice curia (diocese). Two courses plus a side dish comes in at 13 euros; drinks are extra.
Finding a picnic spot can be tough in Venice, and munching your sandwiches on a busy bridge will prompt angry looks from locals. Head east and keep going to San Pietro in Castello: the ‘village green’ outside the church is delightfully restful.
- Cut costs and save yourself time on arrival by pre-booking transport and museum passes through the city council’s Venezia Unica service (www.veniceconnected.com); to benefit from discounts, you must book at least four days ahead of arrival.
- If you want the gondola experience without the 80 euros for 40 minutes price tag, use traghetti – large two-rower gondole – to cross the Grand Canal at points far from bridges: at 50 cents a hop, the saving is, er, considerable.
- At 6.50 euros a trip, multiple rides on vaporetti (water buses) bite deeply into your holiday budget (see How to get around Venice). If you haven’t pre-booked through Venice Connected, pick up a one-, three- or seven-day pass from larger vaporetto stops.
- Venice’s puzzle-like addresses give few clues to where anything is. If you have the sestiere (district) name and a street number, put them into the http://maps.venicexplorer.net site, and a pulsing red dot will show you where you’re heading.
- Negotiate the Venetian labyrinth with ease using the route finder on www.insula.it (> routes). Insert starting and finishing addresses: it will even tell you how to skirt any patches of acqua alta (high water) along the way.
- Sixteen of Venice’s most art-packed churches each charge a 3 euros entrance fee. But purchase a Chorus card on line (www.chorusvenezia.org) or at any of the churches participating in the scheme (including Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and Madonna dell'Orto) and you can see the lot for just 10 euros (7 euros concessions).
- For a bird’s-eye view of La Serenissima, opt for the campanile at San Giorgio Maggiore: it costs 3 euros (against 8 euros for the one in St Mark’s Square and the view is, arguably, better.
- There’s a whole lot of culture out there for your kids to be bored by. Amuse smaller ones by sending them off to hunt the marvellous fossils embedded in that red marble on so many Venetian church floors and steps.
- Time your visit to the Querini Stampalia gallery (www.querinistampalia.it/index.php) to coincide with one of their delightful chamber concerts at 5pm and 7pm on Friday and Saturday: it’s included in the ticket price.
- The works by Venetian conceptual artist Emilio Vedova at the Fondazione Vedova (Zattere ai Saloni, Dorsoduro 266; www.fondazionevedova.org) may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s worth visiting for the (free) show in this magnificent salt warehouse where a mechanism designed by architect Renzo Piano brings the paintings to you.
- Venice proving just too overwhelmingly urban? Hop on a 13 vaporetto and take a stroll around rural Sant’Erasmo. This is the island where Venice’s vegetables are grown; the view across the lagoon to the city is glorious.
- Only recently re-opened after a restoration lasting decades, grossly under-advertised Palazzo Grimani (Ramo Grimani, Castello 4858) is an exquisite example of a noble home of the early 16th century. Booking is obligatory: call +39 041 5200345 or book on line at www.palazzogrimani.org.
- Most of Venice’s churches are firmly inserted into the city’s tightly-woven urban fabric. Amuse yourself by walking all around the only two free-standing ones: San Zulian and Angelo Raffaele.
- There’s a small but vibrant Anglophone church-going community in Venice. Find them on Sunday morning for 11.30 mass in English at the church of San Zulian, or the 10.30 Anglican service at St George’s in Campo San Vio. For information see www.stgeorgesvenice.com.
- The studious Fondazione Cini holds the occasional free classical concert in its HQ on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Check the website – www.cini.it – for details.
- It costs 3 euros to use a Venetian public toilet. Cafés are obliged to allow all-comers use their bathrooms (gabinetto) for free, though they rarely do so with good grace, and facilities are often guasto (out of order)… until you’ve paid for a drink.
- A long blast, audible city-wide, of an air raid siren means that the lagoon waters are about to flood the streets. Successive blasts, at a higher pitch for each 10cm, indicate just how high they are going to go, beginning at 110cm above the lagoon’s zero level.
- To feel like a clued-in Venetian, sign up for the Centro Maree’s (Tide Centre) SMS alert service (www.egov.comune.venezia.it). You’ll be texted whenever acqua alta (high water) is forecast. Note that the recipient is charged for the call.