Everyone agrees that Venice is beautiful - and complains about how expensive it can be. But I managed to enjoy a bargain weekend there without missing out on any of its delights. Here's how...
I booked with Expedia to stay at the four-star Plaza Hotel in the Mestre area. This area is not on one of the islands of Venice, but I thoroughly believe it was the best choice, as the price was amazing, transport links perfect, and the staff, food and rooms were just fantastic. I booked three nights in March for the two of us for £350, including flights from Gatwick to Marco Polo airport and breakfast at the hotel. Expedia were great and I even got triple Nectar points at the time, so managed to get a few quid knocked off my Sainsbury’s shop as well.
Venice airport is very straightforward and if you need any advice the employees at the help desks are very good. My best piece of advice is to purchase a public transport travel card from the info desk here, as you will save money and get the benefits throughout your stay in Venice. The travel cards come in different durations. If you're aged between 14 and 29 you can get a discount on the price by purchasing a ‘rolling card’ for €4 (the money you save on the transport card is more than the price of the rolling card). We bought a 72-hour card and it cost us €22 each.
The travel card was amazing. We were advised not to get a taxi to our hotel but to hop on the bus that picks up from just outside the airport. The bus took us right to the train station, which was directly opposite our hotel.
When going into central Venice, we stepped out of our hotel, jumped on the bus that arrives every 10 minutes and went directly into Venice (right by the waterbus station) in just over 15 minutes. The buses run all around the clock, so you never have to worry about missing the last one. The card can be used on most buses and all waterbuses. So having spent €44 at the airport for our travel cards, we never needed to dip in our pockets for any travel costs again throughout our stay.
The Plaza Hotel was just brilliant. Being a keen bargain-hunter most of the time, I usually take the 'as long as the room is clean’ approach - but this was a big step up from that. The rooms were lovely and spacious, and the food (although not the biggest spread) was very tasty. The staff were extremely helpful, providing us with maps, hints and tips on where to visit and which bus to catch. Even the minibar was quite a delight, as small bottles of wine (the ones that are about two glasses' worth) were €4 each, which didn’t seem that bad in comparison to pub prices here in the UK. My husband and I, however, sought out a supermarket and bought a bottle of wine to take back to the hotel. (I know - we really are penny-pinchers!)
The only slight negative about this hotel is that there is not a great deal nearby, so my advice is to eat dinner in Venice before returning to your room (unless you are happy to pay quite high prices to eat in the hotel itself). We did have a nice meal at the restaurant over the road one evening, but that was the only restaurant we found close to the hotel.
The most important thing is to get a really good tourist map (hotels usually provide fantastic ones). I already had a small guidebook, so I knew the places I really wanted to see. We marked up all the places on the map so that we could fit in as much as possible whilst we were on our holiday. As well as being a travel enthusiast, I also have a great love of photography, so my main places of interest were those with good photo opportunities. These were my favourite places:
Riva degli Schiavoni
Lovely markets (but the most expensive ones we found). The sun also sets on this side, so it's beautiful for sunset pictures and romantic strolls. The Bridge of Sighs is also along this path.
St Mark's Square
The very best ice cream is served here. Go the full hog and get the biggest one to share - it is amazing! Also, if you walk through the alleys towards the Rialto Bridge, there is a pizza takeaway called Crazy Pizza that sells the biggest and best slices of pizza for just €2!
The Bell Tower
The best view of Venice is from the top of this tower. You can also get a high view from the top of the cathedral but it is not as good as this, so my advice is not to pay for both. Pay to go to the top of the Bell Tower (the view is stunning and there are some cheaper tourist gifts at the top), then just enter the main part of the cathedral (Basilica di San Marco), which you can do for free.
It's worth going on a waterbus that passes underneath the Rialto as is goes past Ca’ d’Oro, which is a stunning Gothic building. The Rialto has some great market stalls and there is a bakery nearby that sells beautiful cakes and biscuits.
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo
A must for any photographers or architecture enthusiasts, with a beautiful spiral staircase curling up the side of the building.
We visited many churches in Venice but the two that were special to us were Santa Maria della Fava (in the main stretch, but it was empty when we went in - such a lovely moment) and San Giorgio Maggiore, a gorgeous white church that is very memorable; you need to get a waterbus to it, as it is on the Isola di San Giorgio.
So that’s my guide. I could go on loads more, but my biggest tips are:
- Get a travel card from the airport.
- Don’t pay for a gondola - the views from walking are much better.
- Stay at the Plaza Hotel - it’s so easy and a great price.
- Drink plenty of tea/coffee at breakfast, as these are really expensive in town.
- Go to Venice – it’s beautiful!