How to see one of Italy's most expensive cities on a smaller than average budget
I'm a great fan of reading travel guides, dreaming about and imagining jetting off to far-flung and exotic destinations around the globe. However, there's only so far your imagination can take you and, quite frankly, my experience has led me to decide that my idea of "budget" must be different to other people's. So here I hope to help anyone who is as financially challenged as me to see that they can still afford to visit one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in Europe, albeit not by private gondola.
Obviously, Venice is a huge honeypot for tourists, so there are loads and loads of ways to get there. Interrailers and backpackers have the option of using Santa Lucia train station which deposits them right in the thick of the action following a breathtaking hop over the lagoon with stunning views of the city on approach. Those of us without a month to spare, however, can reach Venice easily by air, with many budget airlines flying to the city from all over the UK. Just two examples are Ryanair, who fly to Treviso airport - a cheap bus ride away from the city, and Easyjet, who fly to Marco Polo airport - much closer. Of course, booking in advance saves you a heap of Euros to keep for spending in one of Europe's most expensive destinations.
Venice is choc-full of accommodation options and if you've won the Euromillions you will have no trouble finding 5 star luxury right on the Grand Canal. However, for those of us still checking our tickets every Friday, a bit more thought is necessary. There are various youth hostels in the city which can save travellers a few Euros whilst allowing them to be within walking distance of the main attractions. One that provides clean and basic accommodation is Ostello Santa Fosca in Cannaregio, which is situated in a quieter neighbourhood near a small, peaceful canal.
My favourite option for enjoying Venice on a budget, however, is Camping Alba D'Oro, a campsite about 25 minutes bus ride out of the city centre. Here, travellers can either stay in their own tent or caravan, or choose from the site's own ready-pitched tents or mobile homes. Their website (http://www.plushostels.com/pluscampingalbadoro) details the range of accommodation available along with prices. Of course, going off-season saves more money, but even in high season prices won't eat into the overdraft horrendously. The campsite has a large pool which is essential if visiting in the stifling summer months, a lively-but-not-rowdy bar area, and a fantastically reliable bus service which shuttles campers to and from Venice on an hourly basis and late into the night. Facilities are clean and all types of guests can be found, from backpackers to young families to retirees.
Many, many restaurant guides have been written for Venice and I am less than qualified to comment on the quality of cuisine in its many establishments. However, being a bit of a cheapskate, I am qualified to comment on the prices, which, in my opinion, can be sky-high. As with anywhere, avoid tourist hotspots, go where there are lots of locals, and look around first. There are lots of lovely restaurants with lovely views, but for me, one of the most enjoyable ways to have lunch or dinner is to buy a picnic and find a quiet spot away from the crowds. You might think this is no mean feat in a city perpetually bustling with sightseers, but if you find yourself near the bus station, there is a supermarket selling everything you need. A five to ten minute walk in the right direction towards the lagoon will bring you to a near-deserted spot where you can take a bit of a breather and eat a tomato and mozzarella sandwich freshly-prepared with your own fair hands. OK, it's going to be a bit dearer than Aldi, but hey, you're on holiday.
If you're visiting for the first time you're probably going to want to see a few of the famous sights, and if you want to go inside than you're going to have to pay an entry fee. If you're aged 14-29 for 4 Euros you can purchase a Rolling Venice card from any transportation ticket office. This gives you discounts on transport and entry fees and is well worth it if you're going to cram a few things into your stay. I would, however, say that part of Venice's charm is that you can while away hours, even days or weeks, just wandering the streets wondering what the next corner will bring. If your feet tire, take to the canals. I did once splash out on a gondola ride, although it was shared with seven other people, which considerably reduced the price and considerably enhanced the gondolier's arm muscles. A much cheaper option is to take one of the many water taxis, which can speed you around the city and to its outlying islands such as Murano, Burano or Torcello.
All-in-all, Venice is a mesmerising city which will call you back time and again. Of course we'd all love to splash the cash and see it in five-star style. However if, like me, this would mean eating beans on toast for the next twelve months, then there are other options which still allow a perfectly pleasurable stay.