Venice, one of the world's most beautiful cities, can also be one of the most expensive. It doesn't have to be. Read my tips on where to stay, what to eat and which sights to see on a budget
How about a few days in Venice? Three days will give you a taste of "La Serenissima" but a week will be better. The view of St Mark’s Cathedral and Bell Tower across the lagoon is a truly magical first glimpse of the city. If you arrive, as most people probably do, at Marco Polo Airport, simply buy a ticket at the kiosk before you leave the terminal and follow the signs to the Vaporetto (water-bus). It takes about an hour for the bus to sail past the smaller islands to the landing stage in front of St Mark's Square. Of course, if your pockets are deep enough, a water taxi from the airport will really get you there in style.
Where to stay
Venice hotels can be very expensive so a great alternative is to rent an apartment. This might, at first sight, appear to cost just as much as a hotel but it means that you don't have the expense of taking every meal in a restaurant. Eating out at lunchtime while exploring, followed by supper of a dish of pasta and a glass or two of wine as you gaze from your window at the Venetians taking their Passegiata can be a memorable delight. Venice has plenty of little shops with lovely delicatessen type food ready to eat and there are canal-boat market stalls selling fresh fish and vegetables.
The market by the Rialto Bridge early in the morning, described as "most remarkable" by the British cookery writer Elizabeth David, is a joy to the eyes and ears. Take a vaporetto at about 6am and you will see few tourists, just the Venetians on their way to work as your boat glides through the dawn mist. The sight of glistening fish: mussels, clams, sole and skate and other strange alien looking specimens in the early morning light is wonderful, and they still all look good enough to eat! Other stalls will offer piles of brightly coloured garden-fresh vegetables, gleaming fruit and earthy mushrooms all deliciously tempting. When you have finally chosen some fish for your supper and selected your fruit you can refresh yourself with a coffee and croissant at a market traders’ café and cruise back to your apartment.
Where to eat
Venice has a bewildering array of restaurants and trattorias and some of the more obviously 'touristy' ones (avoid those already occupied by tour groups) are not very good and very pricey. You should eat well at the Ostaria Da Rioba, in Cannaregio on the Fondamenta della Misericordia. Not far from Piazzale Roma is the Osteria Ae Cravate (Salizza San Pantalone). This is a small place with a hand written menu pasted in the window and prices that don’t make your eyes water. Try anti-pasti misto and the fish of the day. If you are in Castello, there are some great food shops, a floating greengrocer and a fine little wine-bar El Refolo (in Via Garibaldi). Also in Castello is Trattoria Dai Tosi, owned and run by an English wife and Italian husband. (This place is not to be confused with the larger Ristorante Dai Tosi nearby.) The ‘Tratt’ is a small, scruffy, family place with good food. In Burano the excellent food and service at Trattoria Da Romano - not cheap but good value - (Via Galluppi) make the trip worthwhile.
What to see
If you have time, you can take a boat ride to the outlying islands of Burano and Torcello. The visit to the glass factories on the island of Murano is fine if you like shopping but there is plenty of Murano glass to be bought all over Venice. For lovers of modern art the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (www.guggenheim-venice.it) is a must and for baroque splendour don’t miss the Accademia Gallery (www.gallerieaccademia.org) and the Doge's Palace ( www.venice-museum.com).
For a more prosaic experience, a visit to the Venice Casino, (www.casinovenezia.it) housed in the grand canalside Palazzo Vendramin, once the home of Richard Wagner, will cost €10 entrance fee but you are given the same value in chips to play the fruit machines or roulette in return. You will need to take your passport as security is tight and there is a dress code of jackets for gentlemen. It is really fascinating to see huge sums of money being won and lost with so little apparent effort, and everyone takes it so seriously!
Finally, if you can’t afford a gondola ride, do as the Venetians do and take a few trips on the traghetti. These ferries across the Grand Canal can be found at several points, usually alongside the gondola stages, and the ride only costs 50cents! Buon Viaggio!