Venice, Italy probably isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think of budget travel, but this picturesque city can be experienced for way cheaper than people typically think. Skip the expensive Gondola rides and focus on the fun and free side of Venice for a worthwhile and cost-friendly trip.
1. VISIT THE PIAZZA SAN MARCO
The Basilica San Marco is the only building in the Piazza San Marco that is completely free to enter. The Basilica is a Roman Catholic Cathedral Church that stands as a house of worship and monument. This cathedral boasts five domes and is a timely example of Byzantine architecture. You can also wander the square and see attractions like St. Mark’s Campanile and Santo Stefano Bell Tower. This area can be quite busy, especially during the summer months so I’d recommend visiting in the early morning or anytime during the evening.
2. CROSS OVER ALL FOUR GRAND CANAL BRIDGES
Walk across and snap a photo of all four of Venice’s magnificent bridges that connect the islands of Venice at different points along the Grand Canal. The Ponte Degli Scalzi is a white stone bridge connecting the north and south of Venice. The Ponti di Rialto is an architectural icon in the city, and although it’s gone through an abundance of renovations, it stands in the spot of Venice’s oldest bridge, built in 1181. The Ponte dell’ Accademia boasts one of the most picturesque views in all of Venice and is a must for photos. You’ll probably also have to cross Venice’s final bridge, Ponte della Costituzione, upon arriving and/or leaving the city as it connects Venice to the mainland.
3. GET LOST IN VENICE’S PASSAGEWAYS
This one will probably happen accidentally, and it happens to the best of us. Just embrace it, Venice’s streets are so intricate, even mapping apps typically think you’re on a different passageway half the time. Some of the most beautiful corners of Venice can only be found with putting your phone away and letting yourself get a little lost. After all, it is a small island so you can only wind up so far from your next point of interest.
4. VISIT THE ACQUA ALTA BOOKSHOP
This Venetian bookstore consistently makes lists for being one of the most unique bookstores in the world. It’s unique charm draws people in with its whimsical setting and layout. In a city like Venice where flooding is less of a natural disaster, and more of an ongoing annoyance, a bookstore might seem like a bad idea. Acqua Alta combated this by aesthetically stacking books in waterproof bins, bathtubs, and even a full-size gondola. Their name in Italian means “Bookstore of High Water,” and they’ve also proclaimed themselves “the most beautiful bookstore in the world.”
5. HIT UP THE HOTSPOTS
Venice is home to a seemingly endless number of attractions and every street seems to have multiple types of art, history, palaces, and holy places. Decide what’s most of interest to you and make time to visit those places, all of which you can admire from the outside or pay a small fee or donation to enter.
Are palaces your thing? Doge’s Palace is unskippable for any visitor, and Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo features a “snail staircase” which leads to a hidden street and view in Venice.
Do you most want to see some pretty churches? There’s plenty of stunning ones including the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
Are you interested in statues? You can visit the monument dedicated to Italy’s first king Victor Emmanuel II or the Giuseppe Garibaldi Monument.
6. VISIT THE LOBBY OF THE HOTEL DANIELI
The Hotel Danieli is quite expensive to stay in or get a drink at, but the gorgeous lobby is free to visitors. This luxurious and historical hotel was built in the late 14th century by the Dandolo family and their Byzantine Gothic architecture is some of the most attractive craftsmanship you’ll find in this city.
7. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE MUSEUM DAY
There are many museums in Venice that are great for learning more about the city’s culture. Very few are always free, like the music museum: Museo della Musica. However, on the first Sunday of every month five of these museums are free which are the Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Museo Palazzo Grimani, the National Archaeological Museum, Museum of Oriental Art, and the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro.
Pro-tip: If you happen to be in any part of Italy on the first Sunday of the month look into what museums might be free in your area, as there are now over 450 museums throughout the country that are always free the first Sunday of the month because of a 2014 legislation that the Italian Minister of Culture granted to encourage people to learn more about Italy’s history.
8. SIT ALONGSIDE THE CANALS AND PEOPLE WATCH
One of the greatest things to do in Venice is simply sit and take it all in. Venice is a city for everyone from locals whose families have been there for centuries to lovers taking a romantic stroll. Venice is a city that’s sinking, and studies show it could be underwater by 2100, so whenever you get the chance to visit be sure to take some time to marvel at this beautiful city.
9. GO ON A WALKING TOUR
Venice is the perfect city for walkers. You will hit that 10,000 steps a day goal by midday! If you want to take your wanderings around the city a step further you can always go on a guided walking tour with Venice Free Walking Tour. Although you still must tip your guide, you can go on a guided walking tour at a fraction of the cost of typical guided tours. They offer historic and classic tours; plus you can take advantage of having a knowledgeable local to answer all your Venice-related questions. If you want to do a completely free walking tour, you can always craft one for yourself with Google Maps.
This is one of the easiest free things to do in Venice.
10. VISIT ALL OF VENICE’S DISTRICTS
Each of Venice’s six districts offers something special in terms of beauty and attractions. Venice is such a pedestrian friendly city that it’s quite easy to walk through all of them if you have the time for it, since they each have something unique to offer.
- San Marco is home to some of Venice’s most popular attractions including the Bridge of Sighs, Doge’s Palace, and San Marco’s Basilica. This district is typically crowded, so evening is sometimes the best time to visit.
- San Polo features the stunning Rialto area, and is the center-most district of Venice making it an area with plenty to see, do, and eat.
- Cannaregio is one of the best neighborhoods in Venice as it captures Venice’s charm and beauty, while still feeling a lot more local with very little crowds. This area is also home to the historic Jewish Ghetto of Venice.
- Dorsoduro is home to plenty of museums, and is a great place to find a lovely quiet alleyway to take photos in.
- Santa Croce is a district that is mainly used as a passageway for visitors entering and leaving Venice, but it still retains its beauty even in these modern times.
- Castello is perhaps the quietest area of Venice, as it is furthest from most of the attractions, but there are still things to see here including various public gardens.
11. VISIT THE HISTORIC JEWISH GHETTOS
Located in Cannaregio, after you reach the Ponte delle Guglie you will find yourself in the Jewish Ghetto, which was built in 1516, and is the oldest Italian ghetto. You can make your way to all five synagogues and learn about the history of the Jewish people of Venice and their hardships in Venice, including only being allowed to exit their district in the daytime.
12. ENJOY SOME WINDOW SHOPPING
Did you know Venice became famous because of their residents’ glassmaking skills? Exotic glassware and beads are still made in Venice to this day, and are beautiful to see even if you decide not to purchase any. You can find some of the best Venetian glass stores in San Marco, or you can venture to one of Venice’s neighboring islands like Murano to admire some colorful artisan glass.
13. WANDER THROUGH VENICE’S HIDDEN GARDENS
Venice is not just the city of canals and beauty. It also has over 500 gardens on its island, and many are open to the public. These gardens are home to an assortment of paths, flowers, trees, fruit, art, sculptures, and water. Some that are especially nice for a stroll or sit in nature are the Scuola Vecchia della Misericordia and Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo. This is truly one of the best free things to do in Venice.
A FEW BONUS THINGS TO DO:
These last few things aren’t free to do, but I highly recommend them, and they fit in perfectly with any thrifty traveler’s trip to Venice.
If you don’t want to spend upwards of €80 for a thirty minute Gondola ride, buy a seventy-five minute Venice water-bus ticket for just €7.50 and take the 1 or 2 line for a roundtrip boat ride that takes you along the Grand Canal and some of Venice’s top attractions. You also get to give your legs some rest after all that walking!
If you want to try authentic Italian food while not overspending, visit Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to Go for a heaping serving of made-to-order homemade pasta, sauce, and toppings with prices that range between €5 to €7.
If you want your caffeine fix for a cheap price, visit Torrefazione Cannaregio where you’ll find freshly roasted beans, several types of coffee, espresso, and snacks. Biscotti is just €0.50, and the espresso starts at €1.40 if you sit at a table, and just €1 if you drink it in their standing area near the counter.
TO SUM UP:
Venice’s beauty needs no convincing, and budget travelers have no reason to be wary of Venice’s prices. For more information, you can also read this guide, and be sure to include Venice in your next trip to Europe, for guaranteed enriching and budget-friendly travel. Now you know the best free things to do in Venice!
MEET THE AUTHOR: NATALIE
Natalie is the blogger behind Natalie Etc. She recently moved (with her cat!) from Los Angeles to Berlin to pursue her wanderlust and take a job as a copywriter in the city. Her blog is Berlin-based, but she also writes about her travels around Europe and North America. Follow her Blog, Instagram, and Pinterest for more wholehearted travel content.