The deluge of literature, pictures and films featuring the Floating City does nothing to reduce the incredible wonder that is Venice. You would think that this everlasting obsession with it would render it completely overrated and indeed, many dismiss Venice as an atrociously expensive, suffocatingly crowded, tacky tourist trap, but that simply is not the case. Just beneath the overpriced façade lies a magical city, providing you know where to look. During our three days in Venice, we managed to more or less successfully stray from the beaten path as well as keeping our budget at the forefront of our minds. So here are my five favourite ways of discovering the authentic City of Bridges without being too hard on the wallet.
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1. Get a 24 Hour Vaporetto Pass
The price of the 24-hour vaporetto pass was 20 EUR (22.4 USD), which isn’t an attractive price when you’re on a student budget. However, I urge all budget travelers that purchasing the vaporetto pass is a wise investment. You can purchase the pass from any vaporetto ticket office or online through Veniezia Unica for 20 EUR (approximately 22.30 USD) for a 24-hour travel card, 30 EUR (33.46 USD) for a 48-hour travel card, 40 EUR (44.61 USD) for a 72-hour travel card, 60 EUR (66.92 USD) for a week, 20 EUR (22.30 USD) for a 3-day youth card (ages 14 to 29).
A single vaporetto ticket is 7 EUR (7.8 USD) so it's worth getting a pass that lasts 24 hours so that you can make the most of it. While it might not be as glamorous as floating through the canals in a gondola, it is definitely a much cost-effective and practical manner to discover the island and beyond.
2. Skip Ponte Rialto and head straight to Ponte Dell'Accademia
The famous Ponte Rialto is on practically every tourist's agenda. However, with Ponte Rialto under renovation when we paid our visit in 2015, its less famous counterpart, Ponte dell'Accademia, completely surpassed it. Despite the advantage of not being covered in scaffolding, I still much prefer Ponte dell’Accademia.
Looking out towards the lagoon, the fantastic architecture along the banks leads the eye to the stunning view of the mouth of the Grand Canal, adorned by the dome of Santa Maria della Salute. It’s mesmerising to gaze at the gondolas as they drift from the narrow canal to the wide expanse of the lagoon.
If you go to the other side, you can watch the sun set into the classic Venetian copper roofs. I would recommend visiting at dusk when the evening air is balmy, with a gelato and with, if you’re lucky, a street performer playing the violin in the background. Even at sunset, Ponte dell'Accademia still isn't stifling and overcrowded, though you might want to get there early enough to secure a prime spot. The bridge itself is a large, plain wooden bridge, providing a striking contrast with the marble opulence of the Grand Canal. It was originally built as a temporary bridge but it was never replaced, and thank goodness for that!
There are plenty of street signs to the Academia in the San Marco district. Ponte dell'Accademia is at one point of the triangle made by Rialto and St. Mark's, the principal routes through the district. It is around ten minutes’ walk from each of the other two ‘points’ and there is also a vaporetto stop right next to the bridge, on the Dorsoduro side.
If you feel like you have spent enough time marveling at Ponte dell'Accademia, you can find some other bridges at the link below.
3. Go up San Giorgio Maggiore for a gorgeous view
The hoards of tourist surrounding Campanile di San Marco made it evident that it was the tourist hot spot for getting a panoramic view of Venice. The 8 EUR (8.98 USD) entry fee and the fear of standing outside in the heat was enough to put us off it and we decided to search for another option.
If you, like us, want to avoid long queues and paying an expensive entry free, I highly recommend visiting the Campanile di San Giorgio Maggiore instead. For 4 EUR (4.46 USD), you can take the elevator up the tower and enjoy the breathtaking views of the South bank of Venice including Palazzo Ducale, Campanile di San Marco, and Santa Maria della Salute. To get there from Piazza San Marco, go to the San Zaccaria boat stop and take the no. 2 vaporetto. San Giorgio Maggiore is the first stop.
Once there, you’ll need to purchase a ticket before entering. Tickets are 6 EUR (approximately 6.69 USD) for adults, 4 EUR (4.46 USD) for students. If you are purchasing the student ticket, you may be asked for proof that you are a student so don’t forget your student card or ID. Do be sure to check opening hours before your visit as they vary according to the time of year.
We arrived a little while before the last entry to the bell tower at 6:45 pm and there was no queue whatsoever. We spent a while up there savouring the way the miniature boats zoomed through the azure, leaving a trail of foamy white behind.
Despite 360° amazing sights of Venice and its surrounding islands, there are far fewer visitors than the famous Campanile di San Marco, tickets are cheaper and only a short vaporetto trip.
4. Explore Castello, Eastern Venice
In a place like Venice, it may seem like you're on the brink of falling into a tourist trap at every corner. It was, therefore, with an unexpected breath of fresh air that we ended up in the calm, practically empty streets of Castello, where the buzzing of human traffic seemed miles away. The lush trees were also a sight for sore eyes, especially when greenery is so scarce in the other parts of the island.
We had a lovely meal at Trattoria dai Tosi in Castello: I had a vegetarian pizza of brie, zucchini, onion, which was unique and my boyfriend had an incredibly meaty pizza, which was just as delicious. Our creative concoctions were created by our affable waiter who claimed to be a pizza maker prodigy, making his first pizza at the tender age of 13. Irregardless of whether or not his wild claims were true, we thoroughly enjoyed our pizzas paired with artisanal Italian beer.
We walked off our meal along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, which was probably the widest and emptiest street in all of Venice. It was lit with a soft, dusk glow and peppered with a few pedestrians. If you’re looking for a break from bustling touristy Venice, Castello should definitely be your first port of call.
5. Find a hidden osteria for some seafood
It is unsurprisingly easy to stumble upon a seafood restaurant in Venice, but chances are it's either overcrowded, overpriced or both.
As a lover of seafood, it would have been unthinkable to depart from Venice without trying some. We did some research and it took us quite a while, but we finally uncovered a gem of an osteria which happened to be one of the oldest in Venice. You can find this osteria on Sestiere Cannaregio, tucked in the hidden canals of Cannaregio, the northern part of the island.
We sat al fresco, alongside Venetian locals (yes, they exist!), right next to the tranquil canal. There is a incredibly reasonable set lunch for 13 EUR (14.50 USD) but we both went for seafood dishes: the squid ink pasta and the seafood pasta. Both tasted so delicious and fresh and we were delighted when our total bill only came to 38 EUR (42.38 USD) - a huge bargain for Venice and especially for seafood.
Consider visiting this osteria if you're on a student budget looking for delicious and affordable seafood. Lucky for you the osteria opened everyday from 10 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 10.30 pm.
It really makes a difference in price, quality and ambiance so make the effort to plan ahead and find your hidden osteria!
A student budget-friendly Venice
Despite what many may think, it is entirely possible to experience Venice without being too hard on the wallet. All it takes is a little creativity. Hopefully, by keeping these tips in mind, you'll be able to experience the true blue Venice, a place that will forever hold on to its novelty, conserving it in the maze of its canals.