Venice, Italy is known as tourist hotspot, with high prices to match its high demand.
Tourism in Venice is controversial, and while I have no interest in discussing the controversy in this post, I will, in fact, say something highly controversial: you should visit Venice.
I know it’s expensive. It’s certainly not a budget-friendly city. If you’re looking for an inexpensive trip, visit Prague or another inexpensive European
Still, despite the hefty price tag, Venice is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and probably ever will see again.
There’s certainly a reason that tourists flock to see the seemingly floating city.
So, even though Venice tends to be more expensive than some other European cities, let’s talk about some things you can do in Venice that won’t break the bank.
Let's get started!
Related Post: Need a packing list? Check out my all-seasons Northern Italy packing list!
Tour Basilica di San Marco
This church is in the middle of the Piazza di San Marco. It’s the huge domed church that everyone talks about and take pictures of.
It’s certainly not the only church, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the grandest church I saw while in Venice, which is saying something.
History of the Basilica
Before we talk about what’s inside the church, I want to spend a few minutes discussing the history, since that’s such an important part of the experience.
The Britannica states that the church was originally built in 829 AD, but don’t think that’s the building you get to walk around. Unfortunately, that structure burned down about 150 years after it’s construction. So, the building you see today was finished in 1071.
According to the Britannica, “the design is distinctly Byzantine and it’s likely that both Byzantine and Italian architects were employed in the construction and decoration.”
Of course, over the years, the church has seen some changes. The Britannica says that many grand additions have been made since it’s founding in 1071, which includes the famous bronze horses, which were stolen in the Fourth Crusade.
Maybe I’m nerdy but seeing something that was stolen in the Fourth Crusade literally made my knees buckle. I took an entire class on the Crusades in college, and I felt incredibly far removed from these battles, but then, I literally stood right next to something they stole during one. So cool.
Exploring the Basilica
(Unfortunately, it is against the rules to take pictures inside the basilica, and as an avid rule follower, I didn't take any pictures to show you of the inside. You'll just have to go see it for yourself!)
It is free to enter the Basilica, which is great! But, nearly immediately upon entry, you will notice that you can pay to see multiple things within the church.
For example, you can pay 2 euro to see the Doge’s treasures. Honestly, we paid to see it, and it was pretty neat. There were tons of old artifacts that were staggering, to say the least.
Have you ever watched the show Supernatural? Well, there were some artifacts in there that we (my fiancé and I) joked that the brothers from that show would need to break in and steal to preform some sort of anti-demon ritual!
You can also pay 5 euro to see the original bronze horses that were stolen from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and a ton of artwork. This section is bigger than the previous one, and definitely worth the money. Plus, you get a pretty sick view of the square from a balcony on the second floor.
There’s one last thing you can pay to see. It’s 2 euro per person (I think), and we didn’t pay to see it. So, I have no idea what it was.
After 7 euro a piece, we felt we had spent enough on this “free” tour.
However, we definitely weren’t upset about spending the money. After all, they’re going to use it to help upkeep the beautiful Basilica, so we’re not complaining!
Tour the Doge's Palace
The Doge’s Palace is large (duh) and OMG beautiful. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen paintings that big or rooms that grand.
And every room was breathtaking. Not just a few.
History of the Doge's Palace
You might be wondering who lived in the palace. And, it’s a valid question. In the old Venetian Republic, the public would elect a Doge, which was their leader.
The Doge’s palace has been burned down on multiple occasions, and the one you can tour today was constructed in the early 14th century, according to the Britannica.
Exploring the Doge's Palace
Tickets to tour the Doge’s palace can be expensive, but we got a package deal through the hotel we stayed at (Tres Rose Ambassador). We were able to tour the Doge’s Palace, the Library (which was unfortunately closed during our visit), and the Archaeological Museum of Venice. We only paid 20 euro for this ticket, which was a good deal considering that the Doge’s palace alone was 20 euro.
The Doge’s palace took up quite a bit of our time. We probably spend about 2 hours touring it and admiring the exquisite artwork and architecture. It’s truly amazing.
Inside, there are paintings that expand the entire wall of a 50-foot-long room. There isn’t a single inch of the palace that doesn’t make you drop your jaw and say, “WOW.”
One of the best parts about touring the Doge's Palace is that you actually get to walk across the Bridge of Sighs!
Stunning buildings we happened across while wandering around Venice.
Venice is notoriously difficult to navigate.
The addresses don’t make sense, and Google maps has a difficult time giving directions.
There were moments when we were following walking directions from Google, and it showed us in the wrong place. Plus, it couldn’t make up it’s mind as to which direction we were facing. It definitely wasn’t ideal.
However, with a little bit of brain power, it was easy to correct Google’s mistake and make it to our destination.
So, with that being said, I highly recommend turning navigation off and just wandering around. You can always turn Google Maps on to get back to your hotel. But, there’s really something to be said for walking around and making split-second decisions about where to go.
Sometimes you run into dead ends, and sometimes you stumble across neat things you likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Sure, you might go in circles, but that’s part of the fun!
Plus, if you just keep walking, you never know what you’ll find.
We wandered through a very residential area, and it was incredibly neat to see how many Venetians actually live.
The farther away you get from the Piazza di San Marco, the quieter it becomes. You’ll see fewer tourists, and more locals.
Explore the Local Churches
Nearly, everywhere you look, you’ll find a church.
Some of which will be open and some of which will not.
You should walk into every church you can. They each possess unique beauty and stunning artwork. You literally never know what you’ll find inside. I mean, the city is just so old, that anything could be housed inside!
While, it’s likely you won’t find another as grand as the Basilica di San Marco, I think you’ll still be impressed with the sheer splendor each displays.
Just remember to be respectful. These are active churches, and often times there will be people praying inside.
As a general rule, you should cover your shoulders, cleavage, and thighs, and many churches won’t admit you if you don’t. Short-shorts and a tank top are not appropriate inside the churches.
Also, many churches have offering boxes. If you’re taking the time to enjoy the church, you should consider leaving a euro or two, even if you’re not religious. The money they collect helps them maintain the churches.
If you’ve heard of Murano, I’m guessing you’ve also seen the gorgeous images that show-off Murano’s bright colors.
If not, here’s one for you.
There is no question, Murano is beautiful and quaint.
It feels local. Sure, there are plenty of shops for the tourists to buy glass in, but you don’t have to walk very far to get away from it.
Pro tip: I’ve heard tales of cheaper glass shops being located further in Murano, but I couldn’t find them. All I saw were residences. Make sure you identify them before just wandering around because you likely won’t find what you’re looking for. Also, Murano glass is cheaper in Venice. There’s not quite the same selection, but if you just want some glasses, you can easily purchase those in Venice.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around Murano. We enjoyed perusing through all of the glass shops. We even took a tour of a glass blowing factory. The tour was nice, but probably not worth the 10 euro each we spent on it. Still, if you’ve never seen anyone blow glass, it’s an amazing process, and a tour might be worth your time and money.
If I’m being totally honest, I was expecting something a little different in Murano than what I found. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed my time in Murano. But, after reading so many blog posts where everyone raves about Murano, I just expected something a little bit different from Venice, but it was quite similar.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t go. I’m just saying that it’s not as unique as everyone claimed. It’s still cute, and you’ll have a great time.
Take a Water Bus Ride Around Venice
The prominent boat in this photo is a water bus. The small docks with yellow on them (on the left) are water bus stops.
Whenever you visit Murano, I highly recommend purchasing a 24-hour pass for the water bus. It will only cost you 5 more euro than a regular ticket to Murano.
The benefit to getting the 24-hour pass is that you can spend the day riding around to different parts of Venice, some of which are only reachable by water bus or water taxi. This will allow you to see the most of Venice possible without spending a small fortune on water bus tickets.
Start your journey with a game plan. Look at the water bus routes and pick where you want to go.
We started our journey with Murano. Then we went to the northern part of Venice, which we explored for a while before hopping back on the water bus. Next, we went to an island just south of Venice. You can literally see it from the Piazza di San Marco, which is where we noticed a massive church on that island that we wanted to see. We started on the north end of the island and walked down to the south end, stopping at any churches along the way. At the most southern point, we found the church we had been dying to see. We walked around and saw some truly amazing artwork and a huge domed ceiling.
There was a modern art exhibition going on inside of the church, however. And, honestly, it left us with a bad taste in our mouths. I mean the renaissance artwork was so much better than the modern art on display… That might not be a popular opinion, but hey, it’s mine.
Pro tip: Water buses and water taxis are not created equal! When I was researching Venice, I heard horror stories of people paying €80 for a ride in a water taxi. I didn't hear a mention of a water bus for quite a while. So, if you're on a budget skip the water taxis and take the water bus.
Get Up Early to See the Famous Sites
Yep. I'm telling you to get up early on your vacation!
Just for one day, though. So, stop your whining.
Seriously, you need to get up early and see the Rialto Bridge, Bridge of Sighs, and the Piazza di San Marco.
You should definitely also see them at peak time (the middle of the day) because the sheer number of tourists will blow your mind.
However, if you want to experience these beautiful sites without hoards of tourists, you need to get up early.
I highly recommend getting up with the sun.
We got engagement photos taken in Venice, and we met with our photographer at 7 am.
There was hardly anyone out! The only other people up were a few tourists (trying to get sweet photos like us) and some ambitious locals. Compared to any other time of day, the streets were literally empty.
View the Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is an incredibly famous bridge in Venice. It’s probably not as famous as the Rialto bridge, but I think it has a much richer history.
History of the Bridge of Sighs
You might be wondering why the hell it’s called the Bridge of Sighs. Well, even though it kind of looks like a sigh, there’s actually a much deeper meaning behind the name.
The Bridge of Sighs connect the courthouse with the jail, so after a trial, guilty persons would be walked over the bridge to their cell to serve their sentence or wait for execution. The bridge was often their last glimpse of Venice. And, it’s said that they’d sigh as they looked upon their beloved city with sadness, as they knew they’d likely never see it again.
Crying yet? Yeah, me, too.
Exploring the Bridge of Sighs
You can’t go to Venice without looking at this gorgeous bridge. Also, feel free to get a picture in front of it, as you’ll need proof you saw it.
When we stumbled across the bridge, it was the first day of our trip and it was raining, which meant there weren’t a ton of people out, but we met the nicest couple who took our picture in front of the Bridge.
Pro tip: If you tour the Doge’s palace, you will actually have the opportunity to walk over the Bridge of Sighs, and you can see exactly what those convicted men saw for the last time (minus the hoards of tourists). Talk about haunting.
View from the Bridge of Sighs. You can see all of the tourists snapping pictures from the bridge. They're standing exactly where I did to get the first picture of the bridge.
Shop Shop Shop
You will undoubtedly see a boatload (see what I did there?) of shops.
A really big part of Venice’s economy is stimulated by tourism. There will be shop after shop after shop. All selling incredibly similar, if not the same, items.
When we were there, we kept getting caught up on trying to find the best deal. Since we were on a budget, we didn’t want to overpay for souvenirs that we were going to bring home to our families. So, we went from shop to shop bargain hunting. While it was fun at first, it eventually began to grow old, as we had more difficulty keeping everything straight. After all, if you don’t buy something from a shop immediately, you have to be able to find your way back, which as we’ve discussed can be difficult.
On our last day in Venice, we ended up being incredibly pressed for time, running from between our top three shops, trying to make decisions on what to purchase. It was a mess.
We noticed that we could not realistically afford Murano glass, even if it was cheaper in Venice than in Murano.
Pro tip: Glass that is blown in Murano will have a sticker on it certifying that it was made in Murano. If it doesn’t have that sticker, even though it looks exactly the same, it was not made in Murano.
We chose to purchase glass that was made in a factory in Italy and painted by an Italian woman.
The glass was much cheaper than purchasing Murano glass, so we were able to bring back something for each person in our family without stress. And, honestly, they look exactly the same as the Murano glass. If you’re interested in checking out the store while you’re in Venice, you can find it here. The owner was incredibly nice (his wife is the one who paints the glass).
Enjoy Prosecco & people watch
Whatever you do, don't pay 10 euro for a glass of Prosecco!
There will be places (close to the Piazza di San Marco) that will want to charge you 10 euro or more for a glass of Prosecco. Just don’t do it. If you don’t know how much they’re charging, feel free to ask.
If you walk a little way away from the square, you will find Prosecco for less than 5 euro. Most of them only charge 3 or 4 euro.
Look for a tiny hole in the wall place and ask for a glass of Prosecco. Then have a seat at the bar by the window. (Most tiny places have them!) The best part is that you don’t have to pay extra to sit at the bar, but you often have to pay a premium to sit at a table, so be careful!
Next, just look out the window and watch as people walk by. It’s neat to watch the tourists from all over the world milling about and the Venetians bee-lining for some unknown (to me) destination.
We did this one afternoon before touring the National Archaeological Museum of Venice. Then, a little tipsy (oops), we stopped for gelato at the nearest, but probably not the most authentic, shop. If I had been a little less tipsy, I would have been more patient and looked for a better place, but hey, I really wanted that gelato.
It was a fun, relaxing afternoon, which is just what I needed as I was feeling weary and incredibly jet-lagged.
While there is nothing inexpensive about visiting Venice, I mean the price of hotels and food alone is insane, you can still see the best of the city and be budget-conscious when choosing your activities.
To recap, here are 10 budget-friendly things you must do while in Venice!
- Tour the Basilica di San Marco
- Tour the Doge's Palace
- Get Lost!
- Explore the Local Churches
- Visit Murano
- Take a Water Bus Ride Around Venice
- Enjoy a Glass of Prosecco & People Watch
- View the Bridge of Sighs
- Get Up Early to See the Famous Sites
These are all things that I did while in Venice, and they made the trip lovely!
I felt like I got to see some of the best of what Venice had to offer, even if I didn't get to do everything.
Plus, these activities helped us stick to our budget for the trip. Since food was so expensive, we found ourselves with a much smaller budget for activities than we anticipated. But, I don't feel like we missed out on anything! (And, no, we did not take a Gondola ride.)
Are you planning a trip to Venice? Let me know what you're most excited to do in the comments below!