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Venice on a Budget

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Canal Della Giudecca, Dorsoduro district, Venice, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Veneto, Italy, Europe
Richard Cummins/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images

Welcome to Venezia:

This is not really a story about what to see and do in Venice. It is an attempt at getting you around this gorgeous city without destroying your budget. As with most tourist meccas, Venice offers plenty of easy ways to pay top euro for things that won't really enhance your experience. Get a National Geographic Destination Map of Venice. Get 10 step by step tips for saving money in Venice.

When to Visit:

Opt for the off-season if at all possible. I visited in early March and spent about 40 percent less for a budget room than the July rate. The room was centrally located between the Rialto Bridge and the Piazza San Marco. It's possible the room would not have been available at any price in July. The March air was brisk, but probably no more uncomfortable than the heat of Summer. Do beware of autumn, when annual flooding sometimes closes key attractions. Search for flights

Where to Eat:

Highly touristed areas like Rialto and the Piazza San Marco are packed with expensive and somewhat impersonal eateries. These are the kind of places where tourists drop big bucks for a light meal and then complain about it for years. Instead, gravitate to where the locals eat. Venice's Dorsoduro section (main vaporetto line to Ponte dell' Accademia) is filled with neighborhood trattorias that are festive and cheap. Here or in San Polo, you dine with the natives for a fraction of the cost the tourists are paying in more convenient locations.

Where to Stay:

Look for rooms closest to the places you want to visit--even if those lodgings are a bit more expensive. You'll save money and precious time on commuting. Reasonable rooms in Venice tend to be very small and sometimes at the end of several steep stairways. Sacrifice the room with the view and lace bedspreads; don't sacrifice safety or cleanliness. Search for hotels in Venice

Getting Around:

Gondola rides are romantic but very expensive -- at best a one time experience. It can be argued effectively that gondolas should be skipped altogether. Do plan on using Venice's system of vaporettos, a sort of floating bus service. Standard vaporetto fares are €6.50 for one hour of unlimited trips. A 12-hour ticket is €16, a 24-hour ticket is €20 and a seven-day pass is €50. If you pay in advance, discounts are possible through VeneziaUnica. For example, the seven-day €50 pass can be purchased for €37.50 at certain times. You are given a code number at checkout that is presented in Venice at point of purchase.

Head for the Islands:

Murano Island is known for its glassblowing artisans. It tends to be a bit touristy, but well worth a look. The demonstrations are free, but some end in the showroom, where often there is not-so-subtle pressure to buy. Burano Island is known for its fine lace and for pastel-colored houses that fishermen at sea could spot as landmarks. It's a 40-minute ferry ride that will be a welcome change from navigating narrow Venetian streets.

Put Down the Guidebook and Explore:

Time is money on vacation, so don't waste either commodity. Many first-time visitors spend time trying to follow guidebook recommendations for restaurants and shopping. The problem: Venetian addresses are confusing, even to the locals. Add a language barrier to the equation and it can become nearly impossible to find that little restaurant that serves perfect pasta. Make your own discoveries by following one simple rule: leave the tourist zones and explore on your own.

More Venice Tips:

  • Plan to picnic. Little groceries are filled with fresh meats and cheeses, and the vistas for enjoying such delicacies are numerous. Best of all, it comes at a fraction of the cost for a sit-down restaurant meal.

  • Allow time to walk aimlessly. Walking tours cost nothing, and often turn up the most memorable places in a city like Venice.

  • Don't dismiss the hawksters at the docks or train station. Sometimes the budget hotels that are perfectly fine send aggressive sales people out to find patrons. It rubs some of us the wrong way, but listen to their pitch if you don't have a room. Much of the time, their offers are legitimate. Insist on seeing a map that shows the location. Some places that are sold as centrally located are miles from where you want to be situated.

  • Learn a few words of Italian. A few simple phrases like please, thank you, how much?, excuse me and "do you speak my language?" do wonders for public relations. Those tempted to rip you off might reconsider if you show some kindness and make the attempt to speak in their tongue.

  • Use the tourist office to book tours and other activities. Some hotels offer this service, but the prices and arrangements are sometimes less pleasing.

  • From About's Go Italy Guide: Visit nearby Padua. It's a short train ride from Venice, an interesting town in itself, and often much more reasonable for overnight stays. Check out more Go Italy tips .
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