Despite grappling with the heavy muggy heat of visiting Italy in mid-summer, my first impression of Venice was a huge surprise to me.
Like most, I could appreciate the bucket-list allure of this romantic city of waterways, but I was wary about subjecting myself to the hellish ‘high-season’ crowds I’d be warned about. Previous holidays to Rome and Florence left me feeling uninspired for Italy, so I had protected my expectations and set the bar relatively low for my weekend trip to Venice. So, fully expecting to whizz around Venice, grab a gelato and head home with, if nothing else, the satisfaction of being able to etch another notch in my travel-list bedpost, I was surprised as anyone when I realised that in just a few short hours I was becoming quite attached to this absolutely freaking beautiful city.
So, just a day in Venice, you say?
Fast travel is too often dismissed as being the ‘incorrect’ way of experiencing a new place, and whereas an extended stay has its obvious benefits by allowing you to explore deeper, fast travel can also have its perks. This ‘Floating City’ with 26 miles of canals, dozens of museums and galleries, maze of alleyways and countless eateries could easily keep you busy for weeks on end (and yes, extend your visit to the islands of Burano and Murano!), but I believe with only 24 hours, you can still get a real taste for the place, and the compact city of Venice can be visited in just a day.
With a restricted amount of time, my Venice itinerary focused on the main tourist hot spots around the city, but I was also keen to bust some myths about this super-popular destination. ‘Corse, you and I have both heard the stories about tourists unwittingly racking up a hundred Euro bill for a couple of espressos, right? So is it possible to explore Venice on a budget?
Hitting The Hot Spots: What To See in Venice in One Weekend
Spot The Gondolas in the Grand Canal from Ponte Rialto
Does it get more quintessentially Venetian than hanging off the side of the Rialto Bridge as dozens of gondolas drift about on the Grand Canal below?
Of course, being one of the few major crossing points across the Grand Canal, Ponte Rialto becomes somewhat of a bottle neck of tourists tussling from one side to the other. Still, the Ponte Rialto is something not to be missed. It’s a fantastically elegant structure spanning the width of the canal, offering up some of the best views of Venice on either side.
Photograph World Class Views from the Academia Bridge
Ciao Bella, this is the shot you’re after, right? The artist in me has just slipped into a Canaletto masterpiece – it’s just perfect, no?
Our hotel was just around the corner from the Academia Bridge, so we wasted no time in making sure we caught an eyeful of the famous Grand Canal from it’s best, most well-known angle. We found Academia Bridge a whole lot more of a calmer experience than the chaos of Rialto, and taking a stroll over the bridge onto the Southern side of Venice we found the crowds thinned further. On this side of Venice you can get up close to Basilica di Santa and visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Endure the Crowds at Piazza San Marco
This is a must-see, of course. But despite this being one of Venice’s top attractions, I don’t recommend spending too long here. From what I gather, we struck it lucky and Piazza San Marco or Saint Marks Square was comparatively empty. Venice, as you may well be aware, suffers from over-tourism and the city can struggle with the sheer volume of tourists heading onto the main island, with the city trying to combat the crowds with tourist taxes and daily caps on visitor numbers. Venice is a popular cruise destination, so when the cruise ship passengers roll in, this area can fill up, and fast. Still, crowds or no crowds, Piazza San Marco is a stunner.
From the square you can view the impossibly ornate basilica, the bell tower, and the Doges Palace. You can choose pay an entrance fee to look inside and take a tour of the buildings, but in the interest of saving time and money we were more than content with the beautiful views from the square.
Find The Bridge of Sighs & Take In The Views from Ponte Della Paglia
Just a couple of minutes from the middle of Saint Marks Square is Ponte Della Paglia; the viewpoint for the Bridge of Sighs. I was surprised at how small the Bridge of Sighs actually is; it’s a relatively modest looking bridge spanning over a small canal. Because this is the main viewpoint to catch sight of the Bridge of Sighs, Ponte Della Paglia gets very busy very quickly, but it’s definitely worth a look! The Bridge can also be seen from inside if you choose to visit the Doge’s Palace, but it’s best appreciated from afar.
Get Hopelessly Lost In The Back Streets of Venice
Now, welcome to the ‘real’ Venice. Sure, with only 24 hours in Venice, I didn’t have the capacity to fully immerse myself into city, but spending a few hours loosing myself in the side streets was enough for me to begin scratching just below the surface and uncover the more authentic side.
Venice is crowded, but this is only felt when you’re one of hundreds trying to get a good photo on Rialto Bridge. By taking a different trajectory, and ending up a few alleyways deep, away from the main tourist spots, the difference is stark. It’s actually surprisingly easy to find a quiet route through the back streets of Venice where you can fall in love with the tranquility and romance of the terracotta-pastel facades, endless fairy-tale bridges and miles of calm waterways.
Getting Value in Venice: Eating On A Budget
Eat Like A Local In Venice With A Cicchetti Bar
Honestly, If you take one thing away from this blog post, it’s this. When in Venice, visit a Cicchetti bar! For me, travel and food go hand in hand and finding new flavours or dishes to try is all part of the experience when I travel. Cicchetti is so uniquely Venetian and there are dozens of Cicchetti bars to choose from, so it won’t take you long spot one, even when you’re lost in the maze of backstreets.
So, skipping back, what is Cicchetti?
Cicchetti is essentially Venetian tapas, or small plates – a similar concept to Spanish tapas. I’m a total sucker for simple, good food and I love how they are served in a stripped back setting; a cosy bar (a bacari), full of traditional Venetian charm, alongside an extensive menu of local (and affordable!) Italian wine and spritz. In Italian culture it’s typical to order at least one Cicchetti alongside a small glass of wine (ombra), and consume both, standing at the bar.
When choosing your typical Cicchetti, we were recommend to start with the salted cod – a traditional Cicchetti dish, but you can’t go wrong with the cured meats or cheese topped options, as well as a plate of fried calamari. The Cicchetti selection will vary from place to place, as the chefs like put their own stamp on their creations, but a favourite of mine was a Venetian take on a deep-fried sandwich of cheese and anchovies or a polpette di carne (meat croquettes).
The Cicchetti bars are delightfully simple and unpretentious, so head inside, get adventurous with the dishes, order as little or as much as you fancy, and share it out between friends. We visited Osteria Alla Ciurma, Cantina Do Spade and Osteria Al Portego and really felt we got a true Venetian experience!
Cost: Starting at £1.50 for a glass of the local wine and £1-3 or upwards for Cicchetti, depending on your order.
Enjoy Freshly Made Pasta By The Canal
Only in Italy could I be eating from a cardboard carton on the corner of the street, and it be one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever tried.
Sure, you can visit one of the many restaurants in the city, but for lunch we wanted something quick and easy, and Dal Moro’s, Pasta To Go fit the bill perfectly.
A few minutes’ walk from Saint Marks Square is the well-known Dal Moro’s, claiming to be the original (and best!) express, takeaway pasta spot. The consistent queue speaks volumes and its popularity is a real testament to just how good this place is. Our ‘Alfredo’ spaghetti was made right in front of us. It was thick, it was fresh and our made-to-order cheesy white sauce was everything this self-confessed cheese lover could ever need. Go!
Cost: Between £5-7 for a freshly made pasta box, to go.
Savour The Taste Of Real Italian Gelato
It’s a good job they have world-class gelato in Italy, because it’s all about beating the summer heat in style. As much as I didn’t gel with Rome, I couldn’t knock the gelato!
Real Italian gelato is easy to come by in Venice, but there are also a lot of imitation stalls selling ice cream. The difference is in the process and the texture of the gelato; ice cream is heavily whipped and tends to stand taller in your cone, whereas gelato is lightly folded and is denser. We visited La Boutique Del Gelato, but if you fancied being adventurous you can head over to Gelateria Alaska for some more ‘experimental’ flavour such as tumeric and celery.
Cost: Around £2-3 for some gelato.
Indulge In Some Budget Pizza
Sure, Venice isn’t known for its Pizza, because as we know, that’s Naples ‘thang’. But hey, when in Italy, right?
Again, the key to finding a restaurant that doesn’t smash the budget is to move away from the tourist spots and find a local place down the alleyways. It might be tempting to find a seat on Saint Marks Square – dinner overlooking the Basilica will score record breaking romance points, sure, but in Venice the ‘coperto charge’ (an additional cost added to your bill for a good view or even live music) is common. It can range from a couple of Euros, but is likely to exorbitantly high at a restaurant in the middle of the tourist path, and when you’re paying a premium for the food already, the final bill might be higher than expected. That said, tipping isn’t expected in Venice, so there’s no requirement to factor this in, unless you would like to.
Stray away from the tourist areas for a more authentic, local experience. We stopped for dinner at Trattoria-Pizzeria All’Anfora for two delicious margherita pizzas, a couple of glasses of wine and an after-dinner espresso each. Perfect!
Cost: Around £7-10 for a large Pizza.
Spend An Evening In The Local Wine Bar
Once we’d exhausted all the tourist spots, we couldn’t think of any better way to spend our one evening in Venice on a wine-crawl around the city. After the searing heat of the afternoon, the evening had cooled the air enough for it to be a comfortable temperature and people started to wine and dine al-fresco. Venice at night is simply stunning, too. The back streets, squares and waterways are all so softly lit… no trains or traffic or city noise. Honestly, it’s like stepping back in time.
For unfussy, unpretentious and super-affordable local wines with shared a patch of pavement with a dozen others, in front of the hole-in-the-wall style wine bar, Al Merca. Moving a couple of doors down the street, we cosied up outside petite-bar Naranzaria with a Campari Spritz, and finished the evening at the bar across the road from our hotel – Bacaro da Fiore.
Who needs Harry’s Bar, huh?
Cost: Starting at £1.50 for a glass of the local wine, and starting at £3 for an Aperol Spritz or Bellini.
So Tell Me, How Much Is A Weekend In Venice?
Flights To Venice:
We used Skyscanner to find the best flight deal; heading out of a local UK airport on the Saturday morning and returning on the Sunday afternoon. Flights cost us £70 return each via a budget airline. Considering these were weekend flights from a non-London, Northern airport, we were pretty happy with the price!
If you’re more flexible with your dates I’ve seen flights to Venice starting at less than half what we paid.
Accommodation in Venice:
With one night in Venice, it was crucial to maximise our time so we booked a hotel on the main Island. Prices are much higher here, but it was worth the increased costs to save us time and reduce potential transfer costs to and from the mainland. Jamie wasn’t willing to compromise on a shared bathroom, so we opted for budget boutique hotel, Locanda Art Deco. Eight minutes’ walk from Saint Marks Square for £120 for one-night stay on the Saturday night, including a buffet breakfast. Staying as a couple, that’s just £60 per person per night.
Opting to stay further out, or in hostels you can push the costs down here.
Airport Transfers To Venice:
If you want to arrive in Venice in style, you can book a water taxi from the airport to the island. If you’re anything like us, and is just happy to make it from A to B you can take the coach or bus from just outside the terminal that drops you on the main island. A return ticket cost £16 per person.
Eating Out In Venice:
We definitely saved money here. We stuck with the affordable Cicchetti bars and researched budget options for dinner. Breakfast was included at the hotel and if we wanted a water or a soft drink we grabbed one from a supermarket. Our total spend on food and drink in Venice was £200 for two people, or £50 per person per day for lunch and dinner and lots of Aperol!
Total Cost of A Weekend In Venice:
£130 per person for just the hotel and accommodation, or £246 per person, traveling as one half of a couple, if you include all food, drink, additional travel and airport transfer costs.
Have you been to Venice? Did you find it expensive? Where else in Italy have you been?