Confession time. I love Venice! Many people don’t. People will often say it’s smelly, there are too many tourists, it’s too expensive, or perhaps all three. I disagree! The smelly thing – I’ve now been twice when it’s very hot (July and an unseasonably warm September) and another time in the rain (also September) and I didn’t get a whiff, but I’ve got a deviated septum so maybe that doesn’t say a lot 🤷
My husband thankfully has been blessed with a fully working honker which can be quite sensitive and will testify to no issue on that front! When it comes to tourists and prices – yes there can be a lot of people and yes it can be expensive (one cafe in Piazza San Marco went viral in August for all the wrong reasons when a customer shared his €38 euro bill for two coffees and two bottles of water). HOWEVER, as you may be able to tell from the title of this post, it doesn’t have to be that way…
Food & Drink
Why do I really love Venice? Probably because I love Italian food, in particular the concept of ‘cicchetti‘. Essentially Venetian tapas, these are snacks which are usually served on cocktail sticks (but not always) and costing around €1-€1.50 per piece. They can be great accompaniment to your aperitivo, or if you order several (which Chris and I often do) then they can be a delicious, varied, inexpensive meal!
Most often found in small traditional bars (bacari or osterie) either on top of the bar or or behind a glass cabinet as above, you’ll see locals and tourists alike eating them stood up, sat on stools at high tables or if you’re lucky and it’s on a canal, perched on a wall outside. The bonus? These places often serve prosecco from as little as €2.50 a glass!! THIS IS NOT A JOKE! NB: A ‘glass’ in Italy we’ve discovered is 100ml but – having done the maths – you’d still need to be able to get a 125ml in the UK for £2.79 or cheaper to be getting a better deal, which let’s face it, you probably won’t. Also worth noting is that they often free pour which more often than not means you actually get more than 100ml anyway!
The most common variety we saw while away were the toasts with topping, which can be anything – pates and spreads, cheeses, vegetable, meat, fish etc but cicchetti can also be little plates of olives, arancini and other yummy fried things in breadcrumbs which you can try if you dare!
Here are a few of our favourite cicchetti spots, but I urge you to find your own too (and tell me about them) – we found ours just getting lost and having a nose and had some wonderful evenings as a result.
Basego – Not as undiscovered as it appeared to us, after turning our noses up at a few places we stumbled in here and afterwards discovered this is actually listed as the TripAdvisor number 5 restaurant in Venice! So good that we visited twice, the service is friendly, the cicchetti varied and flavoursome (see pic from further back of their cicchetti bar), it had a great vibe and a great choice of wines (and that cheap prosecco I was telling you about). It’s in a cute little square around a scenic ten minute walk from the Rialto bridge and is well worth the wander.
Osteria al Squero – Another accidental find, but this time on our honeymoon in 2017, we were going to wander past this little place looking for somewhere to have dinner but saw all the people hovering inside and out by the canal and wanted to discover what the fuss was about. We spotted prosecco for €2.50 a glass and arancini on the counter and promptly spent the rest of the night there, even having a little Italian lock in at the end! We enjoyed so much, you guessed it, we went back. Sadly no arancini in 2018 but that might just have been the day we visited. Also happens to be the number 9 restaurant in Venice on TripAdvisor.
Bacaro al Ravano – I can’t take any credit for this place as Chris found it while I was getting a blow dry! But it’s a cute little bar, with a great selection of cicchetti, great music, popular with tourists and locals alike and only a few minutes from Rialto. Open til 11.30pm weeknights and midnight on weekends so handy for an after dinner drink too if you’ve not had your fill of the bargain prosecco.
Cantina Arnaldi – Technically more of a wine bar, but they serve cicchetti, fantastic prosecco and wine and the most wonderful meat and cheese boards. This one we went looking for (and became lost en route) having found it on Tripadvisor – number 6 if you’re bothered by these things. What we especially liked here apart from how yummy everything tasted, was that our waiter took the time to explain what each cheese and meat were, which didn’t happen often on the rest of the trip despite us ordering a lot of cheese and meat! Not quite as cheap but we still had an excellent dinner including several glasses of wine for less than €40 for us both.
Of course you may want a ‘proper meal’ while there and Venice has many options. For a tasty inexpensive pizza I would recommend Vineria all’Amarone, where we managed to grab a late night bite to eat on our first night there despite the fact the kitchen was about to close. They also do wine tastings and, you guessed it – cicchetti! It’s only a four minute walk from the Rialto but just far enough to still feel very authentic (complete with slightly grumpy yet endearing proprietor).
If you’re after an inexpensive sweet treat, I’m happy to report gelato (Italian ice cream) is generally no more than €1.80 for 1 scoop (often €1.50) and around the €2.50 – €2.80 for two scoops, which even with the rubbish exchange rate is better than you’ll get at most UK ice cream parlours or gelatarias. Flavour wise I would recommend trying ‘Bacio‘ (Italian for kiss) which is chocolate and hazelnut and tastes divine, but if you’re not a nut fan then ‘Stracciatella’ is also an excellent choice, which is similar to ‘choc chip’ but infinitely better. To be honest, I’d say have both – I did!
Take a Boat Ride
And I don’t mean a gondola, which – another confession – I have previously spent an extortionate amount of cash on, but I’ve only done this with my bestie @jen.on.tour, hubby and I didn’t even do one on our honeymoon last year!
By far the best value and the way to see the most on a boat in Venice is the Vaporetto, which is the waterbus that serves the Venice canals and also travels to the surrounding islands. We took a 48 hour ticket at a cost of €30pp which might seem initially steep but it allows unlimited travel (although not to the airport) so you can hop on/hop off at leisure and includes being able to go to other islands such as Lido if you fancy a bit of beach or the famous glass producing island of Murano.
We used our waterbus pass to take a trip to the beautiful island of Burano, famed for its multicoloured houses. While it was very busy (we arrived a little later in the morning than I had intended) it didn’t disappoint with houses, shops, boats and restaurants in a variety of pretty colours perfectly offset by the beautiful blue sky we were lucky to have on the day that we visited.
Prices on the island weren’t extortionate (I had my gelato for under €2!) but if you’re keen not to spend too much you can always do as we did and take a picnic – there are supermarkets in Venice with a whole array of products (including arancini and 3 mini bottles of prosecco for €5) to stick in your backpack. We particularly liked visiting those with a deli counter and getting 100g of prosciutio di Parma for our travels which would usually cost around the €3 mark.
If you are dead set on splashing the cash on a private boat trip, then you have two main options. The more obvious, the gondola, will cost around €80 to €100 for 30 – 40 minutes depending on the time of day. That’s for the whole boat (not per person) but I think if you want one that can sing it costs extra! I’ve heard mixed reports that it’s regulated and you can’t barter versus try a few locations and haggle – it’s over seven years since I did it but from what I remember back then, they were all the same price and wouldn’t budge (much to our annoyance).
The less obvious and perhaps less traditional option, would be a private boat transfer from the airport to your hotel. Like a gondola trip it’s definitely not cheap – you’ll pay a little more than a gondola ride (€110 via this website) but in 2017 as Venice was the first port of call on our honeymoon, we decided to go crazy and it was AMAZING! We were especially lucky to have landed around sunset, making the views even better. We couldn’t justify it on our recent trip (and I doubt we ever will again eeeek) but if you’re celebrating or just determined to spend crazy money on a boat in Venice then that would definitely be my recommendation, far more exciting than a Gondola ride.
An activity that doesn’t cost a bean – use your feet and wander! Especially off the beaten track. Part of the joy of Venice are it’s hidden nooks and crannies, so on both of our trips husband and I spent afternoons walking, wandering, exploring hidden churches, canals, bridges, even gardens obviously stopping for the odd aperitivo on our way.
While generally trying to avoid the Grand Canal and main thoroughfares, we stumbled upon all sorts, including the Venetian Arsenal which houses the military barracks, gondoliers singing ‘Amore’ (I kid you not), and numerous examples of beautiful Venetian architecture.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit the usual suspects such as Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs et al but they are all likely to be mega hectic and it’s probably best to visit these as early as possible in the day to avoid the swarms.
Find a Rooftop
My husband and I love a good view, and you can’t beat one from a rooftop, especially when there is a bar involved, although this doesn’t always make it the most economical activity. Thankfully, through the power of social media I discovered T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS – a department store (yay) that has a rooftop terrace which is FREE! Hurrah! You do need to book a ticket (which you can do here) slots are limited to fifteen minutes and a maximum of eighty people will be admitted.
We chose to go around sunset (we booked for fifteen minutes prior) so we had beautiful views of the Grand Canal and Rialto bridge as the sky changed colours. It wasn’t overly crowded and people were quite good at taking their pictures, then moving to the next spot so you could get pictures with different views.
If you simply have to have a glass with your view, you have a few options (and they’re not cheap). The Skyline Rooftop Bar @ Hilton Molino Stucky Venice over on the island of Giudecca offers beautiful views of the Grand Canal back towards Venice, but a glass of Prosecco will set you back €10 and the average cocktail – of which there are many to chose from – around €17.
Venice isn’t just canals and you can have a view of the beautiful red rooftops and a fantastic (if costly, we only visited in 2017 again on honeymoon but I think prices were similar to the Hilton) bellini at the rooftop bar on top of Hotel a La Commedia.
Visit the Casino
When you’re trying to save money, placing bets probably doesn’t sound the most sensible option… But if you want to do something a bit different and have the power to limit your spending, a trip to Casinò di Venezia can be fun.
Photography isn’t allowed inside, but built circa 1638 the Casino is a feast for the eyes in terms of architecture and decor. New members are given a complimentary €10 chip for signing up, so you could play that and then leave without spending any more euros should you wish. Drinks are cheap (and come with bowls of nibbles) and you never know, you could win enough euros to fund your next trip!
Where to Stay
We were very lucky with our accommodation – we had dithered with our itinerary and whether to stay in Venice at the beginning or end of our trip, and as a result of this lack of organisation we managed to bag a bargain a three star room just seconds from the Rialto for only £244 for three nights booking three nights before our arrival (eeeek). You may think ‘only?!’ but if I did the same today for this Saturday the same room in the same hotel just three weeks later would cost £621.
I’m still unsure as to how we had such a good deal but I am very glad we did – we usually book through hotels.com as we are a big fan of their rewards scheme but on this occasion we booked through Travel Republic – definitely worth looking on there before you make a booking. Where ever you decide to stay, I hope you eat lots of cicchetti and drink lots of prosecco.
Have a fab time and thanks for reading!