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Our family of six took a two-day trip to Venice, Italy for just over $400.
We actually live pretty close to Venice, so it makes sense for us to take quick trips, but I’ve learned the ins and outs for every type of Venice vacation.
Here’s what we did on a $400 budget:
- Train ride, both ways
- Two full days of fun
- Hotel for one night
- Original painting
- So much food!
- Gondola ride
It was an unforgettable trip. It was amazing. So first, let’s talk about Venice…
The Beauty of Venice
When I walked out of the train station to the strip and saw the San Simeone Piccolo church, my breath was literally taken away. That’s the first time a historical site has ever taken my breath away. This is the view straight out of the train station:
It’s surreal when you’re actually there.
The architecture is beautiful, the canal is beautiful, Venice is beautiful.
When you’re in the heart of the city, you’ll notice that almost everyone is walking to Piazza San Marco. This is the big square with so much history and so many people. This is half of it:
Piazza San Marco is also where you’ll find Saint Mark’s Basilica:
There’s so much to see in Venice by just walking around that you could go and not spend any money on attractions, but the tours are well worth it and you have several options, so let’s talk about the best way to see the most on a budget.
1. The Inside Scoop on Venice
There are information booths all over Venice. The deals are basically the same for all of them, so I suggest comparing one of the information booth’s prices to the online prices.
You can get some really good tours to places like Murano Island, which is the historical glass blowing island. Often the tours will include another island or two and other parts of Venice.
There are also plenty of tours within the city to the churches and museums.
Do everything you can for free. Churches like Saint Mark’s Basilica offer free tours if you want to walk on your own. In fact, just walking around the city is a tour on its on.
There is only foot traffic in the city. Cars and buses can basically just drive in and out, and park. But the inner city is only made for foot traffic. We didn’t even see a bicycle while we were there, which we figured out later was because they’re not allowed in Venice proper.
2. Gondola Rides
If there is one thing Venice is known for, it’s gondola rides.
These are easy to find, because every time you cross over the canal, you’ll see someone offering a ride. You can also find rides near the docks if there are long lines for all the rides in the inner city.
You’re ride will be different based on where you’re at. If you want to see a certain part of Venice, go to a gondola near that part. It’s that simple.
Never pay more than €80 for a gondola ride, and don’t book them on the internet. You will be charged per person when you book online. If you pay in person, the ride is €80 for the entire ride, up to six people, for about 30 minutes.
I highly recommend doing a gondola ride while you’re there. Our kids loved it. We loved it.
You’ll get to see parts of the city you can’t see on your own:
Every time you stop by a large church, see if you can go in. There are usually signs on the outside, often in English, that will tell you the rules of that church.
If you see a tour for a church, it’s generally for the informational part.
If you want to learn more about the churches, or see the balconies and specific parts of churches, you may have to do a tour. Otherwise, you can just go in most of them.
Be respectful if they tell you not to take photos or video.
I highly recommended experiencing the inside of the historical churches, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a religious person. The architecture and paintings are absolutely beautiful.
We didn’t go to the beach this time when we went, because it was still chilly, but there are plenty of free beaches in Venice.
Watch out for the nude beaches if that’s something you don’t want to see, or don’t want your kids to see.
I don’t think Venice allows fully nude beaches, but they do have some topless beaches. They are generally appropriately marked, so it shouldn’t be an issue.
Transportation: How to Get There and Get Around
Like I mentioned earlier, once you’re in the city, you have to walk.
The only exception is the water taxi. For example, if you walk from the train station to Piazza San Marco, and you don’t feel like walking back, they have water taxis that will take you back to the front of the city.
You can generally book these based on time. A day pass isn’t too expensive, and it can be handy.
To get to Venice, you can either fly in, drive in or take the train.
If you fly in, you’ll have to take a bus or a taxi to get to the city. If you have a vehicle, you can drive in and park, but it’s cheaper to drive to a train station outside the city, find free parking and take the train in. Parking is expensive in Venice. There’s only one parking area, and it fills up quickly.
Lodging: Where to Stay for Cheap
If you go during the offseason, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a room the day you need it.
If you go during a busy season, book in advance.
We paid €100 for our room. It was a king size bed, and two singles. It worked for us.
Italy isn’t strict about how many people you have in one room, and usually when you get two rooms, they won’t be adjoining. So if you have a large family, expect to be crammed into a room. But you won’t be spending much time in your room anyways.
Lesson Learned: Try to find a hotel that’s not on a busy street. Hotels are scattered throughout the city, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one, but if you stay on a main street, it will get loud at night, especially on the weekends. And with the average insolation in an Italian hotel, sleeping might be a challenge.
Compare prices and haggle to get the best price. Don’t take the first thing you see.
Food: How to Eat All the Food Without Going Broke
Now the part you’ve all been wait for. The food…
These four slices of pizza and the beer was around €10. And yes, there is pasta on two of those slices. It was glorious.
The food in Venice is delicious and not too expensive, if you do it right. What they call “Venetian” food is basically just typical Italian food with a lot of seafood options, since Venice is on the sea.
Let me quickly explain [some of] the different types of eateries in Italy:
- Ristorante – I’m starting with this one, because you may see the name and assume it’s where you should be eating, but beware! While the food will be amazing, you’ll find the highest prices here. A ristorante is a full-service, essentially fine dining, place to eat. I’m not telling you not to eat here, but if you’re on a budget, I’d avoid ristorantes.
- Trattoria – Think of these more like family diner-type restaurants in the states. These are generally family owned and operated, and a little less expensive than a full-service ristorante. We ate at one while we were in Venice, and it cost our family of six about €50.
- Bar – This isn’t like the bars in the states. It’s not an adult establishment, it’s more like a coffee bar. They serve all kinds of food and drinks, and they vary widely from bar to bar, as far as size and food choices. The pizza above was from a little bar next to our hotel.
- Osteria – These don’t really exist anymore. It was like a small bar where you could eat a quick meal, or often eat a lunch you packed and brought to work. You don’t need to know about these for Venice, but I just want to make a point of how many different types of eateries Italy has to offer.
- Gelateria – You’ll want to remember this one. Gelato! Italian ice cream. It’s wonderful and cheap. You should be trying at least five or six different shops a day, or you’re doing it wrong.
- Pizzeria – I know you know what this is, but in Italy, just remember that they’ll be a little more expensive than the pizza at bars.
- Tavola Calda – Essentially Italian fast-food. A quick meal.
- Pasticceria – Think of this like a bakery. They usually serve sweets, and often meats and cheeses.
- Rosticceria – Basically this is a deli. Usually with a walk-up window.
- Paninoteca – A sandwich shop.
- Paninaro – Food trucks.
- Enoteca – A wine bar.
Believe it or not, that’s not even all of the types of eateries in Italy! There’s also a type that grows most of the food at the restaurant and serves it fresh, but I can’t remember the name of it. Italy is serious about food.
Stick to bars, pizzerias and gelaterias to get the most bang for your buck.
I don’t recommended even eating regular lunch and dinner meals. Eat all day. Stop by and grab a slice of pizza from one pizzeria and split it with your family. That way you can try a lot of different food, and not get full in the process. The second day, we snacked all day and night, without ever eating an entire meal.
Souvenirs: What to Buy and Where to Get It
We bought a few pieces of blown glass. It can be pretty expensive, but shop around.
It seems like Murano Island has the best deals on most pieces of blown glass, and you’ll want to find the best deals, because some smaller pieces can be around €1,000.
We bought an original painting from a man on the pier for €35. There are plenty of artists to choose from, so find something you really like. We love to get paintings of our favorites areas, or paintings that mean something to us. For example, when we flew into Venice for the first time back in December, we bought a painting that a lady painted the night we were flying in. We liked the painting and thought it would be neat to have something that was painted while we were flying in.
You have plenty of options, but blown glass is the most popular, probably followed by paintings. Get whatever your budget can handle, and shop around for anything you buy, because there are hundreds of options for almost everything.
Beware: What to Watch Out for in Venice
Venice is an extremely safe city. The gondola guide told us “there is no crime in Venice.” I don’t know about that, but we felt safe the entire time. You’ll be walking through narrow alleys that are often quite dark at night, but that’s normal there.
There are, however, a few things to look out for:
- Pickpockets – You’ll see warnings for pickpockets around the train station and within the city. This is very real in Europe, especially in tourist areas. Avoid them by keeping a front-pocket wallet. I have a dummy wallet in my back pocket so they think they got something and they leave me alone (this is especially important if you’re ever actually robbed beyond a mere pickpocket). I keep a few expired credit cards in my dummy wallet and 20 bucks to make it look like a real wallet.
- Hawkers – You’ll see this everywhere in Italy. These are the people who are selling something that they can either carry on them, or quickly put down a blanket to put them on. We saw them selling selfie sticks, roses, toys and purses. Don’t buy from these people. It’s illegal for them to be selling this stuff, and illegal for you to buy it. You’ll see the hawkers running when the Polizia and Carabinieri spot them. Italy is strict about receipts and often you can get in trouble if you don’t have a receipt from a purchase, so stay away from these guys. You can buy a selfie stick at a stand for a quarter of the price.
That’s pretty much it. Just be smart with your purchases and you won’t get taken advantage of.
Are You Ready to Go?
There’s no time like the present to plan your trip.
With all of the history, you really don’t have to spend any money while you’re there. There’s plenty to see just by walking around.
If you’re planning to do some tours and see some of the attractions, you don’t have to spend a crazy amount of money, just follow the tips I gave and spend wisely.
If you have any questions, please ask in the comments. And share your stories if you’ve been!