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European summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to plan an epic trip to Italy. In fact, the 2023 Uproxx Fall Travel Hot List celebrated Europe’s famed “shoulder season” over and over. And if you’re visiting a globally popular, tourist-heavy city like Venice, well… it’s almost essential that travel when the rush of post-graduates and honeymooners has died down. Otherwise, finding a place to eat a slice of pizza is like trying to swim upstream against a raging river of humanity.
It’s no wonder that Venice draws such a vast crowd of travelers, though. Between its famous canals, picturesque bridges, and many winding alleyways, the dreamy city of water feels like walking through a painting. There’s an undeniable sense of whimsy you feel right when you step out of the train station and into the car-free cobblestone streets. Of course, there’s also no shortage of cheesy, carb-loaded indulgences to help you power your adventures.
While just about any Italian getaway is sure to cost you a pretty penny (er… Euro), the good news is that there are a few simple ways to reduce your vacation budget. I recently visited Venice with my best friend, and we were able to create an iconic Venice itinerary without spiraling into credit card debt. And considering we both like pretending we have the lifestyle of the wealthy and famous — while owning the bank accounts of a struggling creative and a recent medical school graduate — that’s saying something.
So, to help you save on your next Italian adventure, I’m sharing my best budget traveler’s hacks to Venice, below.
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1) Stay In Metropolitan Venice
Waking up to a view of the canals sounds wonderful, but the price it’s going to cost you does not. Accommodations are one of the most expensive parts of any travel experience, so opting for an affordable hotel or hostel is guaranteed to help you save big. Instead of staying within the parameters of Venice’s waterways, stay in the Marghera neighborhood — the actual city side of Venice near the Venice Mestre train station. You’ll have to take a 10-minute train ride into town every day but the inconvenience is worth it if you’re trying to be budget-conscious.
I recommend staying at A&O Hostels. It’s basically like a hostel and hotel hybrid, and you can choose to stay in a bunk room with other travelers or in your own room. The 309-room property is located just a two-minute walk away from the station, making it easy to go back and forth to your room when needed. Solo travelers will love the lounge area next to the lobby, where you’ll find a fully stocked bar, snacks, tables, and common spaces where guests hang out each night. Bunks start at around $18 per night, and individual rooms start at about $63.
Plus, you can get breakfast included so that’s one daily meal you don’t have to worry about buying. Bonus: A&O will especially appeal to eco-tourists, as the brand is aiming to be the first European hostel group to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2025.
Book your room at A&O Hostels here.
2) Take a Food Tour
My favorite travel hack for saving money on vacation is to take a food tour. Sure, it might cost $100 upfront, but you’ll get a several hours-long activity, learn about a city’s food culture and traditions, and fill up on an array of delicious local delicacies. I genuinely do this whenever I’m traveling on a tight budget, and it’s honestly always so fun and interesting.
I typically book my food tours through Devour, a small group tour company that leads intimate food experiences. On my trip to Venice, I opted for the Tastes & Traditions of Venice: Food Tour with Rialto Market Visit. This was easily one of my favorite activities I did in Venice. First of all, I appreciated that my tour guide was an actual local who was born and raised in Venice. In addition to each stop on the tour, she gave us the inside scoop on what food spots were overrated tourist traps and which ones were actually worth the hype.
Throughout the tour, we tried traditional Venitian fare like tramezzini, a breakfast sandwich made with meats and cheeses; Select Spritze, Venice’s classic version of an Aperol Spritz made with a bitter Italian aperitif called Select; and a sample of various seafoods from the famous Rialto Market. The market was my favorite stop on the tour, as it gives you a glimpse into the city’s history that still resonates in its culture today. You’ll also get to sip on espresso and wine, then finish off with some chocolatey treats. In total, you’ll get eight food tastings (which are actually much bigger than you’d expect from just a tasting), as well as four or more drinks at seven locally owned businesses. It really is an excellent way to combine food, fun, and culture all into one slot on your itinerary, saving you a few bucks in the end.
PS: Our guide told us not to eat the cannolis in Venice because they’re basically just a tourist gimmick from a freezer package. If you want a real-deal cannoli, go to where they were actually created in Sicily. I’ll admit that a cannoli was literally the first thing I ate in Venice, so… don’t make the same mistake I did?
Book a Venice Devour Tour here.
3) Skip the Full Gondola Ride
I get it. I wanted my dreamy gondola ride around the canals of Venice, too. But paying $100 for 30 minutes just isn’t worth it, whether you’re on a budget or not. Lucky for you, I figured out a hack that will help you get that gondola Instagram pic for only €2. There are public gondolas that transfer visitors across the larger waterways without bridges. You’ll have to ride with a group, and it takes about two minutes to get across so you’ve got to move fast, but you can still get a few good snapshots (as proved by the photo I took above… perhaps?) and a ride in a classic Venetian boat.
Plus, if you don’t get the photos you wanted the first time around, it won’t cost you much to try again on the way back!
Not only is this a cheap way to get your gondola experience, but it’s also an extremely convenient way to get around, especially when your feet get tired from walking around the city all day.
4) Take a Small Group Tour
I’m not one for big group tours, but I actually do really love more intimate small group experiences. And oftentimes, these offer a decent mix of sightseeing, food or wine tastings, and education — a cultural combination that can be hard to achieve on your own as a tourist. This kind of value alone makes it worth the cost and embarrassing headsets, in my opinion. It’s also a great way to meet other English-speaking travelers, especially if you’re flying solo.
In Venice, I signed up for the Premium Lagoon Excursion: Murano Glass, Burano & Wine by City Experiences. Again, it might seem like a lot of cash upfront, but it evens out. Throughout the tour, we visited two of the outer islands of Venice on a private boat transfer (AKA, no long lines or paying for public transit tickets). Our first stop was Murano, a Disneyland-like neighborhood known for its rainbow-painted buildings and traditional lace goods. We also did a wine tasting with aperitif here, so that covers your drinks for the afternoon. Then, we went to the island of Burano, known for its glassblowing factories as well as its intricate glass art pieces, windows, and souvenirs.
I genuinely loved this tour because I otherwise probably wouldn’t have gone to those outer islands, which turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Exploring these areas for several hours — while getting a private transfer, learning from a local, and sipping on wine — works out to be more valuable and convenient than trying to do it all yourself.
Book a City Experiences tour here.
5) Bring Your Travel Buddy
I’m all for solo travel, but if you’re trying to save money, it’s going to cost you a lot less to travel with a friend. If staying in a private room instead of a bunk is important to you, then you’ll be able to cut your accommodation costs in half. Chances are you’re going to be eating and drinking a ton, too. Splitting entrees and appetizers makes every meal a little more affordable, not to mention you’ll get to try more items on the menu. (Again, stay in a hotel or hostel with a continental breakfast.)
Venice is an expensive destination, and visiting with a travel buddy is a surefire way to reduce costs on hotels, food, and activities. Plus, it makes it all the more fun!