How to Spend a Cheap 24 Hours in Venice - and Why That's More Than Enough
Ah, Venice. That beautiful floating city that appears in every top travel list. The one you saw in every painting you studied in art class. The one that's slowly sinking and you must see before it's much too late.
Also the one that's so popular it can break your travel budget and who's hordes of tourists might make you appreciate the idea of solitary confinement. Yea, that one.
Here are my two (travel blogger) pence. You can sufficiently enjoy Venice in a day, and not only make better use of your time in Italy, but also save a hefty amount of your travel money.
Don't get me wrong, Venice is beautiful. It's charming and filled with darling hidden pockets just waiting to be found. And I do think it's a city everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. It's just that the heavy tourism (and tackiness that comes with it) has taken away some of the magic.
But it can be done. You can love it. And you can even see it on the cheap.
I've been to Venice twice. Once in the dead of winter where I encountered lots of icicles but zero tourists, and more recently, during peak summer season where I nearly died dodging the heat and the crowds. If you take one thing away from this post, book your trip to Venice during off-season if you can.
But enough about me. Here are my tips for how to make the most of one full day in Venice on a backpacker's budget.
1) Spend the early morning in St. Mark's Square. Start as early as you can and avoid the crowds. Sit on the steps, watch the passersby and let the sun soak into your skin before getting your history lesson at the Doge's Palace. This won't come mega-cheap but it's the only paid tour in this itinerary (I promise!) and gives you a true understanding of the city's fascinating past. Then wander into St. Mark's Basilica to admire the sheer luxury of this beautiful church. This one's free, but ladies, don't forget to wear something to cover your legs. Otherwise it's a euro to borrow a wrap to get in, which I very narrowly avoided.
2) Go admire the Bridge of Sighs. This beautiful bridge connects the New Prison with the Doge's Palace. Legend has it that prisoners crossed the bridge and sighed as they caught their last view of Venice before going to their cells. The dates don't add up, but it's a lovely (if sad) story and you'll appreciate it even more after your palace tour.
3) Get an energy kick by way of a Venetian macchiatone - the local coffee. Wander down a few random streets and stumble upon a cafe that's to your liking. Be sure to avoid the options in St.Mark's square as you'll pay an arm and a leg for even the smallest of expressos. True story: on my first trip to Venice, my bestie and I were charged a criminal 24 euro for two cappuccinos near the palace!
4) Get lost in Venice's side streets. Once fully caffeinated, it's time to get lost. Put down your map, ignore the Trip Advisor ratings and just wander through the city's random alleys. I promise you'll discover wonderful little boutiques filled with Murano glass (I found some stunning Murano earrings), crumbling churches and lively squares. Plus, you'll get a moment's respite from the crowds.
5) Enjoy a gelato. If you start to get peckish, now is the time for a gelato break. Because what's a holiday for if not to indulge? Plus, there is simply nothing like an Italian ice cream and Venice doesn't disappoint. Try the Stracciatella (a kind of cookies'n'cream variety) or the Bacio (a local chocolate and hazelnut combo - my personal favourite).
6) Take a ride on the Vaporetto. This water taxi is how the locals do it and it's a lovely way to see the city from the water. I'd highly recommend this over an overhyped and overpriced Gondola ride. You'll pay 8 euro (instead of 80) and get (almost) the same views. If you're a backpacker or simply don't want to waste your money, this is definitely the way to go.
7) Try on Carnivale masks. Get off near the Dorsoduro district. This artsy district is home to a number of cool galleries and museums. I love it because of the array of Carnivale mask shops you'll find there. You can even catch a mask-maker at work, and at the very least, try on a few yourself.
8) Enjoy a hearty Italian meal. By this point you'll have surely worked up your appetite so find a quaint little restaurant for dinner. Again, get off the beaten path, and find a quiet place along a random alleyway. We did exactly that in the Dorsoduro district and I had my best ever spaghetti in Italy. If you're after a cheaper food alternative, pop into a local bar instead and sample the cicchetti (similar to tapas) which sell for 1-3 euro a pop.
9) Soak it all in on the Rialto Bridge. It's time to work off those Italian carbs and walk back to the Rialto Bridge. Try and time this for sunset. Bring your camera but don't forget to put it down and really soak in those stunning views. As the twinkling city lights switch on in that perfect dusk light, you'll understand why this city has captured the imagination of artists and lovers for so long.
10) Enjoy a tipple or three. Finish your day off in a hip young neighbourhood - try somewhere like Campo Santa Margherita - and sample a few bellinis. Drinking is relatively cheap in Venice. And who knows, you might be end up swapping a few stories with a born-and-bred Venetian rather than another tourist.
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