Venice may have a reputation as an expensive destination, but you can still enjoy a trip to the city if your budget is more penny-pinching than palazzo – just take it from the student residents. With two world class universities, Ca’ Foscari and the IUAV Architecture School, Venice is home is thousands of students enjoying the city on the cheap; these are their money-saving recommendations for eating, drinking and sightseeing across La Serenissima.
Venetians take bar snacks to the next level, with an abundance of small plates known locally as cicchetti. Often using fresh lagoon fish as a main ingredient, but also available with meat or vegetarian options, eating cicchetti is a budget-friendly alternative to a full evening meal.
Sabrina Giorgio, who studies at Ca’ Foscari, says, “If you want a Venetian specialty, go to a bacaro, a kind of bar that you that you find only in Venice.” These small bars, often standing-room only, serve cicchetti alongside traditional Venetian drinks such as a Spritz, a cocktail made with prosecco and (most commonly) Aperol.
Sabrina’s favourite is a wallet-friendly option: “I suggest Bacareto da Lele in Campo dei Tolentini, two minutes from the station; here you can eat and drink well for €5, and a Spritz or prosecco only costs €1.50.”
IUAV grad Elisabetta Fava recommends Al Portego. “It’s a must for Spritz, decent wine and fabulous cicchetti – it’s called that because there’s a portego (which means porch in Venetian) where you can sit down or wait for the rain to stop just outside the door.”
Osteria da Filo, Al Merca, Bacaro da Fiore and All’Arco are also popular haunts for everyone from students and residents to visitors looking to enjoy a light meal the traditional Venetian way.
With so many bars to discover in Venice, don’t spend your evening in one venue – bar-hopping is a fantastic opportunity to explore the city while sipping a Spritz. The artsy Dorsoduro area, which is near the Ca’ Foscari campus, is filled with bars with cheaper prices and lively atmospheres.
Louis Chapple, a student from London interning in Venice, is a fan of Ai Pugni just off Campo San Barnaba. “You can sit outside with a Spritz and watch the life of the boat market opposite. The staff are incredibly friendly and play great music.”
Sabrina recommends heading to the Campo Santa Margherita, a square which is a popular student hangout. With bustling markets, elderly Venetians chatting on benches, and a range of bars open late into the night, this has a more local vibe than many other places in a city overrun with tourists – and the venues that line the streets have the prices to match. “The best places to drink here are Skillà Bar, Il Caffè Rosso or Margaret Duchamp.”
For an alternative nightlife experience, grab a bottle and head to one of Venice’s secret warehouse parties at Casa Punta Croce. Louis describes the venue as “an arts organisation in Santa Croce where artists live – it has frequent exhibitions and great parties, and they’re always happy for people to drop in to share their creative thoughts and ideas.”
Venice is a pedestrian city, and simply exploring the winding streets and tiny alleyways is one of Elisabetta’s favourite pastimes. “Venice is packed with hidden magical places – I suggest you get lost! I always find something that surprises me.”
She also recommends that visitors leave the main part of Venice, visiting not only the tourist hubs of Murano and Burano but also the smaller, more peaceful areas around the lagoon. “Wandering from island to island with the vaporetto (the Venetian public water bus) is always amazing, you can admire the lagoon and make a break from the stones of the city. Cimitero di San Michele is one of my favourite places – the cemetery of Venice, it is an island on its own. It’s very romantic and quiet, with a stunning view of the city. The other islands to see are, of course, Murano, Burano and Torcello with its amazing cathedral, but also Sant Erasmo with its huge gardens, where all the vegetables in Venice’s markets come from.”
With countless museums, it’s easy to spend a fortune sightseeing in Venice. However, doing a bit of research can help avoid the crowds and spare your wallet.
Louis recommends skipping one of the busiest attractions for a better view: “For a great skyline view of Venice, head to the campanile on San Giorgio Maggiore island. It’s far less busy than the one in St Mark’s Square, much cheaper and has a better view of the city, in my opinion.”
Art aficionados can also enjoy some world-class exhibitions on a budget. Louis says, “There are sometimes free exhibitions in the church on San Giorgio Maggiore island, and there’s the Victoria Miro Gallery or Louis Vuitton near St Mark’s Square.”
Visitors can also find some magnificent art in Venice’s churches. It’s free to enter the world-famous Basilica San Marco, although be prepared to queue during busy times – the centuries-old gold mosaics lining the naves are worth the wait. Another one not to miss is the Basilica dei Frari, the impressive Gothic church that houses Titian’s grave, where entrance is only €3.
In Venice, you don’t have to be a student to enjoy a discount. Like many European cities, there are also major price reductions available for travellers under the age of 30. Even if your university days are long behind you, check online or at the door of the attraction you’re visiting to see if you’re eligible for a reduced ticket.
Cicchetti alone won’t sustain you throughout your trip, but finding cheap and delicious cuisine in Venice can be a difficult task. Learning how to avoid charlatan restaurateurs, a heavily inflated coperta (cover charge), and truly astonishing prices for a drink of water is the greatest gift a Venetian can give you.
Gianni Scriguoli, a recent graduate from Ca’ Foscari, and his friends love Al Nono Risorto. Located in San Polo, the smallest sestiere (district) in Venice, Gianni says, “this fantastic osteria has a huge garden and really affordable dishes. They’re most famous for the spaghetti al nero di seppia (spaghetti made with black squid ink), and I love the profiteroles.”
According to Louis, El Pecador is the food destination not to miss on a day trip to the Lido from the main island. Set in an old red bus, this may not look typically Italian from the outside, but the food they serve up definitely is. “It’s a Lido institution among locals, and the place to eat when you are having a beach day. Located just behind the Lido beach, this London double decker bus serves the best panini on the island.”
Eating where residents and students eat will prove to be better quality with zero surprises on the bill. Venturing into the more residential streets and seeking out smaller restaurants filled with Venetians is a sure-fire way to enjoy traditional cuisine without breaking the bank.
Taking the vaporetto is vastly cheaper than a gondola ride, but they can still take a heavy toll on your wallet with individual journey tickets costing €7.50.
Gianni’s top tip is to make use of the discounts available for public transport. “If you live in Venice, even as an intern, you can get a monthly pass for the water bus called an abbonamento which is very cheap. If your stay on the island is shorter, make sure you get a three- or seven-day pass. Those aged 29 or under can get a discounted three-day pass for only €22.”
Visitors can also purchase a 24-hour vaporetto pass, which is just €20 – a great budget-friendly option if you wish to do a day trip out to the islands surrounding the lagoon, which are all reachable via the water bus.
Another viable option is avoiding the vaporetto altogether, as Elisabetta recommends. The island’s relatively small size means you’re never too far away from the main attractions on foot, and taking the side alleys is a wonderful way to discover corners of the city you may have otherwise missed. “Getting lost in Venice is still one of my favourite things to do.”
Walking through Venice, you’ll notice many city residents relaxing on benches and tucking into some of the island’s best street food. This is an easy and economical way to eat out in Venice. However, bear in mind that due to the number of tourists passing through the city each year, Venice has put rules into place surrounding public behaviour. To stay on the right side of the law, and ensure you’re a respectful visitor to the city, don’t eat in San Marco Square, make sure you dispose of your litter responsibly, and avoid sitting down to eat at places such as church entrances, the front steps of houses, or on bridges.
Getting food on the go is a part of the Venetian student routine. Sabrina’s recommendations include Pasta&Sugo, just off Campo San Barnaba, which offers a selection of fresh homemade pasta with a choice of sauces and toppings for under €7. For an even more budget-friendly option, head here during “happy hour” from 5pm-7pm, when visitors can pair a half portion of pasta with a glass of wine for just €5.
For Gianni, nothing beats the Italian classic of a fresh slice of pizza. “The pizza slice place in Campo Santa Margherita is so good that it doesn’t need a name – it’s simply called Pizza Al Volo, which means Pizza to Go. Here you can buy the best slices in the city for just a few euros. You’ll definitely come back for more.”