Think Venice on the cheap is mission impossible? Then think again, because exploring this Italian city doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg…
The gondola is one of Italy’s most enduring sights. Weaving through the canals of Venice with the love of your life is the stuff of film sets – and Cornetto ads. The trouble is, you can pay anything from £60 – or 70-odd euros – for the pleasure.
A more affordable way of seeing the city from the inside-out is by vaporetto – the water-buses that zigzag from stop to stop on the water. A single ticket costs 7 euros. It gets you from one end of the Grand Canal (close to the train station and the cruise terminal) to the other (San Marco) in around 30 minutes.
Set off as early as you can and you’ll get to see the city rubbing the sleep from its eyes as locals lay tables in front of teeny trattorias, and open the shutters of water-lapped palazzos.
If you’ve got time to linger – and who hasn’t in Venice – St Mark’s Square is the place to slow your steps. This is where the city’s heart beats the strongest. The vast space is dominated by the domes and arches of the basilica, plus there are plenty of neo-classic buildings and statues, and the slender spike of St Mark’s Bell Tower.
To one side, a long arcade is lined with shops, restaurants, and pavement cafés. Even in winter, though, an espresso here can set you back at least 8 euros – more if there’s music playing. A more wallet-friendly option is to delve deeper in to the city’s squiggle of lanes and squares.
Away from the tourist flashpoints, wine bars, or ‘osteria’, serve cappuccinos, pizza and panini at a fraction of the price you’d pay in a centrally located restaurant. For even cheaper bites, take a seat at the counter and graze on Italian-style tapas.
Venice has history coming out of its ears. A lot of the larger hotels were once palaces, and you can take a peek inside to see marble staircases decorated with frescoes, and chandeliers of Murano glass. If you’re here for more than a few days, it’s worth investing in a museum pass, too. For 18 euros, you get access to 9 top sights, including Doge’s Palace and the Glass Museum on the island of Murano.
Otherwise, entry is free to the city’s churches. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the jewellery box looks of Miracoli Santa Maria, to the red-brick basilica of St John and St Paul.
But St Mark’s Basilica has to be top of the list. Originally built to house the body of St Mark, the patron saint of Venice, it’s got a stunning combination of sky-high domes that glow with gold mosaics, and arches propped up by thick marble pillars.
Beautiful people and beautiful shops go hand in hand in Venice. Famous brands like Armani, Gucci, Valentino and Versace pop up around the San Marco area, while the arcades bounding St Mark’s Square are home to one-of-a-kind Venetian mask-makers and some of the city’s best – and priciest – jewellers.
If you walk around the corner, though, past Doge’s Palace, you’ll get to a wide, paved waterfront broken by a succession of bridges over canals. The whole area is crammed with artists showcasing their watercolour paintings, and souvenir stalls. You can take your pick of feathered and sequined papier-mâché carnival masks for less than 10 euros, and reproduction antique plates and picture frames for even less.
The chain of shopping streets and boulevards zigzagging between St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge is also home to a mix of trinket stores. Their windows showcase glass animals, bracelets, and glass beads, known as ‘perle veneziane’.
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Author: Sharon Greaves
Published: November 21, 2013
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