Romantic gondola rides, stunning architecture and bustling piazzas are just a handful of the attractions that make Venice one of the most popular ports of call on many a Mediterranean cruise itinerary. However, while the city is known for all of these things, it is also renowned as one of the most expensive destinations in the world – take a seat outside one of the cafes that line the perimeter of Piazza San Marco and you can expect to pay an eye-watering €30 for two coffees!
Stretch your euros by avoiding the well-trodden tourist path and heading off in search of these free attractions instead. Not only will you save plenty of cash, you’ll see a more authentic side of this beautiful city too.
Explore the Basilica di San Marco
It may come as a surprise to know that Venice’s premier attraction doesn’t come with an admission fee. No trip to the city is complete without exploring the Basilica di San Marco but you can escape the inevitable crowds by attending morning mass, rather than waiting until later in the day.
The imposing structure dominates the Piazza San Marco with its lavish mosaics, Byzantine domes and intricate marblework. You will need to dress modestly to venture inside the church (arms and knees covered) and a small fee is chargeable in order to access one of its most beautiful features; the Pala d’Oro is a spectacular gold alter piece, studded with 2000 emeralds, amethysts, sapphires, rubies and pearls.
Live like a local in Campo Santa Margherita
Leave costly Piazza San Marco behind and get an authentic taste of Venetian life at Campo Santa Margherita. Located in the Dursoduro district district of Venice, this bustling square is best visited in the evening, when acoustic guitars provide the soundtrack as locals meet for drinks and dinner. Pull up a chair at one of the tables that line the square and cool down with a Campari and soda; the traditional drink in these quarters. Unlike Piazza San Marco, Campo Santa Margherita is a really reasonable spot in which to seek refuge from the crowds with a coffee or prosecco, while fish, herb and vegetable stalls add to the genuine local feel. Campo Santa Margherita thrives long into the night, with many bars open until 2am, compared to the 11pm more often found in Venice – great for night owls and party people.
Live like a royal at Casino Venier
Back in the 18th century, Venice was home to over 100 casinos. Today, just a handful remain, with Casino Venier being one of the most notable. Take a step back in time to the age of decadence, when Venetians would show off their finery, discuss politics, art, literature, and of course flirt a little with Lady Luck (and any possible suitors).
This hidden treasure dates back to 1750 and sits on the first floor of a nondescript building on the banks of the Barateri Canal. Get a feel for the life of the Venetian aristocracy in surroundings rich in gleaming marble, golden stucco, Murano mirrors and ornate frescos.
Picturesque canals, paint-box bright houses and colourful wooden boats make Burano a photographer’s paradise and a worthy excursion out of the city.
The island continues to operate as a fishing village, with fishermen returning to the shore in quaint fishing boats each evening. As a result, the seafood in Burano is some of the freshest in all of the Venetian islands. Trattoria al Gatto Nero is often recommended as one of the best restaurants in Burano; grab a table outside and enjoy a meal of antipasti, fresh pasta and seafood at a fraction of the price you could expect to pay in Venice.
Burano is world-renowned for its lace and some of the finest examples can be found in the lace museum, Museo del Merletto. Artisan lace makers can still be found around the town, with many selling their wares from outside pastel-hued homes, just as they would have done in years gone by.
While browsing the streets of Burano is free, getting there requires you to take the vaparetto line 12 from Venice (near St Marks) at a cost of around €6.50 per person. The scenic 40 minute ride alone is worth the small fee, passing a handful of islands that sit in the Venetian lagoon, before finally arriving at your destination of Burano.
No, we’re not being rude. Sometimes the best way to see a city for free is to leave the map at home and get lost in a maze of winding streets, historic bridges, hidden piazzas and quaint coffee shops.