Venice on a shoestring?

Known as one of the most expensive cities in Europe, last week I set out with a friend to find out whether Venice is really possible on a shoestring.

The first thing to note is that flying to Treviso rather than the closer Marco Polo was much cheaper (£65 return with Ryanair) – and with just a forty minute coach trip to the city, hassle free.

Once there, to stay on the island itself costs about €30 per person for poorly-rated hostels so we opted instead to stay on the mainland at ‘Camping Venezia’. The campsite was spotless, with power-showers, pool and wifi. Even the tent spots had electricity. We stayed in a little cabin with ensuite loo and sink for €15 each per night. Unfortunately our cabin wasn’t of such a high standard; it was boiling hot and mosquito-ridden. Whilst of course staying in a five star hotel on the island would have been preferable, the five minute bus ride into town was no great hardship. Accommodation, then, is possible in Venice on a shoestring, as long as you think outside the box, the box being Venice itself.

The next biggest chunk of most holiday budgets is probably the cost of food. But the city is awash with good patisseries which sell tasty pieces of focaccia or focaccia-pizza for a euro or two and these provided a few simple and good value meals. However, we wanted to sample the at least occasional restaurant while on holiday – being unashamed and obsessive foodies. We avoided the most obvious tourist traps which charged between €8 and €15 for a basic pizza or bowl of pasta. The food looked bland and unimaginative, and certainly not cheap. In contrast, we enjoyed Venice’s traditional Cicchetti (Italian tapas),  at ‘Dai Zemei’, returning twice for their delicious slices of bread covered in hams, anchovies, roasted cherry tomatoes and zucchini – all €1.50 a pop. Four or five was plenty for supper. At ‘Osteria Alla Staffa’, for €14 we shared a bowl of spaghetti with razor clams and penne with a rabbit ragu, the pasta perfectly al dente, the razor clams sweet and tender and salty and the rabbit rich, almost creamy. But our best dish was on Burano, a beautiful fishing island half an hour from Venice by boat. €14 (plus the budget traveller’s enemy, a cover charge of €4 each) bought the best spaghetti alle vongole e cozze I have ever tasted. The shell fish was delicious and piled high and the sauce was perfectly balanced, relying on the seafood rather than tomatoes as poorer relatives often do. Perhaps the meal was not quite budget but it was well worth it. The real star of the trip was (predictably) the ice cream, which was surprisingly reasonably priced at €1.50 a scoop (considerably cheaper than G&D’s and I hate to say it, significantly better). ‘SuSo’ was a cut above the touristy stalls with a large array of delicious flavours. The mango and peach sorbet was particularly exquisite.

You could spend a lot of money visiting Venice’s many wonderful attractions. We opted to buy the “Venice card” – €29.90 for under-30s. This was still quite expensive but meant we tried to see as much as possible to validate the cost, rather than constantly skipping sites. Unfortunately it didn’t cover everything and we forked out another €7 to see Peggy Guggenheim’s house and its formidable collection of modern art. Travel-wise, a single journey on the boat-bus is €7, although we got 72-hour passes for €22. However, it is possible to walk the whole island, which we did when our travel cards ran out. By walking everywhere and only visiting the free churches (including the stupendous St Mark’s Basilica) you could save money, but if you’ve made it all the way to Venice you may as well actually see some of its museums!

In total the trip cost about £400 for five nights and six full days. We missed out expensive gondola rides (€80 for forty minutes), the clock tower in Piazza San Marco (€8) and a few museums not included in the Venice card, but we still had a lot of fun. Venice will never be cheap compared to travelling around poorer parts of the world, but if you want to visit with a limited budget, you should still go for it!