Freelancing for quite a few years now I am used to my income having the mood swings sometimes. And I mostly don’t mind it – quite the opposite actually. I can happily hang out at a fancy hotel’s pool bar, while still loving a tiny tent in the woods. I go far and I stay close, I wear silky dresses and dirty, old sneakers, eat at really nice restaurants, but also have an ongoing love for cooking on a camp stove. It keeps me adventurous, open-minded and humble, all traits that are pretty dear to me and I want to hold on to. As long as I can go somewhere I am pleased. And oh so thankful for the privileges that allow me to!

Admitted – traveling on a budget can be challenging, but if you can, your bank account should not discourage you from going out there to explore. If you really want to see more you will! Creativity, courage and some smart preparation are key and can turn your journey on a budget around. Just do your homework, have some faith and go for it…

With that in mind I packed my bags and made my way to Venice, a city like no other. This special spot in the big Venetian lagoon in northeastern Italy consists of 118 different islands and is frantically adored by people from all around the world. Such stardom comes with trade-offs, so Venice isn’t just famous for its beauty, but also for being overly pricey and a spot reserved for lovers looking for a cheesy get-away… Neither are true.

Of course a city like Venice can get quite pricey (and goddamn romantic) but there is so much more to it – and even if you are on a budget and not holding hands with your fiancé/e you can have a really good time. At least I did. And I want the same for you, so so here are some tips to help you navigate through this maze of bridges, colors and wonder…

(Some snacks and a break in the sunshine at A&O hotel Venice)

1. Travel smart

Within Europe there are quite a few airlines offering cheap fares to Venice. I flew direct from Berlin-Schönefeld to Treviso airport, which came down to 80 Euro for both ways with Ryanair. There is a frequent bus service from Treviso airport to Venice Mestre station, which is 22 Euro for both ways. If you fly other airlines you’ll mostly land at Marco Polo airport, which is a bit closer to the city center. Transfer via bus will cost you 8 Euro for one way to Mestre station. You can also catch a local bus, which is even cheaper and will get you from Marco Polo Airport to Piazzale Roma for just 6 Euro.

If you live in Europe you can also combine your trip to Venice with a little journey through Italy or Southern Europe via train. Getting an Interrail global pass is a fun way to explore Europe in the most eco-friendly and flexible way. A pass, valid for 15 days, will only cost you 206 Euro if you are under 27 and 267 if you are 28 or older, and will allow you to travel as much as you want on 5 of those 15 days. Some really well-invested money!

PS: if you are a real budget master you should always bring your own food on a journey to save yourself from pricey airport food or vending machine snacks when the munchies hit!

2. Pick a good place to stay

I guess we’ve all experienced that getting somewhere often ends up being much cheaper than staying there, so wherever you go: pick your temporary home wisely. Invest some time in your research before booking and make sure to read the online reviews to get the best value for your bucks.

On my trip to Venice I stayed at the new A&O hotel and can really recommend it if you are looking for some great service, comfy beds and pretty design for little money. Unlike many other cheaper options, this place does not feel budget and you’ll quickly stop worrying about money, soaking up the Italian sun on the airy patio…

Enabling everyone to travel is more than a catchy line here, so the hotel naturally caters to a huge variety of people. Families with small kids as well as solo travelers or couples love the different packages to choose from, and meet each other on the big terrasse or at the versatile breakfast buffet. Dorm rooms start at 12 Euro and single rooms at 70 Euro per night. The breakfast is additional but only costs 7 Euro per day. There is a snack bar open 24/7 and a big supermarket just a minute away from the hotel in case you want to prep your own meals in the public kitchen.

(A big breakfast selection and even some vegan rice milk if you ask for it.)

The hotel is located in Venice-Mestre. The locals refer to Mestre as the mainland, which sounds like it might be far from the center, but actually isn’t at all. Conveniently located just a 3-minute walk away from Mestre station, you can get onto the main island (the city center) in only 15 minutes. The trains run very frequently and one way only costs 1,25 Euro. There also is a bus, but it’s the same price and much less reliable, so I recommend opting for the train. Make sure to check the schedule in case you are staying outside of Mestre at night to not have to wait too long or miss the last train. 

Getting from Mestre into the heart of town already is a beautiful part of the whole experience. You’ll cross the water on the huge main street, like thousands of Venetians do on a daily basis, and get a first impression of how this extraordinary town works and is located… 

3. Know where to eat and drink

Don’t get tourist-trapped. Unlike many Italian destinations you can easily end up having a shitty meal for way too much money in Venice. Rather look for hidden gems and stay away from eateries directly located at famous spots, like the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square. Often you can find much better options just a couple of meters away, in one of the numerous, tiny backstreets. Any place with a giant menu and photos of each dish should get you suspicious – less is more here!

If you’re looking for an authentic way to dive into the Venetian cuisine, you have to try “cicchetti”, little Italian tapas, loved by the locals. You can find those in one of the numerous “bacaros”, the Venetian take on gastropubs: rustic bars to gather, drink and eat in good company. Most of them are open from the early morning on until late at night, providing the neighborhood with food, booze and the latest rumors. If you visit make sure to stay respectful towards the people, living and working here. Some Venetians have had a little too much of all the tourists, but will soften up quickly if you are just nice (and praise their food!).

You get your cicchetti straight from the bar and can pick as many as you like. One item costs in between 0,50 and 2 Euro. The most famous one probably is Polpette, typical Italian meatballs, but the variety is huge and also offers plenty of vegetarian options. If you ask for it your plate can be accompanied by a little glass of house wine for 1 or 2 Euro and some bread or potato chips most of the time.

(Yessss! Lunch at Bacaro Quebrado for 15 Euro in total for two people)

Cantina Do Mori  is one of the oldest bacaros in Venice, just a 3-minute walk away from the Rialto market and open from 8 am until 8 pm. Their interior is woody and dark, quickly transporting you to ancient Italy. For just 9 Euro I had a plate of 4 veggie cicchetti, a glass of red wine and some chips. Yum!

(Veggie cicchetti at Cantina Do Mori)

If you are looking for a fully veggie option, Le Spighe Cucina is a great option for lunch. Their menu changes daily and everything is very fresh. You can choose from different serving sizes and get a small plate full of deliciousness for 4 Euro, either for take away or to stay. The restaurant is open daily until 3 pm except for Sunday and located in the Eastern part of the big island.

Another lunch only spot, close-by is Trattoria Alla Rampa on the lively Via Garibaldi. Either indulge in some more snacks here or have a main course for 10 to 12 Euro, accompanied by warm local vibes and a great hospitality.

(Italian-Bangladesh fusion snacks and great coffee for 5 Euro in total at Bar Puppa)

One of my favorite and extremely budget-friendly places was Bar Puppa, located down a narrow street towards Venice’s lagoon. Once a traditional pasticceria and coffee bar, this cozy place is now run by Bangladeshi Masud Rahman. He arrived in Venice 10 years ago and worked himself up from dishwasher to bar owner. He and his team create flavorful Italian-Bangladesh fusion dishes that are delicious and affordable. An amazing Italian espresso, cappuccino and two baked goods came down to 5 Euro in total. At night they offer dinner specials, where you get a burger, pasta or salad, plus wine and coffee for just 10 Euro. Worth checking out!

(Always looking for tasty food)

Although I’m not a big fan of sweet stuff myself I wanted to hunt down the best gelato for you guys (no worries, it was not too much of a sacrifice!) The Gelateria Alaska is nestled away from the big buzz of the main streets and a colorful little get away for your sweet tooth. The portions are as huge as the owner’s smiles and you can get all the (perfectly executed) traditional flavors, as well as some special stuff, like basil or celery. My two giant scoops of celery and ginger ice cream came down to 2 Euro – pretty decent, right?

(Alaska is for gelato purists as well as adventurers. They also have plenty of vegan options!)

When the night time hits there are even more places to indulge popping up and the glowing lights on the water will work their magic for you. If you just wanna grab a drink check out La Cantina, not too far from Rialto market. Located right on the (smaller) shopping street Campo San Felice it’s a perfect spot to grab a glass of red and do some people watching. Their selection of wine is huge; I had a wonderful, organic Chianti for just 4 Euro. They also offer food, but it’s much more expensive than their drinks, so I’d rather go there after dinner. 

(Chianti crush at La Cantina)

The whole area around Campo Santa Margherita, a lively student square is a great spot too if you are looking for a vibrant night life for affordable prices. 

Another fun bar  is La Bagatela, just 10 minutes away from the main station St. Lucia. This hidden gem will offer you some casual, local vibes and great drinks, starting at 2 Euro. They also offer some much-loved burgers, starting at 7 Euro.

4. Picnic all the time

If you know me, you know how much of a picnic lover I am. Venice is full of beautiful spots to sit down by the water and have some snacks, a drink and the best view ever. Especially when on a budget, getting some olives (2 Euro), a bag of fruit (1-3 Euro), crackers (1 Euro) and a bottle of Spritz (1 Euro) or wine (2-10 Euro) will give you a great, very individual dinner experience. Grab some stuff from one of the many supermarkets or stroll along the water over the Rialto market in advance for the best selection of fruits, veggies and baked goods. For extra comfort bring a blanket and make sure to not leave any trash behind!

(The Rialto market opens daily from 7 am until 12 pm. Ideally you go there early.)

(Premium picnic spot by the Rialto bridge)

5. Get lost

The real beauty of Venice does not cost a thing – it is the city itself: an architectural masterpiece of floating houses and bridges, radiating magic for everyone. Got no money to burn? Awesome, you can fully concentrate on just exploring! There is so much to see… turn off your phone and start walking!

Navigating can be quite tricky in Venice, so make a virtue out of necessity and just get lost (at least at day time). Find your way through the tiniest streets all the way to the impressive St. Mark’s Square and watch people from all around the world, trying to feed the birds. Stop at artisan jewelers and little booths selling straw hats to strangers. Watch lovers gaze at the water, relationships flourish and crumble, families pose on top of the Rialto bridge and old Italian men, laughing over a glass of their favorite wine. Listen to everything that is happening around you. Soak it all in. See the colors, smell the air. Be aware, take notes and photos if you like or just remember it all for yourself… 

(You can still turn your google maps on the moment you want to go home.)

(How to take things very easy, the Italian way)

(St. Mark’s Square)

(St. Mark’s Cathedral)

6. Learn how to row your own gondola

Cruising through the canals of Venice in a gondola is the ultimate dream of many tourists – a lot of work for all the gondoliers, awaiting the visitors all along the water in the more touristy areas. A 30-minute ride normally starts at around 80 Euro, which is quite a lot for the little cruise you get. Fair enough – if you’ve got the money and this is what you’ve been longing for you should go for it, but I stumbled across something that my restless self enjoyed even more: row the gondola yourself! Row Venice is a non-profit organization, run by women only, who thought it was about time to show all the male gondoliers that women can row too – pretty cool, right?

(Kickass lady Sofia is showing us how to row!)

I booked a 90-minute lesson for 2 people, which came down to 85 Euro, so 42,50 Euro each. If you are in a larger group of 4 you only pay 140, which makes it 35 Euro per person for 1,5 hours of rowing – quite a fair deal!

Not only was Sofia the loveliest company and a great teacher, she also provided us with a lot of great details and historical insights into the rowing culture – surely one of my favorite parts of this trip! You can book your own rowing lesson online and should really do so if you are looking for an authentic and unique way to explore the beauty of Venice. Admittedly, it might be hard to keep up with your gondola practice at home, but that’s just another reason to return…

7. Buy a ferry day pass and discover

After you’ve been a real captain yourself it might be time to lean back and let others do the job. The public transport via ferry  naturally works quite well in Venice and you can get almost everywhere via boat in no time. 

The official ferries are called “vaporettos” and should not be confused with private water taxis, which are much more expensive. One vaporetto ride costs 7 Euro, so it makes sense to get a 24-hour pass for 20 Euro and do all your exploration via boat during that time frame.

You should totally check out Burano, a colorful little island a bit more north. A ferry ride from the center will take around 40 minutes up there and is so worth it.

(Burano was one of my favorite places of the whole trip!

Another place to check out would be the island of Murano, home to the world-famous Murano glass and the glass museum. To end your day just right you can go to Lido beach for a swim and some relaxation on the public beach, free of charge. So much to explore for just 20 bucks! Get a map of the ferry network and go for it.

(Getting to the beach on Lido island only takes 20-30 minutes from the city center)

8. Enjoy a scenic view from St. Giorgio

Many people are queuing for the view from the famous bell tower of Saint Mark’s Cathedral  in Venice. Looking down on this magical city is just a wonderful experience, not to be missed, that’s for sure! Only few people know, that there is a cheaper, easier and in my opinion better option for this amazing view: San Giorgio Maggiore, another cathedral on the small island of St. Giorgio.

St. Giorgio is just a 5-minute ferry-ride away from St. Mark’s square and a ride there could be combined with your 24-hour pass exploration. The bell tower is open from 10 am until 7 pm (last ride up is happening at 6:45) and only costs 6 Euro (4 Euro if you are a student). You can almost see the whole laguna from up there, which is just stunning! Apart from the tower the island of St. Giorgio is full of great stuff to explore, there is a lot of art and culture happening, most of it for free!

9. Your daily dose of art

Not only is Venice a work of art itself, it also is full of art and culture. Apart from the big museums, which cost in between 10 and 15 Euro admission for one ticket (or get a museum pass), there are a lot public exhibitions, free of charge, happening all year long. When you visit make sure to check Venice’s official visitors website to be up to date and see what’s happening in the art and culture sphere of Venice.

If you are looking for smaller galleries (which normally are free of charge) the district of Dorsoduro is a great area which is a bit calmer and full of artsy places to explore! It’s also home to the amazing Peggy Guggenheim museum.

(If you can’t buy the real stuff, like these traditional hand-crafted masks sold at a gallery in Venice, rather just take inspiration with you and maybe make your own masks at home!)

10. Bring inspiration with you instead of souvenirs

In the end money can’t buy you happiness, but a love for exploration can. Don’t bring overly expensive souvenirs, but inspiration and some fresh ideas back home. How about inviting your friends over for a little cicchetti dinner night?  Prep your own polpette and catch up over one or two (three?) glasses of red wine. Or throw a little mask ball party with your own Venetian masks and bring some of the colors and beauty of Venice into your every day life. 

Are you planning to go to Venice? Let us know in the comments below, we’re always happy to hear about your plans ♥

All images © Tabea Mathern

*This is a sponsored post. However all opinions are my own. Thank you for the great times A&O hotel!