It’s great to be able to take some time off and experience the beauty and culture of vacation destinations like Venice, Italy. Unfortunately, a trip to Venice can really take a toll on your wallet. And let’s face it, during these economic times it’s really best to avoid enormous expenses. But the trip of a lifetime doesn’t have to break the bank; if you go to the right places it’s possible to immerse yourself in a priceless experience while avoiding hefty price tags.
Piazza San Marco
Even if it did cost an arm and a leg, the Piazza San Marco would still be a must-see on your Venetian vacation plan. Fortunately, checking out this impressive square is absolutely free.
The Piazza San Marco, also known as St. Mark’s Square, is one of the world’s greatest squares. Nicknamed the ‘drawing room of Europe’, this landmark is very popular with tourists, photographers, and pigeons (that you are forbidden to feed) so it can get a bit crowded, but the vast size of the Square alleviates any claustrophobic tendencies. It originated in the 9th century and was enlarged to its present size and shape in 1177. The square itself is composed of a complex geometric pattern of brickwork, designed by the Venetian architect Andrea Tirali in 1723.
The Piazza San Marco also offers other attractions, like The Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and St. Mark’s Clock-tower. It’s a common location for many of Venice’s festivals and celebrations and for enjoying an evening at one of Venice’s historic cafes.
Be cautious when visiting the Piazza between late September and April, because of a phenomenon called Acqua Alta, where water levels in the area can rise and overflow into the square. When this happens St. Mark’s Square looks a little more like St. Marks swimming pool, but don’t let it put a damper on your sightseeing plans.
The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal, which is about 2.5 miles long, is the main aquatic thoroughfare in central Venice. Its banks are lined with more than 170 gorgeous palazzi, most from the 13th and 18th century.
Most people are tempted to take a gondola to get the “authentic” Italian experience, but gondolas can get very expensive. You can save money by taking one of Venice’s vaporettos (water buses), preferably during the evening to avoid a crowd.
You can also see the canal for free if you view it from the many bridges that cross it. Some prime examples include the Ponte di Scalzi, Rialto Bridge, Accademia Bridge, and the newest Ponte della Constituzione (Constitution Bridge). Though it entails more walking on your part, this option also gives you the added view of the architecture of some of Venice’s bridges.
Though they may not immediately come to mind as tourist attractions, churches are a great place to check out for architecture and artwork. Another great thing about the churches in Venice is many of them offer free admission. If attending a service it would not be acceptable to wander around taking pictures. Proper attire and behavior are a must. If you are prone to wearing short-shorts and belly shirts – leave them at home. Some free churches of interest include:
- Basilica di San Marco
Built to house the bones of Saint Mark, the Basilica di San Marco is filled with elaborate sculptures, artwork, and religious objects. The exterior boasts 5 large domes, Byzantine architecture, and very lavish decorations. Inside the church you have the opportunity to view stunning gold mosaics, which are best seen between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm while the church is illuminated by sunlight. It is polite to leave a donation, but entrance to the Basilica is technically free of charge. If you want to visit certain areas, however, like the San Marco Museum, the Treasury, or the Golden Altarpiece, you may have to purchase tickets.
- Santa Maria della Salute
The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is a massive eight-sided church that sits on more than 100,000 pilings on the edge of the Grand Canal. Every gorgeous inch was built in the 1600s as a “thank-you” to the Virgin Mary for saving Venice from the plague in 1630. Admission is free from 9:00 am to noon and from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. There is, however, a small charge to visit the sacristy.
- San Giorgio dei Greci
San Giorgio dei Greci, also known as the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, is the oldest church of the Orthodox Diaspora. Considered the most historically significant church of the Orthodox faith, this church is also thought to be one of the most impressive and ornate. Admission to the church is free, though there is a fee to visit the Byzantine icon museum.
Every penny-saver loves some good window-shopping. Though it may not be free to actually buy things at the shops in Venice, there’s nothing to stop you from just looking. Some of the places you might want to browse include:
- San Marco area: for high fashion and luxury goods
- Mercerie shopping streets: for everything from clothing to handmade stationery to Murano glass and art supplies
- Cannaregio and Strada Nova: for souvenir stores and everyday shops
- Rialto Bridge: for the fresh food and fish market
If you’re looking to give your ears a treat, or to simply satisfy your music enthusiasm then there are a few free things that will delight music lovers:
- Museum of Music
Located near the Renaissance Scuolo Grande di San Rocco art museum is another, smaller museum which offers free admission. Also known as Museo della Musica, the Museum of Music houses a collection of instruments and an exhibit on violin making. In another exhibit, called Antonio Vivaldi e il suo tempo, the museum gives an interesting look at the life of the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi.
- Free Concerts
They may not be widely advertised but if you check flyers and posters in the caffés and bars throughout Venice, you can find free concerts taking place throughout the city. Some of these free concerts may be listed on the website MusicinVenice.com.
There is also a day-long, city-wide event called Venice’s Suona Festival, during which the squares in Venice host free concerts.
Wandering Around and Getting Lost
Last, but certainly not least, is getting lost. This is completely free and it can often lead to the most interesting and intimate experiences. It’s called a vacation for a reason. You don’t have to map out every single moment. Take a breather from all that planning and take a stroll off the beaten path. Get off the main streets, walk the zig-zag maze of calle, get out of the hustle and bustle, up and down over footbrides and just immerse yourself in the Venetian culture and surroundings. Not everything worth seeing is printed on a map. You may find something unique and breathtaking that you never would have found otherwise. And, if your entire objective is just to get lost, then you won’t have to be so stressed out about trying not to.