It doesn’t matter how big your travel budget is – if you’re anything like me, you’re still going to be looking for travel deals everywhere you go. Unfortunately, a city like Venice (which knows it’s so unique that people will make a point to visit almost regardless of the price) has a reputation for not treating serious budget travelers all that well. It’s an expensive city to stay in, and even a bad meal in Venice can cost you what feels like a fortune. So here is a list of some of the free things to do in Venice – as well as some of the almost-free (i.e. cheap) things to do in Venice for when you have a few extra euro to spend.
Always Free Venice
The things on this list won’t cost you a cent – they’re free all year-round.
- Getting Lost in Venice – If you do nothing else in Venice, and even if you have unlimited funds, your time is best spent wandering the city and getting thoroughly and blissfully lost. And this never costs you anything but time.
- St. Mark’s Basilica – Aside from just wandering through Venice, my favorite “sight” is this stunning Byzantine basilica. Though a few of the tiny museums inside the church have an entry fee, the main part of the church is completely free.
- St. Mark’s Square – Venice’s “drawing room,” in front of St. Mark’s Basilica, is a must-see for any visitor. It’s often crammed with tourists, but it’s a lovely piazza and great for people-watching.
- Rialto Bridge – The Rialto might be the most famous of Venice’s bridges, and it’s free to cross, gaze upon, and enjoy. The nearby Rialto market is also free to check out, provided you don’t buy anything.
- Attend a Concert – Believe it or not, there are often free concerts going on in Venice. You’ll find more during “culture week” in May, but you should definitely check the Music in Venice site to see if there’s anything going on when you’re visiting.
- Campo Santa Margherita – This spacious piazza is much less visited than the busy St. Mark’s Square, but it’s excellent for people-watching (mainly because it’s where you’ll find more “real” Venetians) and is home to a bustling fish market in the mornings.
- San Giorgio Maggiore – The famous Italian architect Andrea Palladio designed this church, which is on (conveniently) San Giorgio Maggiore island. The interior includes a few Tintoretto paintings. You can pay a small fee to take an elevator to the top of the campanile, but the church is a freebie. And if you want a real treat, show up at Sunday morning Mass to hear Gregorian chants sung by Benedictine monks.
- Santa Maria della Salute – This church (built by survivors to thank the Virgin Mary for sparing them from the plague) dates from the 17th century, and visiting the main part is free. There are occasionally organ vespers which are free as well.
- San Vidal – While the evening concerts held here usually charge admission, during the day it’s free to visit the church itself. The main attraction is the painting above the high altar.
- San Zaccaria – This church dates from the 9th century, and the art which draws the most attention is by Giovanni Bellini. There are several Bellini paintings in San Zaccaria.
Sometimes Free Venice
- Venice Biennale Exhibits – While this event only takes place every other year, if you’re in the city while it’s going on you can take advantage of lots of free art exhibits. The main exhibits have entry fees, but there are places all over the city that are completely free. What’s more, the exhibits themselves are often held in historic buildings that are normally not even open to the public, so that’s just one more reason to become an art lover!
Almost Free Venice
They’re not totally free, but the things on this list won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and if you’ve got a small budget allotted for Venice they’re great options.
- Night Ride on #1 Vaporetto – For the price of a vaporetto ticket, you can hop on the slow boat either at the San Marco stop or the stop in front of the train station and take a leisurely “cruise” on the Grand Canal. Bring a sweetheart to snuggle with and it’s the best mass transit trip you’ll ever take.
- Traghetto Ride Across Grand Canal – A gondola ride in Venice costs a fortune, but to set foot in a gondola for a couple of euro just take a quick ride across the Grand Canal from one of the many traghetto stops you’ll find between bridges.
- Tour Lagoon Islands – All you’ll have to buy is a ticket on a vaporetto in order to visit the islands of the Venice lagoon; and once on those islands, wandering (like in Venice) is delightful and free. On the Island of Murano you can watch glass-blowing demonstrations for free, on Burano you can sometimes see women sitting in sunny piazzas making lace, and on Torcello you can enjoy the peace & quiet of a nature reserve. There’s also the island of San Michele with its expansive cemetery, which is free to visit.
- Il Redentore – Palladio’s second church in Venice (the first being San Giorgio Maggiore) has a small entry fee, but it’s thought of as the architect’s most beautiful church. It was built by Venetians who had survived the plague to give thanks for their lives. The church is also involved in a popular festival held each July, the Festa del Redentore.
- Santa Maria dei Miracoli – There’s an entry fee for this 15th century church, but it’s just a couple euro and it’s been lovingly restored from top to bottom. It had been closed for a decade, so if you missed it on your last trip it’s definitely worth a stop next time.
- Santi Giovanni e Paolo – Again, this church charges a modest entry fee, but it’s Venice’s second-largest church (behind St. Mark’s) and contains the tombs of 25 doges as well as several interesting artworks. In the local dialect, it’s known as San Zanipolo, so keep that in mind when you’re asking directions.
>> Be sure to check out my other tips for visiting Venice on the cheap!
>> And then check out a more general list of what to do in Venice to see what else you might want to add to your itinerary!
Photo by: David Vila