No-Budget Tips for Venice and Mestre

February 14, 2008

in Cheap Activities, City Tips, Contest, Food, Italy, Lodging, Public Transport, Rail, Shopping, Travel, Web Tips

Venice is touted as one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but you needn’t spend anything more than your time in order to enjoy the city and absorb its history. Stop to eat or rest your head, however, and you may soon find thatVenetian Canal the city’s most successful industry is not crafting carnival masks or glassware, but separating you from your money. Yesterday’s post showed you that a 10-15 euros/day budget in Venice is certainly achievable. After the jump, find further ideas for saving money on accommodation, transportation, food and more.

Accommodation: More than once I heard (former) Venetians decry that city life had simply gotten too expensive for residents — many of whom have been forced to move to the mainland city of Mestre to find affordable accommodation and, increasingly, work. This means Venice hustles and bustles by day when full of visitors, but around dusk (especially in January) finds itself, in stark contrast to the earlier part of the day, empty as a deflated balloon.

If you’ve looked at hotel prices around Venice, you’ll see that the residents know what they’re talking about. When it comes to booking a room, follow the Less Than a Shoestring rule of following the locals and head to Mestre yourself. For 2.20 euros in daily bus fare and a 10-15 minute ride each way (which is likely less than your daily commute), you’ll find significant savings in hotel prices over those in the city. And as this is where many “Venetians” in fact live, you’ll find that the nightlife here is better than that in Venice.

If you’re willing to look even further afield, try Padua (Padova) or Treviso as bases for your visit. Hotels are even less expensive than in Mestre and both cities are worth visiting in their own right. Trains run regularly to/from Venice in 20-30 minutes and shouldn’t cost more than 3 euros one-way.

Transportation: I have always been impressed that public transportation in Italy, as compared to most of northern Europe, is incredibly cheap. For around 1 euro, you can travel for at least an hour in any direction on buses, and regional trains, as noted above, are also quite inexpensive. 3-day passes for all transport in Bergamo, including buses to/from the airport, top out at 5 euros. You can’t even get a one-day ticket in Berlin for a fiver!

Venice VaporettoThis is where Venice proves to be a huge disappointment. Regional transport remains cheap, as do the buses between the city and outlying areas. But step foot on a vaporetto (the water buses plying the city’s canals) — even one measly stop — and it’s going to cost you at least 6 euros for the privilege.

The local transport authority is making all of its money off of unwitting tourists taking the boats. How? Residents of Venice are eligible for a free Cartavenezia, which entitles them to discounted prices on land/water tickets. You paid 6.50 euros for your single, maximum 60-minute boat ride while they paid 1.70 euros for 90 minutes of travel time on boats AND buses. If you live in the Veneto region or work/study in Venice, you can purchase the discount card (valid 3 years) for 10 euros. As a foreigner, this card will cost you 40 euros. Incensed yet?

Further, the ACTV offers tourists a variety of “money-saving” passes for their stay in Venice. Current prices are as follows:

  • 14,00 € – 12-HOUR TRAVELCARD
  • 16,00 € – 24-HOUR TRAVELCARD
  • 21,00 € – 36-HOUR TRAVELCARD
  • 26,00 € – 48-HOUR TRAVELCARD
  • 31,00 € – 72-HOUR TRAVELCARD

That means, even at its “cheapest,” Venetian transport works out to over 10 euros/day for the unwitting tourist. As if we were riding the tube in London here!

You have, as I see it, two options. If you’re low on funds, Venice is easily walkable. Signs are posted on every building guiding you to the Rialto, Piazza San Marco, Accademia, and back to Piazzale Roma or the train station. It is hard to find yourself more than 30 minutes’ walk from anything else. You can walk along stretches of the Grand Canal and see the palazzi, if you so desire. I spent three days in the city and never set foot on a boat.

If you have your heart set on a vaporetto ride and will be staying three days or more with regular use of the buses and boats, again follow the locals and purchase yourself a monthly Travel Card instead. For 30 euros, any and all can ride the land and water transport for a full calendar month. They are distributed at the following locations, among others:

  • Venezia, Fondamente Nove
  • Venezia, Piazzale Roma
  • Mestre, Via Cardinal Massaia, on the corner of Via Cappuccina
  • Lido, S. Maria Elisabetta near the landing stage

Be sure to ask for the mensile per due reti, or monthly ticket valid for two service networks (land and water) — it is only slightly more expensive than just the land services card, but is the only way you as a foreigner will save money on the boats.

For those on shorter stays regularly riding the bus (especially pairs or groups), you can save one euro over regular prices by buying a pack of ten tickets (10 euros) rather than individual ones (1.10 euros each) anywhere tickets are sold.

HorsemeatFood: self-caterers have a more difficult but not impossible time in Venice proper. Fresh fruit, veg and seafood can be found daily at the outdoor markets, along the Grand Canal near Rialto (my map says the squares are called Campo C. Battisti and Campo della Pescaria). Prices aren’t cheaper than discount stores, but selection is fresh and abundant.

I spotted a small corner store in the Calle 2 dei Saoneri between Campo dei Frari and Campo San Polo. A larger grocery with decent deli counters and a personal care aisle was located on Campo Santa Margherita near Rio Terra Canal. Bread, cakes and pastries can be purchased on nearby Campo S. Barnaba.

In Mestre, there are two large Pam supermarkets, one in the Le Barche shopping center and one on Corso del Popolo.

For restaurant goers, Readers Tips Contest winner Kama (congratulations!) recommended Brek near the train station. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed at 11 p.m. on the night I had to stay late in city, so I sought something else open at least until midnight. My guidebook directed me to Campo Santa Margherita — near the university and generally bustling with evening merrymakers. I ended up at Ai Sportivi; my three-course meal was quite uninspired and not worthy of recommendation. That said, the place specializes in pizza and has over 80 pizzas to choose from — I would certainly head there again on that account.

Perhaps it was simply not the season, but gelateria were few and far between and the selection overall disappointing. A good centrally-located stop is Gelateria Millefoglie da Tarcisio, where Campo S. Rocco meets Campo dei Frari.

What it was season for, however, were frittella, a pre-Carnival specialty which you will find in coffee shops and bakeries in the month leading up to the festivities. If you find yourself in Veneto during this time, be sure to order one or three — they are, simply put, the best custard-filled donut-like things you will ever eat (their secret? More custard, less donut). Note that if you order these in another part of Italy at a different time of year, you will likely receive something completely different (more akin to fritters, the interwebs tell me).

Shopping: The city offers more Murano glass (and evermore Chinese-produced “Murano” glass) than you can shake a stick at. Even the higher-priced originals (tip: if it seems too cheap to be real — if that matters to you — then it probably is) command less than 10 euros for a ring, less than 15 euros for earrings, around 20-30 euros for a large pendant, making these a great cheapo souvenir or gift. I don’t really need to recommend any particular store, as you will find glass sold everywhere; that said, stores near the Galleria dell’Accademia seemed to have a better selection of non-jewelry items like lampshades, drawer knobs, mirrors, etc.

Stationers are also to be found, selling murano glass fountain pens, wax stamps and exclusive printed cards. Hand-bound books in leather or marbleized paper are also popular, but more expensive. A cheapo might consider buying a large sheet of marbleized paper and covering items themselves; approximately 1m square sheets go for around 15 euros. NB: bring your own poster tube to protect your purchase as unfortunately none of the stores sold anything like that.

Wandering Venice’s tiny alleyways without purpose (beyond, perhaps, getting a bit off the beaten paths through the city), you will come across numerous small stores housing artisans of many different crafts. I much enjoyed the time I spent in these small stores, talking with their artist-owners about how they create their glass, masks or prints. A good example of such a street is the Calle Seconda dei Saoneri, near the Ponte San Polo, between Campo dei Frari and Campo San Polo. Here you’ll find a handmade maskmaker, a model ship builder, a costume and hat rental store, woodworkers and glass and stone etchers. Discoveries in stores like these are truly one-of-a-kind.

Ca Macana Fine Art MaskA must-see for anyone with a bit of carnival mask fever is Ca’ Macana, with two locations in the Calle delle Botteghe near Campo S. Barnaba. This store supplied the striking masks in the Stanley Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut” — you can even watch their artists at work in a fishbowl studio down the street before selecting an alter ego for yourself, should you so desire.

One last tip: if it’s raining cats and dogs and you’re caught out without an umbrella, don’t spend 10 euros on a cheap one from a street peddler. At the foot of the Rialto (San Polo-side), to the right facing the bridge behind the many stands is a men’s clothing store, Camoli, selling large umbrellas for 5 euros, small umbrellas for 3 euros.

What have I overlooked? Chime in with your own travel-tested, budget-approved Venice advice in the comments.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 socialclimber 02.15.08 at 10:36 am

I love what this post/blog is all about — thanks for identifying the cheaper alternatives to more or less the same experience.

2 Christie 03.15.08 at 4:08 pm

I love the sound of the ‘more custard, less donut’ – that’s right up my alley! Yum.

3 Richard Callaby 03.22.08 at 3:54 pm

While I do agree that much of Venice is expensive and out of reach for most people you can be creative and discover new ways to save money in this city as a traveler. There are plenty of budget hotels and campgrounds in the area to cater to the backpacker or budget/student traveler that should be in the range of anyone’s budget within reason. Sometimes it is okay to splurge a bit and just enjoy yourself as well.

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