Ultimate Student’s Guide to Venice on a Budget

View of the Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge.

I’m back, with a somewhat more lighthearted post than my last! Travel is a huge passion of mine, and I like to do it as much as possible even as a student- which means keeping things cheap. January is probably the best time of year to be booking your summer hols, a) because this is when the best deals seem to get snagged up b) it’s a perfect way to brighten a dull and dismal month. So if you’re a student looking for a summer getaway, definitely consider Venice.

When you think of how you’d describe Venice, you’d probably think something like beautiful, picturesque, elegant, long before you’d think ‘cheap’ or even ‘affordable’ Admittedly, Venice is a bit of a tourist trap, and with that label generally comes a higher price tag than other places. But don’t let that put you off as it really is a bloody brilliant place to visit.

Last summer me, my boyfriend and three of my best friends took a long weekend to Venice. Yes, there were easily cheaper places we could have gone as students, but it was so worth it. We actually managed to stick to a low budget, so I’m gonna list some of the best free/cheap things we did while we were there.

A quick note on finding flights before we begin… a quick Skyscanner search will probably display prices of £100 upwards, but we got ours for £83 each last August (with Ryanair from Manchester to Venice Treviso- no allocated seats and hand luggage only). I’d advise being as flexible as you can with dates, sticking with Ryanair and flying to Treviso– you don’t get the experience of coming in by water taxi from Marco Polo, but it will save you some dosh. And for a long weekend, you won’t need more than you can fit in a carry-on case anyway.

As a general rule, flights are always cheaper outside of school holidays, so if you can go early June/mid-September, definitely consider that. And if you’re at Uni of York like me, our Easter holidays being somewhat dysfunctional don’t actually cover Easter… so going mid-March/ early April could also be an option!

Another note… all featured photos (unless stated otherwise) are taken by my very talented friend Tom Harrison. If you’d like to see more of his photographs then check out his Instagram. He also makes groovy films, his latest one being a beautiful record of his last year at home.

1. Chill in a cute Airbnb

Breakfast in our “small and romantic garden”.

Okay, this isn’t an activity, but it is my number one top tip for saving money when travelling anywhere, let alone Venice! The great thing about Airbnb is that you pay per night, rather than per person per night like you do in most hotels and hostels. For example, if an Airbnb for four people is £90 a night, you’d only be paying £22.50 each. This is great for big groups as you can find some adorable apartments for a decent price. The one we found was in the center of Venice, within walking distance to St Mark’s Cathedral and a vaporetto (water taxi) stop. Having a kitchen means you can save money by having some meals at home as well!

We also got what was described as a “small and romantic garden” where we had breakfast, and ate takeaway pizza. Tom and Aidan graciously got up early every morning to go fetch pastries from the local bakery for us. It made life so much easier not having to trek for ages to find food in the morning! You can check out the place we stayed here. With 5 people staying 3 nights, it works out as £128.40 each- a bargain compared to a lot of hotels, and more personal than a hostel.

2. St Mark’s Basilica

Sunrise over St Mark’s Basilica, from St Mark’s Square.

This is a must see for any tourist, but it’s especially great for students seeing as entrance to the basilica is free. As with many other sites of worship, photographs are strictly forbidden inside, so you’ll have to check it out yourself to see how cool it really is. It’s also worth noting that the official website says visitors must wear “clothing appropriate to a place of worship”; this description is a little sketchy and seems to be open to the interpretation of whoever is on security at the time, but you may want to play it safe and cover your shoulders and knees.

However, being as gorgeous as it is, the lines get ridiculously long. Queuing for hours on a summer’s day in Venice with long clothing = sweat, sunburn and bad vibes. We opted to buy a skip-the-line ticket, which meant that for just three euros each, we were able to reserve a time slot and enter a much shorter queue. Time is of the essence on weekend getaways, so I would highly recommend doing this.

Once you’re inside the basilica, you can also visit the museum upstairs for
€5. Even if you’re not interested in the contents of the museum, this gives you access to a beautiful view over St Mark’s Square. Personally, I’d go for this as a cheaper option to the Bell Tower, which costs €8 for practically the same view. Plus, there’s a very similar bell tower in Birmingham, so perhaps leave that one for a rainy staycation…

St Mark’s Square, from St Mark’s Basilica rooftop (accessible via museum). Taken by Aidan

3. Simply get lost

A view of the Grand Canal from a vaporetto.

Personally, I don’t have a good sense of direction even in familiar places, so I’m completely hopeless abroad. To make matters worse, Google Maps isn’t all that reliable when navigating the winding streets of Venice. Luckily, the streets of Venice are an attraction in and of themselves– you could spend hours exploring the winding streets and narrow bridges (after all, there is over 400 of them). There really is no better place to get completely and utterly lost.

Plus, when visiting a mega-touristy place like this, I think it’s really important just to relax and go with the flow for a bit. By wandering off the beaten track, you might find a cute restaurant or gelato stop that you wouldn’t have otherwise. While it’s definitely worth walking to free sights like the Rialto Bridge, coupling this with a wander in no particular direction will ensure that you get to see both the touristy and the local side of Venice.

A stroll along the canal

4. Beach Day!

This is so so necessary in the summer months! Taking the time to cool off, refresh and escape the hustle of the city was my favourite part of the holiday.

The Lido, Venice’s most popular beach, is accessible by vaporetto lines 1, 5.1 and 5.2, and line 6 seasonally. Livingveniceblog has written a handy guide to using the vaporetto, including a nifty “vap map”. A single ticket (valid for an hour) will set you back €7. You can use the vaporetto to visit St Mark’s Square and the other islands like Murano (below) as well as the Lido, so if you think you’ll use it a lot then the multi-day passes may work out as being better value. You can use them to get pretty much anywhere in Venice, so I’d highly recommend using these. If you are just visiting the Lido, it will cost you €14 return, but the ride to the Lido itself is pretty gorgeous, and you could save money by packing a picnic.

5. Escape to Murano

Murano canalside

There are many islands you can visit from Venice, but we chose Murano as it’s one of the closest, and therefore the easiest, to get to. Famous for its glass blowing, you can buy cute souvenir trinkets in just about every shop. Murano is much more laid back than Venice, so it makes for a nice change of pace. The island also has lots of opportunities for canalside dining, though this can be pricey. I recommend visiting Murano as early in the day as possible, to avoid the crowds and heat, then heading back to Venice to grab a cheap pizza for lunch or dining at your Airbnb if you want to keep food spending to a minimum.

Another island I’d suggest visiting if you’re staying for longer is Burano, famed for its rainbow coloured houses. We didn’t manage to fit it into our trip, but The Wandering Quinn has put together a very useful guide if Burano seems more up your street.

Dining canalside in Murano (in the cheapest restaurant we could find!)

5. Have a cheeky Aperol spritz

Al fresco drinking by the canal
Post-flight bar crawl

This is possibly my favourite thing to do in Venice. Aperol is a mysterious drink with a closely guarded recipe… though if you ask me, it tastes a lot like orange and rhubarb. We adopted a policy of not entering a bar if the price of a Spritz was over €2.50, as this ruled out the fancier and more overpriced joints. The canalside bar in the first picture was offering cups of house wine for just €1.50!. Watching the sun go down and could see huge cruise ships sailing into harbour was a perfect chilled end to a busy day.

7. Bookworms MUST visit Libreria Acqua Alta.

Aidan and I by the famous book staircase. Photo creds to Isaac x

Libreria Acqua Alta roughly translates as ‘Library of High Waters’- aptly named, as the owner stores the books inside of gondolas and bathtubs, to save them from being ruined during Venice’s frequent floods. They’ve also done some seriously pro recycling and built a really cool staircase out of flood-damaged books, located at the back of the shop.

As a bonus, the shop also hosts some really adorable cats, and we all had a giggle at some naughty pop-up books that were left lying around… go along yourself and see if you can find them!

The Travelling Book Junkies have put together a more detailed insight into the shop if you want to find out more, including a gallery of pics of the shop’s eccentric gondolas.

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