Getting lost in Venice.
Beautiful and ornate gondolas, quaint bridges, floating houses and bustling squares. All things synonymous with Venice, or Venezia as it’s known to locals.
But, as beautiful and unique as Venice is, it’s also infamously expensive. Particularly, if you stick to the main touristy jaunts and streets. There was one occasion a couple of years ago, where a gelateria wanted to charge us €15 just to sit down and eat our gelato. It’s safe to say that we politely declined their offer and found ourselves a perfectly free jetty along the grand canal instead.
Obviously though, certain expenses can’t be avoided and are just part and parcel of traveling and visiting places such as Venice. Which is why I thought I would put together a post highlighting some free things to do in the city of gondolas.
Being lucky enough to live half an hour from Venice, I spent last Thursday exploring and investigating some of the best free things to do. Most I had done and seen before, but others I hadn’t which totally blew my mind considering I’ve lived here for three years.
Some of them are obvious and are on everyone’s Venice bucket lists but I’ve snuck in a few things off the beaten track that you hopefully don’t know about yet. Personally, avoiding the same old tourist track is the best way to see Venice — away from the crowds, the overpriced restaurants and souvenir stores selling identical things.
Free things to do
1. Get lost exploring. Put the map away, and just wander. This is one of my favourite things to do in Venice and by far, the best way to take in the grandeur. There is so much more to Venice than the typical hotspots, and several other ways to reach places like San Marco’s square other than the main route that most people take.
TIP: Venice is actually made up of several small suburbs, some of which are mainly residential like Castello and Canareggio. I would highly recommend exploring both. But try to stay away from the grand canal as that’s typically where the crowds are.
2. Rialto Markets are a must when visiting Venice. Although it’s quite popular and touristy it’s worth it if you ask me. Whether it be to seek out a healthy breakfast or some fruity snacks for your day ahead. Or simply just to take in the atmosphere and snap a couple of photos for the gram. It’s open everyday except Monday from 7am to around midday.
TIP: Well, two tips actually. Get there early morning and see the locals in action buying their fresh fruit and veg and seafood for the week and local chefs doing their daily produce haul.
The second tip is to find the little hole in the wall shop on the way to the markets that sells fresh juices for €2. It’s literally just off the Rialto Bridge and the mango juice was to die for (see below).
Fresh mango juice by the Grand Canal.
3. Visit Acqua Alta Liberia and be fall in love with books. This father and son run book store is often referred to as one of the most beautiful book stores in the world and to be honest, I might have to agree. Think floor to ceiling walls covered in books, old gondolas full of posters and several resident cats wandering throughout the shop.
TIP: Acqua Alta is nestled in one of the quieter, more residential neighbourhoods of Venice called Castello, as mentioned previously. So make sure you explore and wander around the area as well. It’s much more peaceful and less busy, but equally beautiful and charming. Be sure to take a break and enjoy a Spritz in the near by Campo Santa Maria Formosa.
Acqua Alta Liberia.
3. Visit the rooftop terrace of T Fondaco dei Tedeshci. This newly opened department store is not only every designer loving girls dream, but is also home to a pretty cool roof top terrace with some amazing views over Venice and Rialto Bridge.
TIP: Although I’ve yet to do it myself, the views from the terrace would be magical come sunset. And, no one will blame you if you make a pitt stop on level 3 and check out all the designer shoes either 😉
Views from the terrace.
4. Find and visit Ponte de Chiodo, one of only two remaining bridges in Venice without a parapet. It’s located in Canareggio, so be sure to explore there as well. Ok so this one isn’t so exciting, but hey it makes for a pretty photo.
TIP: If you’re arriving in Venice for the day via Piazza Roma or the train station, make Ponte de Chiodo your first stop as it’s in the direction of the rest of Venice.
Ponte de Chiodi.
5. On the first Sunday of every month all state museums are free. So if you happen to be visiting Venice one of these weekends, be sure to make the most of it. There are several in which you can visit including Galleria dell’Accadamia which showcases work by some of the Italian greats like Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.
TIP: This rule doesn’t just apply for Venice, but all of Italy. So even if you might not be in Venice on the first weekend of the month, you might be in another Italian city.
Saint Mark’s Basilica.
6. Saint Mark’s Basilica and it’s piazza are the heart of Venice and some of its most well known attractions. For this reason I contemplated leaving it off the list, but you can’t go all the way to Venice without visiting either and truth be told, the basilica is actually very beautiful.
TIP: If you’re visiting Venice in the warmer months, be prepared to queue. Also, be aware that you aren’t allowed any backpacks or large handbags in the church. There is a luggage storage place close by that they recommend, but to save money just have someone wait outside with the bags and swap.
View from Rialto Bridge.
7. Watch the sunset over Rialto Bridge. As touristy and busy as it is, the view from the Rialto Bridge as the sun is setting for the day really is absolutely incredible. You might have to fight for a spot to get a look in or take a couple of photos but trust me it’s worth it.
And, there you have it! Not an extensive list, because let’s be honest, there really isn’t too much to do that’s free in Venice but the list should keep you going for at least the day.
For those of you spending a couple of days in Venice, you might also like to check out my earlier post about some possible day trips from Venice. Also, watch this space for more Venice related posts and insider tips.