The words “budget-friendly” and “Venice” don’t often appear together. The city is known for being pricy, which can be challenging for frugal travelers. Not all is lost, though – you can find low cost and even free activities if you do a little digging!
One of my favorites? A budget-friendly boat ride down the Grand Canal.
Comprised of more than 100 islands and even more meandering canals, one of the best ways to see Venice is from the water. Unfortunately, the city’s famed gondola rides are not easy on the budget. For a 40-minute ride, the current regulated fare is 80 euro, with additional 20-minute intervals added on at 40 euro apiece. And those are just the daytime rates. After 7 pm, the price jumps to a cool 100 euro per 40 minutes.*
*These prices do cover groups up to six people, so the more people you have, the lower the cost per person becomes.
I totally support splurging on a gondola ride if it’s on your list of must-dos. I’ve passed on many activities while traveling because I felt like I couldn’t justify the cost, only to regret it later. If it’s something you’d love to experience and it’s not going to throw your finances off too much, go for it!
For me, the gondola ride wasn’t a must-do, but I did want to get out on the water. Luckily, there’s a great alternative for a scenic ride along the Grand Canal.
Keep scrolling for info on the budget-friendly boat ride in Venice that you can enjoy for a fraction of the cost of a gondola ride.
On a Budget in Venice? Ride a Vaporetto Instead of a Gondola
The #1 vaporetto, or water taxi, will ferry you along the Grand Canal from Piazzale Roma all the way to Piazza San Marco and beyond, eventually terminating at the Lido.
The full journey takes about an hour and passes by countless city landmarks, including the Rialto Bridge, the Accademia Bridge, the Ca’ d’Oro, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, the Ca’ Giustinian, and more.
One ticket, valid for 75 minutes, costs €7.50. This price tag is still viewed by many as being too high for what is essentially the city’s equivalent of a subway ride. In comparison to a gondola ride, though, it’s a steal.
We started our ride at the northern end of the #1 route at Piazzale Roma. This is just past Ferrovia, the stop right outside of the Santa Lucia train station.
We walked past several closer stops to board at Piazzale Roma, but it was well worth it. Boarding at the first stop means you’re more likely to get a good seat, and you probably won’t even have to throw any discreet elbows to snag it.
This logic would also work coming from the other end of the line if that’s a more convenient starting point for you.
Our hope was to get open-air seats in the front of the boat. (Also known as the bow, but let’s be real, I Googled that.) Since there were only a few others boarding when we did and they all seemed to be locals who are able to enjoy Venetian views on the regular, we had no trouble doing so.
After passing many other vaporetti during the ride, we observed that not all of them have open-air bow seating. Newer boats have life jackets stored in the front instead. If one of those arrives and you have your heart set on seats in the front, enjoy the canal views while you wait for the next one. Boats run several times an hour during the day, so it probably won’t be long.
Alternatively, there’s open-air seating at the back of all of the boats.
A Few Things to Note
1. The Piazzale Roma station is split into several boarding areas. Follow the signs for Linea 1 (line one) to find the correct dock.
2. We bought our tickets from the automated kiosk right at the vaporetto stop. Be sure to validate your ticket before boarding or you may be charged a fine.
3. We rode until San Zaccaria, one stop after San Marco. Take a minute here to enjoy the view of docked gondolas floating in the Venetian lagoon. Paired with the domed silhouette of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute looming in the distance, it made my heart flutter a little.
4. Not only is the ride itself great, but the station where we disembarked is conveniently situated to continue sightseeing. From San Zaccaria it’s a short walk to the Ponte della Paglia to see the famous Ponte dei Sospiri, or Bridge of Sighs.
After that you can continue on to the Piazza San Marco. Venice’s main square is home to several of the city’s most iconic sights, including the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica with its climbable bell tower. Brace yourself for crowds of both the people and the pigeon variety.
5. Our ride down the Grand Canal was full of beautiful views, but it was also an interesting glimpse into how a thriving city operates with no cars. Keep an eye out and you’ll notice a wide variety of utilitarian boats carrying out the minutiae of everyday life. It’s pretty incredible to think of the logistics behind completing these tasks without road vehicles.
Necessities like mail delivery, garbage pick-up, furniture transportation while moving to a new home, supply boats for construction projects, ambulance trips, and more all happen by boat.
I’m a frugal traveler through and through and I felt like our Grand Canal boat ride was 100% worth its €7.50 price tag. We may not have had a charmingly decorated gondola all to ourselves, but saving so much money and still being able to enjoy a budget-friendly boat ride in Venice felt well worth that small trade-off.
And to be honest, it didn’t even feel like a trade-off to me.
It was also a small but super exciting victory to score the best seats in the house. (…boat.) We just sat back, enjoyed the sunshine, and watched the city’s stunning architecture unfold before our eyes.
You might also like: One River, Two Countries and a Thousand Islands
Interested in stretching your pennies even further? Consider a traghetto ride.
These short but sweet gondola rides cross the Grand Canal at a handful of locations. This is especially helpful considering that there are only four bridges crossing the canal, which runs for 2.5 miles.
We took advantage of the route from Ca’ d’Oro to Pescaria (the Rialto fish market). The price for tourists is €2. Hand over your coins and keep your wits about you. The ride is rocky and if you’re not careful, you may find yourself with an even more intimate introduction to the canal waters than you were expecting!
Walking Is Great, Too
Still not sold on a boat ride? Don’t worry. Venice is renowned for being an ideal city to get lost in, and all you need for that is yourself.
The narrow and meandering pathways paired with countless bridges and sudden dead ends means you might not always know where you’re going – and that’s the fun part.
After visiting Venice twice, aimless walks around the city still top my list of favorite activities – especially those that take you further from the main tourist draws and offer a moment of quiet in one of the world’s most popular destinations.
Bonus Budget Tip
The rooftop terrace from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store is free to visit and offers a beautiful panorama of the Grand Canal and city rooftops. Click here to book your preferred 15-minute time slot.
We actually visited twice without booking and had no problem other than a little bit of a wait, so if you end up in the area and don’t have a reservation, give it a try anyway!
Have you visited Venice before? What did you think? Did you splurge on a gondola ride?
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