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While there are plenty of cities in Europe with many free museums and attractions to visit, Venice is sadly not one of them. The city’s economy is based on tourism, hence you’ll find that almost everything comes with a price tag attached.
Though Venice may seem to be a less than ideal location for the budget traveler, I assure you that you can visit the city without having to splurge. In fact, here are five things you can do for free.
1. Explore the Lista Di Spagna and the Strada Nuova
If you like shopping and crowds, take a walk through Lista di Spagna and the Strada Nuova. Every single guide book in the world tells you to avoid it, but I personally don’t mind it. If you like window shopping, walking slowly and seeing lots of people, you must come here.
Start walking from the Santa Lucia Station, by Ponte degli Scalzi, where Lista di Spagna begins. The route starts in Rio terà, where you will find many masks and souvenir shops. Keep walking and you will reach Campo San Geremia where you can see the church that hosts the relics of Santa Lucia. After the campo there is Ponte delle Guglie, which will lead you into Cannaregio, one of the six “sestieri” (main neighborhoods) of Venice.
Carry on walking and after Rio Tera Leonardo you will pass along Rio Tera’ Maddalena. At the end of this street, you’ll find the lovely Osteria Vecia Carbonera, where you can enjoy some delicious cicheti with a nice spritz. Once you pass this osteria, you will be on the “real” Strada Nova.
Strada Nuova is filled with small shops, ice-cream parlors, osterie, bakeries, patisseries, bars and cafés. The moment you turn either right or left, the crowds disappear.
2. La Passeggiata Alle Zattere (Walk in Zattere)
The Fondamenta delle Zattere is a long promenade in Dorsoduro, overlooking the Canal of the Giudecca and extending for about one kilometer from Stazione Marittima a San Basilio up to Punta della Dogana, where the Canal enters the Bacino di San Marco. Strolling the Fondamenta is a favorite pastime of locals, especially on Sunday afternoons. Walking and watching the boats and cruises sail by is a great way to relax.
The Fondamenta delle Zattere is sunny and breezy, making it the perfect spot for a stroll in the warmer months. If you get hungry, pop into Nico’s, which serves some of the best ice cream in Venice.
3. Lido Beach
Take a day trip to Lido, Venice’s beach. This is traditionally the place where Venetians go during the hot and stuffy summer months to cool off in the Adriatic Sea. Take line 61/62 to get directly from piazzale Roma to the Lido.
Aside from a section where visitors pay to use a big umbrella, the beach is completely free. Take a walk along the water to see where the Venetian aristocrats used to sunbathe. The Jewish Cemetery is also nearby.
4. Venice’s many parks
It is true: Venice is more stones than trees and plants, but even here there are some lovely little oases of peace and green.
The Giardini Papadopoli is situated by Piazzale Roma and it is the first park you encounter as you enter the city from the bus terminal. I personally remember spending many mornings here during my final year at college, skipping school, preparing for my final exams and getting to know the local young Venetian male population (we are talking about when I was 15, mind you!).
Check out the Giardini Napoleonici (Napoleon Gardens) in Castello. This is the largest green area in the city, and as the name suggests, these gardens were created in the 19th century under the order of Napoleon. The Giardini Reali, located south of Saint Mark’s Square along a beautiful quay, were also built for Napoleon.
And don’t forget the Giardini Savorgnan. These beautiful gardens are in S. Geremia, in the sestiere of Cannaregio, and they are an integral part of Palazzo Savorgnan, which houses the Institute for Tourism Algarotti. There are trees everywhere but there aren’t any edges, so it looks more like a little forest than a garden.
5. Visiting the city’s art galleries
There are many museums in Venice, but there is also a large selection of privately owned art galleries. These are free to enter and display a wide variety of work from both local and international artists.
Here are some gallery highlights:
Contini Art Gallery: S. Marco n°2675/2769, Calle dello Spezier (Campo S. Stefano)
Galleria d’Arte l’Occhio: Dorsoduro 181-185 (near the peggy Guggenheim Collection)
Galleria Ravagnan: Piazza San marco, 50A
Giudecca795 Art Gallery: Fondamenta S.Biagio 795, Giudecca
Melori & Rosenberg Gallery: San Polo 2815/2816 Campiello San Tomà