Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, sadly, one of the most expensive cities to visit. However, that isn’t to say that you can’t visit Venice on a budget, as there are lots of activities you can do in Venice without breaking the bank. I’ve found 20+ free things to do in Venice, to help you enjoy everything this city has to offer for free. From churches and museums to bookshops, gardens and incredible views, you’ll find it all here!
Essential Free Things to do in Venice
Although I highly recommend spending AT LEAST 2-3 days in Venice, if you only have one day in Venice to enjoy the city, these are the essentials that you cannot miss, all for free!
St Mark’s Square
The most famous square in Venice, this iconic Piazza is free to visit, but buy anything from the cafés around the square and you’ll pay through the nose for it. The rules for #VisitRespectVenezia are also very strict here due to the number of people in and around the square. You’re not allowed to sit on the floor or steps anywhere around the square, don’t feed the pigeons and don’t buy any fake goods from the street sellers. Apart from that, admire the Basilica and the clock, consider going up the Bell Tower (€8) for great views of the city and take a moment to enjoy the orchestras playing at the cafes.
Basilica San Marco
One of the most popular free things to do in Venice, the queues for the Basilica San Marco in St Mark’s Square can be off-putting, but they do move relatively quickly. Inside, the roof is made up of intricate golden mosaics, and you shuffle around the church following the line of people. You aren’t allowed to take any backpacks or large luggage inside, these have to be deposited at a free baggage storage centre separate from the Basilica, so leave your bags BEFORE you join the queue.
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You’ll also need to dress conservatively (no short shorts or skirts, no bare shoulders), if the staff deem your clothes inappropriate you will need to buy a €2 cover-up as you go inside. Keep hold of it if you plan to visit other churches. No photography is allowed inside the Basilica, but I did see a lady with mini binoculars to see the details in the mosaics. Inside the Basilica there are three optional extra things you can choose to pay for; the treasure of St Mark, the Pala d’Oro and the museum which also includes access to the terrace for views of St Mark’s Square and a close-up view of the roof mosaics.
This bridge is another of Venice’s iconic landmarks. Find a spot on the canal on one of the jetties alongside the bridge for that classic Venice photo, or take one of the Vaporetto water buses which pass under the bridge to see it from the water. Shops line the bridge, originally here to help the locals pay for the building of the bridge, now to serve tourists with a never-ending thirst for souvenirs. Come here early to beat the bulk of the crowds.
The Rialto Market is one of the last remaining markets in Venice and is under threat as most visitors don’t buy anything from here. The locals who remain in the city still come here in the morning to buy fresh fish, fruit and veg, so come and see the produce, by something for lunch or a snack and enjoy. Various Bacari bars around the market serve great food too.
Bridge of Sighs
So-called as this was the last breath of fresh air that prisoners had before heading between the courtrooms and the prisons, the Bridge of Sighs is now much less depressing, and is a popular photo spot, especially with a gondola sailing underneath.
Views from Accademia Bridge
One of the best views of Venice, the Ponte della Accademia crosses the Grand Canal and leads to the splendid Galleria della Accademia. Stroll across and admire the vistas along the canal up to the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute. The Galleria della Academia usually charges €16.50 entry fee, but it is free to visit on the 1st Sunday of the month if you happen to visit Venice then!
Free Walking Tour in Venice
As much as I love wandering the streets on my own, sometimes you really need a local guide to show you what is what and share some fascinating facts about the city. I took a free walking tour with this company and enjoyed exploring a different area of Venice. Remember that although these tours are technically free, tipping your guide is greatly appreciated!
Free Things to do in Venice off the Beaten Track
Here are some of my favourite free things to do in Venice which you might not have considered before. However, step away from the crowds and find some hidden gems which you can enjoy for free!
An underrated location, the gardens of Venice are a lovely place to escape from the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet or have a picnic on the grass. The Giardini della Biennale are busier, especially in Biennale season when visitors flock to the art exhibitions in the pavilions but walk further along and you’ll come to the Remembrance Park, a large green area shaded by pine trees. Take a seat and enjoy a cool breeze from the lagoon. Keep an eye open for seabirds who make Venice their home, I watched a cormorant diving for fish as I sat in the cool shade. You’re more likely to be among locals here than tourists, so see if you can spot the book exchange box in the park, a welcome reassurance that local people do still live in Venice! If you didn’t bring a picnic, head to Osteria da Pampo for a tasty seafood lunch.
One of my favourite things to do in Venice, gondola spotting is ridiculously easy as there seems to be hundreds of gondolas floating down every canal. Find a bridge with a pretty backdrop and snap a classic Venice scene. It’s free, and arguably more enjoyable than paying for your own gondola ride!
Basilica Santa Maria della Salute
This beautiful church provides a gorgeous backdrop for photographs all along the canal, and up close it is just as stunning. It is free to visit inside, but a strict conservative dress-code is in place so dress appropriately or bring your cover-up from St Mark’s Basilica.
San Giorgio Maggiore Church
This lovely church is like an art gallery inside, as the walls are adorned with paintings. Pick up an information card which has details of the artwork around the church, including one of Tintoretto’s last paintings “The Last Supper”. The €6 charge to go up the bell tower is also well worth the money, for some of the best views of Venice.
Glass Exhibition in the Stanze del Vetro
Behind the San Giorgio Maggiore Church, you’ll find a museum with a free exhibition on the ‘Master of Glass’ French artist Maurice Marinot, showcasing his striking glassware. My favourite piece was actually outside in the garden area, a snake-like wall of coloured glass which I first spotted from the clock tower. There’s air-conditioning inside and a bathroom too.
Musical History Museum
One of the few museums in Venice which doesn’t charge an entry fee, the Museo della Musica is inside the lovely San Maurizio Church and houses a collection of historical musical instruments from the 1600s to the 1960s and a section about the Italian composer Vivaldi.
Shopping Centre Views
At the Fondaco dei Tedeschi shopping arcade, you can enjoy one of the best views in Venice without paying a penny. You’ll need to book your 15-minute time slot in advance here, then head up to the top floor where you can enjoy a 360° view of Venice, including the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square from above.
Jewish Ghetto Neighbourhood
‘Island Venice’ is a cluster of islands – city blocks separated from each other by canals. In 1516 Venice’s Jewish community was confined to one such island called the ‘Ghetto’, as this was where iron was gettato (smelted). Still the centre of the city’s small Jewish community, this tranquil district centring on the square of campo del Ghetto Nuovo betrays little of the hardship of life here in former years. In the square, the Museo Ebraico offers guided tours (€10) taking in three ancient synagogues dotted around the campo. But a restful independent wander around the atmospheric area will be just as rewarding.
Acqua Alta Book Shop
This fabulous secondhand bookshop has become famous on Instagram for its book staircase and gondola filled with books, but don’t be put off. Come here in the morning or over lunchtime when you won’t have to wait for your photo opp and you can explore the labyrinth of books in relative peace. Also, if you are dying for a photo in a gondola but don’t want to pay €80 for the privilege, Acqua Alta has a gondola moored outside where you can pose for free! Donations for the book shop cat’s food are greatly received in exchange!
Venice has some fascinating shops, and no, I’m not talking about the tourist tat for sale everywhere. I mean real shops where artisans sell their handmade and Venetian products like masks, intricate glass work, paintings, shoes and leather goods, and more. Venezia Autentica has a list of local shops which they say are carefully selected after making sure they are owned and run by local people and are selling high-quality authentic goods. If you are looking for a lasting memory of Venice, buy something from a Venetian which you know isn’t a cheap import or fake!
Free Things to do in Venice Lagoon
Venice isn’t the only island in the Venice Lagoon, and these day trips from Venice will take you away from the crowds of the city for no more than the cost of a transport ticket.
Lace Makers & Colourful Houses on Burano
Burano is a must-see in Venice and combined with Murano and Torcello, a visit to this colourful island is a fantastic day trip from Venice. You’ll need a vaporetto transport to get here, after that you can stroll around to your heart’s content. The fishermen’s houses here are all brightly coloured to make it one of Venice’s most beautiful places to visit. There is a small lace museum which has lace-making demonstrations in the mornings (€5 entry fee) or a lot of the lace shops also have ladies working on their creations where you can watch for free. Burano lace is renowned for its intricacy and fine details, so this is also a great place to buy gifts for your loved ones back home.
Glass Blowing on Murano
The island of Murano became the glass-making centre of Venice in 1291 when the Venetian Republic ordered all furnaces to be moved from Venice due to the high risk of fires. The glass-making traditions continue today, and if you want to see the masters at work creating real Murano Glass, then this is the place. Some of the glass factories have free demonstrations, others charge a minimal fee of around €3 euros.
Lido Beach Day
Few people consider Venice as a beach destination, but the island of Lido has several miles of sandy beaches to enjoy. To get there you’ll need a Vaporetto transport ticket, but once you’re there you can spend the day sunning yourself and enjoying the beach. Lido is also where the Venice Film Festival is held every September, turning this relatively quiet island into a hub for film stars and makers from all over the world. Bike hire is available if you’re feeling adventurous or take your own bike on a ferry from the mainland to explore more of the island.
Bonus Free Thing to do in Venice
Get Lost/Walk the Streets
Probably my favourite thing to do in Venice is simply wander around and get lost. The main streets in Venice can get choked with people, so do yourself a favour and turn off the ‘highway’ to find a quieter and more picturesque way to get where you want to go. The real beauty of Venice is in the quiet streets and alleyways where you can stumble across hidden archways, stunning views and local people just going about their business away from the hoards of tourists. I’ve found that a lot of people who complain about how busy Venice is only spend one day in Venice, so of course they end up following the crowds. Take your time in Venice to explore and support local businesses off the beaten track, and you’ll discover a completely different side to “La Serenissima”.
Where to Stay in Venice
Hotels in Venice are notoriously expensive, but if you stay in nearby Mestre on the mainland, the prices are dramatically lower. I’m the #WombatsTraveller ambassador for wombat’s City Hostels, and they are opening a brand-new hostel in Mestre on 10th July. I went to check out the hostel to see how it is coming along and you can find more information about the hostel’s progress here.
Booking is available online for private rooms and dorms and there are some fabulous offers on for July, August and September. Having stayed in wombat’s London, Budapest and Vienna, I have no hesitation in recommending wombat’s Venice Mestre as an excellent place to stay in Venice once it’s opened.
What do you think will be your favourite of these free things to do in Venice? Have I missed anything? Please leave your comments below.
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