Venice is a unique city with unique qualities.
Is Venice expensive? I’ve talked quite a few times about this, but whenever you do comparisons, you have to consider the uniqueness of the floating city. Ok, I, who live here, think it’s extraordinarily beautiful and special. But apart from that, Venice has some features that make her different. Talking about expensiveness, there are things to watch out for.
- Venice, the lagoon city, is just one part of the city. Statistically, you should compare Venice with only the city center of other, similar places.
- Venice is extremely touristic. So much so that she almost couldn’t be classified as a city at all… More like a big open-air museum.
- Due to her special conditions, every cost is higher for the business owner in Venice, from transporting soft drinks to managing and refurbing hotels, and doing maintenance on buildings and equipment.
That leaves us with an expectation of Venice as being expensive. But how much so? And what can you do to save money when visiting La Serenissima?
Is Venice expensive and if so, for whom?
Venice is by many tourist organizations regarded as the most expensive city to visit in Italy, followed by Rome. The calculations are valid for the lagoon city, not for Mestre or Marghera, and it’s estimated on typical costs for accommodation, tours, attractions, and meals. The cost for dining is typically higher than in comparable destinations.
What we are looking at is the typical costs for traveling.
What do you pay for when traveling? What part of the budget is it that makes a destination expensive?
There are mainly three things that make up for the cost of leisure traveling.
- Transportation. How you get there, by air, by train, or by car or bus.
Then there are many other fees like museum tickets, bus/Vaporetto fares, and tours. Although some tickets can be really costly, (a ticket to the Opera La Fenice can be almost $300) most of this is less heavy on the total budget.
There are great differences within the city. Some areas are more expensive than others. Even getting off the main Calle and entering some back street just a few meters away can lower the price level. Fortunately, there are ways to significantly cut prices if you follow a few simple strategies. I’ll get to that later.
Country - World average 100
Housing & utilities
Cost of living
Hotels & restaurants
Recreation & culture
Italy compared to the world
Well, it’s not much to argue about. We know that North America and Europe generally are expensive places… That’s a no-brainer. And prices go up further up north you go in Europe. Denmark is more expensive than Portugal.
What money is used for differs between a tourist that is just visiting the country, compared to someone who lives there. The tariffs for housing and childcare are of less interest if you just hang around for a few days. Instead, how much you pay for your hotel room is crucial. Often, that is the biggest cost of all when you’re traveling.
Venice compared to other cities in Italy
Again, Venice is a strange place, and comparing it to any other city in Italy is complicated. Very roughly, you can say that Northern Italy is more expensive than Southern Italy. And a very important tourist destination like Venice will cost a whole lot more than a not so frequented town, let’s say Vicenza, Pesaro, or even big cities like Bologna and Turin. Milano is expensive though, due to its role as a financial hub.
Then there is the ever-present question about the lagoon city and Mestre. A hotel room in Venice is much more costly than one on the mainland. A half-decent meal in Venice is more expensive than a first-class dinner in Mestre. That’s just the way it is.
Taking all that into consideration, the statistics of Venice turns out to be a bit distorted. It is not an expensive city as a whole, and the cost of living doesn’t necessarily have to be as high as in Padova, Treviso or, the very expensive Bolzano.
Many work within the tourist sector with average wages and live in Mestre and Marghera. And parts of Venice, that is, Mestre or even more specified, Porto Marghera is actually a huge industrial area with several really big factories. So, the city of Venice, mainland included, is not only tourism. It is also an industrial and manufacturing center. No other city in Italy is as divided as Venice… The islands and the mainland.
So don’t put too much trust in the stats. If you count only the island city of Venice, then that is much more expensive than any of the other cities in the neighborhood.
Venice compared to other destinations in the world.
To the right, you see some stats about costs in various tourist destinations around the world. You see the average price for the cheapest available 3-star double room in the city center. (In our case that would be the whole lagoon city.), a coffee, a meal, and a bus ticket. The results are from September 2021.
It should be said that the hotel rates dropped a bit in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. But it’s still interesting because you see the general trends. Northern Europe is more expensive than southern Europe. Big cities are more expensive than small cities.
Venice is in the upper-middle range together with metropolises like Paris and London.
I’d like to comment on two things:
- The price for a three-course meal (…or generally, eating) is higher in Venice than in comparable cities. This tendency is also confermed by the Italian National Institute of Statistics, ISTAT. They claim that Venice stands out in that regard.
- Well, the bus ticket is 7,50 because it’s a boat. But in Venice you don’t really need it. You can walk.
Cheapest 3-star hotel - double room in the city center.
Average cost for a Coffee at the Bar
Three-course meal at mid-range restaurant. 2 persons.
One way ticket. Local transport
Often you hear really scary stories about how someone was charged 100 bucks for breakfast or 30 bucks for a glass of wine and a toast. Almost always those stories include Saint Mark’s Square. So, if you just stay away from Saint Mark’s Square you will never have to face that kind of rip-off.
Is Venice expensive? In forums etc, there is sometimes the idea that the reason for it, is that she is marketed as a kind of must-see-once-in-a-lifetime destination. Venice supposedly has become a circus, an amusement park with the only purpose to maximize income at any cost. That is true from a certain point of view… But there is no comprehensive marketing strategy, no common blueprint.
Although there are decrees and rules set by the city, and although the various interest groups, and strategic collaborators work together, there is no overall master plan. Single entrepreneurs try to get the best profit possible in every situation. And that leads to a city full of tourist traps. If you learn how to spot them and not fall for them, you can eat and sleep well without overpaying for it.
Is Venice expensive? Yes, no doubt about it. And the reason is of course that it’s so touristic, commercialized. That phenomenon can be observed all over the world. When you have wealthy visitors from far and wide who stay for a few nights and are prepared to pay for special treatment and unforgettable moments, then the general profit hunger will flourish.
But Venice is situated in Italy, and Italy is not expensive in any particular way. It’s roughly between Spain and Germany. Definitely cheaper than northern Europe, and North America. And so, some things that are not up to the tourism sector to decide are relatively cheap. Buying food at the supermarket is not expensive, coffee and snacks don’t have to cost more than in any other Italian city as long as you avoid Saint Mark’s Square. The bus fare is 1,50 which is cheap compared to most places in Europe.
So, what can you do about it? Is there any way to save your bucks?
Yes, there is. What you pay for coming here, whether it is by train, by boat, by car, or by aeroplane, I can’t do very much about. But once here, there are choices you can make to diminish the effect on your wallet. Here’s a list of what you should try if you are on a tight budget:
- I’ve said it before. Don’t come here in summer. Summer is hot and uncomfortable, and it’s expensive. Venice is full of hotels, and they compete. So, if you visit in Spring or Autumn, or even in winter when the many hotels are less booked, the price you pay for accomodation is much lower… And crowds are lesser, people are friendlier, and the heat is bearable. And the airfare should be cheaper.
- Chose wisely where to stay. Further away from Saint Mark’s square, prices are lower. And Venice is small. You can walk everywhere. Here are some considerations, and here’s a list of good hotels.
- Book Bed & Breakfast. That is more economic than a hotel room. And comming in low season makes booking much easier, as you will have a vast number to choose from. In Venice there are loads of private rooms, and whole appartment for rent.
- Further away from Saint Mark’s Square is cheaper for everything, even eating out. I would say better too. Try Cannaregio, or Arsenale. Campo Santa Margherita is where the students go, and they do not want to pay excessivley. Zattere all the way to San Basilio is another piece of advise. Try to see where the locals go.
- About eating. Maybe you would like to spend evenings dining at a romantic restaurant, watching the canal, the gondolas, and the setting sun. That is nice, but expensive. Let me suggest, not dining at all in the evening. At least not sitting down. First you drop by at a few Bacari, where they serve small appetizers (cicheti), showed in the display window over the counter. Then you loose your way along the dark, and very romantic Calli watching the reflections from the water, every now and then rippled by a passing gondola. Then after sunset you can still sitt down at the fancy restaurant at the canalside, but at that point you only have a Spritz or some other Cocktail.
- If you have to use the waterbus, buy a 1, 2, or 3-day pass. If you stay for a longer period, or you intend to come back, you should consider the Venezia Unica City Pass for frequent users. It will cost you 100 euro, but it lasts for five years and you will pay the same as residents in Venice for the tickets,1,50 single fare.
- Check out the various Venice City Passes here. If you plan your visit, you can save a lot of money on entrance to the museums, theaters, and other attractions.
- About shoping. In Venice you have a huge collection of fascionware, jewelery, art, and everything else you could possibly imagine if you’re into shoping. Venice is not cheap though… That is, nothing is really worth bying there, apart from maybe a handmade doctors mask, if you can find one. If you don’t mind paying for your designer dress, then just walk down Calle Larga XXII Marzo and shop away. On the other hand, if you want to find real bargains, you could go to Noventa di Piave. That’s quite far away, but once there, you have about 150 shops in an outdoor mall, all selling the finest Italian and Foreign brands at outlet prices. They have a shuttle from Piazzale Roma every day at 9:25 am and 1:25 pm. Ticket is 8 euro.
- And about the very expensive tickets for the Opera, La Fenice… You can visit it with an audio guide for 7 euro. And if there is a rehearsal on the main stage, you can watch that too from the royal box for a surplus of just 4 euro. Unfortunatelly, there’s no way to know what they are doing in advance, unless you know someone inside… But if you drop in when you’re passing by, and you’re lucky…