We really wanted to visit Venice, Italy before heading to the Balkins in a couple of weeks. However, Venice is not a cheap city to experience, and with it being the birthday and Christmas season our funds are a little limited right now. So, instead of missing out on Venice all together we sat down as a family and designed an inexpensive visit to Venice that would leave us all feeling satisfied. Below are our tips that allowed us to have a mostly smooth trip without breaking the bank.
Pick the right time of year to visit –
Venice is an extremely popular tourist destination. When reading other travelers’ reviews we were given a very good sense of how crowded it can be. We are no fan of crowds and so were very fortunate to have been able to visit Venice in the off-season. The third week of December proved to be a great time of year to avoid the throngs of tourists and snag inexpensive hotel accommodations. Another benefit of visiting in December was being able to enjoy the holiday decorations. The huge Christmas tree in Saint Mark’s Square was an amazing sight!
Travel light –
Just thinking about navigating Venice with suitcases and three kids in tow makes us break out in a nervous sweat. Venice is not a luggage friendly city. There are no taxi cabs waiting at the station door and there are many bridges with lots of steps between you and your hotel. You can hire a water taxi at a very high price, but even then you need to get your bags down the stairs of the station and into a boat. We had the luxury of sticking to small backpacks for our trip, which allowed us to enjoy the city without the hassle of our suitcases.
Think picnics instead of 3 course meals –
Before our arrival in Venice we were prepared that the restaurants would be over-priced and sub-pare. No guide book that we read had anything positive to say about eating out in Venice. However, we weren’t prepared for how difficult it was to be vegan in Venice. The usual “cheese-free” pizza that we have found throughout Italy was hard to come-by and we only found one gelateria with just 2 vegan friendly flavors. Even then the cost was much higher then we have ever encountered and the server gave us a hard time about combining flavors (never run into that before in Italy). However, we were pleasantly pleased to find three supermarkets tucked in along the main tourist areas of the city. Wandering between the train station, the Rialto, Saint Mark’s, and the Academia we stumbled upon a Billa, a Coop, and a Simply Market. Each of these was well stocked with bread, fruits, chocolate, and prepared foods for take-away. These supermarkets made it super easy for us to pick-up inexpensive picnic fare and enjoy our meals alongside the canals.
Enjoy the views from outside –
Many of the larger tourist attractions in Venice charge an entrance fee. Since we had limited time and energetic kids we decided to skip the museums and palace tours on this trip, and just concentrate on soaking up the ambiance of the city. We figured that we can go to other museums, but when will we ever get to explore such a unique city again? The kids were all for this plan and had a blast climbing over bridges and running down narrow streets. With no cars around we didn’t have to hold hands or stress, and no one fell into a canal, not that Five Ball didn’t try his hardest 🙂
Cut your visit short –
Unlike Rome we found that a short visit to Venice was definitely sufficient. Since we spent most of our time walking the city to experience its unique car-less effect, we found that an overnight was plenty of enough time. We arrived mid-morning, spent the night, and were ready to head home by the next afternoon. This helped keep our costs low and kept us from needing downtime for the kids. We kept them busy sight seeing and they all slept on the train ride home 🙂
To boat or not to boat –
Our only snag on our trip to Venice was the boat issue. Obviously there is a lot of boat traffic in Venice and some of it looks very enticing, especially to kids. Gondola rides are super expensive starting at 80 Euros for 40 minutes. Before our trip we talked as a family about how we didn’t have the funds for a gonadal ride. We were hoping to make up for it by taking a traghetti, which are gondola boats that ferry you across the canal for just a few Euros. Unfortunately there weren’t any in service during our visit (the weather was rainy and it was December?). We considered taking a trip down the Grand Canal on a Vaporetto (Venice’s public transportation option) but again the prices are high and the boat looks like a beat-up subway car. If we were in Venice for longer we would have taken a Vaporetto out to one of the islands and made a day out of it, but for now we will just have to live with the fact that High Five will forever remind us of how we deprived him a boat ride in Venice.