Anyone who’s been following along for awhile knows that Venice is one of my favorite places in the world. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, and one of the big reasons people complain about Venice is that it’s expensive. And it can be expensive, that’s true. There are ways to enjoy Venice on a tighter travel budget, though, including adding a few of these free things to do in Venice onto your itinerary.
Here’s a list of things that are always free – there’s never an admission charge to get in – plus a few that offer free hours on certain days of the week. Enjoy an extra helping of gelato with the money you’ll save.
Free Things to Do in Venice: Always
Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge || creative commons photo by Saffron Blaze
- St. Mark’s Basilica – One of the main attractions in Venice, St. Mark’s Basilica also happens to be free to visit. There’s a fee to see the treasury, and another to head up the stairs to the museum and the terrace that overlooks the square, but getting inside the church won’t cost you a thing.
- St. Mark’s Square – Venice’s main square was apparently once called “the drawing room of Europe” by Napoleon (it’s an unverifiable factoid that gets repeated often). There are cafes, shops, and museums around the square, and everything will cost you a little something except for St. Mark’s Basilica, but the people-watching is free. Plus, if the two dueling orchestras are at it on opposite sides of the piazza, you’ve got a soundtrack to enjoy, too.
- Getting Lost – This is, by far, the easiest (and, I daresay, one of the most pleasant) ways to spend time in Venice without spending any money.
- Grand Canal – The most famous of Venice’s more than 175 canals is, of course, the Grand Canal. This big waterway winds its way through the center of the islands, carving an S-shape into Venice. Riding a boat along the Grand Canal isn’t free, but watching boats pass as you stand on the side of it certainly is.
- Rialto Bridge – The oldest bridge in Venice is the Rialto, completed in 1591. It’s one of the few bridges that span the Grand Canal, so it serves a purpose while also being photogenic.
- Rialto Market – This bustling market is most interesting right when it opens, but it can be a colorful stop at any point. Seeing what’s fresh can help you figure out what to order on local menus, too. The Rialto market runs from 7am-2pm – the fish market is open Tuesday-Saturday, the produce market Monday-Saturday.
- San Giorgio Maggiore – The little island of San Giorgio Maggiore sits across the Grand Canal from St. Mark’s, at one end of the Giudecca island. The Palladian church of the same name dominates the island, and the church is free to enter. There’s a fee to take the elevator up the campanile, from which you’ll get fantastic views of Venice that include St. Mark’s.
- Santa Maria della Salute – This lovely church on the Grand Canal is free to enter and houses artwork by both Titian and Tintoretto.
- San Vidal – The church of San Vidal has been deconsecrated, and it serves as a concert venue in the evenings. During the day, however, it’s open (for free) to visitors.
- San Zaccaria – The altarpiece in the church of San Zaccaria is by Giovanni Bellini, whose name you may recognize from the prosecco-and-peach cocktail invented nearby in Harry’s Bar.
- Santa Maria Assunta – More commonly known as I Gesuiti, this incredibly ornately-decorated church contains works of art by Titian and Tintoretto.
- Music Museum – This museum inside the San Maurizio church has a collection of violins and other instruments dating back to the 17th century.
- Casino Venier – This former private salon of a wealthy Venetian family looks today as it would have in its heyday of the late 18th century, and all that opulence is on display for free.
- Bovolo Staircase – This beautiful circular staircase is on the outside of the building it serves, which has turned it into a tourist attraction over the years. The word “bovolo” means snail shell, and while there’s a fee to climb the staircase you can admire the exterior for free.
- Santa Maria del Carmelo (I Carmini) – This church in the Dorsoduro sestiere dates from the late 13th century and contains an altarpiece by Tintoretto.
- Giardini della Biennale – While the Biennale may be a biannual event, the public garden in which most of the exhibitions occur is a permanent fixture. As a matter of fact, 30 of the Biennale pavilions are permanent as well. It’s one of the largest garden spaces on the islands, making it a nice place to get away from the crowds when you need a break.
- Squero di San Trovaso – There’s something really fun about seeing where those iconic Venetian gondolas come from, so find this boatyard (or “squero”) on the Rio San Trovaso. If you’re lucky, you can watch them work from across the narrow canal.
- Islands of the Venetian Lagoon – While the boat ride to these islands isn’t free, exploring them (at least for the most part) is.
- Murano – There are a number of islands besides the Venetian islands in the lagoon, and the one best known by visitors is Murano. It’s historically a center for glass making and blowing, and you can still see glassmakers in their workshops today. Note that free demonstrations always end in the gift shop.
- Burano – After Murano, the colorful little island of Burano is probably next in the popularity line. The brightly-painted houses are extremely photogenic, and the island’s artistic claim to fame is lace making. There are still some women who make lace by hand in Burano.
- Torcello – The island of Torcello is where the original Venetians settled. Today, it’s largely a nature reserve with very few inhabitants, so it can be a peaceful respite from the crowds. The main attraction is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which dates from the mid-7th century and is full of mosaics reminiscent of the Basilica of St. Mark. (There’s a fee to see the inside of the church.) Outside the church is a big stone chair known as “Attila’s Throne” that probably dates from the 5th century but has nothing to do with Attila the Hun.
- San Michele Cemetery – Venice’s cemetery is, naturally, on an island. Notable among the burials are the tombs of composer Igor Stravinsky and poet Ezra Pound. There are two churches on the island, and on All Soul’s Day (November 2) the ferry to the cemetery is free. Why? Because locals go to pay their respects to the dead. (In other words, please be respectful of mourners whenever you go.)
Guided Tours in Venice
Free Things to Do in Venice: Sometimes
Gallerie dell’Accademia || creative commons photo by Sailko
- Accademia Gallery – Free the first Sunday of every month
- Venice Biennale – The two main exhibition sites (Giardini and Arsenale) have an entry fee, but many other locations throughout Venice are free.