My Top 10 Free things to do in Venice
Unlike many other cities around the world which offer the tourists many free museums and exhibitions to visit, Venice unfortunately does not do that. It is a city which lives off tourism, therefore every possible site is exploited one way or another, by charging the tourist a small or a bigger fee. Therefore it may seem a city not suitable to the budget traveller. This is not the case and it does not mean, either, that you cannot visit Venice unless you spend a lot of money.
Wherever you arrive in the city by plane, bus or train and wherever you stay in the city or in the outskirts, this is a list of the most interesting things to do in this beautiful city without spending a penny/cent (apart maybe your transport ticket and something to eat).
FOR FREE YOU CAN: Walk In Lista di Spagna, Visit the Ghetto, Go to Rialto, Walk in Piazza San Marco, Walk in Zattere, Go to San Zaccaria, Go to the Lido, Go to Santa maria della Salute, See the Parks, See the Art Galleries -
1- WALK IN LISTA DI SPAGNA E STRADA NUOVA
If you like the BUZZ and shops and crowds, take a long slow walk through Lista di Spagna e Strada Nuova.
I know I know, every true Venetian lover out there will be raising his/her hands in despair and wondering why I am suggesting this, since this is the busiest walk ever and every city guide of Venice in the world advises you to avoid it.
But, if unlike me, the crowds, the bumping into people and the seeing endless lines of souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants inspires you, this is the place to be.
The route starts from Venice train Station Santa Lucia, by Ponte degli Scalzi, where Lista di Spagna begins. Rio terà (which means “channel filled with earth”), where Lista di Spagna originally starts, was created in 1844. The street is called Lista di Spagna (Spanish List) because there used to be the Spanish Embassy here, in the palace which now hosts the Grand Hotel Principe. The word lista comes from the fact that the Republic of Venice used to border the residences of all embassies with Istrian stone (called Lista) to delimit the area where they could enjoy their diplomatic immunities.
After taking a short walk, where you will admire many masks and souvenir shops and where I suggest you make a little stop in Quanto Basta, a small Italian style take away, which sells one of the best ice-cream ever (not forgetting the pizzas, the crepes and everything else), you will reach Campo San Geremia where you can see its church, which hosts the relics of Santa Lucia, virgin martyr of Siracusa and Palazzo Labia, which is the head quarter in Venice of the local RAI, the Italian state TV.
Just out of the campo there is Ponte delle Guglie that once crossed will get you right into the heart of Cannaregio, one of the six sestieri of Venice. Once you cross the bridge you can turn left and make your way to the Jewish Ghetto (number 2 on my free sites list) or carry on walking into what now it is now known by everybody as Strada Nuova (New Street), even though the official name is Rio Tera San Leonardo and the real Strada Nuova begins much further.
Just off the Ponte delle Guglie you will see a small local fruit and veg market, which takes place daily until late in the afternoon. Carry on walking and after Rio Tera Leonardo you will pass along Rio Tera’ Maddalena by the end of which there is a lovely Osteria Vecia Carbonera, where you can enjoy some delicious cicheti with a nice spritz. Once you pass this Osteria, you will enter in what it is the real “Strada Nova” which will lead you to Campo Santi Apostoli and then off to Rialto.
The Strada Nuova was created for health reasons during the beginning of the 19th century, to allow Cannaregio to become an important walk way and to hep the development of the local area, that at the moment was quite poor and de-centred. By filling the main canals up, the Venetians created a major walking link to the centre of the city, Rialto.
Strada Nuova is filled with small shops, ice-cream parlours, osterie, bakeries, patisseries, bars and cafes, restaurants. When people say that Venice is only full of tourists, it is because they probably took this route to go to Saint Mark’s.
But notice this, the moment you take a little turn either right or left, the crowds disappear, and therefore the real Venice is only a few meters away from you.
2 – VISIT THE JEWISH GHETTO
As I explained in point number 1, the entrance to the Jewish Ghetto is just off Ponte delle Guglie, at the beginning of the Strada Nuova. As you get off the bridge, turn immediately left and then immediately right under one of the arches which says Sotoportego del Ghetto Vecchio, which once upon a time was a gate marking the boundary of the ancient Jewish Ghetto, the area from which the Jews weren’t allowed to come out.
You will enter a small dark alley which will lead you into the first ever Ghetto. Notice how tall the buildings are. This is the only area of Venice where buildings can go up to 7-8 floors. This was due to the fact that the area where Jewish people could live was pretty small and so they had to find a way to build houses which could host all of the community.
Continue until Campo del Ghetto Novo where, near the Scuola Grande Tedesca, there is the Museum of the Jewish Ghetto.
Veneziasi says “A city in the city, with its five synagogues, the museum and very tall houses. Venice boasts the most ancient and best preserved Jewish quarters in the Old Continent, established in 1516 in consequence of the dispositions by the Serenissima government, The word ‘ghetto’ seems to derive from the word ‘getto (casting)’ and referring to the foundries that stood in the medieval settlement area of the first German Jews to whom the cultural transformation of the word is owed”
The museum stands in the main campo of the Ghetto and it’s an astonishing pretty small museum which houses many memories of history of the Jewish community of Venice. After the visit to the museum (which is not free, but charges only a very small fee) , you could visit the three splendid synagogues that are found in Campo del Ghetto Novo, next to the Museum, and then continue towards the other two, in Campiello delle Scuole, in the Old Ghetto. In 1719 in the ghetto of Venice there were as many as nine synagogues available to the three ‘foreign populations’ present at that time – German, Levantine and Sephardic – and who settled in the city centuries ago as the Jews were expelled from their original lands. The people living in the Ghetto had to wear a yellow badge to show that they were Jews (doesn’t this reminds us of something?).
If you do not like the crowded street I suggested in point number 1, than this is the right place to escape from them!
3- STANDING ON TOP OF RIALTO BRIDGE AND VISIT THE PESCHERIE DI RIALTO
This is definitely a must do, free experience. I suggest going to see Rialto bridge either very very early in the morning or after sunset. The atmosphere on the bridge is so different from the busy packed one you will get during the day. You will find the bridge less crowded (not talking during holidays like Carnival or Redentore) and the view of the bridge with all the lights turned on is amazing.
Also if you get there extremely early in the morning take a look at the fish market (Pescheria) and the veggie market (Erberia), with all the fish stalls, displaying all of the freshly caught fish just brought in on the barges from the lagoon.
4- WALK IN SAINT MARK’S SQUARE
This is a must, obviously, but there is a way to avoid the crowds and really enjoy and soak up the atmosphere that this unique square can give the spectator.
Go there before 8.30 or after 9-10 pm. Those are definitely the times when the average groups of tourist wont’ be there and you will be able to walk without being pushed around and you will be able to take as many pictures as you want. You will be able to see the Palazzo Ducale (Doges palace), the Basilica di San Marco (the church), the Campanile (church tower), the Torre dell’Orologio (the cock tower). Please note that all of these sites require an entry fee, but are absolutely free to see from the outside!!! Take also a nice walk under the arches of the Procuratie.
5- LA PASSEGGIATA ALLE ZATTERE (The walk in Zattere)
This is the most classical walk that all Venetians take on a Sunday afternoon, the best way to relax watching the boats and cruise ships sail by (even though I personally think the Cruise ships should stop entering the Canal!). The Fondamenta delle Zattere is a long walkway/promenade in the sestiere of Dorsoduro, overlooking onto the Canal of the Giudecca and it extends for about 1 km, running from Stazione Marittima a San Basilio up to Punta della Dogana, where the Canal enters the Bacino di San Marco.
Since it is mainly positioned in a South position, it is always very sunny and breezy and it is the perfect spot in Spring and Summer for a lovely walk with a nice stop in one of the numerous bars and ice cream parlours which are strategically positioned there. One of the best place is Nico’s, which serves fine ice creams and a host of other more savoury snacks. Don’t leave town without trying their Gianduiotto, a fist-sized block of chocolate and hazelnut ice-cream plunged into a cup of freshly-whipped thick cream
6- VISIT THE CHURCH OF SAN ZACCARIA
As Wikipedia states: “The Chiesa di San Zaccaria (St. Zacharias) is a church in Venice, dedicated to the father of John the Baptist, whose body it supposedly contains. It is a large edifice, located in the quiet Campo San Zaccaria, just off the waterfront to the south east of St. Mark’s basilica.” It is a very very old church dating back to the IX century. Very interesting is the crypt. The walls of the aisles are entirely covered with paintings by Tintoretto, Angelo Trevisani, Giuseppe Salviati, Giovanni Bellini, Antonio Balestra, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Palma the Elder and Van Dyck. The artist Alessandro Vittoria is buried in the church, his tomb marked by a self-portrait bust.”
Address: Campo S. Zaccaria, 4693 Castello
opening: mon-sat: 10.00-12.00 and 16.00-18.00. Sun 16.00-18.00. Vaporetto line: stop S. Zaccaria
7- GO TO THE BEACH OF LIDO
Take a day trip to beach of Venice. This has been traditionally the place where Venetians go during the hot and stuffy summer months to try to get some breeze and to dip into the clean and hot water of the Adriatic Sea. And if you are in Venice in September you might be able to spot some famous film stars walking along the beach, since The Venice Film Festival takes place at the Lido during that period. If you are in Venice during Winter or Autumn the beach will be pretty empty but still beautiful, if you are visiting during Spring and Summer, it will definitely be more crowded, but not only with tourists, also with many local Venetians, as the tradition calls. While you are here you should also go to the Jewish Cemetary,
Take line 61/62 to get directly from piazzale Roma to the Lido
8- VISIT SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE
The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute ( The church of St Mary of Health), known simply as La Salute, is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica located in the Dorsoduro.It was built on a thin strip of land between the Grand Canal and the Bacino di San Marco, placing it right in the centre view of the spectator entering Piazza San Marco from the water. In 1630 Venice experienced another devastating outbreak of the plague. The Venetians built the church as a votive offering for the city’s deliverance from the pestilence. The church was designed by Baldassare Longhena, a pupil of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.The dome of the Salute is the centrepiece of the church and it has become the symbol (together with Saint mark’s) of the city, inspiring artists like Canaletto, J. M. W. Turner, John Singer Sargent and Francesco Guardi. The No. 1 water bus stops at the nearby Salute vaporetto platform, which is between the Santa Maria del Giglio and San Marco stations.
9- TAKE A TOUR OF ALL THE PARKS OF VENICE
It is true, Venice is more about stones than trees and plants, but there are some lovely little oasis of peace and green even here.
Before her amazing economical growth and rise to power, Venice used to be surrounded by green. The street weren’t all cobbled and lastricated with stones, but where simple soil streets. The large Campi (square) where exactly what the name stands for: fields (in Italian Campo means field). Slowly through the centuries though these areas where covered with masegni, large square tiles of trachite . Today the green area of Venice Historic Centre is only 120.000 mq divided in six public gardens spread all over the city and they are: the Pineta di S.Elena, the Giardini Napoleonici, the Giardini Groggia, the Giardini Papadopoli, the Giardini Savorgnan and the Giardini Reali.
Giardini Napoleonici (Napoleon Gardens) Situated among Riva dei 7 Martiri, Viale Trieste and Via Garibaldi, in the Sestiere di Castello, they are the most extended green area of Venice. They locally known as Giardini di Castello and were created in 1807 under the order of Napoleon and after knocking down many old churches and convents. The debris were used to build a small hill which now hosts the Padiglione della Biennale. Very recently a large part has been given to the Biennale and it can be visited only when the Biennale is open. But around 18.000mq still remain of public domain and can be visited for free. Many statues and monuments are situated inside these gardens.
Giardini Reali There are south of Saint marks’ square, after the Palazzo della Zecca, along the beautiful quay that runs along San Marco. These gardens, as the Giardini Napoleonici, were built for order of Napoleon and they are particular beautiful, filled with little walkways and lovely shadowy trees.
Giardini Papadopoli They are 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 at the same time getting to know the local young Venetian male population (we are talking back when I was 15, mind you!). There are many lovely wood benches I am pretty sure some still have my initials engraved on it!
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. I used to go to this school and I remember taking school breaks here munching on a little sandwich and gossiping about life as a teenager. There are trees everywhere but there aren’t any edges, so it looks more like a little forest than a garden.
Giardini Groggia They are situated in Sant’Alvise (Cannaregio) and they are more like classical romantic gardens, even though, unfortunately, they are not really well cared for and they are not kept in pristine condition. Pineta di Sant’Elena This is the green area on the island of Sant’Elena and it is called pineta since all the trees are pines trees. It is an open space, without gates or fences.
10- VISIT THE ART GALLERIES OF VENICE
Venice offers many museums, it’s true, but it also offers a large selection of privately owned art galleries which are free to enter and where you can see both local and international artists displaying their works of art.
This is only a small list of some of them, I am sure you will find many more whilst you are wondering around!
Contini Art Gallery: S. Marco n°2675/2769, Calle dello Spezier (Campo S. Stefano)
Galleria d’Arte l’Occhio: Dorsoduro 181-185, Venezia (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
I hope somehow my list will help you to enjoy Venice and to see that this city can be just as inexpensive as any other, if you know what you are doing!
And if you are looking for budget accomodation why don’t you try B&B Faronhof, just outside Venice, on the Riviera del Brenta.