Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

Venice: The Isles of Romance

A view of the Venice Town Centre from the Grand Canal

Venice Town Centre from the Grand Canal

Venice is perpetually on the short list of every traveller’s ideal itinerary that dreams of Italy. Why is this secluded, precarious city such a wildly popular travel destination? The answers are many and complex. But in short, Venice holds a certain mystique that tugs at the soul, it possesses a grandeur that is stately, an ambiance that is romantic, and a certain poetic beauty that whispers an allure that few can resist.

But to most backpackers, it looks cool.


A Romantic History Complete With Façades

From mediaeval times, Venice has been a tourist destination. Whether it’s because of its unusual “in the water” geography of a city built on stilts, it’s importance in Dark Ages commerce and the Marco Polo economy of the region, or its renown as a bully naval power, Venice drew people across southern Europe to its wonders city sights, some of which were stolen from the Turks. Venetians, aware of their questionable image but undeniable importance, spruced up their watery city by inventing a new architecture to reflect the city’s uniqueness and brute power. Slowly evolving, the Venetian brand of architecture combined the Gothic style with the eastern Byzantine style and that of the Renaissance, and exhibited the mixture on building façades throughout the city. This eclectic style became a source of pride and a trademark of the corporate Venetian Republic.

Among the many examples of Venetian architecture, decides Venetian blinds, includes the famously iconic San Marco Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace, the “palatium duci”) both in the city centre, Piazza San Marco. I recommend you visit both buildings, they are astonishing.


It’s Only a Matter of Money

For some, the most prominent feature of Venice and the thing that all potential budget-minded or otherwise frugal backpackers should be aware of is that Venice is certainly not inexpensive. Alas, they’ve had practice charging tourists for well over a thousand years, so they’re good at it. Hostels and hotels, gondola rides, museums, inter-island transportation, souvenir carnival masks, beer and food are all going to be listed at “somewhat” higher prices than most other places you will visit on any European adventure. So, be aware of this but do not avoid coming to Venice because of it. Budget for it, sacrifice for it, earn more money before leaving home, but don’t consider not visiting Venice.

View of The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal
 Photo: Chiara Marra

In an effort to try to trim the financial fat just slightly, you might think it a good idea not to stay on the main island during your time in the city. Well, you’d be wrong. Prices may be slightly higher here than on one of the smaller, quieter islands of the city but this savings will quickly be recouped compared to the daily transportation fees coming and going from other islands to the main island. After all, most of everything worthwhile is located on the main island, and that is where the excitement is. So, the main island should be your focus.


Accommodations in Venice

When looking for places to stay in town, sadly, the options for budget-minded travellers are limited. There are a handful of budget hostels on the main island, but even the cost of a bed here will approach the price you would pay for a room in any other city. These limited beds also book up lightning fast so make sure to book well in advance.

As an alternative, when you first get off the train when you arrive in town (“the” way to get to Venice), notice there will be a horde of representatives from the camp grounds on the outer islands waiting to court anyone with a giant backpack and a confused face. These campground locations are cheaper to stay at but, as said before, the price of shuttling in and out of town will quickly eat up the savings. Still, it is an alternative and you might have the karma to meet someone special at the campground. Who knows? But also, they may be your best bet if you failed to reserve budget accommodations before arrival.

Food in the city can also become something of an issue for people not able or willing to spend much money. Restaurants cater to tourists, period, and are not inexpensive. So, if you’re on a budget, this is the place to chow down on pizza and gyros. Such places are scattered around town. There are also supermarkets and food take-out stores all over Venice where you can pick up picnic food at reasonable prices, which can be a literal lifesaver for many a backpacking traveller.

In terms of activities, going to one of the many operas or classical music concerts in town is surprisingly inexpensive, and a great way to spend some time and pick up some “culture.”


Let’s Be Truthful

A cafe in St. Mark’s Square in Venice

St. Mark’s Square

The winters are very chilly and the summers sweltering hot (and smelly), it’s expensive, and, well, Venice has never been known for its cuisine. So, what is the appeal?

The appeal is the city itself. The city of Venice is one of civilization’s masterpieces. This is one of the most unique and impressive cities mankind has ever build and we are lucky enough to live in a point in history where it still exists in all of its glory and is still open to visitors.

So many of the world’s great cities have fallen or disappeared. Babylon, Persepolis, Troy, Machu Pichu, and Atlantis (if you are into that sort of thing), among others. But Venice remains still. It is a precious gift.


Come Visit Anyway

For all its flaws and its off-putting characteristics (we won’t bother to name them here), Venice is a city not to be missed. It is the last of the ancient novelty cities and any trip to Italy would be greatly lacking without a stop by.

The beauty and romance of this city is so deeply embedded in our collective consciousness and it is so often imitated by wannabe committee run city planners and big name casinos but, though the city itself has lost some of its authenticity, it still feels genuine and it is most definitely the original. It may be a little pricey and at times frustrating and but it is never boring.