Venice is one of Italy’s most popular urban tourist destinations. It is known for its canals, complete lack of cars, and historic buildings. While activities traditionally associated with Venice, like taking a gondola cruise on the legendary canals, can be very expensive, there are plenty of free, equally exciting alternatives. In fact, as long as you avoid the tourist-oriented boat trips, it is relatively easy to find awesome attractions that do not cost a single Euro.
Here are the 10 best free attractions in Venice, Italy.
Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
This huge public space is the heart of Venice. It is so well known that tourists and locals alike often refer to it simply as The Piazza, even though there are many other piazzas in Venice. The square is lined with beautiful and historic buildings including St. Mark’s Basilica, the Clock-tower and Procuratie Vecchie, a long multistorey building with arch-like windows. Another popular photo subject for visitors is the flock of pigeons that inhabits the square. As stunning as Saint Mark’s Square is, most people don’t know that a smaller adjoining square actually has more attractive views of the lagoon and the historic buildings that surround it.
Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
This historic bridge spans the Grand Canal, which is the central waterway in Venice. Built in the 16th Century, it is an attraction in and of itself, though most people come to the bridge because it offers picture-worthy views of the canal and the historic buildings that line it. Rialto has been an important retail district for over 1,000 years. Produce and fish markets still operate in the area near the bridge today, just as they have for hundreds and hundreds of years.
This wide waterfront promenade area is located in the Dorsoduro District, which is a mainly residential area outside of Central Venice. The eateries and cafes make Zaterre a good place to send an evening, and the views are as good as any other waterfront spot in Venice. But Zaterre is much less crowded than more touristy stretches of waterfront. That makes it ideal for those looking for the real Venice rather than the city that is usually presented to tourists.
Visit during Carnevale
Like other predominantly Catholic cities around the world, Venice celebrates Carnival (called Carnevale in Italian) before the beginning of the Easter season. Instead of scantily-clad dancers, floats and bead tosses, Venetians mark the festival by donning masks and costumes. Mask parades take place in the week’s leading up to the Lenten season (about a month and a half before Easter, usually in mid-February). Boat parades, fireworks and other forms of entertainment are also part of the festivities.
Campo Santa Margherita
This square is rather nondescript, however, it is one of the most convenient places to find “the real Venice” (as opposed to the tourist version of gondolas and waterfront promenades). Located in the mainly residential Dorsoduro District, it can be reached on foot from Central Venice, but has a decidedly local feel. In the evening, vendors open up street stalls and local people fill the square to relax, shops, and socialize.
Bridge of Sighs
This bridge was built in the early 1600s. It is called the Bridge of Sighs because it once was used to access a prison, making the bridge the final sight for prisoners about to enter jail. The bridge is completely enclosed and made of limestone. It arch-like appearance makes it a favorite sight for people traveling by gondola. One romantic superstition states that two lovers who kiss under the bridge will stay together forever.
Get Lost in the Back Streets of Venice
Venice is one of the few remaining pedestrian cities in the world. This makes it a pleasure to walk around. Most people focus on the central areas of Venice and only see residential areas when they pass on a gondola ride. However, the small back streets and narrow lanes of this city are quite attractive. Finding out-of-the-way cafes, shops, and small piazzas that are usually only seen by local Venetians make for a memorable and authentic experience.
This “regatta” features, as the name suggests (‘Storica, as you might have guessed, means historic), a procession of classic boats along the Grand Canal in Venice. The boats are rowed by people in the costumes of the period that the boat is from. The procession is followed by a series of boating races that draw spectators and participants from around the city.
Venice is a relatively quiet city, with most things closing down by midnight. However, before then music is everywhere. Cafes in plazas like Saint Mark’s Square are entertained by bands, which can be heard from outside. During Carnevale and the Regata ‘Storica free concerts are held in major squares. Choirs sometimes perform for free in Venice’s historic churches. These types of events are advertised around town, you just have to know where to look. You can ask a local or your hotel‘s concierge service for suggestions.
Santa Maria della Salute
Sitting on a narrow strip of land in the Grand Canal near Saint Mark’s Square, this church is one of the most visible parts of the Venice skyline. The interior of the structure features an airy, arching design and ornate and intricate statues. One of the first of its kind, Santa Maria della Salute influenced the designs of other religious spaces around the world.
Although a trip to Venice, or any other popular Italian city, can be very expensive, some of the best sites in the city are completely free, making it possible to create some great Venetian memories without spending too much money.
Do you have your own favorite free places to visit in Venice? Let us know in the comment section below!