You’re right. Venice isn’t cheap. A ride on a gondola will probably cost more than your flights.
But this ancient city, crammed on to a sinking island off the north-east corner of Italy, is one of the true wonders of the world. Every few paces, you’ll stagger back, amazed, at some new beauty spot. Your Instagram feed will runneth over.
And, if you’re careful, you can do it without breaking the bank.
Where to stay
Hotel San Samuele
The location of this affordable, intimate hotel in the San Marco district could hardly be better. Just a short walk from the Accademia bridge, Hotel San Samuele is simple — there’s no restaurant, for example — but its rooms are clean and elegantly furnished, and Judith, the owner, is dangerously charming. Highly recommended. Doubles from £78 (hotelsansamuele.com).
Palazzo Contarini della Porta di Ferro
This grand palazzo in the quiet Castello district belonged to one of the city’s most influential families. It’s cheaper than most comparable places, and if you call the personable manager, Antonio, he may be able to cut you a deal. Then you can pretend you’re a 17th-century duke as you stalk through the fragrant walled garden and echoing hallways. Doubles from £95 (palazzocontarini.com).
Residenza degli Angeli
Enjoy some faded splendour at this atmospheric B&B in the heart of the San Polo district, near the Rialto Bridge. The rooms are simple but nicely decorated. Breakfast is basic (a croissant and coffee) but does the job. The price is remarkable considering the location. Doubles from £44 (039 041 275 9546).
Whether you arrive by train or bus, Locanda Gaffaro is conveniently located on the edge of the Dorsoduro district. The rooms are on the small side, but tastefully appointed. The same could be said of the breakfast. Good value, though, all told. Doubles from £75 (gaffaro.com).
Where to eat
The padrone, Silvio, is expansive, but his restaurant is not expensive: gnocchi with red mullet and artichokes is £13, coffee is £1.75. Nevodi is a social hub in the Castello district so popular with locals you’ll probably need a reservation in the evening. Address: Via Giuseppe Garibaldi (039 041 241 1136).
Osteria Ai Do Archi
Situated next to Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, this simple osteria will charge you £9 for a plate of spaghetti carbonara and £4.50 for a glass of Merlot. The atmosphere is warm and unpretentious. It hits the spot. Address: Barbaria de le Tole (039 041 241 1306).
Simpler still, this is where the cool interns from the Guggenheim Museum go at lunchtime. The service is surly, but it’s all terribly authentic. A no-frills Italian caff with panini and pasta and beer on tap, all for a song. Address: Calle della Chiesa (039 349 457 6739).
Muro San Stae
A little pricier than the others, this gem of a restaurant in the back streets of San Polo is worth seeking out for its fantastic pizzas, far superior to those served in the restaurants around San Marco — half of which (whisper it) are frozen. Owner Giacomo is passionate about wine, so make sure you pore over his list. Address: Santa Croce (039 041 524 1628).
What to see and do
Creep into the crypt
The church of San Zaccaria houses (probably) the remains of the father of John the Baptist, and (definitely) a fantastic Bellini altarpiece. For £1.30 you can explore the side chapels, admire a dramatic painting of the crucifixion by Van Dyck and descend into the (usually flooded) crypt. Take care on the slippery marble steps. Campo S. Zaccaria.
See the big guns
You aren’t allowed to enter the imposing Arsenale — which is still used by the Italian Navy — but for £9 at the nearby Naval History Museum you can learn how Venezia ruled the waves. The place has curvaceous swords, splendid blunderbusses and cannons so large you’d have thought they would sink a ship simply by being brought aboard. Riva S. Biasio (039 041 244 1399).
Get on the water
A half-hour gondola ride costs £70 — but the price is the same regardless of the number of passengers. Save money by teaming up with others in the queue. Extra tip: go to Campo Santa Maria Formosa and ask to see the ‘hidden canals’. That way you’ll avoid the Venetian equivalent of heavy traffic.
For £13, there’s much to admire at the Guggenheim. Modernist masterpieces include Max Ernst’s resplendent The Robing Of The Bride and Jackson Pollock’s superb Alchemy. Almost as intriguing are the enthusiastic interns, who serve as attendants, and your extravagant fellow punters. Dorsoduro (guggenheim-venice.it).
Go window shopping
A stone’s throw from the crush of the Rialto Bridge you’ll find a shopper’s paradise in the lofty department store T Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Having browsed your fill, take the lift to the top floor where free cultural events are hosted — and from the roof you can enjoy one of the best views in Venice. Rialto Bridge (039 041 314 2000).
Tour hidden places There is nothing better to do in Venice than simply walk the streets. Wander into random churches. Get lost. The locals call this un giro delle sconde (a tour of the hidden places) — or, if you take on some light alcoholic refreshment, a bar crawl.