There is no denying that Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Made up of over 100 small islands and home to romantic canals and amazing Renaissance architecture, it is easy to see why visitors from all over the world flock to the “City of Water.” Of course, all of this fame and beauty comes with a price. Venice is not cheap to visit (that’s one of the top things to know about Venice).
However, with breathtaking views around every corner, it is easy to experience this amazing Italian city for far less money than you would expect. Granted, you will be skipping the expensive gondola rides and instead exploring Venice’s fabulous churches, museums, and neighborhoods, but it will be well worth it!
To get the most out of your time in Venice, I highly recommend spending at least 3 days (preferably more). This will ensure you have time to explore the hidden canals and alleyways and experience all this fabulous waterfront city has to offer without feeling rushed.
Let’s start exploring all of the fabulous free things to do in Venice, Italy!
1. St. Mark’s Square
The beautiful and iconic St. Mark’s Square is always free to visit. Take in the amazing views of St. Mark’s Basilica and the glorious bell tower (which costs €8 to go to the top). Admire the hustle and bustle of the people as they come and go from the iconic piazza.
As you stroll around the square, take in the beautiful music, but don’t dare sit down at one of the cafés as you will pay a pretty penny for everything here! However, you can take a little peek at the famous Café Florian, which has been in business since 1720!
Pro Tip: The rules here are very strict and are enforced. Be sure that you do not sit on the floor or steps anywhere around the piazza, do not feed the pigeons, and don’t buy any fake goods from street vendors.
2. St. Mark’s Basilica
While you are in St. Mark’s Square, be sure to take advantage of one of the most popular free things to do in Venice and go into the Basilica San Marco. Now, granted, the lines often look long for the basilica, but they move surprisingly fast, so don’t let them deter you.
St. Mark’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic Cathedral Church that was built between 829 and 836 and became the episcopal seat of the Patriarch of Venice in 1807. The exterior architecture is a hybrid of East and West, with a large influence coming from Byzantium. Inside, the church is elaborately decorated with incredible marble floors and no less than 8,000 square meters of gold mosaics that adorn the walls. It is truly a sight to behold!
Pro Tip: You must be conservatively dressed to enter the basilica. This means no short shorts or skirts, and no bare shoulders. Also, you are not allowed to bring in backpacks or large luggage. There is free bag storage, but be sure you take care of storing your bags before entering the queue.
3. The Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is easily one of Venice’s most recognizable landmarks. Serving as the main bridge crossing Venice’s Grand Canal since 1591, the Rialto Bridge is a hustling and bustling marketplace. Visit the shops, which were originally put in place to help pay for the construction of the bridge, to find the perfect Venice souvenir.
If you want an iconic picture of Venice that includes the Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, and some gondolas, then head to one of the jetties that run alongside the bridge. One of my favorite things to do at the Rialto Bridge is to watch the fishermen unload their daily catch and haul it to the nearby Rialto Market to sell.
Pro Tip: Come early to beat the crowds. The Rialto Bridge is a popular tourist stop and is often very crowded.
4. The Rialto Market
The Mercato di Rialto is located just steps from the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal. The market has been in existence since 1907, providing fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables to the citizens of Venice. Visit the market early if you want to see all of the action and beat the tourist crowds. The Erberia (fruit and vegetable) and the Pescheria (fish) sections are open Tuesday to Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.
Pro Tip: While you are in the Rialto Market area, be sure to stop by the Chiesa di San Giacometto di Rialto, Venice’s oldest church.
5. The Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute
The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is the most photographed church in Venice. Built in the 17th century, This Baroque-style church is a shining jewel sitting on the side of the Grand Canal. Originally built to thank God for the end of the plague, the style of the octagonal church is distinct. With more than 100 figures on the church’s flying buttresses, and its dramatic stairs leading to the entrance, it is easy to see why people photograph it so much.
The church is free to enter, so step inside to see the ornately decorated and uniquely themed artwork depicting death or the plague. The interior is truly massive and is unlike any other church that I have seen in Europe.
6. The Bridge Of Sighs
Located close to St. Mark’s Basilica and St. Mark’s Square, the Bridge of Sighs was used throughout history to connect Venice’s prison cells with its courtrooms. The bridge holds a unique place in Venice’s history and is still one of the most photographed areas of Venice today.
It was said that prisoners being escorted from Doge’s Palace would cross the bridge to their prison cells, taking one last look at the blue waters of Venice on their way. Man, that would put things into perspective!
Pro Tip: If you want to walk across the bridge and see the beautiful view, then take a tour of Doge’s Palace.
7. The Acqua Alta Book Shop
For a fun and quirky free thing to do in Venice, visit the Acqua Alta Book Shop. The bookshop, which has recently become famous on Instagram thanks to the gondola filled with books and the quirky book staircase, is truly a unique experience. Come early to beat the crowds and enjoy browsing through second-hand books or take your picture in the moored gondola that is outside of the bookstore.
8. The Accademia Bridge
Another of Venice’s famous bridges is the Accademia Bridge. Visitors flock to the Accademia Bridge for some of the best views in Venice! The Ponte della Accademia crosses the Grand Canal and leads to the Galleria dell’Accademia. As you cross the bridge, take in the glorious views up the Grand Canal to the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute.
Pro Tip: The Galleria dell’Accademia is free to enter on the first Sunday of the month. If you find yourself in Venice during this time, then take advantage of this to view some amazing artwork!
9. The Royal Gardens Of Venice
When you have had enough of the concrete and crowds, then escape into nature and visit the Giardini Reali di Venezia (the Royal Gardens of Venice), which is located just around the corner from the Piazza San Marco on the Grand Canal. Constructed in the early 1800s, the gardens are a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Pro Tip: Note that eating and drinking in the gardens are not allowed. So don’t plan for a picnic lunch during your time here.
10. The Ghetto Ebraico (The Jewish Ghetto)
The island of Venice is a cluster of islands separated by canals and waterways. In 1516, thousands of Jews were forced to live in a segregated area of Venice, called the Jewish ghetto. The area got its name from the fact that this was where iron was gettato (smelted), and thus, the term ghetto was born. Today, you can stroll through this historic area of Venice and still see the Jewish influence in the neighborhood, including the five historic synagogues that are still in use today.
Pro Tip: If you don’t mind staying a little off the beaten path, then consider looking at accommodations in the Jewish Ghetto. You can find good budget accommodations including apartments and bed and breakfasts in this area of the city.
11. Take A Free Walking Tour
Believe it or not, there are free tours available in Venice. A tour with Venice Free Walking Tours is a great way to get to know the history and culture of the city thanks to the knowledge of a local guide (although the tour is free, you should still tip your guide). Offering both historical and classic tours, you are sure to find one that suits you and your travel style.
Pro Tip: You will do a lot of walking in Venice. Always wear comfortable shoes!