By Aine Pennello
If Venice makes you think of loved-up couples whispering sweet nothings while canoodling in a gondola, or of an expensive family holiday, well you’d be right – to an extent. As a first-class jewel of the tourism industry, Venice may not be the next Amsterdam or Ibiza, but it certainly has much more to offer student and budget travelers than you’d think. For instance, the best (and only) way to discover Venice is just to wander around – and don’t tell me you can’t do that on a student budget. The great thing about this city is it’s essentially a maze of small, cobbled streets and centuries-old gothic homes, buildings and bridges so there’s something breathtakingly beautiful to admire at almost every corner. And with masked carnivalers, beautiful churches, and Europe’s oldest Jewish ghetto you’ll also get a great (and free!) sense of Venetian history and culture.
Venice is also a relatively small city, which means a long weekend is plenty of time for you to see everything on your checklist without having to decode a confusing public transport system or trek miles out of your way to see all the sights. In fact, you won’t even need to perform the typical tourist routine of consulting your map every few feet since most Venetian streets are signposted to bring you to the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square, among other locations.
Even Venice’s most iconic (and expensive) experience, the €80 gondola ride, can be adjusted to suit student travelers by taking the traghetto for just 50 cents. Italian for “ferry”, traghetti are fashioned from older gondolas so there’s still a hint of romanticism. Sure, your gondolier is more likely to exchange heated words with his fellow oar-man than serenade you Andrea Bocelli-style, but what would an Italian holiday be without a passionate show of elaborate hand-gestures?
Of course Venice does have several other tourist traps: the cafes and restaurants of St. Mark’s Square certainly know how to put a price on its surroundings, while Venetian masks can easily cost €50 or more in specialty shops. But if you don’t mind haggling with a street vendor you can easily get a great mask for €20-30 and there are plenty of good Italian dishes to try for €7-15 once you get away from St. Mark’s Square.
Unfortunately there’s no easy way of getting around the admission prices at St. Mark’s Basilica (free + various) and the Doge’s Palace (€12; €6.50 for students under 30) but once you’re inside there’s no reason you can’t squeeze every euro’s worth out of it by bringing a sketchbook and joining the flock of artists atop St. Mark’s Basilica.
Venice has a small number of student hostels some of which might expect you to follow 11.30pm or 12.30am curfews. If you want a bit more freedom, the Foresteria Valdese is located just a few minutes away from St. Mark’s Square and offers a dorm-style bed and breakfast for just €22 a night. But be sure to book your accommodation and flights early so you don’t loose out to those smug honeymooners!