Venice is expensive, even compared with other Italian cities in my view. So here are some suggestions to keep the costs down a bit and still see and do lots of stuff.
The Biennale: this might sound odd but you could decide not to buy a ticket to the official Biennale venues in the Giardini and Arsenale. Yes, that’s where the curated pavilions are and many national pavilions. But there are at least 50 national pavilions/collateral events/ linked events that aren’t even in the programme outside those venues and most of them are free – see some recommendations below. And you can see Lorenzo Quinn’s Support anytime you are going up the Grand Canal! So if you think that might be enough art for you, you’ve just saved €25.
Travelling around Venice: we bought 7 day ACTV tickets for unlimited use of the vaporetti, including going out to the islands, for €60. Well, as it turned out, we didn’t use them that much and we would have been better off buying a booklet of 10 tickets for €14. If you like walking and bearing in mind that often there is no sensible route between places by vaporetto, that might work for you too.
Somewhere nice to have a posh drink on the Grand Canal: far be it from me to stop you spending €20 on a cocktail at the Gritti Palace or the Danieli, if you want to. But you can enjoy one of the best night-time views and drinks at half that price at Ca’ Giustinian, the Biennale headquarters, which has a canal-side bar and restaurant.
A gondola ride: if it would make you happy, go ahead and spend upwards of €80 on a 30 minute trip (about 10 mins of which will consist of getting in and out of the gondola station!). It is quite a magical thing, especially in quiet canals in the late afternoon or evening. Or for €2 you can get a couple of minutes on a gondola, crossing the Grand Canal at a traghetto. Besides giving you that ‘if I were any lower in the water, I would actually be swimming’ feeling, they are a good way of crossing the canal without having to trudge back to the Accademia or Rialto bridges. And you still get your gondoliere in a striped tee shirt.
Art and other things to see for free or a few €: here are some things we enjoyed organised by sestiere.
At the south-east corner of Canareggio is the Diaspora Pavilion, which I highly recommend ; it’s free. As far as I can see, it’s not mentioned in the official Biennale brochure or website so here’s a link. A couple of minutes walk from there is the lovely church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (supposed to cost €3 but no-one was there to take our money …): gorgeous marble friezes and sculptures. About ten minutes north of there is the Iranian pavilion, in the Palazzo Dona della Rosa, free and worth a look. Carry on walking west along the Fondamenta Nuove and then turn south to the church of Santa Catarina, where Scotland + Venice are presenting a film by Rachel Maclean Spite your Face, a macabre reimagining of the Pinocchio story. Also free.
Carry on north and west to find the church of the Madonna del’Orto, a fine brick built Gothic specimen, the Tintoretto family’s local church apparently and about €3 to go in. The Madonna herself is a bit of a lump but the church has two wonderful Tintorettos: a Last Supper and a Golden Calf either side of the chancel. I think you can enjoy these much more than say the Tintorettos in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which are high up, dark and hard to see. And while you’re in this quarter, you could go to the Jewish Museum and take one of their tours: it does cost €12 but that includes the museum and they take you to a couple of synagogues on the top floors of local buildings that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Allow time for scanning at the entrance; and look at the little museum first, as it would be a faff to get back in at the end of the tour.
We did go the Scuola di San Rocco, but we preferred the little Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, in Castello which costs about €3 to go in. It has a series of paintings by Carpaccio including a great St George killing a rather small dragon, and another of St Jerome in his study, complete with a gorgeous little white dog. And you are likely to have it all to yourself.
If you are in the San Marco area, there are three pavilions in or near the Campo San Stefano, all free to visit. We didn’t manage to take in the Azerbaijani one (though my cousin Andrea recommends it!) or the Cuban one, but we did go into the Iraqi one, on the third floor of the Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, right near the Accademia bridge. For me the highlight there were the Francis Alÿs paintings.
If you find yourself near San Marco in the afternoon at a loose end, you could take the number 20 vaporetto to San Lazarro degli Armeni for a visit to the Armenian Monastery there. They do guided tours just once a day, when the ferry that leaves the San Zaccaria stop at 15.10 arrives. So don’t get any other boat as there is absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go on the island!
You can take your tour in Italian, English or Armenian, and for the suggested ‘donation’ of €6 you get a potted history of Armenia, the Armenian church, the foundation of the monastery by Mechitar, and a tour of the museum and library containing everything and anything from a well-preserved Egyptian mummy to an Armenian-English dictionary compiled by Byron. He spent two years visiting the monastery a few times a week to teach himself Armenian; he is said to have swum there, possibly from the Lido. I think this falls into the ‘don’t try this at home’ category of exercise advice.
And finally, we spent a leisurely day visiting what our guidebook quaintly called the Southern Islands. Start at the Zattere vaporetto stop on the quay of the same name and take a number 2 to the Sacca Fisola stop at the western end of the Giudecca. This will deposit you in an ordinary residential area. You may wonder, as we did, what lies at the very end of the island. Wonder no more: it’s where all the rubbish that is collected everyday across Venice ends up!
Anyway, stroll gently eastwards. You can pop into the Hilton Hotel that now occupies the big brick built factory, formerly the Molino Stucky. Very fancy, nice loos and a rooftop bar (not sampled). Further along is the little church of Sant’ Eufemia and just beyond that some places for lunch. There’s a branch of the fancy bakers’ Majer, which does great focaccia and arancini which you can eat while sitting outside and admiring the view over to the Zattere and the Gesuati church.
Keep strolling and you’ll approach the church of the Redentore but just before you get there, you’ll find the Syrian pavilion – free and well worth a look. The Redentore is one of those churches that got built either as an inducement to rescue Venice from the plague or a reward for having done so. It’s designed by Palladio and it’s a beautiful space. Costs a few € to go in. If you carry on along the quay, just before the Zitelle vaporetto stop is a sign to the Portuguese pavilion which appears to take you through a council estate. Keep going straight on almost to the southern edge of the Giudecca and there you will find the Villa Hériot with sculptures in the garden.
Pick up a vaporetto at the Zitelle stop going to San Giorgio Maggiore: not only is the church, another Palladian design, worth visiting in its own right, but until 26 November it has an exhibition of works by Michelangelo Pistoletto.
And it has fantastic views of Venice from the campanile (costs about €6 to go up). Beware the bells that strike every half hour!
After that you deserve a rest, so get a vaporetto to San Zaccaria, change to another one that goes over to the Lido – where so far as I can tell there is no art – and have an ice-cream!