The capital of Northern Italy's Veneto region, Venice is on everyone's must-visit list. Known for its canals, culture, architecture, and food, Venice has so much to see and do. From world-class museums and galleries to gondola rides and island tours, there's never a dull moment here. Venice gets over ten million tourists in a typical year, and it's especially busy in the summer and during the Carnivale, usually held mid-February to the beginning of March. No matter what time of year you can get to this magical city, you're bound to have the time of your life.
Unsurprisingly, Venice knows how popular it is, and experiencing all the major attractions can get quite expensive. Although there are some things you should absolutely pay to do, it's reassuring to know that there are also tons of free things to do in Venice. In general, because the city's expensive, many of the free things to do fill up quickly. It's best to visit early in the morning or during off-peak times, like midday, if the attraction is open.
The best free things to do in Venice vary from stunning churches full of art and bustling piazzas to colorful street markets and breathtaking views. Whatever you do, don't set out into the busy, narrow streets of Venice with all your bags in tow. Stop by a Bounce luggage storage in Venice and drop it all off. The locations near the Venice Train Station are typically the most convenient.
Santa Maria della Salute
Often referred to as simply the Salute, this church dedicated to health and salvation was built in 1631 to celebrate and commemorate the end of the devastating plague. Situated at the entrance to Venice's Grand Canal, this minor basilica is nothing short of stunning. Santa Maria della Salute's impressive dome is easily spotted from almost anywhere in the city, and there is no entry fee into this beautiful and ornate structure. On the 21st of November, Venice celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin and the Salute plays a large role in this celebration. Venetians make a sacred walk to the church to remember the end of the plague.
The basilica is open daily from 9:30 am to noon and then again from 3 pm to 5:30 pm, and while the entrance is free, if you wish to visit the sacristy, that will cost you a nominal fee. A Santa Maria della Salute visit pairs well with a trip to Piazza San Marco since it's just over 1,500 feet from the basilica.
Piazza San Marco
A trip to Venice, Italy is incomplete without a visit to Piazza San Marco. Also called St. Mark's Square, this massive area is the epicenter of tourism in Venice that was once the religious and political hub for the Republic. While many of the square's attractions will cost you, sitting in St. Mark's Square is one of the best totally free things to do in Venice. At least once during your trip, plan to take a picnic or snack to the square where you can enjoy people-watching, spectacular architecture, and scenic city and canal views.
While you take in your surroundings in Saint Mark's Square, it's nice to know what you're looking at. The namesake church and Palazzo Ducale sit on the eastern portion of the square. To the south, you have the offshoot Piazzetta San Marco that leads to the Grand Canal flanked by the Archaeological Museum, and to the west, the Correr Museum. Each building is as beautiful as the last, so make sure you have your phone or camera handy.
Basilica San Marco
Once you've enjoyed your lunch in Piazza San Marco, head over to the square's centerpiece - Basilica San Marco. St. Mark's Basilica is on the eastern edge of the square and is attached to the Doge's Palace. Like the Basilica Santa Maria Della Salute, free admission is the standard at this church, too. If you want to explore beyond the basics, entry to the Museum San Marco, Bell Tower, Pala D'Oro, and the Treasury will cost you.
St. Mark's Basilica is one of the most popular free things to do in Venice and as a result, expect it to be busy, like St. Mark's Square. Try to plan your visit in the morning, when it opens at 9:30 am if you're visiting during the peak summer season. The church closes its doors to tourists at 5 pm, although it has extended hours for prayers.
The heart of Venice is best explored on foot, and what better way to do so than to opt for one of the countless free walking tours available. You can book online to tour the secrets of Venice with a pro or download maps and information for self-guided tours and go your own way. The professionally guided tours meet at various spots around town and usually have one or two start times to suit your schedule. For more options, a little outside the city, visit the best hikes in Venice.
For something a little different, try a free evening walking tour that starts in St. Mark's Square under the bell tower. If your days are full of other activities, this is ideal to maximize the evening as well. Enjoy the sunset, lights dancing on the canal water, and much more.
The city's iconic Rialto Bridge is an ideal starting point for a free day of sightseeing in Venice. Pretty much everything you'd want to see is at most a mere 20-minute walk away. The oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal, construction for the stone arch bridge was completed in 1591.
When you visit the bridge, you can peruse the shops while admiring the views. Watch out for gondolas gliding by and other colorful boats. Although the views are wonderful from the bridge, make sure to grab some photos of the bridge itself. Since the bridge funnels millions of tourists annually through a narrow space, be prepared to get a bit jostled or to have someone standing in your ideal spot. Patience is key as most people don't spend too long here.
A highlight of a trip to the Rialto Bridge area is the market a 5-minute walk northwest in the San Polo neighborhood. The market features fresh seasonal produce, like cherries, artichokes, apricots, and chicory. Open every day except Sunday from 7:30 am to 1 pm, the Rialto Market is one of the best spots to pick up some picnic supplies for an inexpensive lunch in one of Venice's many piazzas. You'll find tasty Venetian specialties like salami and sausages.
For fish lovers, the adjacent Pescheria offers some of the freshest Adriatic-caught fish you'll find. They also have seafood like crab and squid. The fresh fish market shares the same hours as the fruit and vegetable market but is closed Monday.
Bridge of Sighs
Connecting the interrogation rooms of the Doge's Palace to the New Prison, the Bridge of Sighs is a photo op worth taking in Venice. The bridge spans the Rio di Palazzo and is a white limestone enclosed structure that was used to transport prisoners. The bridge gets its unique name from the sighs said to come from prisoners as they got one last look through the barred windows at picturesque Venice before being taken to their cells.
For visitors to Venice that want to keep this activity free, you'll be limited to the exterior view of the bridge. If you want to splurge and actually walk over it, head to the connected Doge's Palace for a ticket.
Acqua Alta Bookstore
If you like vintage books, cats, and quirkiness, a poke around Venice's Acqua Alta Bookstore is a must. The shop's shelves are stuffed to the brim with unique books, and the overflow is kept in old boats on the floor. Since Venice is prone to flooding, this is a fun and easy way to keep the merchandise safe from damage. As a result of this crafty storage system, the shop has proclaimed itself "the most beautiful bookstore in the world," and it's certain that most visitors would agree.
A Day at the Beach
Although you may not think of Venice as a beach destination, the almost seven-mile barrier island called the Lido features a beautiful sandy beach with views of the Adriatic Sea. The site of the Venice Film Festival, Lido welcomes tourists year-round to its scenic Venice Lagoon location. Access to the beach is completely free, and there is a beach club called Blue Moon that is also free.
Venice is actually full of wonderful things to do with kids. The sea is quite shallow at Lido so the beach is ideal for families with young children. To swim, you have to walk out almost 100ft for deep enough water. All this fun in the sun is a mere 20-minute Vaporetto ride from the city center.
San Giorgio Maggiore Church
Sharing its name with the Venetian island, Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore is another one of Venice's awe-inspiring churches built in the 16th century. Its white marble facade is easily recognizable whether you approach by boat or on foot. The interior of the church is surprisingly bright with imposing columns and arches. Works by Tintoretto, most notably his Last Supper, are on display for all to see at no cost. The church is open from 7 am to 6 pm daily and although the entrance is free, if you want to visit the Campanile, that will cost you, similar to other churches in Venice.
Stanze del Vetro
A non-profit collaboration, the Stanze del Vetro in Venice is a museum dedicated to the art of glassmaking in the 19th and 20th centuries. Unlike the Murano Glass Museum which charges an entry fee and offers a comprehensive history of glass, the Stanze del Vetro focuses on more recent times and is one of the best free things to do in Venice.
The gallery's exhibitions change periodically, so it's a good idea to check out the museum's website to see what's currently on. No matter what exhibition you catch, you're guaranteed to see some colorful and reflective glass in all shapes and sizes. The ultimate goal of this artist showcase is to bring awareness to the claim that glassmaking is far from antiquated and deserves a seat at the international art table. Visitors debate whether this is one of Venice's art galleries or museums, but either way, it's worth a visit.
Giardini della Biennale
Created in the Napolean era on the eastern edge of Venice, the Giardini della Biennale was the traditional location for art exhibits and now hosts the Venice Biennale Art Festival. The gardens are found on the Bacino di San Marco banks, which is a narrow water divide that separates the Giardini from Piazza San Marco.
The structure of the gardens is unique. It's divided into 30 national pavilions, each for a different country to showcase its artists during the Biennale. A stroll along the tree-lined paths and lagoon banks is ideal for a restful independent wander whether you're an art-lover or not. If you want to peruse the art exhibits, this will cost you but the tour of the gardens and a walk along the lagoon edge is totally free. It's a great way to escape the busy crowds, especially in the summer.
If you happen to be in Venice on the first Sunday of the month, there are a bunch of museums that offer free entry. One of these is the Gallerie dell'Accademia, just over a five-minute walk from the Church of Santa Maria della Salute. The Gallerie dell'Accademia on the Grand Canal's south bank specializes in art before the 19th century. Works by Tintoretto, Giovanni Bellini, and Titian are only some of the highlights here. The museum also possesses the drawing of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci, but don't get your hopes up too high for this one. Due to its fragile nature, the drawing is only periodically displayed to avoid excess exposure to harmful light.
As you leave the museum, be sure to cross the adjacent Accademia Bridge; it offers some of the best views over Venice and the Dorsoduro district
The floating city of Venice is a spendy tourist spot, but if you know where to go, this magical city on the Grand Canal can fit any budget. Small amounts of green space, world-class museums, vibrant markets, and intricate architecture can all be experienced without putting a hand in your pocket. Some of the best free things to do in Venice aren't even at a specific attraction. It's getting lost in the narrow alleys and dead ends, it's people-watching over a lunch you picked up at the local market and taking in a breathtaking sunset from a bridge that's older than you can even imagine. Visit Venice as soon as you can because a trip doesn't have to cost a fortune!