Venice has inspired generations of artists, from Shakespeare to Lord Byron to Monet to Hemingway. When you want to visit the watery city in the north of Italy on the budget of a starving artist, you'll have to forgo the fancy shops and high dollar dinners. Instead, take your time getting to know the hidden bridges and mysterious canals.
Venice on Foot
Venice is shaped like a fish, and if you get lost, it won't take you long to walk from the head of the fish to the tail. You'll be able to get around the city cheaply when you explore on foot. Near the train station is the Cannaregio district, which is off the beaten tourist path and full of narrow bridges and tiny streets. Visit the quiet neighborhoods in the Jewish Ghetto with their brightly painted buildings and splashing canals. As you head toward the stunning Rialto bridge you'll find yourself walking through the Santa Croce neighborhood, where the scent of the fresh fish market will lead you through stalls of squid and shrimp, huge hauls of salted cod, and merchants selling fruits and vegetables, too. Follow the main canal, but duck through a side street or two on your way to the Accademia bridge in the Dorsoduro district. From the top of the wooden bridge you can see striking views of the Grand Canal. A walk to St. Mark's Square for the sunset will cost you nothing, and you'll be glad you witnessed the sun dropping into the Adriatic.
Ride the Vaporetti
The system of water buses -- vaporetti -- in Venice is an inexpensive way to enjoy a cruise through the city and even to some outlying islands. Instead of buying a one-way ticket, buy a 12-hour ticket for only a few euro more. You'll be able to hop on and off the water bus, leaving you plenty of opportunities to explore churches, palazzos and other points of interest. Line 1 makes every stop, and Line 2 makes fewer stops, bringing you to the Giudecca Island, which drifts right beneath the city of Venice. Traveling by vaporetto costs a lot less than a private water taxi or even pricier gondolas.
Eat Like a Local
As you're getting around Venice cheaply, you'll want to stay away from the expensive cafés on St. Mark's Square and the restaurants with several-course meals. The locals believe in grazing throughout the day, and that's what you should do, too. Step up to a wine bar where you can drink something local and tasty for just a couple of euro. Sample the Venetian answer to tapas, called cicheti, where you can create your own appetizer plate from a selection of reasonably priced crostini, cheeses, meats and olives. Grab a slice of pizza or a couple of thick panini, stacks of which will tempt you from the windows of bars and cafés along nearly every street.
Find What's Free
Museums such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Doge's Palace and the Gallerie dell'Accademia come with entrance fees, but there is plenty of art to sample for free. Duck into any of the churches you stumble across as you wander through Venice. The basilica of St. Mark's is ornate, and there is no cost to admire it. You can see original artwork by Titian and Tintoretto in the Madonna dell'Orto church and Santa Maria della Salute. If you listen closely, you'll hear orchestral music drifting out of piazzas; just follow the notes for free concerts and exhibitions.