It’s no myth – Venice is notoriously expensive to visit. You’ll get more out of your stay if you can spend at least one night on the islands, but that may mean watching your euros more closely in other areas. The good news is that seeking out the cheap eats in Venice can often help you eat better – and more like the locals do. Here are some tips for dining on a budget in Venice.
Look for Italian-Only Menus
The best way to avoid being overcharged for mediocre food in Venice (or, really, anywhere in Italy) is to avoid places with menus printed in many languages. These menus are geared toward tourists, which usually means there’s less emphasis placed on good food. Instead, look for restaurants where the menu is only printed (or even hand-written!) in Italian. Bring a phrase book to decipher what’s on offer, or just point and cross your fingers.
Eat Where the Locals Eat
It makes sense that the Venetians aren’t stuck with the same overly expensive restaurants tourists frequent, so one good way to find more budget friendly spots is to follow the locals. You may not have much luck actually asking them where they eat, since most people who live in Venice are involved in the tourism industry – they’re more likely to direct you to popular (and expensive) restaurants, thinking that’s the experience you’re looking for. Rather, wander away from the tourist areas to the neighborhoods where Venetians live, and seek out the restaurants and cafes that have more locals than tourists inside.
Make a Meal of Cicchetti
One of the things you’ll find if you follow the locals to their preferred restaurants is that they’re eating cicchetti. These small plates of food are akin to tapas in Spain, but they’ve got their own Venetian twist. Bars that serve cicchetti (pronounced chi-KEH-tee) are called bacari (pronounced bah-KAR-ee), and visiting a few bacari in a row is an excellent way to explore the city while having a progressive dinner of cicchetti. Order small glasses of local wine at each bar to wash it all down.
Eat Local Specialties
Another sure way to get costly and so-so food is to order something that’s not really of the region. Outside of Italy, pizza or spaghetti with tomato sauce may seem like universally Italian dishes, but neither one is typical of Venice. In Venice, look for seafood from the lagoon (including squid ink pasta), risotto dishes, and – when it’s the right season – ingredients like radicchio, artichokes and white asparagus.
Steer Clear of Restaurants With a View
Any restaurant on or next to a major tourist attraction in Venice is able to charge exponentially more than places in less-popular areas, even for the simplest things. If you can’t resist the urge to sit at a cafe table on St. Mark’s Square just to listen to the dueling bands play, be warned that your cappuccino will cost a small fortune. Again, you’ll be rewarded with better food at lower prices by wandering away from the touristy areas in Venice.
Lists of great restaurants in Venice (or anywhere) can change quickly, so for specific restaurant suggestions you might want to check the latest posts on a message board like Chowhound to see what people are saying about the restaurant scene.