On a sunny day, when the Grand Canal is a sparkling ribbon of aquamarine embossed with boats ancient and modern, Venice can steal your heart.
And the Italian city can do a number on your wallet, too. Knocking back a Bellini cocktail at the Hemingway haunt of Harry’s Bar will cost you beaucoup euros. And taking a gondola ride? You don’t want to know how much.
But here are five things to do in La Serenissima — as the serene city is sometimes called — that don’t cost a dime, or a pound of flesh.
That famous square
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Centrally located St. Mark’s Square — Piazza San Marco — is lined with shops and restaurants and is a must-see. Go early or late to avoid the worst crowds. You can go into the church for free, although there are fees to see the museum and other areas. Completely free: window shopping, people-watching and posing for selfies with the very friendly pigeons. Church hours, weekdays 9:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays and holidays 2-4 p.m., basilicasanmarco.it/.
For a good map of the city, see veniceonline.it/Maps/Maps.asp.
Venice is brimming with bridges. The Rialto, a stone arch lined with shops that crosses the Grand Canal at about the halfway point, is the most famous. The Academy Bridge — Ponte dell’ Accademia — between the Campo di San Vidal and Campo della Carita, also offers great views of the Grand Canal.
The Bridge of Sighs connects the interrogation rooms at the Doge’s Palace (just around the corner from St. Mark’s) with its historic prison cells. The bridge’s name described the sighs of prisoners as they were led to their fate. You have to pay to walk inside the covered bridge, but can get a good free view of the outside from the Paglia Bridge (Ponte della Paglia).
A historic ghetto
The word ghetto originated in Venice, where a gated part of the city was designated as the Jewish quarter from the 16th century until 1797. A commonly cited explanation is that the word stems from an Italian word “getto” associated with an old foundry in the area.
A bas-relief sculpture by Arbit Blatas in the main square — Campo di Ghetto Nuovo in the Cannaregio district — commemorates the deaths of Venetian Jews killed in World War II. In addition to walking around the area, you can visit the Jewish Museum of Venice for 4 euros, museoebraico.it/english/
The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute — St. Mary of Health — was built after an outbreak of the plague in 1630. Its ornate dome is a feature of the city skyline. Works inside include art by Tintoretto and Titian. It’s located in the Dorsoduro district, across the Grand Canal from St. Mark’s; take the No. 1 water bus to the Salute stop. Open 9 a.m.-noon and 3-5:30 p.m. most days.
Classical music enthusiasts will enjoy the Museum of Music — Museo della Musica — a collection of instruments from the 17th to 19th centuries. The museum is in the Church of St. Maurizio, about a 15-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square, and celebrates Venice’s history as a center of instrument making. Open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m., interpretiveneziani.com/en/museo-della-musica.php.