Eating cheaply in Venice is not easy, though it’s by no means impossible. The city’s reputation for mass-produced menus, bad service, and wildly overpriced food is, sadly, well-warranted, and if you’ve been traveling in other parts of the country, you may be a little disappointed here. Having said that, everything is relative—this is still Italy after all—and you’ll find plenty of excellent dining options in Venice. As a basic rule, value for money tends to increase the farther you travel away from Piazza San Marco, and anything described as a menù turistico, while cheaper than a la carte, is rarely any good in Venice (exceptions noted below). Note also that compared with Rome and other points south, Venice is a city of early meals: You should be seated by 7:30 to 8:30pm. Most kitchens close at 10 or 10:30pm, even though the restaurant may stay open later.

While most restaurants in Italy include a cover charge (coperto) that usually runs 1.50€ to 5€, in Venice they tend to instead tack on 10% to 12% to the bill for “taxes and service.” Some places in Venice will very annoyingly charge you the cover and still add on 12%. A menu should state clearly what extras the restaurant charges (sometimes you’ll find it in fine print at the bottom) and if it doesn’t, take your business elsewhere.

Bàcari & Cicchetti

One of the essential culinary experiences of Venice is trawling the countless neighborhood bars known as bàcari, where you can stand or sit with tramezzini (small, triangular white-bread half-sandwiches filled with everything from thinly sliced meats and tuna salad to cheeses and vegetables), and cicchetti (tapas-like finger foods, such as calamari rings, speared fried olives, potato croquettes, or grilled polenta squares), traditionally washed down with an ombra or a small glass of wine, Veneto Prosecco, or spritz (a fluorescent cocktail of Prosecco and orange-flavored Aperol). All of the above will cost approximately 1.50€ to 6€ if you stand at the bar, as much as double when seated. Bar food is displayed on the countertop or in glass counters and usually sells out by late afternoon, so though it can make a great lunch, don’t rely on it for a light dinner. A concentration of popular, well-stocked bars can be found along the Mercerie shopping strip that connects Piazza San Marco with the Rialto Bridge, the always lively Campo San Luca (look for Bar Torino, Bar Black Jack, or the character-filled Leon Bianco wine bar), and Campo Santa Margherita.

Venetian Cuisine

Venice has a distinguished culinary history, much of it based on its geographical position on the sea. For first courses, both pasta and risotto are commonly prepared with fish or seafood: Risotto al nero di seppia or alle seppioline (tinted black by the ink of cuttlefish, also called risotto nero or black risotto) or spaghetti alle vongole (with clams; clams without their shells are not a good sign) are two specialties. Both appear with frutti di mare (“fruit of the sea”), which is mixed shellfish. Bigoli, a thick spaghetti that’s perfect for catching lots of sauce, is a Venetian staple, as is creamy polenta, often served with gamberetti (small shrimp) or tiny shrimp called schie, or as an accompaniment to fegato alla veneziana (calf’s liver cooked with onions and white wine). Some of the fish and seafood dishes Venice does particularly well include branzino (a kind of seabass), rombo (turbot or brill), moeche (soft-shelled crab) or granseola (crab), and sarde in saor (sardines in onions, vinegar, pine nuts, and raisins).

Try the dry white Tocai and pinot from the Friuli region to the northeast of Venice and the light, sparkling prosecco that Venetians consume almost like a soft drink. Popular local red wines include Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Soave, all of which come from the surrounding Veneto region. Grappa, the local firewater, is an acquired taste and is often offered in many variations.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.