Think of Venice, and you’re immediately filled with wanderlust. You imagine yourself sleeping in a beautiful villa, with a bedroom window overlooking the city’s storied canals. You’ll watch the gondolas float past as you sip your morning cappuccino. Sounds lovely, right?
Reality sets in after you discover how expensive Venice can be. Many people come away with sticker shock after searching for accommodations. Venice is extremely small compared to cities like Rome, Florence or Milan, so there are a limited number of places for visitors to stay. Since Venice is among the most popular Italian destinations, the high demand certainly influences prices.
Many budget travelers take a day trips to Venice, while others find less expensive places to sleep. Mestre is a common choice because prices are lower and it’s relatively easy to reach Venice. Is staying in Mestre truly the least expensive option? In this guide, we’ll weigh the costs so you can make your own decision.
Mestre: the Basics
While Venice is actually a group of 100 small islands in Venetian Lagoon, Mestre (“may-stray”) sits on the mainland (in the red outline above). Regarded as a suburb of Venice, Mestre sits at the foot of the Ponte della Libertà, the 2.6-mile long bridge that brings visitors to Venice’s historic center. People stay here for a few reasons:
- Hotels are cheaper, larger and tend to offer more amenities.
- The Venezia Mestre Railroad Station is where international and long-distance trains stop.
- You’re cruising and need a place to stay for a night before or after the voyage.
Affordable hotels are located throughout Mestre. Stay in the Piazza Ferretto, and experience an Italian provincial town square. There is a good variety of restaurants in the piazza, and you can take a 10-minute bus ride to the Piazzale Roma, where public transportation leaves for the Venetian Islands. Or select a hotel nearer the train station, giving you easier access to public transit. Options include buses, trains and water taxis, all of which are relatively quick and inexpensive. Think 10-15 minutes and a few Euros. However, these public transportation options can become extremely hot and crowded, especially during peak travel seasons (May-August). Once you reach the Piazza Roma, you’ll have to walk or take a water taxi to Venice’s centro storicoto or historic center.
Estimated Travel Times and Cost from Central Mestre to Central Venice
|Transportation||Time (minutes)||Cost (€)|
Things to Do in Mestre
Most people who stay in Mestre have their sights set on Venice. Mestre is something of an industrial city with a population of around 200,000. However, there are some interesting things to do here. The Piazza Ferretto is the city’s pedestrian friendly hub, with restaurants, shops, cafes and people watching. On the southeastern corner, see excellent examples of ecclesiastical art at the Duomo di Mestre. Nearby is the Piazza Edmondo Matter, the location of a 12-century clock tower. Venture to the city’s downtown to explore the Riviera XX Settembre, or go shopping at the Galleria G. Matteotti on the Piazza Battisti.
Drawbacks to Staying in Mestre
While staying in Mestre is a viable option for budget-conscious travelers or for those who want a large, modern hotel room, it’s not without practical drawbacks. You’ll probably do a good deal of shopping while in Venice. If you don’t have a hotel room nearby, you’ll be stuck carrying your purchases around all day. While not the worst scenario, it’s rather cumbersome to maneuver shopping bags during a full-day of sightseeing. Additionally, the buses and trains do get crowded, especially during the summer when tourists descend on Venice. In addition, your activities will be limited by the public transit schedule. True, buses run until 11 p.m., allowing you to see Venice after the large tourist groups leave. Knowing you have a hard deadline eliminates some of the enchantment that comes with getting “lost” in such an alluring city.
Perhaps the biggest downside to staying in Mestre is the true cost of getting back and forth. While public transit is relatively cheap, it does add up and takes time.
Consider this Scenario:
If you stay in the Piazza Ferretto, you’ll have to use public transit to reach the train station. Then, you’ll have to pay to ride the train or a bus across the lagoon. Once there, you’ll want to get a vaporetto (water taxi) to reach the centro storicoto. While each leg of the journey isn’t expensive, it will add up quickly, especially if there are several people in your traveling party. Plus, when it’s crowded, it will take a lot of time to get from point A to point B.
So when you consider the monetary cost as well as the time associated with transportation, it may actually be less expensive to stay in Venice proper where you can simply wake up and start exploring immediately.
Venice on a Budget
It’s true that Venice can be expensive, but there are ways to make it more budget friendly. Consider traveling in the off-season (January–April and September–December). It will be colder during the off-season but prices drop dramatically and you’ll have fewer crowds, which means fewer lines and amazing photos.
Eating is also quite expensive in Venice. Lunch usually provides cheaper fare, so make it your biggest meal of the day. Go shopping at a farmers’ market or grocery store and pick up items for picnic or quick meal in your room. When you do eat out, don’t choose a touristy restaurant in the Piazza San Marco. Prices here will be higher than establishments located just steps away. Seek out osterie, taverns that serve unpretentious fare at lower prices or opt for chicheti or Venetian tapas which is served during the lunch hour or between 6-8 p.m. Hit up Venetian happy hours at bacari, backstreet bars that offer good values on wine and spirits starting around 6 p.m.
With enchanting architecture, fabulous artwork and those mesmerizing canals, Venice is unlike any other city in the world. Simply put, its romance and charm are unbeatable. When weighing the Mestre vs Venice Island question, consider all the factors. In this case, you may find the intangible benefits of staying in Venice outweigh the impact on your bank account.
While vacationing in Mestre or Venice don’t forget to visit some of the other stunning destinations around Italy.