Even if you wait until you’ve got a receding hairline, saggy tits and a disposable income to take on Venice, chances are the city’s going to wear you (and your wallet) out. When your feet get tired of seeking out the cheap in Venice, OTP shows you how to do some canal-side chillin.
First thing's first: avoid visiting during peak season (June through September). Not only are the narrow cobbled lanes crammed with tourists, inflated prices will make you want to drown yourself in the Grand Canal. When you do roll through, be sure to get lost—there’s nothing more relaxing than throwing plans to the wind. Venice is one of the most compact cities in the world, where you’re never more than 30 minutes walking distance from anywhere. No two areas of the city are the same, so, unless you've got a gimpy leg, wandering in circles is unlikely. Having difficulty detaching your fingers from your iPhone app or turning off that mental GPS? Suck it up and toss the map, choose a random street and follow the fresh pasta smells aimlessly.
Get high in Dorsoduro (hard ridge), an elevated area in the city’s southwest. This tourist-trap-free zone is a welcome escape from the mobs swarming Piazza San Marco. Because there’s a university nearby, cheap pizza and gelato are abundant. Grab a cone and a slice, and park it on a bench to watch the world go lazily by. If you get bored, the area is filled with cheap art exhibits to wander in and out of. Stroll by the squero (gondola boatyard) at San Trovaso, or for a couple of Euros, pop into Palazzo Zenobio's Baroque ballroom and fancy garden pavilion. Once a ritzy palace, the Palazzo is now a hostel that hosts Biennial art shows. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (The Church of St. Mary of Health) is worth a peek too. Should the party urge start to tingle, this area of town has more late night bars than anywhere else. While not exactly bargain basement, drink prices are about as student-friendly as they get in this rich bitch town.
There's no better place in the world to gaze through glass at shit you can’t afford. Venice’s funky little stores are a good test of your refusal to frivolously spend . Canestrelli, a convex mirror workshop and gallery, makes custom-designed pieces using techniques that date back to the 14th century. Dittura makes the traditional velvet slippers (furlane) worn by gondoliers in every color of the rainbow (you don't need a pair). Artisans at Forcole sculpt the hand-carved oarlock (forcola) of gondolas out of a single block of wood. Find surreal solitude in a seemingly abandoned ancient town on the eastern end of The Zattere—the long waterfront promenade—next to Venice's old salt storehouses. If the sun's out, lounge back, let your legs dangle over the canal, and soak up the peace and quiet.
If you’re a culture vulture—or a music junkie—get the scoop on free concerts and cheap outdoor music at the Piazza San Marco tourist information kiosk or visit the Music in Venice website. If you’re there peak music season, get right into the scene and work up a busking talent to pay for a hostel.
OTP TIP: One time fares on the Vaporetto (water taxi) are a rip off so you should get a pass if you're sticking around for a few days.
When you’re trying to chill out, un-brotherly shoving isn’t on the agenda. Pull the drool off your pillow early and hit up the obligatory tourist spots before the crowds take over—or save them for the walk home late at night. Piazza San Marco is a glittery fantasy when lit up after dark and standing on the Rialto Bridge, you'll get a pretty insane view of the Grand Canal. If you’re a Shakespeare nerd, the Rialto market will bring Merchant of Venice soliloquies to the tip of your tongue. It’s bustling from 6 to 11am, and the veggies and fish are both oh-so-fresh and so-clean-clean.
Soak in some education at the original ghetto, where Jews were forcefully confined (unable to venture into other parts of town between sunrise and sunset ) for two and a half centuries before Napoleon conquered Venice. When Napoleon finally demolished the gates, the little man gave the Jews permission to live anywhere they pleased. Freely wander into the Cannaregio sestiere to check out the five synagogues in the area, two of which are still in use today.
To the southeast of Basilica di San Marco, the church of San Zaccaria is a great way to check out work by art virtuosos like Trevisani, Tintoretto, and Van Dyk, where a self-portrait bust vainly marks artist Alessandro Vittoria’s tomb. For a less religious experience, if you've got the moolah to cart yourself to Lido, you could spend all day bumming around on the beach.
Avoiding the gondola gridlock and keeping your finances in check in Venice can be stressful. Canal-hopping, wine-drinking and pasta-munching are grueling (grueling!) work. Relax, this city isn't floating anywhere. Take a breather and commit to lounging it out for a day.