I departed Italy after a little more than a month. I took a few days in the most expensive city I’ve ever visited before boarding my flight back to Tokyo.
Seriously, I think Venice is more expensive than Tokyo. Granted, I lived in an apartment in suburban Tokyo and cooked most of the time, but I was still able to go out and enjoy myself on a budget around a city that is known to be expensive.
The water bus in Venice costs EUR 7 (EUR 1=USD 1.31) for a one-way trip, or EUR 20 for a 24-hour pass. And I thought paying JPY 300 (JPY 117=USD 1) for a one-way train ride from the Tokyo suburbs to Shinjuku was expensive. To be fair, the bus from Venice to the airport was only EUR 6 (EUR 15 for the boat that would’ve required less walking) while the bus from Narita to my suburban Tokyo apartment was JPY 3100 (of course, it’s also a two-hour bus ride from Narita as opposed to about 30 minutes from Venice to the airport). Tokyo now offers a half-price airport express ticket (about JPY 1500 to Shinjuku Station) for tourists that can be taken only from Narita; it’s full price to exit Tokyo.
Tokyo is known for the most expensive taxis in the world — I was told that if I stayed out after the trains stopped running, it’d cost at least $100 to get home (probably much more considering how far outside the actual city I lived). I didn’t ask how much the fancy water taxis were in Venice, but I assume they’re ridiculously expensive. I found out that a half-hour gondola ride is EUR 80 plus tip, which is another EUR 15-20. I guess that’s why I saw gondolas regularly carrying six people.
Both cities can be expensive, depending what you do in each — tourists pretty much get gouged in both. There are, however, bargains in Venice and Tokyo for those who seek them out.
In Venice I managed to find a few places that served really good paninis and small sandwiches — the small sandwiches were only EUR 1.5 each and the paninis were EUR 3.5, which made for a nice lunch. I also found places that served wine or a spritz for only EUR 2 (they were usually EUR 5 or more along the popular tourist routes). A meal in a nicer restaurant, where the food wasn’t mediocre, was usually EUR 20 or more. Those rare restaurants were worth trying if they could be found. If you want less expensive food and drinks, you have to go to places that don’t have seating — I managed to only pay EUR 1 for an espresso because I didn’t have to sit down.
After speaking with a friendly couple from a town not far outside Venice, I found that even the locals don’t think much of the food there except for a few places, like Paradiso Perduto where I met them.
In Tokyo, most decent meals will cost JPY 1500 or more. But, there are some good small restaurants for less than JPY 1000 (many of the good ramen shops are less than that). Beer is another problem — Japan taxes beer based on malt content, and it raises the price significantly. In an average bar, a cheap beer like Asahi or Kirin will be about JPY 700, while better beers can cost up to JPY 1400. Similar to Venice, some places in Tokyo charge a seating fee of a couple hundred yen.
While I can’t comment on prices of rent in Venice, I can comment on the price of hostels. On my first night in Tokyo last year I stayed at a business hotel in Asakusabashi, which is a more central location than my apartment, for JPY 6500 per night. The room at the Belmont Hotel was comfortable with plenty of space for a short stay. In a hostel in Venice, just off the main tourist street through the city, I paid about EUR 30 per night and definitely was not as comfortable as I was in Tokyo. Most hotels during the summer, particularly on weekends, were at least EUR 70.
The main attractions in Venice are also more expensive than in Tokyo (privately-run museums can be a bit pricey in Tokyo as well, but the major sites are free or reasonable). It seems Tokyo would prefer to draw attention to its historic sites free entrance, while Venice would rather charge admission to everything except Basilica di San Marco (fortunately, I was tired of visiting churches and could save that money for food).
Overall, Venice is the more expensive city. As a tourist, Tokyo can be very expensive, but it gets less expensive when you know where to go (and it would’ve been less expensive for me if I had lived in a more central location to cut down on transportation costs). Venice, on the other hand, doesn’t get much less expensive. Travelers also don’t get the same value in Venice that they get in Tokyo — almost everyone complains that the food around Venice is mediocre (and just about every restaurant on the main streets should be avoided for this reason).
Does this mean travelers should avoid Venice? No. It only means that travelers need to be aware of the cost before heading to a destination with a reputation for high costs — the same as Japan. I wasn’t surprised by the prices in either city, but I was disappointed in the quality of food at most restaurants in Venice.
Have you been to Venice or Tokyo? What did you think of the cost of traveling around the cities?