Shopping isn't free in Venice, but window-shopping is--and there are plenty of boutiques to ogle or browse.
High-fashion and luxury goods are in the San Marco area, mostly in the streets that lead out of the arcaded or Napoleonic end of the Piazza. You'll find upscale brands like Missoni, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Bulgari, and Gucci in San Marco, along with more affordable (and practical) shops like Libreria Mondadori and Libreria Studium, two bookstores that have a good range of English-language guidebooks and maps.
Head down the Mercerie shopping streets toward Rialto, or in the direction of the Campo San Stefano, and you'll encounter hundreds of other shops that sell everything from clothing to handmade stationery, Murano glass, and art supplies.
To the north and east of the Piazza San Marco, in the Castello district, shops like I Tre Mercanti (Italian foods and wines), and Ratti (housewares, hardware, and acqua alta boots) are worth your time.
Farther west in Cannaregio, on the way to the railway station, the wide pedestrian thoroughfare of Strada Nova has a mixture of souvenir stores and everyday shops used by Venetians--including a branch of Venice's best supermarket (Billa) and a resolutely old-fashioned pet store on the Campo SS Apostoli.
The Rialto Bridge and the Rialto Food Markets (discussed earlier in this guide) are packed with shoppers; on the San Polo side of the bridge, turn left and follow the series of narrow streets all the way to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Dorsoduro if you can avoid getting lost. You'll pass souvenir shops, jewelers like Marfil, the Il Pavone stationery store, and other types of stores. (As you get closer to the tip of Dorsoduro, you'll see more art galleries and antique dealers.)
The island of Murano is the center of the Lagoon's glass industry, and Burano--a traditional lacemaking center--has shops that sell lace and linens. (Prices aren't necessarily any cheaper than you'd pay in Venice, but the specialized window-shopping and browing opportunities are more concentrated.)
Finally, you may want to think twice before purchasing counterfeit handbags and other goods from illegal street vendors. (See article links below.)
Venice Gifts and Souvenirs on our main site
Venice Carnival Masks on our main site
Illegal Street Vendors on our main site
Fines for Fakes (Counterfeit Products) on our main site
Next page: Islands of the Lagoon