Getting Around Venice

The American humorist, Robert Benchley, (grandfather of Peter Benchley who wrote “Jaws” another water linked product) sent a telegram from Venice to his publisher saying “Streets flooded. Please advise.” And because travel writers have come up with nothing quite as pithy, the quote comes up in many travel pieces about this iconic tourist destination. It summarises precisely the problem in getting around Venice. You walk, take water taxis, the alilaguna or the vaporetto/motoscafo,- the water bus. But remember what you take as luggage, you have to carry. Some of the grander hotels have porterage but most don’t. If you can’t carry your bag, you need to pack less. You’d be surprised at how many visitors you see who are panting due to the weight of their cases, and some of the smaller hotels off the main thoroughfares can be notoriously difficult to find.

Assuming you arrive by air, there are a number of ways you can get to the city of Venice. From Marco Polo (the main airport and that used by British Airways, EasyJet and Jet2) you can get a water taxi. This will cost you from €100 but a taxi will take up to 5 people, although I have seen them with many more. This is also the fastest way to get there. The alilaguna is a special water bus that links the airport with different parts of Venice and the islands and this costs €13 each way or €25 return. This can take quite a while. For example, catching the red line to Zattere, probably the furthest point takes about 90 minutes. On the positive side, you’re on holiday in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – it’s a fabulous way to enter Venice and who could begrudge 90 minutes with such a view? Next comes the express bus which takes you to Piazzale Roma, (usually seen on signs as P le Roma) costs €3 and takes about 20 minutes. Finally, there are the number 5 bus services which stop at some of the small villages, take about 30 minutes to get to P le Roma and cost €2.50. If you have arrived by Ryanair at Treviso Airport, then there is a Eurobus service which connects with most flights and costs €5 each way and €9 return. This takes about 70 minutes.

The Piazza Roma is the main arrival point for visitors by car, bus, and coach. From here, a walk across the bus parking area takes you to the vaporetto stop, also called P le Roma. Many people walk if their hotels are close by. A new bridge, called officially the Ponte della Constituzione and opened just a year or so ago, links to the railway station. It is all steps and has no facilities for the disabled as yet or a smooth run for wheelie cases. Disabled people can travel on the vaporetto free (the rest of us pay €2) between the two places until lifts are installed. As bridges go, it is functional with glass sides and part of the floor is smoked glass. It could have been so much more stunning and if anywhere demands stunning architecture to complement what is already there it has to be Venice.

The railway station, an oblong block from the time of Mussolini, is crazily busy in summer. At peak times, the queues for tickets can be 30 deep and it can take you half an hour to get to the front of the queue. But you can easily get to local destinations like Verona, Padua and Trieste as well as Rome and Milan.

Walking is obviously the cheapest way to see Venice. Everything is actually quite close but snaking lanes and having to take dog-legged walkways to use bridges to cross smaller canals can make the journey longer. If you know where you are going the walk from the railway station to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum doesn’t take more than 20 minutes which will be faster than the vaporetto. From the station to the Guidecca at San Basileo (where there is a terminal for the smaller cruise ships) is a 10-12 minute walk. My advice though is to get a good map. Some of the hotel maps don’t list the smaller lanes. And some of the smaller lanes, when you get there, don’t seem to have names on them either. Once you got your bearings all you have to avoid are the other visitors and the marble steps on some of the bridges and paths. These can become quite slippery when wet so a sensible pair of shoes rather than the stiletto heels you often see are to be recommended. There are squares dotted throughout Venice and these have stone surfaces, often quite uneven. Another reason for solid shoes.

The vaporetto is the water bus. For locals the cost is just over a euro a ride. For tourists, it becomes a hefty €6.50. Most tourists should consider buying a tourist pass which is valid for 12, 24, 36 48, 72 hours or for 7 days. Are these worth buying? Not unless you are going to travel at least three times in a day. Otherwise, you would probably be better just buying the ticket as you need it. A ticket for 72 hours, for example, will cost €33 if bought in Venice. If you buy it online at least a week before you go you should be able to get it for €28-30. In the old days, buying these tourist passes meant carrying cash. Now they accept credit cards. The website for ordering in advance is www.veniceconnected.com and it is in English. (Public toilets cost €1.50 but you can also buy a toilet card from this website, €2 for a day or €7 for a week). There aren’t that may toilets. Three public toilets in tourist areas are one near St Mark’s Square, one near Murano Colonna and a superloo on the Lido near the vaporetto stop. Venice is definitely not over-endowed with toilet facilities and this can be a problem especially if you are traveling with children.

There are two things that should be remembered about these passes. The first is that you have to collect them from kiosks in Venice (your printout will give you a list of where they are) and they cannot be collected until the day that they start from. Picking them up in advance isn’t allowed. Secondly, try and avoid busy times of the day. I collected mine from a kiosk outside the railway station. The kiosk has two attendants and it probably had a queue of over 20 at 9.30am. It took about 15 minutes to obtain the cards and a receipt. (Incidentally, with the pass you also get free entry to the Casino.) Before you start your first journey, you need to validate the pass by pressing it against a meter reader- a bit like an oyster machine in London. At popular destinations such as the Rialto, St Mark’s, Ferrovia and P. le Roma you may be subject to spot checks as to whether you have a pass. Not having one, or not paying, can be expensive. You can also use these passes on the buses as well.

Officially there are two types of water bus, the vaporetti and the motoscafo. Visitors refer to them all as vaporetti. The No. 1 leaves P le Roma for the Lido visiting every stop down the Grand Canal. As such, it’s a perfect way to leisurely see all the sights down the Grand Canal. The only problem is that, visitors cram into the middle of the vaporetto and jostle for space to take photographs. If you can take one without someone’s digital camera invading your shot, you’ll be doing well. Try traveling first thing in the morning, early afternoon or late in the evening when they are less crowded. Late in the afternoon, when local commuters start heading for the railway or bus station the vaporetti, not surprisingly, become crammed to the rafters (if they had any), and the sheer volume of people makes these boats lurch as they rock stop-by-stop from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. Number 2 also goes down the Grand Canal but has half as many stops so it takes only about 10 minutes to travel from Ferrovia to the Rialto. At times of the day, you can also go around in a circle up the Grand Canal, pass the Tronchetto (the stop for the big cruise ships) and down the Guidecca to St Marks. That makes for a pleasant inexpensive way to see a lot of Venice but you’ll need to allow at least an hour.

One final trip about traveling around. If you are going to St Marks and the Doges Palace, get off at San Zaccaria and not San Marco. San Marco may sound the right stop but it is further away.