One of the many reasons Venice is such a popular city with travelers from across the globe is its unique infrastructure and layout. Navigating a city that has canals instead of roads presents new challenges that your average main street will never experience!
It takes some getting used to – a relaxed attitude and the knowledge that moving around Venice and the islands of the Lagoon doesn’t come cheap certainly help – but our top tips will help you find your way. Here is everything you need to know about the floating city's vaporettos, buses, gondolas and everything in between.
Nothing beats exploring Venice on foot
Walking remains the best way to get around the six sestieri of Venice. The city on the Lagoon is relatively small – going from the Santa Lucia railway station to Piazza San Marco only takes about thirty minutes on foot, for example – and its main sights are usually well-marked and easy to find. Although you should probably arm yourself with a good GPS and a nice map, the unconventional layout of Venice's streets and alleyways can thwart even the best sense of direction.
Walking along the canals is the perfect way to get familiar with the city and will allow you to discover hidden corners and squares you might otherwise miss. There’s no need to worry about acqua alta – the city deploys walkways in case the streets get flooded, but it’s always wise to have some rain boots ready to go if you plan to visit in autumn.
Who needs a bus when you have a vaporetto?
Vaporettos are one of the staples of the Lagoon. Where "normal" cities have buses (Venice included – in its mainland area), the Serenissima has what are essentially floating buses. The vaporetto service is run by Venice’s municipal public transport system, ACTV, and it connects all main points of interest in both the six sestieri and the other islands of the Lagoon.
There are several lines of vaporettos divided into four main categories, the most relevant to tourists being the "city center lines" 1 and 2, which sail along the Grand Canal.
Vaporettos are quite expensive, and it’s better to buy your ticket beforehand and validate it at the machine next to the stop to avoid the additional fee for purchasing onboard – a single ticket, valid for 75 minutes, comes up at €9.50. You can also buy 24-hour passes for a single day, two days, three days or seven days for, respectively, €25, €35, €45 and €65.
A traghetto is a cheap option for crossing the Grand Canal
It’s not widely known, but there’s a traghetto (ferry) service that allows people to cross from one side to the other of the Grand Canal – it’s much cheaper than a vaporetto and is widely used by Venetians. The ticket costs €2 for tourists and there are several spots along the Canal where you can board the ferry to get to the other side – Santa Sofia, Riva del Carbon, San Tomà, Santa Maria del Giglio and Punta della Dogana.
The service is active from around 9am to 6pm (it varies slightly from boarding spot to boarding spot) and is closed on holidays and city festivals.
A water taxi is the quickest (and spendiest...) option
Just like any other city, Venice has its own taxi service – they just don't have wheels. Water taxis are definitely a good choice if you want to reach your destination in the quickest and most glamorous way possible, but keep in mind that they’re probably the most expensive means of transportation available (and prices go up even more at night). Water taxis can transport up to ten people, so the price is less terrifying if you're traveling in a big group.
A gondola ride is about the experience rather than the journey
Rather than a means of getting from A to B, the gondola is an experience and a tourist attraction in its own right. Routes and prices vary and are usually agreed upon on the spot with each gondoliere, but you can expect to pay about €80 for a half-hour tour by day and about €100 for the same time by night. Sharing a gondola is, of course, always a good solution to lower the prices – though they can’t carry as many people as a water taxi.
Explore the wider lagoon by ferry
The ferry service consists of two main lines, 17 and 11, which connect Venice to the wider Lagoon area, starting with the Lido, moving south to Pellestrina (on Linea 11) and the beach area of Cavallino to the north (on Linea 17). The ferry is an excellent choice if you want to take your own mode of transport with you – prices start at €8 for cars and motorbikes, but that doesn't include the passenger fare(s). Those are the standard vaporetto fares in addition to the vehicle cost.
Get around Mestre by bus
Regular buses don’t circulate on the Lagoon, of course, and their primary function is to connect Venice to Mestre on the mainland and then move around Mestre itself. Some lines, though, do reach Venice and stop at Piazzale Roma, not too far away from the Santa Lucia railway station.
Advance single tickets are €1.50 (€3 if purchased onboard), or you can buy a ten-ticket carnet for €14. We'd highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance to save money and always remember to validate your ticket when you board the bus.
Take the tram if you're staying in Mestre
Venice has only two tram lines, which are a great option if you’re staying in Mestre rather than on the Lagoon. T2 moves only on the mainland, while the other goes as far as Piazzale Roma – just like the bus service. And just like the bus service, a single ticket is €1.50 (€3 onboard), a ten-ticket carnet is €14, and you need to validate tickets upon boarding.
Accessible transportation in Venice
Travelers with access needs might not immediately think of Venice as a very user-friendly destination precisely because of what makes it unique – canals, narrow streets, no buses. And yet the Serenissima is quite focused on dismantling architectural barriers, even if there’s always room for improvement.
For those who wish to explore the city on their own without public transport, a pool of experts, including people with disabilities who reside in Venice, have put together a collection of barrier-free routes that can be found on the city’s official website.
As for vaporettos, they should all be equipped to allow everyone to board – although some issues may be caused by a particularly high tide. Most vaporettos can transport up to four wheelchairs and tickets are €1.50 (a companion travels free of charge).
Arriving in Venice
Marco Polo Airport
Water shuttles and water taxis depart from the airport ferry dock. Buses run every 30 minutes (5.20am to 12.50am) to Piazzale Roma.
Buses run to Piazzale Roma or Tronchetto (for the monorail to Piazzale Roma). Buses run to Treviso train station for trains to Santa Lucia station.
Piazzale Roma (car parks and bus station)
Vaporetti (small passenger ferries) to city destinations depart Piazzale Roma docks.
Venezia Santa Lucia train station
Vaporetti depart from Ferrovia (Station) docks.
Venezia Mestre train station
Transfer by train to Venezia Santa Lucia.
Venezia Terminal Passeggeri
Docking cruise liners usually shuttle passengers into Venice; otherwise, taxis and vaporetti leave from the waterfront.