Under a new, game-changing plan, Venice's best sites and public spaces will become more accessible to those who have difficulty climbing stairs and may use a cane or wheelchair.

The city council recently approved plans to create five new access ramps in the historic center between Piazzale Roma (a square at the entrance of the city) and Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square). Francesca Zaccariotto, a city councillor for public works, told Lonely Planet the project "allows visitors to reach the city's most frequented sites without [having to rely totally] on public transport along the Grand Canal" and creates a step-free journey through one of the city's most scenic and popular routes.

Sun setting on St Mark’s Square
The route will trail from Piazalle Roma to St Mark’s Square (pictured). ©Pete Seaward/Lonely Planet

The first ramp of the St Mark's route will be installed at Ponte de la Croce, near Piazzale Roma. This part of the route will require people to take a vaporetto (water bus, free for wheelchair users) as it will connect with the vaporetto stop of San Tomà—which is near sites such as San Giovanni Evangelista, the Church and Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the Basilica dei Frari.

Taking the vaporetto across the Grand Canal to San Samuele (just one stop away from San Tomà) the route will continue, and allow for step-free access through Santo Stefano and Sant’Angelo squares before winding up at Teatro La Fenice (Venice opera house), which is accessible through the new ramp installed on Ponte de La Piscina.

Facade of the iconic La Fenice theatre in Venice
The St Mark's route will bring users to La Fenice ©Marco Rubino/Shutterstock

In addition, the project plans to create an accessible itinerary from the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute to the Punta della Dogana. And on Giudecca island, at the opposite side of the canal, an accessible route will be created with a new ramp on San Cosmo bridge.

Speaking of the plans, Arturo Gaona, head of partnerships and supply for Wheel the World travel company, told Lonely Planet: "Venice is a city that people can enjoy from the water but also on foot or wheels, but it can get very tricky if you are a traveler with a disability as you really need to know the right alleys, bridges and vaporetto connections in order to avoid obstacles.

"The wheelchair accessible route project will be a game changer not only for travelers but also for locals, and in combination with the already good accessibility of the vaporettos Venice will become an example for other historic cities."

Venice is made up of 121 islets linked by 435 bridges, and many of those bridges are a barrier for people with mobility impairments, as well as people with strollers, tourists carrying suitcases and cyclists. After years of open talks with various groups representing the needs of people with diverse abilities, the city council is turning the issue on its head.

Councillor Zaccariotto pointed out that it will take approximately two to two-and-a-half years to complete the project, which is set to cost an estimated $1.6 million. That's because it has to go through a number of administrative phases first, including a call for tenders, execution of works and rigorous testing. But once complete, it will be the first time in the city's history that it's wheelchair-accessible. Within the project, there are also plans to make the city more accessible for people with visual impairments too.

Gaona added that Venice would further cement its place as one of the world's most accessible cities if it revived the Gondolas4all project; a campaign started in 2016 by two gondoliers to make the city's iconic gondolas wheelchair-friendly that stalled due to lack of funding.

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