Venice is one of Italy’s most pedestrian-friendly cities, not least because there are no motorized vehicles on the streets. It’s also a deceptively small city (I say “deceptively” because it’s often so crowded you’d swear it was bigger). Still, visitors are often surprised at how long it takes to walk from one end of the city to the other.
So, yes – while you can walk everywhere in the canal city, it behooves you to learn about public transportation in Venice, too.
In most Italian cities, public transit options are plentiful. In Venice, they’re extremely limited. There are buses that only go as far as Piazzale Roma (near the train station), but otherwise you’re talking about different kinds of boats. I’ll go over each of them below.
The only boats in Venice for which tickets are applicable are the vaporetti (more info on these boats below), as all other boats require direct payment that varies in price depending on the duration or distance of the trip. You can buy individual tickets that are valid for a certain amount of time, or you can buy daily or weekly passes if you’ll be in Venice for awhile and taking the vaporetti often.
After purchasing a ticket, you must validate it before boarding the vaporetto. Validation machines are usually located at the edge of the walkway that leads to the vaporetto stop itself, and they’ll leave a timestamp on your ticket that starts the clock on its validity ticking. Yes, I’ve heard of people who feign ignorance to re-use one ticket repeatedly, but those people are also fined pretty heavily when they’re caught. I validate my tickets, and I suggest you do the same.
Your ticket options are:
You may be looking at those prices with raised eyebrows, comparing them to public transit tickets in other cities – and yes, a vaporetto ticket costs quite a bit more than, say, a bus ticket in Rome. Venice residents pay lower prices for transit tickets, with good reason, and the higher cost for visitors helps keep the fragile city afloat. I’m not fond of hearing people complain about the discrepancy in the ticket prices for locals vs. visitors. If you think it’s too expensive, you can walk. Ahem.
A vaporetto is basically a bus boat. There are 21 lines, including those that serve other islands in the lagoon (like Murano, Burano, and Torcello). Lines 1 and 2 are among the most popular with visitors, because they both run the length of the Grand Canal. Line 1 is slower, stopping at almost every single stop, which means you can treat it like a tour. If you’re just trying to get from the train station to St. Mark’s Square (or vice versa) more quickly, take line 2, which stops at fewer points. You can check out a vaporetto map on the ACTV site, and I’d also recommend picking a paper map up when you get there for reference. (Otherwise, quite frankly, maps in Venice are all but useless).
There are only four bridges crossing the Grand Canal, but you don’t have to stick to those bottlenecks. Instead, climb into a traghetto like the Venetians do at one of the seven traghetto stops along the canal. Traghetti look like less fancy versions of gondolas, and they’re operated by two people instead of one. You’ll pay €2 euro in cash when you board, and you’ll see that the locals stand rather than sit – it’s a pretty short trip from one side of the Grand Canal to the other.
There are private motor boats all over Venice, including plenty of water taxis. They’re much faster than the vaporetti, of course, but they are also considerably more expensive. There aren’t any flat rates with Venice’s water taxis, so the fares I’m quoting here are just estimates. From the airport to central Venice can easily cost €100 or more, and a trip between the train station and St. Mark’s Square can run €50-70. If you’ve got a large enough group (water taxis can usually fit up to 10 people), splitting the cost might make it more palatable.
Most people want to ride in a gondola during a trip to Venice. Some feel like they haven’t really had the true Venice experience without a gondola ride. Gondolas are absolutely not a way to get around the city, but I’m including them here because somebody’s going to ask me otherwise. There are official gondola fares set every year, and those fares are per gondola – not per person. If you’re planning to go for a gondola ride during your trip (and you’re not booking the ride in advance on Viator or Select Italy), it’s wise to learn about the official rates so you’re well-informed before you start talking to a gondolier.