The watery wonderland of Venice isn’t your typical city when it comes to getting around.
Spread across 118 small islands, this perennial favourite amongst travellers requires some prior knowledge if you are to make the most of it.
Forget about buses, trains and cabs, Venice transport revolves around the 177 canals that meander between its Gothic buildings and public squares.
Here’s some essential tips on navigating Venice.
Ride the vaporetto
Although you can walk around most of Venice, some parts are accessible only – or certainly more quickly – via one of the water buses called ‘vaporettos’.
The vaporetto is Venice’s main mode of transportation and is perfect for crossing the wider canals or when your legs have had enough.
Very affordable and reliable, vaporettos offer wonderfully scenic rides to major points of interest including the Rialto and Fondamente Nove.
A single ride is about €7.50 (AUD $11), so if you’re staying for a few days, it might be worth investing in an unlimited vaporetto pass.
Stroll around: Salizada San Moisè, a street lined with luxury boutiques near Piazza San Marco.
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Traverse the Grand Canal in a traghetti
Walking or taking a vaporetto around the Grand Canal is ideal for sightseeing but if you’re in a hurry to get from one side to the other, a traghetto is your best bet.
Popular among locals, the traghetto is a gondola-style vessel, which runs from about 9am to 6pm each day. There are multiple launching points around the Grand Canal, including from Campo San Marcuola and the Rialto.
It only costs about €2 (AUD $3) per trip and is a great way to embrace the Venetian culture.
Don’t miss: The Rialto Market, which has market stalls selling local cuisine overlooking the Grand Canal.
Splurge on a gondola
Yes it’s a cliche, but it’s one of those cliches so good you really have to give in just this once!
Despite their romantic appeal, gondolas aren’t only for couples. The traditional flat-bottomed boats can gain access to the narrowest canals, revealing parts of Venice other water transport can’t reach. This alone is worth the €80 (AUD $118) it typically costs for a 40-minute ride.
And upgrading to a singing gondolier is what we call a worthwhile travel splurge.
Don’t miss: Snapping a photo on the Ponte di Rialto Bridge, built in 1588.
Captain your own boat
This is definitely one for adventurous and courageous travellers. Piloting a boat around Venice is akin to driving a car through a museum of priceless artefacts.
Fortunately, hired boats aren’t allowed in the most trafficked areas, such as the Grand Canal and historic city centre canals. Skilled captains do have the freedom to traverse the sprawling Venetian Lagoon, reaching islands other travellers might never see.
Drop-in: Campo Santo Marina for traditional Venetian restaurants.
Learn a few key words
Venice is an extremely popular tourist destination – last count, 70,000 visitors per day – so English is spoken widely. However, your travels can be made significantly easier if you learn some basic Italian.
Here are some words that might come in handy if you ever get lost in Venice:
- Calle – ‘alley’
- Corte – ‘courtyard’
- Rio – ‘canal’
- Ponte – ‘bridge’
- Piazza – ‘public square’
- Sinistra – ‘left’
- Destra – ‘right’
Stroll around: Le Mercerie, a group of Venice’s most famous shopping streets with Italian and international fashion stores.
Be mindful of flooding
A big part of Venice’s charm is also becoming a major concern for city infrastructure as the rising water levels threaten to one day consume the city.
It’s a while away but already Venice occasionally experiences extreme cases of flooding, known as ‘acqua alta’. Caused by high tides and low atmospheric pressure, the flooding affects almost the entire city.
Even mild floods can severely impact visitors. Keep an eye on tides and pack water-resistant shoes if you’re visiting between September and April.
Don’t miss: A drink at one of the alfresco bars in the leafy Campo Santa Margherita.
Yes, when all is said and done, Venice is a fabulous place to get lost in if your navigation goes haywire. It’s actually a dream destination for walking. It’s flat, has many charming alleyways and its streets are well signposted. Every corner reveals yet another inspiring piece of architecture or fascinating attraction to steal your attention – or distract it.
It’s also one of the safest cities in the world.
Be sure to pack or download a local map and be mindful of prominent landmarks. St Mark’s Square is generally considered the central meeting point of this incredible place. Orient yourself to that and you should be right!