Venice Italy Trip Planner and Top Tips
Now that you have decided to go, here are a few tips on planning your visit to Venice.
Getting from the Airport to Venice
Assuming you have arrived at Venice Marco Polo airport (see note 2) there are three options: take a bus (coach) to the Piazzale Roma (€6 each way), hire a water taxi (€80 to €100), or take the Alilaguna Boat Service (€15 each way, €27 round-trip).
The buses run from the airport terminal. To get to the water taxies and ferries you need to walk about eight minutes along a clearly marked path to the docks.
Alilaguna runs a regular passenger ferry from Marco Polo airport to Venice. It’s a shade more expensive than the bus, though if you take the bus you will have to add in the cost of getting from the Piazzale Roma to your hotel. The ferry also takes longer, but it makes a number of stops so you will likely be able to get off within walking distance of your hotel. And besides, it gives you your first taste of life in a city with no roads. This is my recommended option.
You can pre-book the ferry, but the rate is the same if you buy at the airport. Pre-booking also doesn’t save time – the amount of time needed to punch your code into the ticket machine is about the same as it takes to buy a ticket with your credit card.
As a planning figure it took us about 60 minutes to get from the airport to the San Marco station on the ferry.
The water taxi is quite expensive, though if your party is four or more it may be worthwhile. It will take you directly to your hotel. The taxi moves faster than the ferry and does not make any stops along the way so it takes about half as much time as the ferry. Be aware that you will probably have to haggle over the price with the taxi operator.
Getting around Venice
There are three main ways to get around Venice: Vaporetti, Traghetti and walking.
The vaporetto is a small ferry that takes the place of the buses, trams and subways you would use in another city. The service is good and inexpensive. They have a few seats but if you are only going for a stop or two there is plenty of standing room in the middle of the boat by the entry/exit gates.
If you plan to use the vaporetto frequently you can purchase a travel card (see ACTV Travel Card below), but it is always possible to purchase a singe fare. Tickets can be bought in advance at each boarding point. You can also pay upon boarding, but make sure you see one of the attendants immediately. There is a stiff fine for anyone travelling without a ticket.
The vaporetto route map is at http://www.actv.it/pdf/navigazione/Mappa_linee_2nov.pdf It can be a bit confusing, but for most tourists the two lines of interest are #1, which runs from the Piazza de Roma down the Grand Canal and to the Lido, and #2 which follows a circuit down the Grand Canal then around the outside passing between Dorsoduro and Giudecca before returning to Piazza de Roma.
Traghetti are gondolas that serve as an alternative to bridges. They operate on fixed routes, mainly crossing the Grand Canal. The traghetto routes are marked on any tourist map of the city.
If you want to use the service, just show up at the traghetto landing and wait. When the gondoliers think they have enough people waiting they will allow you to board. The crossing costs €2 for visitors (locals pay €0.70), payable in cash. It is customary to stand during the crossing so they can take as many passengers as possible.
You will likely do a lot of walking as you explore the city, so sensible shoes are a must. Stiletto heels are a poor option on cobbled streets.
Tourist Cards and Advance Booking
If you have been exploring Venice websites you have probably seen that there are a number of things (tickets, tours, …) you can pre-order. Some of them are useful, some aren’t.
The Venizia Unica site is sponsored by the City of Venice. http://www.veneziaunica.it/en/content/main-catalogue
Though this site you can purchase the ACTV Travel Card as well as car parking, airport transfers, the Tourist City Pass (Venice Card), public toilet access and WiFi.
ACTV Travel Card.
Although there are buses and trams on the mainland, for most tourists public transit in Venice means the vaporetto. The ACTV travel card provides unlimited use of public transit for a specified period – 12, 24, 36, 48, or 72 hours, or 7 days. The 72 hour card costs €35 per person, and there is a reduced rate of €18 for people between the ages of 14 and 29. For us the 72 hour pass was good value. A single ticket, good for one hour on vaporettos, is €7, so if you take five rides in three days you will break even. If you are on a weekend break you will probably take at least five rides, but the real benefit of the card is flexibility. If you have been walking all day you might still balk at paying €7 for a short ride that will hasten your return to your hotel or that nice bar you spotted on your travels, but with the ticket you can just jump on and off at will. Recommended.
Another option to consider is the Venizia Unica Card. This replaced the old Venice Card a few years ago, though some travel guides still refer to it. The Unica Card can be bought at the website http://www.veneziaunica.it/en/content/tourist-travel-cards. The card offers a number of options, only a few of which are worth considering:
Tourist City Pass.
This is a package which includes access to the Palazzo Ducale as well as a few other spots. In theory it could save you up to 29% off of regular admission, but to do so you would have to visit all of the sites included. The likelihood is that you won’t so the savings may be illusory.
For example the San Marco option at €24.90 includes the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), the three City museums on the Piazza San Marco, three Chorus churches (see note 3 below) of your choice and Querini Stampalia Foundation. Adult access to the Palazzo and the City museums is €16.50 and entrance to the Chorus churches tends to be €2-3 per person, so if you really plan to hit three Chorus churches and/or are not too worried about the additional €8.40 it might be worth your while to just buy the ticket. The three City museums are interesting enough but hardly essential to your Venice experience, though the Museo Correr has a nice café. Note the fine print though – your ticket only allows one access to each museum.
WiFi Access. Not recommended. It sounds like a good idea – wide area WiFi coverage – but in practice it is fundamentally useless. During the 72 hours I had this activated I was unable to establish a connection. My device listed the service but it was always either out of range or not available. Let’s get serious – if you have WiFi access in Venice and it doesn’t work in the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto area or along the Riva degli Schiavoni then what is the point? Moreover a lot of bars and cafés offer free WiFi to patrons. Bottom line – a waste of money at €5 a day.
Toilet Pass. This costs €3 and allows two visits on one day. It costs €1.50 to use a public toilet so if you think you will need to use one more than twice a day this might seem like a good deal. However I wouldn’t recommend it. Virtually any trattoria, bar or restaurant will let you use their toilet if you buy something. The larger cafés – the ones that have seats and tables – will also have toilets. You are going to need to eat sometime, so why pay in advance just in case you need to use a public toilet? And remember you have to find one – there are only nine in Venice itself and one each on the islands of Murano, Burello and Torcano. Not good value.
A few other tips…
In a previous post I recommended the Secret Itinerary Tour of the Palazzo Ducale. You can book this tour online. http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en/home/ As long as you have paid for entrance to the Palace the tour will allow you to bypass the lengthy entry queue. Entrance tickets can be bought online or at the ticket office opposite the Palazzo. If you aren’t able to get onto this tour you can book a private guide. This is an expensive option but a friend stated that it was worth the price just to avoid the queues. Google “Venice Guided Tours” and check out the options.
Where to Eat
You will hear a lot of negative comment on Venice`s restaurants, but overall we had a good experience. The key points (all fairly obvious to veteran travellers) are:
- If you want a top location except to pay top dollar. Cafés on the Piazza San Marco are among the most expensive in Europe, and watch out for hidden extras such as a fee for listening to the live music.
- There are restaurants used by Venetians and reasonably well-off travellers, and there are mass feeding stations for day trippers. The cheap pizza and pasta deals in the latter category are cheap for a reason. If you can afford the airfare and the accommodation, don’t save money by eating bad food.
- If you want to splash out on a big meal, you can amortize the expense by buying some bread, cheese and wine the next night and eating in your hotel.
- You can make a fine evening meal by grazing on the tapas-type snacks (cichetti) offered by bàcari. A bàcaro is a small bar that serves cichetti and wine by the glass. They aren’t identified as such (i.e. there is no Bàcaro sign) but if you see a glass case full of small plates of food you have found one. We had a few good snacks at this one on the Calle dei Stagneri, though I failed to write down the name…
My French colleague recommended a restaurant called Da Mario all Fava on the Calle Stagneri in San Marco. It was a bit tricky to find but the meal was excellent.
I can also highly recommend a small bakery/confiserie with a stand-up cafe called Bonifacio. It’s on the Calle degli Albanesi #4237. The coffee and pastry are excellent. We had our breakfast there every day. Try the little pastries called pizzette, with various toppings. Our average bill for a coffee, tea, a croissant and two pizzette was ~7 Euros.
Another friend and fellow gourmand recommended Osteria alla Ciurma near the Rialto. In his view it was very reasonably priced for the location – in fact, surprisingly cheap. The wines very decent but not spectacular.
So that’s the quick guide to planning your Venice trip. Let me know if you have any additional restaurants to recommend.
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1. Prices quoted as of April 2014.
2. …which you will have unless you flew by Ryanair – as usual their flight to “Venice” goes somewhere else – Treviso in this case. Good luck!
3. Chorus is an association of 16 noteworthy churches in Venice that have banded together to share marketing costs and support maintenance and restoration work. Most of the more interesting churches are in this group, including San Sebastiano. This was Paolo Veronese’s parish church and his frescoes adorn many of the walls and ceilings.