Getting Around Venice Like a Local

by Lesley Peterson

On my first trip to Venice, I arrived by train and simply walked to my budget hotel just east of Santa Lucia rail station. A recent visit—in high season, arriving at one airport and leaving by another—presented challenges. I needn’t have worried. Venice’s public transit system has met its ever-increasing tourist load with efficiency.

Here are tips for getting around Venice easily and economically.

A tale of two airports

Both Marco Polo airport (12 kilometres from Venice) and Treviso airport (30 kilometres) are served by ATVO shuttle coaches with baggage holds. Tickets must be purchased in the terminal prior to boarding. City buses (ACTV) from Marco Polo cost even less but cannot accommodate large luggage. While there is no direct bus service between airports, I found that taking a combination of shuttles—one into Venice’s bus hub of Piazzale Roma and buying a ticket for the second leg at an ATVO booth there—was relaxing, scenic and took about two hours. Alilaguna airport boat service from Marco Polo can be an excellent option, depending on where you are staying.

Getting Around Venice Like a Local

Is it worth renting a car?

Unless you want to explore the vineyards and villas of Veneto region, there’s no need to rent a car. Staying in the small town of Campalto to avoid high-season crowds and hotel prices, I took the advice of locals and left the car I’d rented for a few days at the hotel while I went into Venice. The trip on city bus #5 took all of 15 minutes and cost a fraction of the daily parking fee charged at Tronchetto or Piazzale Roma—where lots are usually full anyway.

Venice by vaporetto

Water bus (vaporetto) service is also run by ACTV, Venice’s local transit authority. While the number of routes is initially confusing, service is regular and punctual. I found that if the boat I jumped on didn’t go to my destination directly, I’d be able to transfer at some point to one that did. Vaporetto attendants are helpful, if you know a few words of Italian. Single tickets are expensive, but 12-hour to seven-day unlimited travel cards, bought at any ACTV outlet or vaporetto ticket booth, are a bargain and offer unlimited travel. I was glad I invested in a pass valid to the outer limits of the vaporetto service. When two cruise ships dumped their passenger loads in the Piazza San Marco, I escaped the crowds by grabbing a vaporetto for Burano and spending a dreamy afternoon island-hopping in the lagoon.

Getting Around Venice Like a Local

Gondola rides on the cheap

Private gondola hires are very expensive. Less romantic but much cheaper (only a couple of euros) are the public gondola ferries (called traghetti) that cross the Grand Canal at several locations. Look for traghetto landings in front of the rail station, near Ca’ D’Oro, Ca’Rezzónico and Santa Maria della Salute church. Locals often stand for the ride but you can perch on the side or try to snag a seat at the end.

Above all, packing light makes all the difference in easily negotiating Venice’s public vehicles, many stepped bridges and occasional high tides.