Venice is an island, and if you’re in relatively good shape, you can walk the whole thing. But if you had a bit too much pizza and wine (not speaking from experience AT ALL), you might feel lazy, and want to take some public transport back to your hotel to sleep it off.
Enter the Vaporetto! Venice sees an astronomical 20 MILLION visitors each year and this incredible city has figured out public transport. The vaporetti are a fleet of “water buses” that work much like a typical bus or metro stop would. Just like a metro station, they have lines with various stops around the city. The stops are easy to find as they’re along major canals, and are marked by yellow floating platforms. They also run round-the-clock, with less frequent boats during the night hours.
You can purchase one-time tickets, and you can also purchase tourist tickets that are good for several days:
One day (24 hours from first activation): €20
Two days: €30
Three days: €30
Seven days: €60.
The tourist passes don’t activate until the first time you scan them, so you can buy one the night you arrive and then scan the next morning to activate. Tickets can be purchased at all stops (some stops have machines, some have real-live humans, and some have both). We were able to buy ours through our hotel for the same price, so it’s worth asking when you check-in.
Okay, so now you’ve got a ticket, and you see a floating platform near your hotel. Larger stops have multiple platforms, so consult a posted map to be sure you enter the correct platform. One of the smartest things we did was taking a photo of the map with our phones, so we could consult the map without having to carry a big piece of paper or standing in front of this looking lost.
At each platform’s queue, there will be a machine (see photo) to validate your card. You don’t just validate once, if you have a multi-day pass. You need to scan this every single time you get on the boat.
Having used tons of public transportation in our travels, we actually were asked to provide proof of our ticket for the FIRST TIME EVER during a ride on the vaporetto. So, be warned: always validate your vaporetto ticket!
The boat is also worth a ride simply because the views are incredible. The vaporetto system runs to outlying islands like Lido and Murano (yep, you recognize that name because of their signature glass art) and goes through the entire Grand Canal.
There are some downfalls to keep in mind:
1: It’s kind of slow. Especially if you get on the wrong line. We accidentally boarded Line #1 and it took a full 45 minutes to get down the entire Grand Canal, and we ended up missing the sunrise we planned to photograph. We still got an incredible view of the sunrise- but it was from the boat, instead of Piazza San Marco.
2: It’s expensive. Venice is expensive. It’s no surprise that the water bus is expensive, too. It was €7.50 each ride when we visited. Locals and long-term visitors can buy a card that they add funds to, and the fares cost much less- only €1.50 per ride. However, to get access to the card, you have to pay €50 to get started, so it’s not worth it to tourists.
3: It gets quite crowded during peak hours and in popular locations. Many times we were packed in like sardines, and if you were to get sea-sick and need fresh air, you might be out of luck. This was most noticeable during mid-afternoon when we visited Piazza San Marco.
Overall, we found this to be a really useful way to get around. While it had some downfalls, it also got us where we wanted to go, and gave us some cool views in the process. If you’ll be in Venice for a few days, we think it’s worth it to buy the tourist pass.