Ah, Venice! It really is like being in a postcard.
I didn’t think it would be as fascinating or as beautiful as it really is until I was there.
Even with Mrs Romance excitedly describing every detail as our train pulled into Venezia S. Lucia Station didn’t completely prepare me.
Roaming the little pathways and streets that cover the islands of this amazing city like a network of lace is enchanting. And it proves that in spite of the hundreds of canals that cut through this unique place, Venice is still a great walking city.
But this takes time and an unnaturally attuned sense of direction to get about on foot. Instead, the complex but complete vaporetto system will take you anywhere you want… providing you get the hang of it.
The vaporetto system is the public waterbus service that operates throughout Venice’s canals. Each vaporetto carries about 230 people and is the best way to get around this beautiful water-girt city.
The name ‘vaporetto’ is the diminutive form of ‘vapore’ – Italian for steam, which was how the original vaporetti were powered from 1872.
How to use the vaporetto system
When you arrive in Venice
Come out of the train station and bear right. Head to the ‘biglietteria’ ticket point and join the queue. Don’t even bother looking for your wharf until you’ve got your tickets!
You can use the automatic machines if you want, but the ticket office is better because you can ask questions and get an up-to-date route map.
Which type of vaporetto ticket to buy
Single tickets are good for an hour’s worth of travel and are €7.
If you’re in Venice for a day or two, buy 24-/48-hour tickets. They’re much better value. You can also get up to a 7-day pass, depending how long you’re there.
If you’re arriving in the afternoon, buy a single ticket and a 24- or 48-hour ticket. They only start working once you validate them, so you can use the single the day you arrive and the longer ticket from the following day.
Not all vaporetto stops have ticket offices but all of them have validation machines.
It’s very important you validate your tickets before you get your first vaporetto. If you don’t, it’s very likely you’ll be fined. Wave your ticket in front of the little machine, the lights should come on and that’s all you have to do. You only have to do this once.
You won’t be asked to show your ticket every time you get on a vaporetto, only if there’s an inspector on board. So once it’s validated pop your ticket in your wallet.
Tactics for vaporetto travel
- Tickets include just one piece of luggage and you can’t buy extra tickets! If you have more luggage than this, you’ll just have to chance it. We had a small trolleybag and a large suitcase each, and we just tried our luck and got away with it. If you’re worried or you have lots of luggage, either organise storage before you get to Venice or organise a private boat transfer with your hotel.
- Vaporetto routes can go in both directions unless it has a .1 or .2 after it. For example 4.1 and 4.2. Look at the final destination shown on the ferry (which can be hard to spot) or work out which way it’ll be heading before your vaporetto arrives.
- Carry your backpack in your arms on the vaporetto – not on your back. The locals hate this and even have signs telling people how it should be done.
- If you’re only going a couple of stops, stay nearer the doors up on deck, otherwise stay out of the way and away from the doors.
- Allow extra travel time in peak hours. Sometimes – especially in the busy tourist season – vaporetti are full and you won’t get on. Be especially careful if you’ve got a specific train to catch as the routes to the station are always busy.
- At night all routes change to just the N route on maps – this is the night route obviously not available during the day. Not all stops are included on the night vaporetto route, so make sure you choose stops on the N route after about 11pm.
- The N night vaporetto service starts at about 11pm and goes until around 5.30am.
- You can tell whether your vaporetto stops at a wharf or not by checking the map. If the route line goes over the stop, the boat doesn’t stop there. If the line breaks and the route number is where the vaporetto stop is, the boat will pull in.
Vaporetto routes you must do
Murano is known for its glassmakers and jewellery. Routes 3, 4.1, 4.2 go to and from Ferrovia – the train station stop – and 12 goes from Fondamente Nove (F.te Nove).
Route 12 also continues on to Burano, which is particularly pretty and in our opinion much nicer than Murano. Every house is painted a different colour to show the property boundaries.
Giudecca (from Ferrovia routes 4.1, 4.2, 2) is a quieter residential area but is also home to the Hilton, where there is a rooftop bar. Cafes and restaurants are a bit cheaper here and not so touristy but still with amazing views across the canal to the city.
St Mark’s Square
St Mark’s has 3 different stops which are quite close to the cathedral and square. Most vaporetti going along this canal will stop at S. Marco S. Zaccaria, so this is your best bet. The 1 and 2 stop at S. Marco Vallaresso, and the 2 and 10 stop at S. Marco Giardinetti as well though.
Below is the current vaporetto service map. Click on it to enlarge:
Main routes and where they go
- Routes 1 and 2 are great as they stop all the way along the Grand Canal. They’re very busy during tourist season though. 1 is an all-stops boat while 2 is more of an express. Both end up in the Lido and both go under the Rialto Bridge, which is a must on your Venice to do list.
- Routes 4.1 and 4.2 cover the same ground just anticlockwise and clockwise respectively. These are great for going all the way round the main islands of Venice and of course going to Murano.
- Route 5.1/5.2 is similar to the 4.1/4.2 but doesn’t go to Murano. It’s also a bit quicker than the 4 due to fewer stops.
- Route 7 gives you quick access from St Marks (S. Marco S. Zaccaria) to Murano in the north. It only runs during tourist season though.
- Route 10 is a short ride between the Lido, St Marks and Zattere.
- Routes 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20 and 22 are all local vaporetti used in the lagoon area east and north-east of the city and so not as useful as the other routes.
The main thing to remember is to validate your ticket then be ready with your camera as the pure romance of Venice sails by.
Have you been to Venice? What was your favourite place there?