There is no simply other city on Earth like Venice. Its iconic canals and unique cityscape have drawn visitors for centuries. Royalty, authors, statesmen, movie stars and ordinary people have come here, and been changed by the city’s spirit and beauty. They call it La Serenissima, meaning the most serene.
Arriving by plane
If you’re flying into Venice, you will probably arrive at Marco Polo airport, on the mainland. From here, there are several ways you can get to the city center and your hotel.
1. You can take a water taxi with set rates, depending on where you are going, and how many people are in your group. The water taxi is quite expensive.
2. You can take a water bus called Alilaguna. This costs much less than the taxi, and they have several lines that can take you all over the city. The ticket agent can tell you which stop is closest to your hotel, and then you can walk from that stop.
3. You can take a shuttle bus to Piazzale Roma, which is the bus / car / train hub in Venice. This is not exactly a charming introduction to Venice, but many people do arrive this way. From here, you could get a water taxi or vaporetto to your hotel, or just walk if you are staying near here.
You may fly into Treviso Airport instead, especially if you’re flying on Ryannair. From here, there are buses that take you to Piazzale Roma.
Arriving by train
Taking the train can be an excellent way to travel around Italy, or further afield in Europe. If you’re arriving in Venice on the train, you will pull into the Santa Lucia Railway Station, which sits at the entrance to the Grand Canal.
You can easily walk down the Strada Nuova to the city center from there, or you can take a vaporetto (water bus) from the jetties right across from the train station, or you can get a water taxi.
Arriving by car
With all the paintings and photos of boats and canals, you probably already realize that Venice is not the world’s most car-friendly city, but you can drive there. It will involve dropping off your rental car, or parking your car and leaving it before you head into the historic and watery center of town.
The Ponte della Liberta connects Venice to the mainland. This bridge will get you into Venice, to either the Tronchetto or Piazzale Roma, where there are a number of indoor and outdoor parking lots. You may have better luck finding a spot at Tronchetto, since Piazzale Roma is used by all the car rental agencies, and by every Venetian with a car. Parking fees vary from lot to lot.
Once you unload your luggage, you can easily reach the city center by taking a vaporetto (a Venice water bus), a water taxi, or you can walk.
Layout of Venice
Venice (Venezia, in Italian) is one of the most charming cities you could ever visit, but it can also be daunting, for many of the same reasons. Built on more than 100 small islands in the saltwater Venetian Lagoon, along the shoreline of the Po and Piave Rivers, there are enough natural geographic barriers and diversions to make the most dedicated urban planner cry.
While its winding streets, romantic bridges and watery canals are unique and picturesque; they can also be quite confounding.
It may seem like a bit of a maze, but once you figure it out, Venice is fairly accessible.
The old city center is divided into six parts, called sestieri. They are Castello, Cannaregio, San Marco, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, and San Polo. The islands around Venice are Giudecca, San Giorgio, Murano, Burano, Torcello and the Lido.
Where to Stay in Venice
Each of the districts in Venice and the Venetian Islands has its own distinct rhythm and flavor. San Marco is the heart of Venice, and it’s the tourist hot spot. If you’re in Venice for only a short time and want to see everything, you want to stay in San Marco.
East of that is Castello, Venice’s largest and most varied district, stretching from near the Rialto out past the Arsenal and the Public Gardens. Furthest to the north is the mostly residential district of Cannaregio. These are both lovely districts with plenty of hotels if you’re planning a longer, more leisurely stay in Venice.
If you prefer to stay where there’s great nightlife, San Polo is home to Rialto Bridge, busy markets, and some of the finest restaurants in Venice. Arty and studenty Dorsoduro is also busy and vibrant.
Santa Croce is mostly residential, and where you will find the public garages, the ferry to the beaches on the Lido, and the port. This is the place to stay if you’re planning regular day trips outside the city.
Mestre is technically part of Venice, but sits on the Italian mainland. It’s your cheapest option, but it’s also the furthest out and the least appealing.
Getting around in Venice
You can easily make your way around the city by water bus, or vaporetto. There are also water taxis, but like at the airport, this is your most expensive option. If you just need to get from one side of the Grand Canal to the other, you can hop on a cheap and pretty gondola ferry, or traghetto, which cross at a number of places on the Grand Canal.
The very best way to get around Venice is on foot.
Make sure you invest in a detailed map of Venice that includes all the vaporetto and traghetto stops.
Make sure to take the time for a tour of the Venetian Islands. A three-hour excursion leaves from the pier at Riva degli Schiavoni, taking you past San Giorgio and San Francesco del Deserto, then makes stops and brief tours at Murano, Torcello and Burano. If you want more time to explore, vapporetti leave for the islands every hour from the Fondamenta Nuove. Check the water bus map and schedule for specifics on where you want to go.
If you feel like a day at the beach, head to the Lido, a narrow strip of land between Venice and the Adriatic Sea. It’s a 20 minute boat ride from St. Mark’s, and was built into a summer resort in the early 1900s.
While it doesn’t compare with the best of sun spots in the Mediterranean, its leafy streets and sandy beaches are lovely, and a nice change from Venice.
Wherever you choose to stay in Venice, you are guaranteed to enjoy its enchanting canals, beautiful buildings and fascinating history. Wander its calli, campi and campielli without being afraid of getting lost. You’re bound to discover something fascinating around the next corner.