Getting around Venice: gondolas, vaporetto and traghetti

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Most cities around the world have more or less the same options for getting around: you choose between taxis, buses, metro trains and trams according to price and where you are going...

Getting around Venice is rather different: none of these forms of transport is ideal (or possible!) in a city built on the water and criss-crossed by canals. So a quick guide to how Venetians and tourists explore the city might be useful...

It is probably worth mentioning that the historic centre of Venice, the part where tourists find themselves, is actually quite compact and can be explored on foot if you prefer to avoid 'public transport'...

...but why would you? Travelling on the boats that carry people around the city is part of the Venetian experience, whether you take a romantic gondola ride for two under the bridge of sighs or squeeze on to a 'vaporetto' crowded with local businessmen.

You will see below that there is one reason you might NOT take the gondolas and water taxis around Venice and that is the price. Even if you don't use them all the time it is worth travelling by boat occasionally for the authentic Venice experience.

Gondolas

Gondolas are the most famous boats in Venice - and among the most instantly recognisable boats in the world - and as much a part of how we imagine the city of Venice as Saint Marks Square or Rialto Bridge.

These easily recognisable boats are long and thin, have upturned sections at the front and rear, and an oarsman who stands up and operates the boat with a single oar. They carry a maximum of six people, and are made to be quite comfortable. The gondoliers have to be registered and wear the official uniform of black trousers and a striped shirt.

Gondola rides are also known as being a rather expensive treat, and unfortunately this is the case for most of us! If there are several of you in the boat the price per person falls accordingly, but it is possible you don't want to share your romantic experience with four others (six passengers is the maximum number).

The current rates are 80 euros for a 40 minute ride plus 40 euros for an extra 20 minutes. These prices increase to 100 euros for 40 minutes / 50 euros for each additional 20 minutes after 7.00pm.

The good news is, the prices are set officially rather than set randomly by the gondolier, so although they are expensive you don't have to worry that you personally are being overcharged, although if you reserve the gondola in advance of your visit or through your hotel front desk you might be charged an additional commission.

Overall, it is worth 'taking the plunge' (we hope you won't take that literally when on the gondola!) and paying for at least a 40 minute ride on a gondola when you visit Venice - it is a great experience, and more importantly it also gives you a different view of the city and a new appreciation of its beauties.

Traghetti

Translation to English: ferries, traghetti is plural, traghetto singular

Traghetto are essentially the same as Gondolas, but with a more business like purpose - to get passengers quickly from one side of a canal to the other. No romantic intentions! They also differ in that there are oarsmen at both ends of the boat rather than the one on a gondola ride.

You catch a traghetto across the canal from one of the many 'traghetti' stops along the canals. There are seven of these stops on the Grand Canal, clearly signed in the streets and also shown on your Venice street map.

They also lack the comforts of a gondola, and you usually stand up for the duration of the crossing rather than sit in a comfortable chair so your emphasis at first might be on staying upright and not falling in the canal rather than admiring the scenery (tourists often prefer to perch on a wooden bench than take the risk of falling in). Taking photographs while on the traghetti will usually also be impractical.

They are also the cheapest way to experience a gondola ride, but the oarsman is unlikely to burst into song during your ride! The price for a single crossing is 2 euros (less for Venice residents) so it can still get expensive quickly if you are travelling as a family and use them a lot.

Vaporetto

Translation to English: water bus, vaporetti is plural, vaporetto singular

The vaporetti are the equivalent of buses in other cities and operate in the same way, travelling along the main canals and stopping to pick pup passengers at the clearly designated stops.

The most used vaporetto route is Number 1 and it travels along the Grand Canal, continually crossing from one side to the other and back again. The larger vaporetto also travel ourt as far as the beach area at Venice Lido.

You should have a ticket to travel before you get on the vaporetto, and validate the ticket using the machine on board as soon as you get on. If you do not have a ticket, for example some of the vaporetto stops do not have machines, be sure to immediately go and pay the conductor when you get on.

Note: many countries in Europe, not just Italy, operate a similar system on public transport, with tickets validated on buses and trains either before getting on or immediately after getting on. Don't forget to do this or you are considered to be travelling without a ticket and will be fined accordingly, usually no excuses accepted!

You will quickly come to realise that the principal difference between the buses you take at home and the vaporetti in Venice is in the price! A one way journey between two places is usually about 7 euros (and should be completed within one hour). So a family of four taking four 'vaporetti' journeys a day will spend about 112 euros...over the course of several days this can become a lot of money!

You will be pleased to know that residents get large discounts and aren't paying these tourist rates!

Alternatives are available - daily passes for example, but these still cost around 20 euros each or 60 euros for a one week pass so you might like to save them for when your legs are tired or as a special treat!