How To Get To & Around Venice, Italy

I last visited Venice when I was a teenager and after booking a return trip to celebrate my 50th birthday I was worried the city would have changed for the worse. I had no idea how to get to and from, or around the city. Last time I just followed my mum!

washing hanging across the canal in Venice 2019

 With 20 million visitors a year, with that number rising year on year, it sounded to me like Venice might be a living theme park complete with ginormous queues and rip-off prices. Searching online for information on transport was confusing with lines and fares and bus companies seemingly over complicated for the fun of it.

The story started last year when I found a 3 night break with staying in the Hotel Tintoretto (pictured below) in Santa Fosca Canneraregio with flights from Birmingham for just £760 for two, including a very generous luggage allowance. I paid a deposit and had several months to pay the balance.

Hotel Tintoretto, Venice

Booking was simple and communications from Jet2 were good. The airplane was clean and service was good. Birmingham is a nice airport easily accessible by road or rail. Parking cost under £60 from Friday-Monday in a carpark just a few steps from the terminal building

Getting there

Flights to Marco Polo airport (the closest to Venice) go from most UK airports regularly, year round. You can transfer from the airport by road, rail or water but most people agree approaching Venice by water at the start of the holiday is the best way.

(You can also get flights to Treviso airport, 38 miles from Venice and make the 50-70 minute trip by ATVO bus for 22 euros (return). Tickets can be bought at machines or from the ATVO counter at the airport. You can also go by train for around 15 euros (single) or book a taxi.)

After much research we decided to buy a one way ticket for the Alilaguna water bus service - not to be confused with the Venice wide water bus service. Tickets for these services are not interchangeable.

The transfer cost 15 Euros each and included one suitcase and hand baggage. You can add suitcases for a small additional fee.

You can get a discount of 1 euro per person booking on line. You also get a better deal buying a return ticket but we hadn't made up our mind how we planned to return to the airport at this point so stuck with a single ticket.

Getting to the water bus stop is foolproof with a moving walkway from the airport all the way to the waterfront. You need to work out which one of the three lines you need - if in doubt email the people at your accommodation to ask. Once at the waterside there are staff members to help you find your way into the correct queue.

We'd heard horror stories about long waits for the bus but we actually only waited around twenty minutes. The ride to Venice was great fun albeit a little bouncy as the "road" to the islands are very busy with water taxis, buses and  private boats all creating their own wakes. We were impressed with the bravery of the solo canoeist battling the waves.

water "road" from mainland Italy to Venice

We had emailed Hotel Tintoretto in advance to ask where to get off the waterbus and we only had a short and very picturesque walk from the bus stop (the flat roofed building on the left of this picture below)  before being able to ditch the bags at the hotel so we could go off to explore without lugging them along.

Venice water bus stop and travellers

There are quite a few steps up and down bridges and the pathways are often uneven so bear this in mind when booking luggage unless you are planning a door to door private transfer.

 I would not recommend this as a holiday destination for anyone in a wheelchair or who needs to use a heavy pushchair or pram. Crossing the Rialto Bridge a couple of times a day nearly killed me!

Rialto Bridge, Venice

I can highly recommend the hotel which was in a great location, had friendly, helpful staff and a fabulous continental style breakfast buffet, but would say upgrade to bigger rooms if you can as our economy room was VERY small.

Take mosquito repellent whatever time of year you go as some of us got badly bitten at night even though it was only early May.

I have to say travelling to Venice at that time of year which is quite early in the season proved ideal. It is still relatively quiet from a tourism point of view and while the weather was a little changeable we had long spells of lovely warm sunshine. The infamous unpleasant Venice smell which often blights the city in the summer was not in evidence during our visit.

Bridge of Sighs, Venice 2019

So what is the best way to get around Venice?

I'd strongly advise packing your most comfortable shoes and taking Shank's pony. Walking is by far and away the best way to explore Venice and despite the huge visitor numbers, once away from the Rialto Bridge and St Mark's Square it's easy to find pockets of peace and quiet where you can only hear the lapping of the water.

View of St Mark's Square, Venice, from the water with gondolas

You will get lost but embrace it. While trying to find our way we discovered some great bars and cafes, squares in residential areas where Venetians chatted while children played football and any number of beautiful bridges with immensely Instagrammable views without the hoards of strangers ruining the view. Just allow extra time to get to where you need to be if you have something booked for a specific time.

We found that phone maps didn't work very well, probably because of the tall buildings and narrow streets. Pick up a paper map and go old school - it's much easier than watching the dot which is supposed to be you bounce all over a phone screen leaving you with no idea where you are or where you are going.

Lost in Venice, madmumof7 reading map with friend and husband

Take an ACTV Vaporetto water bus to give your feet a rest. You can buy a ticket for under eight euros which gives you 75 minutes hop on, hop off travel, or buy a pass ranging from 24 hours for 20 euros up to seven days for 60 Euros. You must buy your ticket from one of the machines or some tobacconist/newsagents before travel as travelling without a valid ticket could earn you a 50 euro fine.

We used the number 1 line which gives you a comprehensive tour of the city (thanks for the tip Vivianne and Barry) and jumped off at Lido for a cuppa in a cafe just a few steps from the bus stop.

Prices were much lower than many other areas of Venice and it was worth the trip to experience the novelty of an old style, unisex crouching toilet.

old style toilet, Lido, Italy

To Gondola or not to Gondola?

Before we got there I was definitely going to go in a gondola despite the 80 euro fee (per boat not person). While I was there I was in two minds. It's a lot of money for half an hour and watching some of the bored-looking gondoliers chatting on their mobile phones while passengers videoed the whole route I thought it was maybe a bit naff and touristy.

View of Venetian bridge from Gondola

But almost on a whim we decided to go for it and by luck ended up with an amazing gondolier complete with striped top and straw hat and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city along with a great sense of humour.

Gondalier and madmumof7 and husband, Venice 2019

We shared the traditional boat with our eldest son and his partner making the cost just 20 euros each and we took it in turns to sit in the "romantic" double seat. It wasn't a very romantic ride for them with us old codgers along for the ride but we all had fun.

Gondola, Venice, 2019

Each gondola seats up to six people and you can share with strangers if you are a solo traveller or not part of a group. Whatever, the cost ranges between 80-150 euros depending on route, length of ride and time of day. Be warned -prices peak after 7pm when sailing into the sunset costs extra!

The gondola ride turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip and I would definitely advise budgeting for it. I'd also watch the gondoliers (boat men) for a while and pick one who seems engaged with his passengers. Ours was witty and interesting and had the useful ability of knowing when to duck under the often very low bridges.

Fun fact, I say "boat men" but there is one female gondolier in Venice - see if you can spot her if you visit Venice!

Gondalier crouches under bridge, Venice, Italy

 There are lots of gondola stops so you don't need to fight for a boat around St Mark's Square. Find somewhere quieter to avoid queuing. Make sure you have cash to pay the gondolier. We tipped ours too as his service was so good.

My friends fancied a faster water-borne experience and paid the same 80 euros for four of them to enjoy some Bond-esque fun on a water taxi for around 15 minutes.

Back to the airport.

Obviously you have the same options returning to the airport as you did when arriving. However with our flights being quite early on a Monday morning we were concerned the water bus might be filled with commuters and other travellers and didn't want to risk having to wait for a bus with spaces at the risk of missing our flight. This can be a real problem especially if your stop is one of the last along the line going towards the mainland. (Thanks for the heads up on this issue Alan and Sheryll)

We equally didn't want to leave stupidly early leaving us hanging around at the airport, even though there is lots to occupy your time there from shops to cafes and bars.

We could get a minibus taxi for eight of us and luggage for around 50 euros but that involved a 20 minute trek with luggage from our hotel to the area where the road traffic can get to. The sunshine had disappeared to be replaced with light drizzle so we booked a private water taxi which picked us up right by our hotel.

If you want to travel by private water transfer do your research and shop around!!! The first quote I got (from Tripadvisor) was over 300 Euros but using the first company listed on the official airport website dropped the price to 155 euros for all eight of us and up to ten pieces of luggage.

water taxi, Venice 2019

It was a great deal and a fabulous experience which turned out to be another highlight of the trip. Our driver was helpful and polite and after an exhausting few days exploring the city it was nice to have a simple transfer with minimum walking, lugging suitcases stuffed with salami, olive oil, cheese and balsamic vinegar.

We booked while we were there and paid online and panicked slightly when we were required to print off a voucher to prove we had paid. You must have this voucher so either book while you are still at home or check that your hotel is willing to print it off for you. Ours did on short notice with no fee to pay. Phew!

Once back at the airport you just jump into the lift taking you to the right floor for departures and it's back on the moving walkway to the terminal.

I know I have gone into quite a bit of detail but before our trip we found it difficult to work out exactly what to do - hopefully my post will help those of you planning a trip to this stunning city.

This is the first in a series of posts which will also include eating in Venice and how to enjoy a budget trip to Venice.

I will say if you've never been - book it! It should be on everyone's bucket list and with talks on restrictions for tourists being introduced I would go now while you can wander freely and enjoy everything this city has to offer from art to architecture and fabulous food to lots of fun.

With thanks to my lovely travelling companions Ray, Jacob  Kat, Karen  John, Lawrence and Emma who kindly allowed me to steal their photos and share our adventure on the inter webs. Also thanks to Beth who gave us some additional tips for making the most of Venice.

madmumof7's Venetian adventure party at airport.