Part of the joy of traveling to Venice is the beauty of the Lagoon. But, navigating your way into the heart of Venice takes a little know-how.
If you arrive by plane into Venice, it's important to know that Marco Polo Airport is in Mestre. Mestre is part of the mainland and is about 6 miles north of Venice.
From the terminal it's a short taxi ride or a 10-minute walk to the dock where public and private boats depart for the historic center of Venice. There is regular ferry service from early morning until late at night and it takes about an hour to reach the landing area near Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square). Another option is to travel by motoscafo (water taxi), which also leaves from the same dock. These boats normally hold up to 4 people and 4 pieces of luggage. These are modern power boats that take about 25 minutes to reach the city center. Since each additional person, bag and stop costs extra, it is very important to agree on what the cost will be before you board.
Many people do not realize that there is also bus service available as a way to reach Venice. The blue buses will take you fairly quickly (about 20 minutes) and inexpensively to the Piazzale Roma. From the Piazzale Roma, you can then board a vaporetto (water bus) to the landing nearest to your hotel. More specific information on buses and schedules can be found at www.atvo.it.
If you arrive by train into Venice, it is important to know that there are actually two train stations servicing Venice. The closest and most convenient is Stazione Ferroviaria Santa Lucia. Santa Lucia station sits adjacent to the Piazzale Roma and is the most convenient arrival point if coming in by train. Once you are at the Piazzale Roma, you can then board a vaporetto (water bus) to the landing nearest to your hotel. Stazione Ferroviaria Venezio-Mestre is located on the mainland about 7 miles outside of the city.
For the locals and for most travelers visiting Venice, the most convenient was to glide through the lagoon is by vaporetto (water bus). These vaporetti operate several routes throughout both Venice and the outer islands of the lagoon. Landing areas are clearly marked with the name and line number, but always ask before boarding to make sure the boat is going in your direction. There are a number of travel cards available that offer unlimited travel for a set period of time or you can buy individual tickets. This is a great way to rub shoulders with the locals and glide through the beautiful waterways and canals of Venice.
And then, there are the gondolas. About 400 of these beautiful handmade boats still exist, sailing the waters of the Venetian Lagoon. There is no more magical way to see Venice than to glide through her canals with a gondolier at the helm. San Marco (St. Mark's) offers many gondola stations, but sometimes it is better to walk over to San Toma or Santa Sofia. It's important that you and the gondolier agree on the cost before you start, including not only the total cost but the length of the ride and where the gondola will go. Remember, the Grand Canal is grand, but the tiny side canals show you a side of Venice that few other visitors get to enjoy.
There IS an inexpensive way to jump on a gondola, if only for a few minutes. Most tourists are not aware of the two-man gondola ferries (called traghetto) that cross the Grand Canal at specified locations. They may not be as romantic as the longer rides, but they are definitely the cheapest gondola ride in Venice! It’s also the quickest and most practical way to cross from one side of the canal to the other and will save you a lot of walking. Just look for the Traghetto signs located up and down the Grand Canal and be ready to hand your fare to the gondolier when you board. As of this writing, the one-way fare is still less than a dollar.
Unless you are lucky enough to be staying at a hotel with a water door (so that you can be taken directly to the hotel's arrival platform) and can afford the means to get there, get ready for your arrival into Venice by wearing sturdy walking shoes that can handle cobbled streets and making sure that your luggage is also up to the journey, since you will most likely be wheeling it behind you for at least part of the distance. That’s part of the adventure when you arrive in Venice!