The Venice public-transit system is a fleet of motorized bus-boats called vaporetti. They work like city buses except that they never get a flat, the stops are docks, and if you get off between stops, you might drown.
For most travelers, only two vaporetti lines matter: Line #1 and line #2. These lines go up and down the Grand Canal, between the “mouth of the fish” at one end and San Marco at the other. Line #1 is the slow boat, taking 45 minutes and making every stop along the way. Line #2 is the fast boat that zips down the Grand Canal in 25 minutes, stopping only at Tronchetto (parking lot), Piazzale Roma (bus station), Ferrovia (train station), San Marcuola, Rialto Bridge, San Tomà (Frari Church), Accademia Bridge, and San Marco (west end of St. Mark’s Square).
Catching a vaporetto is very much like a catching a city bus. Helpful charts at the docks show a map of the lines and stops. At one end of the Grand Canal are Tronchetto, Piazzale Roma (Ple. Roma), and Ferrovia. At the other end is San Marco. The sign on the dock lists the line number that stops there and which direction the boat is headed, for example: “#2—Direction San Marco.” Nearby is the sign for line #2 going in the other direction, for example: “#2—Direction Tronchetto.”
It’s simple, but there are a few quirks. Some #2 boats go only as far as Rialto (solo Rialto)—check with the conductor before boarding. Some stops have just one dock for boats going in both directions, so make sure the boat you get on is pointing in the direction you want to go. Larger stops might have two separate docks side by side (one for each direction), while some smaller stops have docks across the canal from each other (one for each direction). Electronic reader boards on busy docks display which boats are coming next, and when.
Lines #1 and #2 run every 10 minutes in summer. Off-season, there’s less service, so plan ahead if you’re trying to get from St. Mark’s Square to catch an early train. If there’s any doubt, ask a ticket-seller or conductor, or pick up the most current ACTV timetable (free at ticket booths, in English and Italian, tel. 041-2424, www.hellovenezia.com or www.actv.itm).
Tickets: Standard single tickets are €6.50 each. (A few shorter runs are only €2, such as the route from San Marco to La Salute or from San Zaccaria-Jolanda to San Giorgio Maggiore.) Tickets are good for 60 minutes in one direction; you can hop on and off at stops during that time. Technically, you’re not allowed a round-trip (though in practice, a round-trip is allowed if you can complete it within a 60-minute span). Too much luggage can cost you a second ticket.
Transportation Passes: You can buy a pass for unlimited use of vaporetti and ACTV buses: €16/12 hours, €18/24 hours, €23/36 hours, €28/48 hours, €33/72 hours, €50/7-day pass). Because single tickets cost a hefty €6.50 a pop, these passes can pay for themselves in a hurry. Think through your Venice itinerary before you step up to the ticket booth to pay for your first vaporetto trip. It makes sense to get a pass if you’ll be taking four rides or more (e.g., to your hotel, on a Grand Canal joyride, into the lagoon and back, to the train station). And it’s fun to be able to hop on and off spontaneously, and avoid long ticket lines. On the other hand, many tourists just walk and rarely use a boat. If you’re planning on taking 10 vaporetto trips or more, you’ll save money by getting a CartaVenezia ID card (€40 for foreigners not residing or working in Venice, valid for 3 years). With the card, you pay €1.10 per trip, or €10 for a carnet of 10 tickets (buy discounted tickets at any ticket booth, tickets still need to be stamped like regular tickets). You’ll also be able to ride the locals-only vaporetto #3. Buy cards at the HelloVenezia office at the Tronchetto stop (especially handy for those arriving by car; avoid busy Mondays and mornings). Bring along your passport and a passport-size photo (you can get photos for €3 in a booth at the train station), fill out the form, and pay €40.
Buying and Validating Tickets and Passes: You can buy vaporetto tickets or passes at ticket booths at main stops (such as Ferrovia, Rialto, Accademia, and San Marco-Vallaresso); from a conductor on board (do it immediately, before you sit down, or you risk a €44 fine); or at a tourist information office (for no extra fee). Plan your travel so you’ll have tickets or a pass handy when you need them—not all stops have ticket booths.
Passes must be validated before the first use. Tickets generally come already stamped, but if for whatever reason, your ticket lacks a stamp, stick it into the time-stamping yellow machine before boarding. The pass system (called iMob) is electronic—just touch your card to the electronic reader on the dock to validate it.
Vaporetto Tips: For fun, take a Grand Canal cruise. Avoid the tourist rush hour, when boats can be packed: Morning rush hour (8:00–10:00) is headed in the direction of St. Mark’s Square, as tourists and local commuters arrive. Afternoon rush hour (about 17:00) is when they’re headed in the other direction for the train station.