For many, the image of a gondola gliding through the crystal waters of the Grand Canal is synonymous with getting around Venice. Its sleek black design regularly features in the paintings of Canaletto and Bellotto. Unsurprisingly, many tourists feel like no trip to the city would be complete without indulging in this piece of Venetian history. With residents no longer getting around Venice using gondolas and a 30-minute ride setting you back €80 (€100 if riding after 7 pm), why not break the mould and explore Venice and the lagoon by other means?
Take the traghetto
Much like the gondola in design, traghetti ferry people across the Grand Canal from three “stazi” (wooden boarding platforms) when there are no bridges nearby: S. M. Giglio, San Tomà, Santa Sofia. This is a way of getting around Venice that Venetians actually use, running from around 7:30am to 7pm. Though a standard ride is only a couple of minutes long, at just 2 euros (for visitors to the city) it’s a cheap and fun way to zip across the Grand Canal. Standing on board the traghetto with two skilled gondolieri powering the boat, you’ll get a real taste of what it’s like to live in a city constructed on waterways. Our docent Monica Vidoni sometimes takes clients across the Grand Canal on the Rialto – Santa Sofia traghetto, which connects the Rialto marketplace to the busy street of Strada Nova in Cannaregio. She told us that “clients are often struck by two things: the repartee between the two gondoliers as they ferry clients back and forth, and the variety of Venetians who clamber into and out of the boats: workers hauling their wares, mothers with baby buggies, locals with their dogs. Furthermore, the view as one crosses the Grand Canal, the sight of those magnificent palazzi seen from the water, is without peer”.
Venice may be a city of canals but there are plenty of hidden passageways to explore. Passing under sottoporteghi (covered walkways) and weaving your through narrow streets that open up onto picturesque campi (squares) and delicate bridges, you’ll stumble across parts of this historic city that are well hidden from the Grand Canal and other wider waterways while getting around Venice. Our docent Cynthia Johnson thoroughly encourages this kind of exploration. Get off the beaten-path by exploring the calle in the less-touristy neighborhoods of Cannaregio, San Polo and Santa Croce. You never know what you might find around the next corner – a Venetian artisan still plying a hundreds-year old craft, or even the perfect cup of coffee!”
Becoming comfortable with getting around Venice’s labyrinth-like layout is often something that takes center stage during our Welcome to Venice walk. And while getting oriented is key, that’s not the only significant detail about Venice’s streets. Monica Vidoni let us know that “The very names of the streets and bridges are interesting, as virtually each one tells you something about the history of that particular space, like Calle dei Morti (Street of the Dead), which was a burial site, or Ponte dell’Anatomia (Anatomy Bridge), which is next to a formal anatomical theater used in the 17th century for dissections”.
You may be surprised to know that bikes are not completely alien to this city of water. Though we don’t recommend it for getting around Venice—you are not allowed to cycle in the center of the city—it’s a great way to experience the Lido and some of the nearby islands. If you decide that you’d like to go for a ride on the Lido, you can rent a bike from Venice Bike Rental on Gran viale S.Maria Elisabetta,79a. If you’re staying in Venice for more than a couple of days, you could even rent a bike on the island of Sant’Erasmo from the B&B Lato Azzurro and explore the island known as the “vegetable garden of Venice”. It takes about 30 minutes to get there on the number 13 from Venezia-Fondamente Nuove but this is as much of a countryside experience as you’ll get in Venice. And as Monica told us, “a day on Sant’Erasmo will reveal life in the Venetian lagoon as it was some 600 years ago!”