Visitors to Venice have a couple of basic questions to answer when arriving. Do I purchase an unlimited boat pass? Do I buy any of the museum passes offered by the various museum and church organizations? The answer is yes to all the questions, but I’ve learned that there are more considerations.
Venice’s public transportation is an ingenious system of waterbuses that ply the Grand Canal, circle the main islands and reach out to the beach island, Lido, and other smaller islands ranging from the touristy glass-making center of Murano, the colorful lace-making island of Burano and isolated islands like San Lazzaro and San Servolo.
The main lines are the local #1 vaporetto that cruises up and down Grand Canal making 20 stops with a boat passing every 10 minutes and the express #82 vaporetto that only makes about half as many stops along the Grand Canal and onwards to Lido.
This system is expensive for tourists when they buy single tickets — cost is Euros 6 per ride, a little more than $8. However, there are passes that can cut the cost of these vaporetto rides dramatically. An unlimited 12-hour pass costs Euros 13, a 24-hour pass is Euros 15, a 36-hour pass is Euros 20, a 48-hour pass costs Euros 25 and a 72-hour ticket costs Euros 30.
When arriving in Venice, buy an unlimited pass for the number of days you will be in this city. The freedom and flexibility that the unlimited waterbus pass will give you is worth every euro. Plus, if you purchase your pass at the airport after collecting your luggage, the pass includes bus transportation between the airport and Piazzale Roma where the waterbuses start their cruise down the Grand Canal.
Believe me, guidebooks will tell you that the pass is not necessary and that tourists can get virtually anywhere in the center of Venice on foot. That is true. The ride on the #1 boat from Accademia to the railroad station will take at least 30 minutes, while the zigzag walk only takes about 15 minutes. The express #82 boat takes 20 minutes to ply the route between Accademia and the train station.
But the freedom that one has with a boat pass is worth the few euros it costs to buy. I found myself getting up early and taking a boat at 6:30 a.m. and sailing down the Grand Canal as the sun was rising, just because I could. In the evening, my apartment near Ca’ Rezzonico was only 10 minutes by boat from San Marco where I could go for a walk and hear the orchestras play in the Piazza.
I know that I could walk between these two points in about the same time, but there is little magic to that, especially on a hot August night.
During the day, taking the boat from one end of the Grand Canal to the other offers a bit of respite from the crowds, though the boats aren’t empty by a long shot. Plus, the sail around Venice on the #41 (clockwise) or #42 (counter-clockwise) is a joy.
Trust me. Buy the boat pass for your entire stay. Use it whimsically whenever you want. You’ll be glad you did.
Museum and church cards
Purchasing the Chorus Pass that provides entrance to 16 churches is a no-brainer. The pass pays for itself with the third church visit. Plus having the Chorus Pass will encourage visitors to explore churches in out-of-the-way neighborhoods of Venice. In fact, a visitor making a plan to visit the Chorus Pass churches will end up exploring virtually every neighborhood in Venice. Note: The Chorus Pass does not cover all churches and scuola, notably, San Zanipolo, Scuolas San Rocco and Santa Maria dei Carmini. There is an extra admission for those buildings.
The decision about purchasing a Civic Museum Pass is more complex. The basic entry to the Museums of Piazza San Marco is an almost all or nothing affair. I recommend that visitors should purchase the Euro 13 version allowing entry the Palazzo Ducal and the Correr Museum (including the archeological and the library) plus one addition museum from this list — Ca’Rezzonico, Palazzo Mocenigo, Casa di Carlo Goldoni, Ca’ Pesaro – Modern Art Museum, Palazzo Fortuny, Museum of Glass on Murano, Museo of Lace on Burano and the Museo of Natural History. The ticket costs a euro less during the winter. (If visitors are spending more than three days in Venice, then go ahead and get the Euro 18 version that provides entry into all the Civic Museums.
The best museum, after the incomparable Palazzo Ducal is the under-rated Ca’Rezzonico, a restored Venetian palace with its view of life in Venice’s Golden Age. Robert Browning and his wife Elisabeth Barrett Browning lived here. The Tiepolo ceilings are spectacular, the furnishings elegant and the not-to-be-missed Egidio Martini art gallery on the third floor is the best collection in town of Venetian paintings of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The other Civic Museums are at the most, interesting, however, not compelling.
Buying the Civic Museum Pass at the ticket window at the Correr Museum at the far end of Piazza San Marco from the Basilica allows one, after visiting the Correr and its lavishly decorated library, to walk past the long line at the Palazzo Ducal and enter through a prepaid ticket line. This is a priceless timesaver during high tourist season.
Secret Itinerary through the Ducal Palace
The Civic Museum Pass does not include the Itinerari Segreti or Secret Itinerary that takes limited tour groups through the smaller, civil servant offices, the archives, the torture chamber and rooms where the heads of the Council of Ten met. The tour also visits the prison cells where Casanova was held and provides a fascinating walk through the attic and frame structure that supports the massive ceiling above the Sala del Maggior Consiglio filled with tourists below. This tour costs Euros 16 (Euros 10 if you already bought a Civic Museum Pass) and it includes entrance to the Ducal Palace. For someone only making a day trip to Venice, this may be the best ticket.
Plus, reservations can be made online or call 041-520-9070 up to 48 hours prior to your visit. English-language tours are given daily in the morning at 9:55, 10:45 and 11:35 a.m. Though reservations are not required, the tours do often fill and up. Thus, reservations are de facto necessary. Note: Visitors with reservations do not have to wait in the long ticket line. Go through the right-hand side of the Ducal Palace entrance and a guard will point you to the correct counter.
Visit to the clock tower
This clock commissioned in 1493 and unveiled in 1499 was a scientific marvel in its day. It still is. The collection of pendulums, gears and levers accurately tells time with normal clock hands plus digital-like signs that flip every five minutes. It shows the phases of the moon, date, month, and the movement of the sun and moon through the zodiac signs. Two tarnished giants swing mallets to ring the bell and during feast days, an angel and three wise men march and bow in front of the statue of the Madonna and child.
The views from the top of the bell tower are unique looking across the rooftops of Venice and down into St. Mark’s Square and across the cupolas of the Basilica. This tour is best recommended for gadget nuts and those with an appreciation of fine machinery.
Cost is Euros 12 and visits are limited to no more than 12 visitors at a time. English tours are given on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the mornings and in the afternoon the other days of the week. Book by calling 041-520-9070 or go online.
Pay attention to opening hours of sights, especially on Monday. Many of the museums, such as the Palazzo Mocenigo and Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art are closed on Monday as well as several of the larger churches such as Santa Stai. The Accademia Museum closes at 2 p.m. on Mondays instead of 7:15 p.m. as on the other days of the week. Ca’Rezzonico is closed on Tuesdays.
Get a good map
A good map is like gold when walking through Venice. Try to find one that is filled with plenty of street names and that marks the waterbus stops as well as the traghetto (gondola ferry) crossings. I have been using a National Geographic map that is wonderful for street names and waterbus stops, however does not note the gondola ferries or traghettos. (I’m not recommending the schematic map of the waterbus system, that isn’t necessary. Get a map with the boat stops listed right on the street map.)
Good city maps of Venice cost about $8 in the U.S. bookstores and many excellent maps can be purchased in Venice for only about Euros 2 or 3.
Photos by Charles Leocha