The vaporetto (water ferry) service in Venice

Instead of public buses, Venice has the vaporetti, a flotilla of public water ferries

A vaporetto, the Venetian water bus or public ferry, arriving on the Grand Canal in Venice
A vaporetto, the Venetian water bus or public ferry, arriving on the Grand Canal in Venice.
The vaporetto ( is a public ferry service that operates, for all intents and purposes, as the bus network of Venice.

(The name derives from vapore, or "steam," since that is what used to power these public people-movers.)

The back of the map the tourist office hands out has a vaporetto route plan (or you can download a pdf of the 2015 route map here, and I've marked all the major fermate (stops—actually, floating docks) on the Google map of Venice.

ACTV symbol for Venice public transportTo find a vaporetto office or station in Venice, just look for a sign with the Actv logo: a disc that's green on the top half and blue on the bottom bisected by a white line that looks a bit like a heart monitor reading.

Speaking of heart monitors: Do not flatline when you discover that a single vaporetto ride costs €7 (more on that below).

Welcome to overpriced Venice!

Useful vaporetto lines

There are three classes of water bus lines:

  • Linee Centrocittà (1, 2, N) steam down the Grand Canal through the heart of Venice; usually the handiest for most visitors.
  • Linee Giracittà (3, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2, 6, N) circumnavigate the heart of Venice; more for residents and commuters, unless your hotel is in the boondocks.
  • Linee Lagunari (12, 14, N) head farther afield in the Venetian lagoon to various outlying islands—popular tourist ones such as the Lido, Murano, Burano, and Torcello as well as residential ones. (Lines 3, 4.1, and 4.2 also go to Murano, but not the other islands.)

Getting to St. Mark's
There are three stops for San Marco, so just get off at the first one you reach:

Centrocittà lines

  • Line 2: The single most useful vaporetto line is Line 2 (which old Venice hands might recognize as the old Line 82), the express line down the Grand Canal. It chugs regularly from Piazzale Roma (car park) to Ferrovia (the train station) then on a majestic sweep down the Grand Canal, stopping five times (including at the Rialto bridge and the Accademia) en route to the San Marco-Valloresso just off Piazza San Marco. It takes 25 minutes to reach Piazza San Marco from the train station (add an extra four minutes from Piazzale Roma). In summer, it continues on from there to Giardini and the Lido. (Note": Line 2 also now doubles as a Giracittà line; see below.)
  • Line 1: The local line down the Grand Canal that follows a similar route as Line 2 but takes a wee bit longer and makes more stops (30 minutes from Ferrovia to Piazza San Marco; again add 4 min. more from Piazzale Roma). It also continues on past San Marco to make all the Castello stops along the Bacino (Arsenale, Giardini, S. Elena), and ends at the Lido.

Giracittà lines

  • Line 2: Yes, it cruises the Grand Canal. But Line 2 now also goes the other direction from Piazzale Roma—the "long way around" central Venice—stopping at Tronchetto and the S. Basilio cruise docks in the S. Croce disctrict, Zattere in Dorsoduro, and all major stops along the isolated island of Giudecca, and even the islet of S. Giorgio en route to the San Marco-S. Zaccaria stop in central Venice
  • Lines 5.1 and 5.2 —An express line that basically circles the historic center of Venice the long way around the Dorsoduro (i.e. not along the Grand Canal), out to the Lido, the back to cricle around the north side of Castello.
  • Lines 4.1 and 4.2: The local versions of 5.1 and 5.2 (above)—around the outside of central Venice—but with a twist: at Fondamente Nove on the north sie of Castello, 4.1 and 4.2 divert to make the rounds of Murano before returning to Fondamente Nove and continuing their route.
  • Line 6 heads from Piazzale Roma around between the Dorsoduro and Giudecca and then along eastern Castello out to the Lido.

Other lines

There are many more vaporetto lines, some seasonal, but you are unlikely to need any of them except:

Using the vaporetti after dark—Line "N"

Floating docks serves as vaporetti stops
A floating dock serves as a fermata (stop) for the vaporetto.
Most vaporetto lines run from about 5am until around midnight. Keep in mind, though, that—especially late at night—captains may skip stops where no one is waiting at the dock to board (if it looks like that's happening and you want that stop yourself, it helps to shout up scendo! [SHEN-doh], which means "I'm getting off!"), and they may end your ride before what is technically the end of the line.

Between midnight and 5am there is are night lines along popular routes (mostly variations on routes from Piazzale Roma down either the Grand Canal or "around the back" via the Giudecca Canal to the San Zaccaria stop at Piazza San Marco, some continuing on to the Lido; there are also runs between Murano and the Fondamente Nove).

These night service vaporetti only run every hour or so, with more frequent departures between the Rialto and Piazzale Roma.

Vaporetto tickets & passes

Single-ride tickets

Yes, it is true. Vaporetto tickets really do cost €7. No, the ticket guy is not trying to rip you off; it's the city of Venice that is ripping you off, albeit legally.

It bears repeating: The standard ticket for most lines that putter about central Venice costs a steep €7.

It is valid for 60 minutes, and you can change vaporetti—but only to other boats moving in the same direction as the first boat you boarded (in other words; no round-trips—the expection is the €11 "andata/ritorno" roundtrip ticket to the beach, which is good just on that day between downtown Venice and either the Lido or Punta Sabionetta, or between the Lido and Punta Sabionetta).

You can buy a biglietto (ticket) for the vaporetto either at the ticket kiosks by major vaporetto fermate (docks), or on board the boat (though make sure you seek out the conductor immediately to do so, or you may be assessed a hefty fine).

If you buy the tickets before boarding, make sure you validate it by stamping one end in the little yellow box by the dock (again: fines if you don't).

Daily passes

Unless you're going to use the vaporetti a lot—more than three times in a day, or more than five times over two days—the unlimited-ride biglietto turistico passes aren't really worth it (Venice is very much a walking city), but for the record they come in varying lengths of time:

  • 1 day: €20
  • 2 days: €30
  • 3 days: €40
  • 7 days : €60

The only time a pass is really worth it: buy a 24-hour one on the morning you plan to visit the outlying islands, since this usually entails at least five rides.

Why you (probably) should NOT buy the Venezia Unica discount card (It takes 10 rides to pay for itself)

No, residents of Venice don't have to pay €7 each time they hop the (water)bus. They pay just €1.30 per ride (or €12 for a ten-pack carnet)—and it's valid for 75 min. (rather than 60 min.).

However, they get this reduced fare only if they buy the monthly Venezia Unica tessera (which until recently was called iMob) with the extra CartaVenezia discount enabled.

This card costs local residents €10. You can buy it, too—but it will cost you a whopping €50. (Well, technically €10 plus another €40 to add the Carta Veenzia transport option).

If you truly want one (answer: no), bring your passport and a photocopy of the page with your picture and info to any Hellovenezia office or major ACTV station.

Is the Venezia Unica/CartaVenezia worth it?

This discount pass is really only be worth it if you're staying in Venice for quite a while (at least a week) and will ride the vaporetto a lot. I mean, a whole lot.

Mathematically, the Venezia Unica/Cartavenezia only starts saving you money starting at your tenth ride (which would cost €70 if you bought individual tickets; the pass plus ten discounted tickets adds up to €62 total)—and that is highly unlikely unless you are commuting.

Last time I was in Venice I stayed for an entire week and rode the vaporetto a grand total of one time—when I first arrived (I took the traghetto to the airport when leaving).

Venice truly is a walking city.

Tips & links


Take the vaporetto headed in the right direction

Make sure you board a vaporetto headed in the correct direction.

For example, if you want to head towards downtown Venuce and San Marco along the Grand Canal using lines 1 or 2:

  • If you're getting on at the Ferrovia/train station stop—you want to the boats headed left down the Grand Canal.
  • If you're getting on at Piazzale Roma, you want the boats headed to the right (you actually board on a side canal, and the boat will shortly turn left down the Grand Canal).

Otherwise you'll end up getting to San Marco the long way around, around the back of the Dorsoduro neighborhood, rather than along the Grand Canal.

The boatmen are used to lost tourists and, at these two hectic stops, will usually assume you want to go down the Grand Canal. Therefore they will try to shoo you away from any boat head in the wrong direction, yelling, "No San Marco! No San Marco!"

Oh, and this might help. Major stops often have two floating docks side by side. Boats headed to your left will dock at the one on the right; boats headed to the right will dock at the one on the left.

I realize this sounds counterintuitive, but from their point of view—and they way they drive—this make perfect sense.

Make sure you head to the correct one, as different lines will dock at different docks.

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