Instead of public buses, Venice has the vaporetti, a flotilla of public water ferries
(The name derives from vapore, or "steam," since that is what used to power these public people-movers.)
To 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.
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.)
- San Zaccaria is just a smidgen east of Piazza San Marco, on Riva degli Schiavoni in front of the Doge's Palace and Hotel Daniele.
- San Marco-Vallaresso and San Marco-Giardinetti are side-by-side, just to the west of Piazza San Marco along the Giardini Ex Reali, where the main tourist office is located. (Why two? So the various Gand Canal lines don't have to wait for one another to dock.)
- 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.
- 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 San 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.
There are many more vaporetto lines, some seasonal, but you are unlikely to need any of them except:
- Line 12: This line services the popular outlying islands (Murano, Burano, and Torcello).
- Line 15: If you're camping on Punta Sabbioni, this vaporetto will be your best friend for shuttling back and forth to Venice.
Using the vaporetti after dark—Line "N"
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).
Make sure you board a vaporetto headed in the correct direction.
- 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 Piazza San Marco the looong 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.