Port of Venice
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Venice once ruled the Mediterranean as a shipping power, amassing vast wealth and producing some of Europe's greatest artistic and cultural treasures. But, over the centuries, Venice has declined a bit and now has less than half the population it had at its peak. What remains of its former grandeur -- the crumbling palaces, the sumptuous art in its museums and churches, the fantastic rituals of Carnevale -- makes Venice a living tribute to the past.
Aside from a number of charming squares, such as the famous Piazza San Marco, Venice is mostly composed of a warren of narrow canals and streets spread over more than 100 islands. These tangled passageways are an attraction among themselves. There are few better cities to simply get lost in, particularly if you want to escape the tourist hordes that clog the main arteries around San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.
So once you've seen the major sights, fold up your map, and set off on foot. You'll discover pretty, residential neighborhoods with colorful flowerboxes in the windows and clean laundry billowing in the breeze. You'll discover tiny trattorias where the locals enjoy the catch of the day. And, away from the vaporetti (water taxis) and motorboat traffic on the Grand Canal, you'll discover one more pleasure of this place, aptly dubbed La Serenissima -- the unexpected quiet of a city without cars.
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Where You're Docked
Large cruise ships dock at Venezia Terminali Passeggeri
Smaller cruise ships can tie up at the Stazione Marittima by the lovely Dorsoduro neighborhood and fronting the Giudecca Canal. From the vaporetto, stop just outside the port gates. It's a quick water-bus ride to any of Venice's hot spots.
Riverboats are often given berth at a third spot, near the Bienniele, adjacent to the Giardini (public gardens), and a pleasant 10-minute stroll to San Marco. However, there's no port terminal.
With all of Venice spread before you, there's absolutely no reason to hang out in either port facility.
Good to Know
Your feet -- Venice is a walking city, full of labyrinthian streets and tons of bridges (usually requiring steps up and down again), so wear your most comfortable shoes.
If you, like most visitors, plan to take a vaporetto, make sure you have your ticket stamped at the first station you visit. (All stations have automated ticket machines.)
Credit cards are accepted at most places, but we found that many restaurants and shops refused to accept American Express, so make sure you have a MasterCard or Visa handy.
Finally, Venice during the months of July and August in particular is a cautionary tale: It's overcrowded, maneuvering its narrow pathways is difficult at best, and it's often hot and steamy.
From the airport: A handful of options exist for transport between the airport and the city. The cheapest is the #5 bus from the airport to Piazalle Roma; from there, you can hop on a vaporetto (water bus) to get you closer to your hotel. You can buy tickets at Piazalle Roma. You can buy your bus ticket from a machine by the luggage carousels after arriving at Marco Polo Airport. Another decent option is the Alilaguna, which operates like water taxi but carries a larger number of passengers. The fastest and most exclusive (and also the most expensive) way is to hop aboard a water taxi.
A sleeker, more romantic way to descend on Venice (and an altogether less hassled option, particularly if you have a lot of luggage) is by water taxi. Follow signs at arrivals at Marco Polo; you can pay by credit card (Mastercard and Visa only) or by cash. Plan to spend about 90 euro for the one-way trip.
From the cruise ports: With luck, your ship will offer a complimentary water shuttle between the port facility of Venezia Terminal Passeggeri and San Marco, but if not, there are two options. Alilaguna offers water bus service from Stationze Marittima, direct from the end of the port (in front of the terminal) to San Marco. It costs about 8 euro one way or 15 roundtrip and takes about 15 minutes. Boats are scheduled every 20 minutes or so.
Another option if your ship doesn't provide a water shuttle to San Marco is to walk to the relatively new People Mover (about a 15-minute hike) that's adjacent to the port; it will take you to Piazzle Roma for about 1 euro, a major hub for water taxis and the vaportetti. Here you can get an ACTV water bus (cross the square towards a steeply-arched pedestrian bridge), which costs about 8 euro and is valid for an hour, so you can hop on and off the water buses if you want to get beyond San Marco. If you plan a lot of water bus travel, a 12-hour pass costs about 18 euro.
Tickets must be validated on all public transport. Hold the ticket against the card reader at the entrance to the bust stop.
If you're docked at San Basilio, you'll need to either take a complimentary ship shuttle (if one is offered) or hop on a port waterbus; there's a stop just outside the port gates. The charge for one-way drop-off at San Marco is about the same as you'd pay for a vaporetto ride, but you get a nonstop trip. Expect the ride to be about 20 to 30 minutes long.
Speaking of the vaporetti, Venice's fabulous public transportation system, the water buses run every 10 to 15 minutes and go just about everywhere. The cost is about 7 euro per ride, depending on where you go. If you plan to use public transportation several times, consider buying a one-day Venice Card. (there are also options for people staying for more than one day.) I bought a 48-hour pass for 28 euro on one visit and a 24-hour pass for 20 euro on another, and got my money's worth. You can buy in advance online, or purchase a card at any ticket office (like the one at Piazzale Roma) or at shops that sell sundries. Prepare to pay cash. You can also purchase the pass onboard.
You can also hire a water taxi from the port, but it's pretty expensive; expect to pay around 60 euro to get from San Marco Square to your ship.
It's about a 25-minute stroll to San Marco, if you decide to walk. There are plenty of interesting places to stop along the way and it's pleasant and safe to walk back to the ship at night.
There's absolutely no reason to rent a car, as Venice doesn't permit them. However, if you are planning an adventure on the mainland, you can rent from major agencies like Hertz and Avis. They are located near the Piazzale Roma.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro and ATM machines, which are plentiful, offer the best exchange rates. Visit www.xe.com for up-to-date exchange rates. Local "cambio" shops and banks exchange dollars to euros for a fee.
Venetians speak a unique dialect of Italian called Veneziano. English is not widely spoken (or comprehended), aside from tourist-oriented hotels, restaurants and shops.
Food and Drink
At lunchtime, eat at the poolside restaurant at Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca. For dinner, try the Cip's Club, an outdoor pizzeria-grill with tables that sit on a deck right on the lagoon. Tip: Reservations for the Cip's Club absolutely need to be made in advance.
There's also a branch of the famed Harry's on Giudecca. While it's breathtakingly expensive (pasta entrees start at 34 euros), the food is marvelous, the ambience is authentically Venetian, and fellow diners, more or less, are all locals.
Ristoteca Oniga is a small, cozy place at Campo Barnaba whose cooking philosophy is part of the Slow Food movement that's growing in Italy -- and even in America. It subscribes to the theory that you should take your time and rediscover your tastebuds. The restaurant, packed with locals rather than tourists and featuring an all-Italian menu that refuses to condescend to those who won't learn Italian, is a refreshing change.
Venice is famous for its Murano glass (and a trip to the island of Murano, with its numerous glass galleries and handful of factories is a great way to get a feel for it) but whoever's made it, glass objects make great souvenirs and range from inexpensive glass necklaces -- sold on the street for about $5 -- to elaborate barware and chandeliers.
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