When Venice comes to mind, images of the Grand Canal, gondolas, the Renaissance, and a spiderweb of bridges probably crops up; all things that make Venice, Venice, and at the same time, not very wheelchair-friendly. Venice was not made with accessibility concerns in mind, but fortunately it does make an effort to include all types of travellers.
I recently went to Italy for the second time and had to include Venice on this trip since I couldn’t schedule it in on the first one. Although I was only in Venice for two and a half days, the parts that I did see were, surprisingly, wheelchair accessible.
Before leaving on my trip, the only accessible modes of transportation I was aware of in Venice were water taxis and private boats. I was pleased to find out that there were a few more options.
#1 Private Boat
From Leonardo DaVinci Airport I had an accessible private boat arranged through the tour company Rome and Italy. A representative was waiting for us at the airport holding up a sign with my name on it and then led us to the boat.
The boat was waiting for us right outside the doors of the airport and brought us directly to our hotel. It had a platform lift installed that made it possible for me to get on and off. The boat ride was an interesting adventure in itself. In the open water they cruise really fast (well, faster than I was expecting) and tip the rear back because the water is shallow. It made for an exhilarating ride, what with no straps securing my chair down and bouncing on every wave. Once we were in the canals of Venice though, the driver did slow down and I got to enjoy the beautiful views.
#2 Water taxis
I personally didn’t use any of the accessible water taxis in Venice, but they are available and they look similar to the private boat I was on.
#3 Vaporetto Water Bus
Venice’s Vaporetto public transport system was the easiest way for me to get around. If you travel on two legs it can get pricey since a single ticket only lasts for about 75 minutes, but if you’re on four wheels it is free for you and one other person with you, or so the staff at the hotel I stayed at informed me, and I was never asked to show my ticket. The vaporetto has several lines that branch out to different parts of the city just like many public transport services in other cities. I didn’t get to see nearly as much of Venice as I would have liked because I only had two full days there, so my experience riding the vaporetto only included the Grand Canal, which itself cannot be seen in its entirety in two short days.
The first time I tried getting on the vaporetto was an interesting experience, to say the least. The boat pulled up to the dock and was a good foot lower than the level of the dock. But the man who was in charge of opening the gate indicated that I should turn around and he would help me back in. Dubiously, I did as instructed and immediately found myself surrounded by about three additional people who helped lower me safely onto the boat. Getting off the boat was much easier because that time the dock and boat were at an even level so I could just drive off without assistance.
The next day when I was waiting for the vaporetto, someone else in charge of the boat’s gate saw me and immediately stepped out on to the platform and retrieved a large steel ramp that was laying against the wall. I’m glad he did because he seemed to be the only one who knew it was there. So, for the rest of my rides on the vaporetto, I was an old pro and asked if they could lay down the ramp (rampa in Italian) for me which they willingly did. Even with the ramp it can be a little tricky trying to get on or off due to the incline, however everyone in Venice is really nice and willing to give a hand when and if you need it.
Something to be aware of though is that some of the stops for the vaporetto make fewer stops in the evening. Some of them quit operating at about 20:30, so if you plan on staying out later than that, you’ll have to arrange for another form of transportation. I found that out the hard way when I was trying to get back to my hotel, only to find out half an hour later that it had quit running and the next closest stop involved crossing a bridge with many steps. That leads us into the next form of wheelchair accessible transportation:
Alilaguna is another public transport system in Venice that can be wheelchair accessible. I’m not sure if it is meant to be accessible because when I rode it I just sat on the platform with the captain while everyone else walked down to the cabin. However, it worked fine when I was stranded with few other options. It costs €16 for a single ride per person and has similar routes as the vaporetto.
Gondolas are more of a quintessential Venetian experience rather than a form of transportation and so will be included in my next post about wheelchair accessibility in Venice.