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Walking in Venice

Finding your way with maps, directions, and street signs

Venice street sign

ABOVE: If you aren't traveling with a direction-sniffing service dog, read the advice in this article.

Cheryl and MaggieIt's often said that getting lost is half the fun when you're exploring Venice, but there are times when you simply want to find your destination--especially if you're jetlagged and need to reach your hotel, or when it's 2 p.m. and your train leaves at 2:30.

Lost couple in VeniceIn this article, we'll show how to rescue yourself when you're lost in Venice's rabbit warren of calli and campi.

Note: This page is geared toward pedestrian travel in Venice. For advice on getting around the city by vaporetto, water taxi, and other modes of transport, see Arriving in Venice and our Venice local transportation index.

Buy a good Venice map

Cheryl reading Venice map

ABOVE: Maps can be useful tools, but don't forget to simply look up and look around.

Google Maps and other smartphone-based maps can be useful, but they can also be wildly inaccurate. And even when they're reasonably accurate, a marker that's off by just 10 or 20 meters can place a hotel, restaurant, museum, etc. in the next street or on the other side of a canal. For this reason, we recommend buying a good printed map when you're in Venice.

Venice mapWe prefer detailed maps (such as the Touring Club Italiano's 1:5000 Pianta della Città:Venezia), but if you aren't near a large bookstore, you can buy a simpler map like the popular map shown in the inset photo, which is available at most tobacconists, newsstands, and souvenir shops.

Sestier de Santa Crose signIn fact, some of the cheaper maps (such as the one shown) have one advantage over more detailed street plans: They show Venice's six sestieri or districts in contrasting colors, which can help you figure out where you are when you see a sign like the one at left.

Use the map only when necessary

tourists with mapIt makes sense to look at your map before leaving your hotel, the railroad station, etc., just to get your bearings and to figure out a rough route. But don't stop at every corner to check the map: If you do, you'll quickly become frustrated, because street names in Venice change constantly, and a surprising number of streets aren't shown on even the most detailed maps.

The same rule applies to smartphone and tablet users. We recently saw a man walking along, staring continuously at the map on his iPad while his wife enjoyed the sights.

Remember: Venice is a compact city, and when you get lost, you're probably no more than a two- or three-minute walk from a square, a church, or another landmark. When in doubt, follow the crowd and the directional signs that are scattered all over the historic center (see below).

Look for directional signs

Venice directional signs

ABOVE: Official signs point to the San Tomà traghetto stop, the Rialto Bridge, and the Piazza San Marco--but if you look carefully, you'll notice that the left-pointing arrows were added by vandals.

street with sign in VeniceOfficial directional signs--normally yellow, but sometimes white--are easy to find if you look up at buildings as you walk down streets or wander around campi (squares).

Traghetto signOther signs direct you to vaporetto stops or traghetto piers (where you can catch inexpensive gondola ferries across the Grand Canal).

Handpainted sign in VeniceIn addition to official signs, you'll see many homemade signs that shopkeepers and residents have painted or tacked up on buildings to help lost tourists.

Don't obsess about plotting a route from point A to points B, C, and D: Just follow the arrows to the section of town that you're trying to reach. You can look at your map again when  you're closer to our final destination.

Rialto and San Marco signsTip: Sometimes, a sign may have arrows in two directions. This simply means that you can get to the destination by parallel routes. (But watch out for the occasional yellow sign that's been tampered with: An extra arrowhead may be legitimate, but it could be a  prank to confuse tourists. When in doubt, ignore add-ons.)

Pay attention to signs on streets, squares, and bridges

Gondolier on Ponte di Santa Maria Mater Domini

ABOVE: A gondolier on the Ponte Santa Maria Mater Domini.

Venice is filled with visual cues that can help lost tourists find themselves, if only they know where to look.

For an example, we'll take you to the Campo Santa Maria Mater Domani, a small square within a few minutes' walk of the Rialto Bridge:

Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini Venice

By looking around the square, you can can see a number of signs on the walls of the buildings.

The signs below tell you the name of the square ("Campo S. Maria Mater Domini") and show that you're in the parrochia or parish of S. Cassan (Venetian dialect for "San Cassiano"), a larger church in the vicinity:

Campo Santa Maria Mater Domani

Nearby, a sign tells you (in dialect) that you're in the sestiere or district of Santa Croce, which will help to narrow down your choices if you look at a map:

Sestiere di Santa Croce sign in Venice

Another sign points to a street that will take you to the railroad station and the Piazzale Roma (In this case, the left-pointing arrows that were added are legitimate, because either route works):

Ferrovia and Piazzale Roma signs

A second yellow sign indicates the route to Rialto and San Marco:

Sign for Rialto and San Marco

If you're looking for specific streets after leaving the square, you'll also see signs, but you need to be careful and distinguish between variations on the street name (e.g. "calle" for street, "sotoportego" for "tunnel" or "covered street," "rio terà" for "street built on a filled-in canal," "ramo" for a "small branch of a street," etc.):

Rio Tera de le Carampane

Sotoportego Carampane

Carampane

It's also worth noting that some streets in different parts of Venice have the same name, and in at least one case that we know of, two parallel streets (the two Calli delle Oche near the Campo San Giacomo dall'Orio) share a name. This can be useful to know when you're looking for a specific address.

Speaking of addresses, Venetian addresses aren't consecutive street numbers, and they're almost meaningless without a directory that identifies addresses such as "San Polo 1541" by location.

If you're heading for a hotel, apartment, or B&B, you'll need precise directions, because the house number won't do you any good untl you're almost at the door:

Venice house number

San Polo house number

And there you have it: How to navigate around Venice in a nutshell. If you get lost, don't worry--you'll hit a major canal or the Lagoon before you go too far afield, and Venetians are generally willing to give directions, although the often-heard"sempre dritto" ("go straight") shouldn't be taken literally in a city where even direct routes have twists and turns every few meters.

In a nutshell:

  • Carry a map (but don't rely on it too heavily), look for signs, and when in doubt, follow the crowd.

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