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Venice Travel FAQ:
General Questions about Venice

From: Venice Travel FAQ

Piazza San Marco during acqua alta

ABOVE: A dog watches a wading couple at the Piazza San Marco during acqua alta.

  • Can you give me an overview of Venice?

See: Introducing Venice, Italy.

  • Why is Venice a city of canals?

About 1,500 years ago, residents of the mainland fled to islands in the Venetian Lagoon to escape barbarian invaders. Over time, they built a city on 118 of the islands, and the gaps between the islands became canals. Bridges were added later.

Until the mid-19th Century, Venice wasn't even connected to the Italian mainland. (A railroad causeway finally was built in 1846, linking the city to the shore--a distance of roughly 4 km or 2.5 miles.)

  • Is Venice really sinking?

Possibly, but not by much. The real problem is that sea levels are rising. Fortunately, Venice is unlikely to become a modern-day Atlantis before your visit.

  • Do I have to worry about flooding?

Only if you're on a tight schedule and can't stay high and dry until the tide recedes. Venice's flooding, or acqua alta, occurs when a combination of an unusually high tide, low atmospheric pressure, and southerly winds forces an abnormal quantity of water into the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. (This happens most often from fall through early spring.) The water has nowhere to go, so it covers the pavement in low-lying areas of the city for a few hours.

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You're most likely to encounter acqua alta in the San Marco area, where it isn't uncommon to see water oozing up through the drains in St. Mark's Square at high tide.

For more information, see: Acqua Alta

  • Do the locals speak English?

Some do, but many don't. (They're too busy juggling Italian and Venetian dialect.) People who work in the tourist trade generally speak enough English to communicate with visitors. If you can manage a few critical Italian phrases like "Per favore," "Grazie," and "Dov'è la toilette?", you'll do fine.

  • You just mentioned toilets. Are they easy to find?

Restaurants and larger bars should have toilets. Museums are a good option. (At a few museums, such as Ca' Rezzonico, the lavatories are in public areas where you can use them without paying admission.)

Clean municipal toilets are scattered around the city, but lines can be long and fees are outrageous. For more information, see: Venice's Public Toilets

  • What about self-service laundries?

Venice has several, including one near the railroad station. See: Venice Laundromats

  • Can I use my cellular phone or tablet in Venice?

Yes, if it's modern smartphone (or, alternatively, an old GSM phone) and you've enabled roaming. But be careful if you're visiting from overseas, because international roaming fees--especially for data--are often painfully high.

If you're traveling with a smartphone or tablet, you can turn off cellular service and use the municipal Wi-Fi network when you're walking around the city. There's a modest daily fee, and coverage is limited to major squares and the Grand Canal. (Save money by ordering Wi-Fi at least seven days in advance.) See: Venice Wi-Fi Network

  • Can I smoke indoors?

Yes, but only in private quarters, and only if permitted by your hotel or landlord.

In restaurants, bars, and other public areas, indoor smoking is illegal--and even Italians, who aren't noted for respecting authority, obey the rules.

Next page: Planning a trip

Venice Travel FAQ:
General questions about Venice
Planning a trip
Hotels and vacation apartments
Arriving and getting around
Money and tipping
Food and drink
Sightseeing and local tours
Personal safety and emergencies