Until 1854, the Ponte di Rialto was the only bridge across the Grand Canal in Venice. Even now, there are only four bridges along the canal's 2.5-mile (3.5 km) length. If you need to cross the canal and you aren't near a bridge, you have two choices:
Take the No. 1 vaporetto, which zig-zags from one bank to the other as it follows the Grand Canal, or better yet:
Head for the nearest traghetto pier and get rowed to the other side. As a tourist, you'll be expected to pay €2,-- (nearly three times the resident rate of 70 cents), but there is a workaround for frequent visitors: See our "money-saving tip" below.
Traghetto (plural: traghetti) means "ferry" in Italian. On Venice's Grand Canal, traghetti are the passenger boats that cross the canal at seven points between the railroad station and St. Mark's Basin. The boats are large gondolas without bow decoration, brocaded chairs, and other luxury trimmings. They are rowed by two oarsmen: one who stands behind the passengers like a traditional gondolier, the other closer to the bow.
Most traghetti have been operated by the same families for generations. As recently as the 1950s, there were some 30 of these gondola ferry routes. Today, there are officially seven, although you'll be lucky if you find one or two operating at any given time. The two most reliable are:
Other official routes include:
Fondamente S. Lucia (in front of the railroad station) - Fondamenta San Simeón Piccolo
San Marcuola - Fóndaco dei Turchi (by the Natural History Museum)
Riva del Carbòn - Fondamente del Vin
San Samuele - Ca' Rezzónico
Campo del Traghetto - Calle Lanza (near the Salute Church)
(Please note that these additional routes operate sporadically--if at all--and you shouldn't waste much time looking for them when the Pescaria - Santa Sofia and San Tomà - Sant' Angelo traghetti are much more reliable.)
Traghetto routes are clearly marked on some Venice street maps (look for straight lines across the Grand Canal), and you'll often see signs on buildings pointing toward the traghetto landings when you're walking through neighborhoods along the Grand Canal.
Follow the "Traghetto" signs to the nearest landing, which will be a small wooden pier along the edge of the Grand Canal. Boats normally shuttle back and forth almost continuously, so you shouldn't have to wait long if the service is running.
When the traghetto arrives from the other side of the canal, board the boat and find a place to sit or stand. Face backward, because the boat will turn as it leaves the dock. (Venetians traditionally stand during the crossing, but you're welcome to use a seat or perch on the gunwales, and an oarsman may gesture for you to sit down if his last batch of tourists toppled into the canal.)
Hand your fare to the oarsman as you board or leave the boat. If you don't have exact change, try to pay with coins instead of banknotes.
If you've applied for and bought the VeneziaUnica Pass for Frequent Users, show the card, which entitles you to pay the local residents' fare of 70 cents instead of tourist price of €2.
Don't try to board a traghetto in a wheelchair, with a baby carriage, or with heavy luggage. Instead, use the No. 1 vaporetto, which has a flat deck and is fully accessible.
Hours of traghetto service are unpredictable at best. When they're operating, the boats are usually rowed back and forth across the Grand Canal from early in the morning until 7 or 8 p.m., or possibly a bit later in the summer (sometimes with a break for lunch). If you arrive at a traghetto platform and no boat is in sight, just do as the Venetians do and take the vaporetto or save money by walking to the nearest bridge across the Grand Canal.
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