I’ve been to Italy many times, but for some reason, Venice always eluded me as a destination. Well, that’s actually inaccurate. I’ve always been afraid to go to Venice because it just seemed completely inaccessible, largely due to all of the bridges in a city where waterways are the roads. However, several months ago I booked a cruise with an itinerary that departs from Venice, so I was finally going to see this amazing city whether I wanted to or not. The great news is that Venice is much more accessible than I thought! Because of my schedule, I had very little time to explore, so here is all the information I have on how to spend one very full day exploring the parts of Venice that are accessible in your wheelchair.
Know Before You Go
My travel schedule has been insane this year, so I actually let a good bit of my usual hard-core travel planning fall through the cracks before this trip. Fortunately, it was easy to round up all the information I needed with a combination of Google searches, friendly advice on Facebook, and hard-earned personal experience.
My point of departure for this day in Venice was my hotel, the Hotel Santa Chiara in Piazzale Roma. It has several accessible rooms and is strategically located where the vaporetto (water taxi) lines began and end, a bus terminal, and one end of the people mover that goes to the cruise terminal. There is a grocery store and a drugstore (like a Walgreens or CVS) within a block of the hotel, which was very convenient.
There are no roads in Venice proper. That means there are no cars and there are no curbs, which is great news for wheelchair users. There are also no cobblestones anywhere, but flat pavers which can still be a little bit bumpy. The “roads” are actually waterways and canals, which means that to get anywhere, you have to use a vaporetto just like you would a public bus. There are (what feels like) a million bridges in Venice and most of them are not accessible, so you need a vaporetto just to get around them.
Accessible Venice is a part of the city’s website that offers many resources for wheelchair users. The most valuable is a map of the city indicating which bridges have ramps and accessible toilet locations, as well as printable step-free itineraries and routes. Aside from the bridges, there are very few obstacles in Venice since there are no curbs to deal with (this does not include sights like museums and churches). However, the alleyways in Venice can be like a maze, so finding routes around the inaccessible bridges can be complicated. I will be writing about the three itineraries I used during my day of exploring.
Make sure you study the itineraries carefully before you select one. Even though they are supposed to be accessible itineraries, many of the stops indicate that there are one or two, and sometimes more, steps to overcome. This is silly in my opinion, but some people with assistance in manual chairs may be actually be able to overcome this.
The Vaporetto System
Using the water taxi system is very easy. At the larger water taxi stops, and certainly at the Piazzale Roma, you can purchase vaporetto tickets from a person. Wheelchair users get a very steep discount of €1.50 per ride, so I suggest buying at least half a dozen tickets at once so you don’t have to wait in line and buy them every time you ride.
The lines all have a designated number, and the primary accessible routes are 1 and 2. Most of the other routes are also accessible, but usually only have space for one wheelchair. Line 1 and 2 go to the most popular tourist stops in Venice, and line 1 is certainly the most scenic because it goes the entire length of the Grand Canal between Piazzale Roma and St. Mark’s Square.
Boarding and disembarking the vaporetto is pretty easy, although the ramps can be very steep at times based on the tide levels. The water taxi stop is actually a big floating platform that is easy to spot because it has a yellow top. Often they will have a big sign indicating that wheelchair users should roll onto the platform through the exit so they can wait in a space right next to where vaporetto passengers disembark. You should be the first to roll onto the next taxi. Sometimes the vaporetto is at a flush level with the platform, but based on the tide, the height difference can be as much as 8 to 10 inches. They always have a metal ramp on every platform, and one of the crew members will take it out for you so you can board and disembark safely.
This itinerary is where you will find the famous St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace. There are two vaporetto stops near St. Mark’s Square, so for this itinerary, make sure that you use the one for San Marco Vallaresso. To get there, I took line 1 from Piazzale Roma. I went straight to the square and followed the itinerary to the step-free entrance. Be aware that St. Mark’s Square (and Venice in general) is prone to severe flooding. Depending on the tide and the weather, both can bring water from the Venice Lagoon rushing into the square. While city workers will put down platforms for the able-bodied, you won’t be able to enter this area at all if you are in wheelchair.
From the square, I headed towards the Basilica, which I entered through the exit on the left side of the building. Entrance is free almost everywhere for wheelchair users, so I didn’t have to worry about buying a ticket ahead of time. There are ramps that will lead you through a small side entrance, and a member of the staff will open the doors for you. You can see all of the ground floor, and although there is an elevator to take you to the museum on the second level, it wasn’t working the day I was there.
The Doge’s Palace is right next to the Basilica, so it was a very short roll. At the front entrance, a member of the staff will put down a ramp for you to get up the one large step into the courtyard. Again, entrance is free, and if you’re alone a staff member will climb up the steps to the ticket desk and print off a ticket for you. You will be able to see all levels of the Doge’s Palace, and there is even an accessible toilet. Just find a staff member to escort you to the elevators. Just be careful because some of the ramps inside are quite steep.
After visiting the Doge’s Palace, I decided to explore the area a little bit and do some souvenir shopping. While there are several kiosks everywhere selling cheaper souvenirs, most of the higher-end stores do have one step to enter. I was able to buy a lovely glass piece in a display window by simply calling for the one of the staff members inside the store for assistance. There are many places where you can have lunch outside, so you don’t have to worry about finding a restaurant that is step-free.
The Quay is a lovely space to roll and get some wonderful photos, as well as people watch. Two of the larger bridges here are fully ramped, if a bit steep. This is good because you need to take the vaporetto at the other end of the Quay in order to get to the next stop.
I chose this itinerary because there was a lovely museum included of the city’s collection of 18th-century Venetian art. From the San Marco Zaccaria vaporetto dock, take line 2 to the San Basilio stop. The itinerary will take you through some lovely neighborhood areas where you can see locals going to and from, as well as tourists stopping for a bite to eat or some coffee.
I was running out of daylight, so I followed the itinerary directly to Ca Rezzonico, a beautiful museum housed in an old palace. The main entrance is not accessible, but a member of the staff will open a side gate for you that will take you through a small garden and through a back entrance. You can visit all levels using the elevator, which the staff will help you enter and exit. Just be careful because when you come out of the elevator, you will only be a few inches away from the edge of the staircase going down.
In order to get back to the vaporetto stop, you will need to go back the way you came because of inaccessible bridges blocking a more direct route. Take your time and enjoy it because this is one of the most charming areas of Venice that I explored.
Although it was already starting to get dark by 3:30 PM, I decided to take a chance and visit the famous Ca d’Oro, Italian for “house of gold.” This was a longer water taxi ride, as I took line 2 from San Basilio back to San Marco Zaccaria, rolled five minutes down the quay to the San Marco Vallaresso stop, then took line 1 to Ca d’Oro.
From the itinerary, it sounded like it was wheelchair accessible, but when I arrived, I was dismayed to see that there was one step to get in (which I noticed later in the itinerary description). It wasn’t a large step, but large enough for my Whill Ci to not overcome it. Fortunately, two strong Italian staff members were able to lift my chair over the step. Inside, there is a ramp to the elevator, and although it is very narrow (28” max), it will take you to both levels of the museum.
The original Ca d’Oro Palace takes its name from the gold leaf originally decorating parts of the façade. One of the most splendid examples of 15th-century oriental style Venetian Gothic, the palace was built on the site of a Veneto-Byzantine building for Marino Contarini all. It now houses the Galleria Franchetti, a rich art collection with paintings from the Veneto school, works from the Tuscan and Flemish schools, and splendid Renaissance bronzes and sculptures.
After visiting the Ca d’Oro, I was able to roll around the neighborhood for a little bit, although by then it was dark. There are three churches in the area that you can visit during daylight hours; one has no steps to enter, one has two steps, and the third has five steps.
I went on this one-day adventure in early November, and Venice was relatively uncrowded because of the lateness of the season. If you plan on visiting Venice during high season, prepare for very long lines and extremely large crowds. Finding space on a water taxi, and pretty much space anywhere, will be challenging.
Venice itself isn’t large, but because of the longer routes we have to take in order to avoid bridges, plan on doubling the amount of time required to get anywhere. I ended up having a second full day in Venice the day my cruise ship departed because the weather was better than I expected. In order to make the most of Venice at a more reasonable pace, I would dedicate three full days at a minimum, and more if you are coming during high season.
If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend watching the video at the beginning of this post. Although I’ve included as many pictures as I can, the video will give you a better idea of what to expect at each of the stops. I really hope you get to visit Venice one day, as it’s one of the most magical cities I’ve ever visited!