I never dreamed of visiting Venice due to my misconceptions about its wheelchair accessibility issues–I thought it was too historic with stairs everywhere to be accessible. But these worries were wholly unfounded, and I am thankful we researched and then pushed to visit Venice. The city is entirely flat with minimal to no cobblestones. And they have made amazing strides to provide wheelchair accessible water taxis and to ramp numerous bridges. Venice was a highlight of our trip, and I cannot wait to return.
- Transportation Between Venice and Milan
- Accessible Routes Through Venice
- Exploring in and around St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace
- Venice’s Maps of Accessible Walkways, Bathrooms, and More
Accessible Transportation between Venice and Milan
Wheelchair Loading/Unloading Process in Milano Centrale
We took a day trip from Milan to Venice via a 2.5 hour Trenitalia train ride. We left on the first direct train of the day–leaving around 8 am and arriving in Venice around 10:30 am. The last direct train back to Milan left around 6 pm, so we booked the second-to-last direct train back to Milan (which left around 5:48 pm). This gave us a cushion in case we misjudged our timing and missed the train–there was another right behind it. We also purchased a flexible fare so we could adjust our departure time as needed for free.
We had 7 hours in Venice. There is never enough time in Venice, but 7 hours was enough to see the major sights and enjoy a good lunch.
We had contacted Sala Blu the day before, and so we met them in the Sala Blu office at Milano Centrale. They walked us to the train, and loaded me using the mobile elevator. The wheelchair area was spacious and the bathrooms were accessible. The ride itself was smooth and beautiful–there were gorgeous views of mountains and lakes to the north.
Wheelchair Loading/Unloading Process in Venice
The train goes directly to the Venice train station, which is at the northwestern portion of the Venetian island. We were greeted at the train station by a Sala Blu team, who unloaded me using the mobile elevator. They showed us the Sala Blu room where we were to meet them for the return trip, and showed us to the tourist office for maps and to purchase water taxi tickets. We then walked out of the train station and were instantly greeted by the water and history that is Venice. Amazing.
Tip: when getting off the train, ask the Sala Blu team to show you where the Sala Blu office/meeting points. Otherwise, the crew may be focused on helping you exit the building, and may not be thinking of the logistics of your return trip. This brief delay to your sightseeing is worth it–you will know exactly where to go to meet the Sala Blu team for your next departure. The Sala Blu offices are well marked, but knowing where to go in advance of your return can save a lot of stress/anxiety, especially if you are running late.
Wheelchair Accessible Routes Through Venice
There are two ways to get around Venice — by water or by walking/scooting.
Wheelchair Accessible Water Taxis (Vaporettos)
Before we left the train station, we stopped at the tourism office to purchase wheelchair tickets for the water taxis. It is best to buy tickets for the whole day, as the ticket machines/offices are few and often very busy.
Tip: Wheelchair single-use tickets are reduced in price, and companions ride for free (as is common throughout Europe). Thus it is almost always cheaper to buy several single-use tickets than to buy the day pass.
The water taxi waiting areas were floating docks, which helped mitigate the water level changes due to the tide. However, this also means you are waiting on a floating dock, which can rock and roll with the waves of passing boats. The rocking was not dangerous, but it can be annoying if you are prone to motion sickness (made worse by heat). The rocking is more extreme in the more open areas of the canal, such as by St, Mark’s Square (where this footage was shot)–there is just more boat traffic, and thus more and bigger waves.
We decided to focus on Line 1 for the water taxis–the route map and layout of the islands can be confusing, so focusing on one or two lines helped streamline our day. Line 1 runs from outside the train station, through the Grand Canal, under Rialto Bridge, and includes a stop at St. Mark’s Square/Doge’s Palace (before going on). These were the stops we wanted to see, and we knew that St. Mark’s Square stop was wheelchair accessible and that we could explore around that area.
We walked along the ramp to the floating dock waiting area, and were greeted by the worker. She instructed us to wait off to the side until the boat arrived and everyone exited who wanted to do so. This made the boat lighter and thus higher in the water, which further meant it more closely matched the height of the floating dock. The worker than placed a slightly curved ramp down between the water taxi and the floating dock, and I was able to scoot onboard. The curve made the angle at the bottom of the ramp more extreme, and so there was one time that I needed to get a little extra push forward when my wheelie bar engaged.
The worker instructed me to park next to the gate so I could easily get off when I needed to do so. This also gave me a great vantage for viewing the sights along the Grand Canal–just being on the boat was worth the trip. It was also a really hot day, so being by the side of the boat made for much better ventilation and air movement, which was particularly important given that the boat ride can last for 45 minutes to an hour and be very crowded.
Tip: Remember the mantra “first on, last off.” You want to be the first one on the boat that so the boat is lighter and thus higher in the water. You also want as many people to get off the boat before you do, also making the boat lighter and higher in the water. The lighter the boat, the more aligned it will be with the floating dock.
The water taxis greatly increased the wheelchair accessibility of Venice
Wheelchair Accessible Ramps for the Bridges
Venice has received international praise for its efforts to ramp its critical bridges, with the goal of creating wheelchair accessible routes throughout the island. The ramps vary depending on the type of bridge–some have inserts that go into the stairs themselves, whereas others require a ramp laid over the stairs (to make for a longer, less inclined ramp). Photos of both types are shown further down.
We tried a ramp at Saint Mark’s Square that gives you a good vantage point to view the Bridge of Sighs. The ramps were smooth, solid, and not very steep. The small landings after each mini-ramp took some getting used to–it would have been smoother to just have one long ramp with no landings, but it was not a big concern.
The addition of these ramps will continue to increase the wheelchair accessibility of Venice.
Accessibly Exploring in and around St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace
We exited the boat as discussed above at St. Mark’s Square. The pedestrian streets were all flat with large pavers, so the scoot was easy and smooth. There were some stairs to get into St. Mark’s Square, but there is a wheelchair accessible route through some alleys–it’s a different way of approaching the Square, not a retrofit for accessibility. We had a blast exploring alleyways, investigating hidden bridges, and people watching from a local cafe. In addition to the square itself, St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace are both wheelchair accessible–see their websites for more information. The flatness of the city was a surprising bonus that dramatically increased the wheelchair accessibility of Venice.
Wheelchair Accessible Maps, Maps, Maps!
The City of Venice has gone to great lengths to help people with disabilities have an enjoyable and safe trip. The City’s accessibility website has information on a wide variety of topics, including routes without barriers, accessible bathrooms, and wheelchair rental facilities.
I found the below map to be a good overview of the accessibility features and layout of the land.
The City of Venice also provides detailed, step-by-step suggested itineraries for people who use wheelchairs in each of these areas. I have not fully explored these maps and itineraries (yet!), but they seem to be so helpful that I had to include them below:
- Area Marciana
- S. Margherita
- Santo Stefano
- Santi Giovanni e Paolo
- Burano, Mazzorbo e Torcello
- Castello Est
- Ca d’Oro
- Santa Marta
- Rialto Mercato
- Cannaregio Ovest
I put these files in the hyperlinks above for your convenience, and the maps and itineraries can be accessed directly via the City of Venice’s website. Visiting the City’s website also permits you to use your browser’s translate feature for the step-by-step instructions. I recommend checking the website prior to your trip, and having it available as a resource during your stay. These maps are an amazing way to increase the wheelchair accessibility of Venice.