Fun. Life-changing. A dream come true. There are many words I ways I have described the trips I’ve been on in the past. Spontaneous has never been one of them.
As a wheelchair user, things tend to go wrong even with the most attentive advance planning. A lift breaks down putting a quick stop to your visit of a main attraction. You discover the station leading to your destination is not accessible after you’ve already come of the train. Turns out the restaurant owner lied to you about their entrance being entirely accessible and now their offering to carry your wheelchair above 10 flights of stairs. These scenarios are not uncommon as they are annoying and happen even with the best of preparation. I took a trip to Venice and it was the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done.
The thought came up on a sunny afternoon and by the following morning I was on a train heading to the beautiful city. With little time to prepare, I’m in a good place to tell you what you should know about wheelchair accessibility in Venice before embarking on the journey.
Research. Research. More Research.
I know it’s second nature for wheelchair users to research everything about accessibility in a new city, so I’m sure this is an obvious point to make but I’d recommend it, nonetheless. Venice is unlike most big cities in the world. It’s biggest charm of being “the city on water” was also the aspect I found to be the most intimidating before I embarked on the trip.
Although, I had only one day to prepare for trip, I did read whatever reviews and tips I could find on the web. I took comfort in knowing many had been on those roads before me, so well, I would.
As a disabled traveller research is always my best friend, especially before visiting a city like Venice. I have to say, making informed decisions really helped my trip be more smooth sailing. If you’re reading this before your big trip, I think you’re already on the right path!
Call Hotels Before Booking.
The one thing I knew I had to secure even before the train tickets was an accessible hotel. Now this was the tricky part – especially with a day’s notice. My requirements were three when searching: wheelchair accessible (obviously), a bathtub in the bathroom and transportation to the main attractions nearby. I ended up staying in a hotel that met most of my requirements, but not all, perhaps the most important one. You can read about my stay in Hotel Ca’ Dei Conti here.
It was by speaking to countless hotel receptionists over the phone that I was able to find out what some of the most accessible areas were.
Keep in mind that although many booking sites list hotels as wheelchair accessible, upon calling I found that not to be the case for many. Some were partially accessible whilst others were just false advertising.
The biggest obstacle to accessibility in Venice are the bridges. For able-bodied people in the city, they are a quick way to get from once corner of the city to another. As a wheelchair user however, they were the bane of my existence!
So something to be careful of when booking is that there are no bridges between the water and your hotel. Be sure to clarify this with the hotel before securing the room. It’s always great to find that fully accessible hotel, but if an inaccessible bridge separates you from it, well that’s no good, is it?
Electric Wheelchair vs Manual.
Whenever I go back to Italy, I like to rent out a manual wheelchair. I used to live in Italy so I know all too well wheelchair access can be unreliable in most cities and tricky in others. To help with this I like to have the option of a manual wheelchair and an electric.
My powered wheelchair is quite heavy and cannot be folded nor carried around easily. I contemplated for some time which one to take but based on my findings and the fact that I was visiting Venice for the very first time, I chose to take the manual one. Knowing there could be many bridges standing in between me and my destinations, I decided it would be best to have a chair that could be easily lifted in unexpected situation. The locals were happy to help push or pull in certain situations, but I was lucky to not find myself in many awkward scenarios. My time in Venice was quite short so I’m sure there were some realities in a wheelchair I didn’t get to experience.
I believe navigating the city in an electric wheelchair is certainly possible. My choice to take a manual wheelchair was based on a bit of anxiety and my attempt to curve unexpected scenarios. Personally, if my roads lead back to Venice, I think I’d make the same choice again.
First, The Information Desk.
The first thing I did right was head straight to the tourist office when I arrived at Venice Train station. There were two ladies who gave us advise of what routes and vaporetto (water bus) lines to take. They helped us research the best way to our hotel and handed us brochures for the buzz-worthy attractions. At no cost at all, they printed out maps outlining accessible routes on which they handwrote specifics to remember.
Those details were much appreciated during our trip, so I’d recommend that be the first pit stop on your journey!
We also learnt at the tourist office that disabled tickets come at a discounted price. My sister and I purchased a couple then and there before heading into the gorgeous city.
On And Off The Vaporetto.
In Venice the vaporetto (water buse) is the main mode of transportation. For the time we were there that was the only means of transport I took. Some accessible taxis are also an option but there was never a scenario where I needed to take one. Plus, from what I heard they can be expensive!
We found travelling around in the vaporetto somewhat easy. The main ones we took were the most popular on the line 1 and 2.
Whilst getting on was never really a problem, getting off wasn’t always as simple. The vaporetto does get really crowded, especially on the popular lines. This means the enthusiastic bunch hopping on and off get sandwiched together in no time.
Aside from the driver, in each vaporetto there is an additional staff member who conducts behaviour on board. They ensured people were complying with COVID rules which were still heavily restrictive. They also made sure all those who had to get off at each stop did before letting anyone else on. Whenever I needed help coming out of the vaporetto they were the ones who helped push or pull as necessary.
If you have a manual wheelchair, a push may be required when exiting the vaporetto as it doesn’t always meet the port in a way to create an even ground. It’s not something to worry about though as the gap isn’t usually too wide. As mentioned earlier, locals and the bus conductors are quite happy to help.
Was there really any need to be anxious about my visit to Venice after all? I’d say yes, but also, no.
Before embarking on the journey, I had singlehandedly convinced myself it could be the worst place when it came to disabled access. The fact that everything is on water gave me that impression. I guess I was wrong about that – partially, at least.
I was able enjoy an almost fully accessible trip organised in less than a day, and nothing went completely wrong. It was spontaneous and random but a fun and relaxing time, nonetheless. That tells me I’d be able to put together a significantly better itinerary the next time I choose to go.
As long as you’re able to secure the right hotel in an accessible area, avoid the bridges when possible, and call venues and attractions before heading out there, you are in for a fantastic time!
Have you been to Venice before, what was it like? If not, what are you looking forward to seeing?
Your restless romantic roamer