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When to go to Venice and other practicalities
Rialto Market. Accademia Venice. Despite the city being split into two by the Grand Canal there are only 4 bridges footbridges connecting the two islands. Two bridges are right next to Santa Lucia Railway Station one connecting the station with Piazzale Roma, where the bus station and car parks are located - literally the end of the road link from the mainland. The water bus route number 1 takes 45 minutes between Santa Lucia Railway Station and St Mark's Square with 14 water bus stops along the way.
If you knew your way see walking notes below you could probably walk it in under an hour, but most visitors will take a couple of hours either because there is so much to distract or they simply get lost. Given that walking around the complex maze of alleys and small bridges is the mandatory way to get around Venice, its perhaps surprising that signage is so poor.
On the main tourist "rat run" between Santa Lucia Railway Station and St Mark's Square there are some signs, but it is easy to miss them. Perhaps getting lost in Venice is desirable for many, just following your nose you'll make your own personal discoveries around every corner on the main islands.
Although there are the tourist hotspots notably St Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge, the whole of Venice is equally impressive and going off into the unknown is recommended. However, sooner or later you'll want to be at a certain place by a certain time in Venice and without a street map you'll become hopelessly lost and frustrated. What looks like a well frequented alley may come to a dead end at a canal water bus stop or water taxi stop, another reason to have a water bus travelcard.
So in short, yes you do need a street map which are freely available including from the tourist office in front of Santa Lucia Railway Station. For the first time visitor short on time, the key attractions you will normally head for are the Rialto Bridge and St Mark's Square and normally you will arrive at either the bus station, cruise terminal or Santa Lucia Railway Station all clustered together at the northern end of the main island. Your options are either to walk or to get the Venice water bus down the Grand Canal.
The following few paragraphs outline the main walking route. The people mover from the cruise terminal will deposit you in Piazzale Roma, the end of the road from the mainland where the car parks and the bus station is located. Along Rio Tera S Leonardo: key fork in route. With your back to the railway station and facing the Grand Canal with the water bus stops in front of you turn left and follow the wide path parallel to the Grand Canal.
A tourist office is here in front of the station where you can pick up a map for a fee which is recommended. Signage is surprisingly very basic and sporadic, just the occasional battered sign at some points whilst at some junctions, nothing. After leaving the railway station the main pedestrian road veers inland away from the Grand canal, you will only catch glimpses of it now until you reach the Rialto Bridge. The way ahead sets the scene for this section of the walk, a wide pedestrianised street with shops either side.
Along the way you will pass countless restaurants and tourist shops, a couple of supermarkets and a McDonald's toilets? You are basically following the main route used by the majority and it's a matter of following the crowd, ignoring all side alleys and routes. The way for the most part is wide, lined by shops, but a few small bottleneck sections are narrow and twisty. The street Rio Tera Lista di Spagna leads you to a small square and immediately after you cross a bridge over a major canal.
After about m the wide street forks and there is no signage. Our way takes the right fork see image right of the junction in question as you will see it walking from the station. You can now go on auto-pilot where the way ahead is obvious, the main shopping street just interrupted by a few points where small bridges cross canals. After a Conad supermarket and a McDonald's on your left, keep going straight along the main street until the street kinks left. After the kink, you turn right with most other people down a narrow section and almost immediately cross a canal, shortly followed by another canal crossing.