We all know Venice’s reputation: exquisite, unique, and inspiring on the one hand, but packed, fragile, and confusing on the other. Many visitors to Venice find themselves both awestruck and frustrated as they get lost in its seemingly interminable maze of back alleys, all of which seem to lead back to the Piazza di San Marco and its heaving crowds.
Well, help is at hand. Surprisingly for a city with some of the narrowest alleyways in the world, Venice has quite a strong 4G cellphone network and of course myriad cafes offering free wi-fi. Accordingly there is a huge number of smartphone apps available for visitors to Venice some free and others expensive. I’ve put together a list of my top five FREE apps to help you get the most out of your stay in the Serenissima.
1. Getting around
A good map is an essential tool for negotiating the city: unfortunately these are few and far between. There are many tourist maps available in bookshops and newsagents for about €2.50, but some of these can be as much a hindrance as a help. The main problem is that many of these maps have Italianized the street names which are painted in Venetian dialect on the historic street signs. Sometimes the similarity is obvious but when a sign says Marzaria San Zulian and the map says Merceria San Giuliano you’re asking for trouble.
The Ulmon Venice Travel Guide and Offline Map (click here for Android) has an accurate and detailed digital map with the names of the streets in Venetian dialect, exactly as they appear in the city, It also has lots of other cool features, such as the ability to make lists of favourite places and local travel guides, but its strength is the map which can be consulted and browsed offline as well as used for navigation.
2. Time to eat
Venice is famous for its bacari—tradtional watering holes serving cichéti (light bites and small plates) and ombre (prosecco, spritz, beer and the like). There are hundreds of these in the city, the best often being indistinguishable from tourist traps which is why you need the official app to show you the nearest and the best.
I Bacari is an app made by locals that lists bars in order of proximity to where you are. There is also a wealth of useful information such as reviews, opening times, contact numbers and so on, to help you eat and drink like a local.
3. Getting on the water
Even though Venice is a highly walkable city, sooner or later you are going to want to take public transport, if only to get the incomparable view of the Grand Canal from the vaporetto (water bus).
AVM Venezia Official App is the official app of ACTV, the local public transport authority and you can buy tickets through the app using a credit card. You then access the boats by scanning a barcode directly from your phone at the turnstiles. It also has a reliable Search Schedule and Routes feature which works from gps to tell you where the nearest stop is.
4. Keeping your feet dry
Everyone knows that Venice floods occasionally and that getting round the city can be a pain under such circumstances. It’s a predictable occurrence because it’s linked to the tides. Venice is one of the few places in the world that has two high and two low tides per day. However, knowing when flooding may happen is also a blessing, since the sight of the Piazza di San Marco under a few centimetres of water, especially at night, is a magical one.
Hi!tide Venice (click here for Android) is an app that tells you the timings and heights of the tides for the next three days. It also has a feature telling you the height of the water in individual parts of the city and at the vaporetto stations to help you plan your route around the city in case of really high water. It uses cute icons such as a shoe, to show you things are normal, and a wellington boot to show the presence of water.
5. Once every two years … but not only!
The Venice International Art Exhibition or Biennale (so-named because it happens every two years) is a major tourist attraction to the city and there are pavilions of work from countries all over the world displayed around the city (often free). Coupled with this are the many art galleries and museums that have regular exhibitions making Venice one of the foremost art cities in Italy.
ARTE.it Venezia Unica is a complete guide to exhibitions, Biennale or not, currently in the city and divides them into things on now, things closing, things coming soon in order to help you never miss an event.
Do you have any favourite apps for Venice or any other Italian city? Let us know in the comments.