You can fly into Venice from North America via Rome or Milan with Alitalia or a number of other airlines, or by connecting through a major European city with European carriers. No-frills carrier Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies direct from London much more cheaply than the major airlines, as does easyJet (www.easyjet.com).
Flights land at the Aeroporto Marco Polo, 7km (4 1/4 miles) north of the city on the mainland (tel. 041-260-9260; www.veniceairport.it). There are two bus alternatives: The special ATVO airport shuttle bus (tel. 041-383-672; www.atvo.it) connects with Piazzale Roma not far from Venice's Santa Lucia train station (and the closest point to Venice's attractions accessible by car or bus). Buses leave for/from the airport about every 30 minutes, cost 3€, and make the trip in about 20 minutes. The slightly less expensive, twice-hourly local public ACTV bus no. 5 (tel. 041-541-5180) costs 1.50€ and takes 30 to 45 minutes. Buy tickets for either at the newsstand just inside the terminal from the signposted bus stop. With either bus, you'll have to walk to/from the final stop at Piazzale Roma to the nearby vaporetto (water bus) stop for the final connection to your hotel. It's rare to see porters around who'll help with luggage, so pack light.
A land taxi from the airport to the Piazzale Roma (where you get the vaporetto) will run about 35€.
The most fashionable and traditional way to arrive in Piazza San Marco is by sea. For 13€, the Cooperative San Marco/Alilaguna (tel. 041-240-1701; www.alilaguna.it) operates a large motoscafo (shuttle boat) service from the airport with stops at Murano and the Lido before arriving after about 1 hour in Piazza San Marco. Call for the daily schedule of a dozen or so trips from about 6am to midnight; the schedule changes with the season and is coordinated with the principal arrival/departure of the major airlines (most hotels have the schedule). If your hotel isn't in the Piazza San Marco area, you'll have to make a connection at the vaporetto launches (your hotel can help you with the specifics if you booked before you left home).
A private water taxi (20-30 min. to/from the airport) is convenient but costly -- a legal minimum of 60€, but usually closer to 85€, for two to four passengers with few bags. It's worth considering if you're pressed for time, have an early flight, are carrying a lot of luggage (a Venice no-no), or can split the cost with a friend or two. It may be able to drop you off at the front (or side) door of your hotel or as close as it can maneuver given your hotel's location (check with the hotel before arriving). Your taxi captain should be able to tell you before boarding just how close he can get you. Try the Corsorzio Motoscafi Venezia (tel. 041-522-2303; www.motoscafivenezia.it) water taxis.
Trains from Rome (4 1/2-7 hr.), Milan (2 1/2-3 1/2 hr.), Florence (3 hr.), and all over Europe arrive at the Stazione Venezia-Santa Lucia (tel. 041-721-253; www.ferroviedellostato.it). To get there, all must pass through (though not necessarily stop at) a station marked Venezia-Mestre. Don't be confused: Mestre is a charmless industrial city that's the last stop on the mainland. Occasionally trains end in Mestre, in which case you have to catch one of the frequent 10-minute shuttles connecting with Venice; it's inconvenient, so when you book your ticket, confirm that the final destination is Venezia-Stazione Santa Lucia.
Between the station's large front doors is a small, understaffed tourist office (tel. 041-529-8727), with lines that can be discouraging and a strict "one person allowed in at a time" policy that is dictated by the office's miniscule size. It's open daily 8am to 6pm. Next door there is an office that will help you find a hotel; it's open 8am-9pm. The railway info office, marked with a lowercase i, is also in the station's main hall, staffed daily from 7am to 9pm.
On exiting, you'll find the Grand Canal immediately in front of you, a sight that makes for a heart-stopping first impression. You'll find the docks for a number of vaporetto lines (the city's public ferries or "water buses") to your left and right. Head to the booths to your left, near the bridge, to catch either of the two lines plying the Canal Grande: the no. 82 express, which stops only at the station, San Marcuola, Rialto Bridge, San Tomà, San Samuele, and Accademia before hitting San Marco (26 min. total); and the misnamed no. 1 accellerato, which is actually the local, making 14 stops between the station and San Marco (a 31-min. trip). Both leave every 10 minutes or so, but every other no. 82 stops short at Rialto, meaning you'll have to disembark and hop on the next no. 1 or 82 that comes along to continue to San Marco.
Note: The no. 82 goes in two directions from the train station: left down the Canal Grande toward San Marco -- which is the (relatively) fast and scenic way -- and right, which also eventually gets you to San Marco (at the San Zaccaria stop) but takes more than twice as long because it goes the long way around Dorsoduro (and serves mainly commuters). Make sure the no. 82 you get on is headed to San Marco.
Though rail travel is more convenient and commonplace, Venice is serviced by long-distance buses from all over mainland Italy and some international cities. The final destination is Piazzale Roma, where you'll need to pick up vaporetto no. 82 or no. 1 (as described under "By Train") to connect you with stops in the heart of Venice and along the Grand Canal.
The only wheels you'll see in Venice are those attached to luggage. Venice is a city of canals and narrow alleys. No cars are allowed -- even the police and ambulance services use boats. Arriving in Venice by car is problematic and expensive -- and downright exasperating if it's high season and the parking facilities are full (they often are). You can drive across the Ponte della Libertà from Mestre to Venice, but you can go no farther than Piazzale Roma at the Venice end, where many garages eagerly await your euro. Do some research before choosing a garage -- the rates vary widely, from 4.50€ for every 2-hour period with no day rate at the communal ASM garage (tel. 041-272-7304; www.asmvenezia.it) to 30€ per day at private outfits like Garage San Marco (tel. 041-523-2213; www.garagesanmarco.it), in Piazzale Roma. If you have reservations at a hotel, check before arriving: Most of them offer discount coupons for some of the parking facilities; just ask the hotel in which garage you need to park and pay for parking upon leaving the garage.
Vaporetto line nos. 1 and 82, described under "By Train," above, both stop at Piazzale Roma before continuing down the Canal Grande to the train station and, eventually, Piazza San Marco.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.