Even if you just can’t live without ‘net access on the Venice leg of your European tour you might balk at the cost of hotel wifi – many hotels charge extra for it and many wifi hotspots in cafes and bars are of the paid-for variety.
There is a public wifi network, available in many squares and open spaces around the city but unlike some municipal wifi projects, this is strictly pay-for-play and its implemented in one of the most user-hostile ways you can imagine.
If your smartphone is carrier unlocked, then you’re in luck, as the two largest carriers in Italy, TIM and Vodafone can provide you with a prepaid SIM card to go in your phone, with internet included. What’s more – both of them allow you to tether a laptop or other device (I’m writing this on my laptop while connected to my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot).
Make sure you’ve got your passport on you (a driving license or national ID card will suffice for EU citizens) as they require proof of ID when you buy a SIM.
Located not far from St Mark’s Square, the Vodafone store will sell you a SIM card for €20. The minimum internet package you can activate will set you back €3, which gets you a 250MB weekly allowance. They operate a ticket system for customers, so make sure you select ‘Prodotti’ from the touch screen at the door, then wait your turn downstairs (upstairs is for mobile internet for tablets and dongles).
Walk a little further in the direction of the Rialto bridge and you’ll get to the TIM store. TIM’s deal is a little sweeter. They’ll hook you up with a SIM with ‘unlimited’ internet already enabled for €13. The unlimited really means 250MB a week, after which point the speed drops to 64Kbps (just a little faster than dialup). Unless you’re a heavy user you probably won’t hit that in a few days in the city. You also get €5 of calling credit and some inclusive minutes to domestic landlines.
Being connected while you’re wandering around this historic city is a very 21st century experience and navigating it using Google Maps and GPS makes you wonder how people managed before smartphones, though if you’re going to need to do a lot of on-foot navigation, you can conserve a lot of data by pre-loading your phone with the map of Venice using OffMaps, an iPhone/iPad app that uses offline copies of OpenStreetMap maps in conjunction with your device’s built-in GPS.