The Grand Canal is a ‘must-see’ for any visitor passing through Venice. Follow Captain Ulysses on a tour of the “most beautiful avenue” in the Serenissima and get ready to be awed by the luxurious palaces lining up along the banks of the Grand Canal! 🚣
A few words about the Grand Canal in Venice
Venice counts 177 channels in total, one of which is not quite like the others… you guessed right, the Grand Canal!
This monumental channel in the shape of an inverted S is the longest (3.8 kilometres long), widest (50 to 70 metres wide) and deepest (5 to 10 metres deep) channel in Venice. It winds through the city from St. Mark’s Square in the south, to the Ponte della Libertà (‘Liberty Bridge’) which connects Venice to the mainland, in the northwest.
The Grand Canal also divides Venice into two different sections, with the sestiere (districts) of Santa Croce, San Polo and Dorsoduro on the left bank, and the sestiere of Cannaregio, Castello and San Marco on the right bank of the channel.
A total of 7 bridges span the Grand Canal, among which only 4 are pedestrian:
- The famous Rialto Bridge (‘Ponte di Rialto’)
- The Ponte della Costituzione
- The Ponte degli Scalzi (‘the Bridge of the Barefoot’)
- The Ponte dell’Accademia (‘Academy Bridge’)
But the iconic channel isn’t simply famous for its monumental dimensions. 170 historic buildings line up along the banks of the Grand Canal, among which countless luxurious palaces and ancestral churches!
Exploring the Grand Canal in Venice
Along the Grand Canal, you’ll find no wharf nor sidewalk: the vast majority of the buildings lined up on the banks are built directly on the waterfront. So you’ll have no choice but to hop on a boat if you want to explore the Grand Canal, much to the delight of Captain Ulysses (sailors will be sailors)!
Visitors interested in navigating the Grand Canal’s peaceful waters have three different options:
- Exploring the channel on their own onboard a vaporetto (the Venetian version of public transportation)
- Embarking on a guided tour on the Grand Canal
- Opting for a gondola ride
Exploring the Grand Canal onboard a vaporetto
If you prefer visiting the city at your own pace or if your budget is tight, exploring the Grand Canal onboard a vaporetto is probably your best option.
Vaporetto lines 1, 2 and N follow the Grand Canal from beginning to end and a vaporetto ticket is obviously much cheaper than a guided tour. That being said, vaporetti can be fairly crowded and you might not be able quiet little corner from which to admire the view leisurely.
If you plan on using public transports (bus and/or vaporetto) several times during your stay in Venice, the Captain advises you to buy a transport pass: it is both more convenient and cheaper than buying a ticket every single time.
⚓Attention, sailors! ⚓
Looking for more tips and suggestions for your trip to Venice ? Check out the Capitain’s article on the best things to do in Venice !
To make sure not to miss out on any of the marvels nestled along the banks of the Grand Canal, you can download a mobile app that provides a wealth of information about the various historic buildings you’ll come across along the way. The app also includes a ticket for a trip on line 1 of the vaporetto. Find out more here.
Guided tour on Grand Canal in Venice
If your budget isn’t too tight, a guided tour on the Grand Canal is undoubtedly the best option to discover Venice’s main channel.
You’ll explore the Grand Canal onboard a small motorboat and discover the countless bridges, palaces, churches and historic buildings lined up on the waterfront.
The boats are quite small and you’ll be able to enjoy the view much more peacefully than onboard a vaporetto.
Guided tours cost €30 over average.
Gondola ride on the Grand Canal in Venice
Venice’s famous gondoliers have become a symbol of the City of the Doges! 🚣
If you want to go back in time to the golden days of the Venetian Republic, the most immersive (and romantic 🌹) way to discover Venice is undoubtedly going a gondola ride on the city’s quaint channels.
But be warned: gondola rides are quite expensive, especially if you don’t book your tour ahead of time. That being said, Musement.com offers affordable gondola rides with very good customer reviews.
Find out more: Private gondola ride
Palaces and historic monuments
The Grand Canal has long been a symbol of Venice’s power and prosperity, which explains why the waterfront has long been a stronghold of the Venetian aristocracy. Rich Venetians wanted nothing more than owning a palace on the banks of the Grand Canal!
The vast majority of the 170 palaces located on the waterfront of the Grand Canal were built between the 13th and the 18th centuries and remain as sumptuous as ever.
Among them, the most famous buildings are:
- The Doge’s Palace (and St. Mark’s Basilica located a little further)
- The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
- The Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore
- The Gallerie dell’Accademia
- The Ca’ d’Oro Palace
- The Ca’ Rezzonico Palace
- The Ca’ Pesaro Palace
- The Palazzo Barbarigo
- The Rialto Bridge
- The Church of San Stae
- The Church of Santa Maria di Nazareth
- The Fondaco dei Turchi
- The Rialto Bridge
The Grand Canal at nightfall
At dusk, the colourful facades of the Grand Canal take on golden hues: it is truly a spectacular sight. If you explored the Grand Canal during the day, be sure to come back and admire the view from the Rialto Bridge at sunset.
At night, the Grand Canal looks enigmatic and mysterious. One can easily imagine Casanova on his way to a secret rendezvous aboard a gondola, hiding under the cover of darkness!
Nightime is also is also the most romantic moment for a gondola ride.
Venice is a very touristy city and you’ll have plenty hotels to choose from, but, be warned: they are overall rather expensive. If your budget is tight, Captain Ulysses suggests staying in Mestre, just outside of Venice, where hotels are much more affordable and you’ll find regular buses to Venice. Find out more here. For intermediate budgets, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Hotel Le Isole: ideally located a few steps from St. Mark’s Square, this beautiful hotel boasts spacious and elegant rooms. And if you’re looking for a more luxurious option in Venice, then Captain Ulysses most definitely recommends the Londra Palace nestled in a Venetian palace on the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Tickets, guided tours, gondola tours, day-trips… There are plenty of things to do in Venice. But the city is often packed with tourists, which is why Captain Ulysses recommend that you book your activities online and opt for skip-the-line tickets. The Captain suggests having a look at Musement and Tiqets, which are online platforms specialised in selling tourist activities worldwide.
Venice is synonymous gondola and vaporetto. As an accomplished sailor, Captain Ulysses can only recommend that you embark on a boat ride on the Venetian canals. But beware of cams: some gondoliers tend to take advantage of tourists! That’s why the Captain advises that you book your boat tour on a reputable website like here or here.
If you’re planning on visiting all of Venice’s top sights, Captain Ulysses recommends you to opt for a Citypass,which will give you access to a selection of the city’s must-see sights and monuments. There’s a variety of citypasses to choose from. Find out more here.
To get to Venice from the airport, you’ll have four poptions: the bus, the vaporetto (orange Alilaguna Arancio line), the taxi or the water taxi. It’s up to you to choose the option that works best for you! 🙂 Be aware, however, that the historic centre is pedestrian, and buses and taxis are not allowed to operate there.
Get ready to walk. The historic centre is not accessible to buses or cars. The local type of public transport is the vaporetto: boats travelling on the water. If you’re planning on using the vaporetto regularly (in Venice or to visit the surrounding islands like Murano and Burano), or if you are staying in Mestre and have to take the bus to Venice everyday, you might want to consider opting for a Public Transport Pass. You can book it here.
Venice is a city easily accessible by plane, train and bus. To book your plane tickets, Captain Ulysses recommends Skyscanner, which allows you to compare countless flights to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible. Overnight trains are also a great way to save time (and money) ! For more information, visit Trainline.com.
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