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 lined up along the banks of the Grand Canal!
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to know more about the history of Venice? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Looking for a hotel in Venice? Be sure to check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in Venice? Advice & recommendations
The Grand Canal in a few words
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 / 1.86 mile long), widest (50 to 70 metres / 165 to 230 ft wide) and deepest (5 to 10 metres / 16 to 33 ft 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 the City of Doges 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, including 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 on 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 ableto find a 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 recommends buying a transport pass: it is both more convenient and cheaper than buying a ticket every single time.
Guided tour on Grand Canal in Venice
Take the chance to experience the Grand Canal in peace with a guided tour.
You’ll glide along in a cozy motorboat, listening to a knowledgeable guide as they point out all the historic buildings, churches, palaces, and bridges along the way.
The intimate size of the boat means you’ll have a much more relaxed view than on a crowded vaporetto. Tours are typically around thirty euros.
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 travel back in time to the golden days of the Venetian Republic, the most immersive (and romantic) way to discover Venice canals is going on 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. GetYourGuide however offers private tours at a very competitive price and with very good customer reviews.
👉 More info: Gondola tour
Palaces and historic monuments
The Grand Canal has long been a symbol of Venice’s power and prosperity, which explains why the waterfront has remained a stronghold of the Venetian aristocracy through the centuries. Wealthy 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 to this day as sumptuous as ever.
Among them, the most famous buildings are:
- The Doge’s Palace (and St. Mark’s Basilica located a little further)
- 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 quite the 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!
It’s the best time of day for a romantic gondola tour.
👉 More info: night-time private gondola tour
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: Venice is a very touristy city and there is no shortage of accommodation, but they are generally rather expensive. If your budget is tight, Captain Ulysses suggests staying in Mestre,out of town. Accommodation is much more affordable and buses reach Venice very regularly.
As for mid-range options, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Hotel Le Isole. This hotel is very very well located a few steps from Saint Mark’s Square and the rooms are spacious and elegant… not to mention that breakfast is very good.
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.
🎟️ Activities: 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 GetYourGuide, Musement and Tiqets, which are online platforms specialised in selling tourist activities worldwide.
⛵ Cruises: 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 scams: 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.
🎫 Citypass: 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 depending on what you’re looking for. Find out more here.
🚐 Transfers:to get to Venice from the airport, you’ll have three options: bus, vaporetto (orange Alilaguna Arancio line), or 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.
🚌 Local transport: Get ready to walk! The historic centre is not accessible to buses or cars.
The local kind 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.
✈️ Flights: 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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