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Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge: the most famous bridge in Venice

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Venice counts 438 bridges in total, but one of them is not quite like the others: the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) of course!

Let Captain Ulysses take you on a tour of the most emblematic of the Venetian bridges! 👉

Short history lesson

The origins of the Rialto Bridge

Located in the sestiere (neighborhood) of San Polo, on the left bank of the Grand Canal, the Rialto district has been the economic centre of the City of Doges since the 11th century. The main market of Venice moved in the area in 1097, and was quickly followed by shops, warehouses and even the city’s first banks and insurance companies.

But soon a major problem arose: while the economic centre of Venice settled on the left bank of the Grand Canal, the political center of the city was situated on the opposite bank, in the sestiere of San Marco where the Doge’s Palace (and the Bridge of Sighs) as well as St. Mark’s Basilica are located.

For this reason, the first bridge spanning the Grand Canal – the first original Rialto Bridge – was built in 1172.

😍 Top sights & activities in Venice 😍

The Rialto Bridge before the 16th century

The original Rialto Bridge looked nothing like it does today: it was actually made of a succession of barges and boats with wooden planks laid on top. Every time a boat had to cross the bridge, the planks had to be removed and the barges moved so as to make way. This makeshift solution was obviously far from ideal!

That’s the reason why in 1264, a wooden bridge was built to connect both banks of the Grand Canal. Although better than the first option, this solution soon proved quite flawed as well. The bridge was threatened both by the city’s humid climate (causing the decay of wood) and by fire hazards, and therefore had to be restored regularly. In 1444, part of the bridge even collapsed under the weight of a crowd who had gathered to have a look at the bridal gondola of The Marquess of Ferrara.

Following the accident, the bridge was rebuilt, but this new wooden construction was quite different from the previous one: it included two rows of shops, and could be lifted to enable the passage of boats.

However, the bridge quickly deteriorated, and Venetian leaders were forced to to opt for more sustainable solution.

Wooden Rialto Bridge, Vittore Carpaccio - Venice Dell'Accademia Gallery
Wooden Rialto Bridge, Vittore Carpaccio – Gallerie Dell’Accademia

The Rialto Bridge after the 16th century

In 1551, the Senate of Venice finally decided to build a bridge made of stone. The most famous architects of the time — among whom Palladio, Sansovino and Michelangelo — were asked to pitch ideas for the construction of the new Rialto Bridge.

In the end, the Senate selected the project submitted by Antonio da Ponte. Construction work began in 1588 and lasted 3 years. In 1591, the Rialto Bridge as we know it today officially opened for business!

For the following three centuries, – until the construction of the Ponte dell’Accademia and the Ponto degli Scalzi (Bridge of the Barefoot) in the 19th century – the Rialto Bridge was the only pedestrian walkway across the Grand Canal.

Rialto Bridge

A proper restoration

From May 2015 to December 2016, the Rialto Bridge underwent 18 months of intensive renovation work. It is now good as new!

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!

Visiting the Rialto Bridge

The architecture of the Rialto Bridge

Immediately recognisable with its the silhouette in the shape of a circumflex accent (^), the Rialto Bridge is an architectural masterpiece. Built on swampy land, the bridge rests on no less than 6000 stilts. It is 48 metres long (157 ft), 22 metres wide (72 ft), and 7.50 metres high (24,5 ft).

The bridge is made of three pedestrian aisles:

  • a central aisle flanked by shops nestled in twelve symmetrical arches
  • two side aisles

The ornaments of the Rialto Bridge are simple and understated. However, the figures of the two holy patrons of the city (St. Mark and St. Theodore) appear on each side of the bridge.

Rialto Bridge - panoramic

The view on the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

From the Rialto Bridge, the view on the Grand Canal is quite simply spectacular.

Captain Ulysses recommends that you stop by the bridge several times during the day to enjoy the panorama in the daylight, at sunset and at night.

But be prepared: the Rialto Bridge is crowded day and night.

Grand Canal of Venice - from the Rialto
Grand Canal of Venice - view of the Rialto

Guided tours of the Rialto Bridge

Many of the guided tours in Venice stop by the Rialto Bridge, but Captain Ulysses recommends one in particular which is very good value for money: Venice small group tour with local guide

The view on the Rialto Bridge from the Grand Canal

Could a visit in Venice be complete without a boat tour on the city’s picture-postcard canals? Captain Ulysses thinks not. After all, it is tradition!

Besides, the view on the Rialto Bridge even more stunning from a boat navigating down the Grand Canal!

If you’re up for a boat ride, you have three options:

A stone’s throw from the bridge, the Rialto Market

It would be a pity not to drop by the Rialto Market while in the area.

Located in the sestiere (district) of San Polo, this market is one of the largest and most famous in Venice. It is a paradise for gourmets!

The Rialto Market is actually divided into three smaller markets:

  • the Pescheria, the fish market
  • the Erbaria, the fruit and vegetable market
  • the Beccaria, the meat market

And if you want to discover more abour local gastronomy, Captain Ulysses recommends:

Access

The Rialto Bridge spans the Grand Canal between the sestiere of San Marco and the sestiere of San Polo.

It is located a 5-10 minute walk from St. Mark’s Square. The nearest vaporetto station is the Rialto station, served by lines 1, 2 and N.

The Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
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Accommodations
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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.

Activities
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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.

Cruises
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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.

Citypass
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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.

Transfers
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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.

Transports
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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.

Flights, trains & buses
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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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The Rialto Bridge in Venice

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View on the Rialto Bridge

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