Unveiling the beauty of the grand canal in Venice

Guide to Venice’s most famous waterway

Venice’s central thoroughfare, unlike any other in the world, offers something unique for those on holidays to Italy. While New York boasts Broadway, London takes pride in Oxford Street, Paris showcases the Champs-Élysées, and Barcelona celebrates La Rambla, Venice presents something even more extraordinary: the Grand Canal.

Flanked by 170 buildings, the Grand Canal Venice is a postcard-perfect sight – a restless snake of azure water coiled around central Venice, dividing the city into two halves and connecting many of its biggest attractions.

Want to find out how best to navigate this extraordinary waterway? Read on for everything you need to know about the Grand Canal Venice.

Gondolas

What’s the best way to explore the Grand Canal during your holidays in Venice, you ask? What else but a gondola? Arguably the most famous Venetian sight of them all, these traditional rowing boats transport couples (there’s only room for two passengers in each one) on romantic sightseeing voyages around the Grand Canal and the city’s network of smaller canals.

The Venice gondolas have been crossing its waterways for over 1000 years, and each of the eight types you’ll find here are made from a different type of wood – each one representing a different part of the city.

So, what’s the damage then? Venice Gondolas are exceedingly popular, and – as you might expect – this popularity has forced ever-so-slightly inflated fares. At the time of writing, you can expect to pay about 80-100€ for just a 40-minute ride. Prices vary between day and night, but you can check them in advance here.

Gondola Traghetto 

But what if there were big gondolas that didn’t cost a small fortune to ride? Well, you’re in luck because such a thing does, in fact, exist. Gondola traghetto are larger vessels that ferry people across the Grand Canal Venice. More functional than their leisurely counterparts, traghetto carry around 14 people and are perfect for when there are no bridges nearby. There are only three left in the city, but at 2€ a pop they’re perfect if you want to get out on a gondola without splashing the cash.

Water taxis

However, gondolas are not the only ways to get around. Look for a water taxi if you want to travel around Venice in the most stylish way imaginable – these sleek, chic, 8-seater wooden boats look like they’ve come straight out of the 1950s. The name ‘taxi’ almost feels beneath them. It’d be a bit like referring to a Ferrari as just ‘a car’.

Find a vaporetto if you want a slightly larger, less uber-cool version of a Venice water taxi. They’re the closest thing to a bus you’ll find in Venice, and have a fixed number of stops on the Grand Canal. The alilaguna is a very specific type of water bus, exclusively used for transporting people to and from Venice Marco Polo Airport. Perfect if you want to squeeze one last boat trip out of your holiday.

Grand Canal attractions

As the Grand Canal weaves right through the centre of Venice, it rather helpfully joins the dots between a number of the city’s most unmissable attractions. Here are five you should make an effort to check out:

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

The massive dome of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute – more commonly known simply as ‘the Salute’ – is one of the most immediately recognisable sights on the Venice skyline, and was built in 1687 as a ‘votive offering’ for the city’s deliverance from the plague in 1630.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Take a short walk along the Grand Canal from the Basilica and you’ll find the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The building and collection once belonged to Peggy Guggenheim, who became one of the 20th century’s most prolific collectors of contemporary art after following the death of her father on the Titanic. Here you’ll find works from the likes of Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky, Mirò, Mondrian and nearly 200 others. Be warned, though: this museum can get incredibly busy.

Corner della Ca’ Grande

Once you’re finished at the Peggy Guggenheim, take a trip over the Grand Canal to reach Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande. This rather spectacular renaissance-style palace was designed in 1532, and – the clue’s in the name – was one of the largest in the city at the time. It is currently the seat of the province of Venice.

Ca’ d’Oro

If you want to see some classic Venetian gothic architecture for yourself (and who wouldn’t want to do that?!), then keep your eyes peeled for Ca’ d’Oro. An exemplary example of the style, this spectacular building was once covered in shimmering gold decorations. They’ve since faded, but the building is no less impressive.

Grand Canal Bridge

There are four bridges crossing the Canale Grande, but only three of them are accessible directly from the water:

  • the wooden Ponte dell’Accademia,
  • the Ponte degli Scalzi and the sleek,
  • modern Ponte della Constituzione (also known as the Calatrava Bridge) are all well worth a visit.

Ponte di Rialto

We’re cheating a little here because the Ponte di Rialto isn’t accessible directly from the Grand Canal but it is part of the bridges that cross the Grand Canal and one of Venice’s most iconic sights, so we felt obliged to include it. Not begrudgingly though, because the Rialto Bridge lives up to its billing.

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