Venice is a city built on water, and the Grand Canal (Canale Grande) is its bustling main street. Lined with sumptuous Venetian palaces and crowded with gondolas, water taxis, and vaporetti (public ferries), this thoroughfare is a feast for the senses. The Grand Canal winds its way through the central neighborhoods of Venice from the Santa Lucia train station to St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), passing under the iconic Rialto Bridge along the way, and functions as the scenic main artery for transporting both people and goods around the City of Canals.
A sail down the Grand Canal is a trip through centuries of Venetian history, as historic palaces dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries rise out of the water along most of the route. Though stretches of the canal are lined with walkways, many of the important landmarks can be seen only from the water, so a small-group Grand Canal boat tour or combination walking-and-canal tour is by far the best way to go. For a historical tour of the canal, opt for a daytime sightseeing tour so you can see the ornate facades of Venice’s famous palaces. For a romantic journey, choose a moonlit gondola ride. And for a truly Venetian experience, opt for a gondola ride with a serenade!
Things to Know Before You Go
- Most Grand Canal gondola rides begin or end in St. Mark’s Square, home to St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, and include a few picturesque minor canals along the way.
- Alongside Rome and Florence as one of the most popular destinations in Italy, Venice can get extremely crowded. To avoid a long wait at the motor launch, book your Venice tour tickets in advance.
- The palaces along the Grand Canal have architectural styles that span from the Byzantine to the Renaissance, and are best appreciated with an expert tour guide who can explain their history and importance.
- Note that Venice and the Grand Canal feature a great number of bridges, many of which are not wheelchair accessible.
How to Get There
The Grand Canal snakes its way through the center of Venice from the train station to St. Mark’s Square. All of Venice is pedestrian only, so to get from anywhere in the city to the Grand Canal, you must either walk or take a boat.
When to Get There
Venice is lovely all year round, and the Grand Canal is spectacular both by day and night.
The Islands of Venice
Venice is made up of over 100 small islands, so for a different perspective of this unique city on the water, take a boat tour to one of the quieter outlying islands such as Murano, famous for its glassblowing industry; Burano, known for its lace-making artisans; or Torcello, thought to be the first populated island the in Venetian lagoon.