The 3.8 kilometer long Grand Canal can be seen as the main street of Venice. The variety of magnificent palazzi along the canal is overwhelming. The best time to take a boat ride through or a walk along the canal is in the early morning, before most tourists are awake.
Grand Canal Venice
The Canal Grande is actually an extension of the river Brenta and winds through the city in an inverted S-shape.
It has an average width of about 60 meters. At its widest point the canal is 100 and at its narrowest about 40 meters wide. It is not more than 6 meters deep. Unfortunately, there are very few places where it is possible to walk directly along the canal.
Since the city’s wealthier residents naturally used to have their houses built along the most prestigious places – i.e. along this “main street” – the most beautiful palazzi can be seen here, interspersed with some magnificent churches. However, it was an unwritten rule that these palaces were not to be too lavishly decorated. Moreover, they were not allowed to protrude further into the canal than their neighbours.
There are only four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. The oldest and most famous of these is Ponte Rialto. The others are the Ponte dell’Accademia, the Ponte degli Scalzi and the Ponte della Costituzione. The last one of these is of recent construction and “real” Venetians like to pretend it does not exist.
Ponte degli Scalzi
The Ponte degli Scalzi is the first bridge that travellers arriving at Venice‘s central station will encounter. For this reason, it is also called Ponte della Stazione. Designed in 1934, this bridge replaces an 1841 version by English architect A.E. Neville.
Public transportation Grand Canal
The vaporetto is the Venetian version of the city bus. There are, of course, several lines that run through the Grand Canal. A ticket valid for one hour costs 7 Euro. Since the average tourist in Venice spends a lot of time on the water, it is better to buy a day ticket or a multi-day ticket.
The Gondola Traghetto is a larger than normal gondola that does no more than cross the Grand Canal. Unlike normal gondolas, a traghetto has two gondoliers. The price is 2 Euros per person and there are 7 spots: San Marcuola, Santa Sofia, Riva del Vin/Riva del Carbon, San Tomà, San Samuele, Santa Maria del Giglio and Punta della Dogana. (The last two only sail in the morning.)
Tourist attractions Canal Grande
There are no ugly buildings along the Grand Canal, so here are just the highlights. The itinerary begins at the train station and ends at the Santa Maria della Salute Church and the mouth of the canal.
Chiesa degli Scalzi
The Baroque Chiesa degli Scalzi, dactually called Santa Maria di Nazareth, dates back to the 17th century. The architect of the church itself was Baldassare Longhena, but Giuseppe Sardi was responsible for the lavishly decorated facade.
Ca’ Vendramin Calergi
The Ca’ Vendramin Calergi or Palazzo Loredan Vendramin Calergi was built in the 15th century by Mauro Codussi. It is one of the first Renaissance palaces in Venice. The building, where Richard Wagner breathed his last in 1883, is the seat of the city’s Casino.
Fondaco dei Turchi
The Fondaco dei Turchi looks, which of course is not surprising given its name, Byzantine. It was built between the 12th and 13th centuries and for a long time served as a department store for merchants from Turkey. Since 1923 it has been the seat of the Natural History Museum.
San Stae Kerk
The San Stae Church is one of the few churches with a facade facing the Grand Canal. The 18th century façade is crowned by the statues “Christ”, “Faith” and “Charity”. The presbytery is the most beautiful part of this church.
The Ca d’Oro owes its name and fame to its facade, which originally had many gilded decorations. After being given to a dancer by a Russian prince, the beautiful facade was somewhat spoiled, but this was later made up for by a baron who bequeathed the palace to the city.
Santa Maria della Salute Basilica
Like the Chiesa degli Scalzi, designed by Baldassare Longhena, this church is considered the masterpiece of the Baroque architect. The Santa Maria della Salute Basilica is pretty much the entrance to the canal. The Virgin Mary on the church is dressed as a Venetian admiral.