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Venice > Sightseeing > Canals

Canals of Venice, Italy

Venice has some 150 canals that range from tiny, quiet "side canals" to the busy Grand Canal (a former river) and the Giudecca canal (which is big enough for ships). Go for a walk or a boat ride, and here's what you'll find.

Church reflected in Venice canal

ABOVE: A church tower is reflected in a Venetian canal. (Warning: The water isn't as pristine as the view might suggest.)

The name "Venice" and the word "canal" go hand in hand--so much so that any city or town with a network of canals is likely to be promoted as "The Venice of [insert region, country, or continent]."

In the original Venice, or Venezia, more than 150 canals wend their way through the Italian city's historic center. Most of them weren't created by Venetians--they were simply gaps between the cluster of nearly 120 islands that eventually became the the Venetian Republic or La Serenissima.

Over time, as the city-state grew, residents constructed buildings, sidewalks, and seawalls along the canals.

Manual dredging also took place, making even the smallest canals navigable by gondole, sandale, and other small boats.

Bridges were added, turning a network of islands into the pedestrian-friendly city that Venice is today.

Today, Venice has three major canals:

  • The Grand Canal, which is an S-shaped thoroughfare that runs through the heart of the city;

  • The Giudecca Canal, a shipping channel that separates the six sestieri or districts of central Venice from the long, skinny island of La Giudecca;

  • The Cannaregio Canal, which connects the Grand Canal with the Venetian Lagoon.

In addition to these large canals, Venice has more than 150 neighborhood or "side canals" that vary in width and boat capacity.

Maps of  Venice's canals

BELOW: This map of Venice's centro storico, or historic center, has captions for the city's three major canals. If you look closely, you'll see tiny blue representations of smaller neighborhood canals or "side canals" that are identified with the name "Rio" (such as "Rio di S. Toma" or "Rio di Santa Maria Formosa") on stone plaques alongside bridges.

Venice canals map

BELOW: Our second map shows the six sestieri or districts of central Venice plus the island of La Giudecca.  There are three sestieri on each side of the S-shaped Grand Canal.

Map of Venice's sestieri

Next page: Grand Canal

In this article:
Canals of Venice (introduction)
Grand Canal
Giudecca Canal
Cannaregio Canal
Smaller canals
Water quality, sanitation, maintenance

Also see:
Hotels on the Grand Canal
Maintaining Venice's canals
Bridges of Venice

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden has written about Venice, Italy since 1996. He covered Venice and European travel at for 4-1/2 years before launching Europe for Visitors (including Venice for Visitors) with Cheryl Imboden in 2001.

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CREDITS: Photos are by Cheryl and Durant Imboden.

The canals map uses base data from the Comune di Venezia and Regione Veneto under license IODL-2.0.

The sestieri map is based on a map by Giovanni Fasano (see original file and license).