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The Canal Grande, known to English-speaking visitors as the Grand Canal, is the main aquatic thoroughfare in central Venice. The S-shaped waterway follows an ancient riverbed from the Tronchetto parking island, the Piazzale Roma transit center, and the Santa Lucia railroad station station to Piazza San Marco and St. Mark's Basin. The canal is about 4 km or 2.5 miles long, with a width that varies from 30 to 70 meters (98 to 230 feet).
The best way to see the canal is to ride the No. 1 vaporetto from the Piazzale Roma or the railroad station in the direction of San Marco--preferably in the evening, when the daytrippers have gone home and the palazzi along the canal are floodlit or illuminated from within. If you're on one of the older boats with an open bow, sit up front; otherwise, grab a seat in the covered open-air section at the boat's stern, beyond the doors at the rear of the vaporetto's enclosed passenger compartment.
As the water bus zigzags between stops on both sides of the canal during its 40-minute journey from the Piazzale Roma to San Zaccaria, you'll pass under three bridges and see dozens of palaces that were built from the 12th to 18th Centuries.
Another way to see the canal is from the bridges that cross it. The Ponte di Scalzi is just upstream from Venice Santa Lucia Railroad Station; the Rialto Bridge is about halfway up the canal, just after a sharp bend, while the Accademia Bridge is the last bridge across the canal before St. Mark's Basin. (The newer Ponte della Constituzione, which most Venetians call the "Ponte di Calatrava" or Calatrava Bridge after the architect who designed it), crosses the Grand Canal between the Piazzale Roma and Santa Lucia Railroad Station.)
Go the top of any bridge, find a place at the railing, and watch the constant stream of vaporetti, barges, water taxis, police boats, ambulances, gondolas, and other boats.
Finally, if you'd like to ride a gondola but aren't willing to spend €80 or more for the privilege, you can cross the Grand Canal in a traghetto gondola ferry for the price of a coffee. (A traghetto crossing is the cheapest transportation bargain in Venice.) Consult your map or follow the nearest "traghetto" sign to a boat landing.
Next page: Rialto Bridge
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