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Venice > Sightseeing > Top 11 free sights > Grand Canal

Grand Canal

From: Venice's Top 11 Free Sights

Vaporetto on Grand Canal

ABOVE: A crowded No. 1 vaporetto on the Grand Canal.

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).

No 1 vaporetto with open bowThe best way to see the Grand 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.

Accademia BridgeAs 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.

Grand CanalAnother 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.

Another good observation point is the free rooftop viewing deck of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a former palazzo (now a department store for luxury goods) near the Rialto Bridge.

traghettoFinally, 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.

Related articles:

Next page: Rialto Bridge

Top 11 Free Sights in Venice:
1. Piazza San Marco
2. Basilica di San Marco
3. Venice Waterfront (St. Mark's Basin)
4. Grand Canal
5. Rialto Bridge
6. Rialto Food Markets
7. Venetian Ghetto
8. Canali, Campi, Calli (canals, squares, back streets)
9. Churches (Salute, Carmini, and others that don't charge admission)
10. Shopping Streets
11. Islands (San Michele, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Lido)
Printable 'Top 11 Free Sights' List

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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