The Grand Canal is the main waterway and lifeline of this world-famous lagoon city on the Adriatic Sea. Venice would not be Venice without the Grand Canal. Along the canal, directly on the shore, are imposing palaces, museums, churches, hotels and many famous sights. A grandiose scenery! Colors, facades, and unique photo motifs. This is true for the day and also for Venice by night!
This is where life happens because the city is only supplied by boats. A grandiose spectacle in front of a historic backdrop that is not to be missed!
Location and river course
Over a length of about 4 kilometers, the Grand Canal winds its way through the center of historic Venice. The width is between 30 and 70 meters, with a water depth of up to 5 meters. It is the largest canal in Venice and thus also the main waterway of the lagoon city on the Adriatic.
The beginning of the canal starts roughly at the Canal di Santa Chiara, just before Piazzale Roma, and ends more or less at the famous Piazza San Marco.
Means of transport on the Grand Canal
A special feature of the canal is that it is not possible to walk along the Grand Canal on any path. You have to use the waterway to visit the city, and so there are numerous regular boats, water taxis, supply boats, gondolas, and tour boats. With so many visitors to the city, the Grand Canal is always bustling and lively.
Scheduled boats, water buses, or Vaporetti
The Grand Canal can be crossed in both directions by boat on line 1. The water bus stops at almost every stop between Piazzale Roma and the Lido on the route along the Grand Canal. In my opinion, the best and cheapest way to experience the Grand Canal, but more on that later.
Vaporetto Line 2 follows the same route along the canal but is faster as it doesn’t stop at every stop. Both lines belong to the public transport company ACTV of Venice. There are fixed times, routes, and fares. Travelers are best advised to get a day or multi-day tickets in advance.
Cult water taxis
On the Grand Canal, you will see many of the traditional water taxis that are used in films to chauffeur the stars from one hotel or event to another. The wooden taxi boats can be reserved for private trips or booked as shared taxis. An expensive way to experience the Grand Canal, of course.
✅ Read more in my separate and detailed article on water taxis.
A highlight – Gondola ride on the Grand Canal
Of course, a gondola ride on the Grand Canal is part of every visit to Venice. An experience not to be missed, whether privately as a romantic tour at the Rialto Bridge or in front of St. Mark’s Square with several people together in a gondola. Trips are available during the day, in the evening, and at night, with or without wonderful serenades.
|Classic Gondola Ride
|Private Gondola Ride
✅ See my article on gondola rides for more details.
Boat tour on the Grand Canal
The inexpensive classic remains, of course, the approximately 1-hour boat tour with a guide in the language of your choice, which can of course also be booked in German. Here you can learn everything you need to know about the Grand Canal and its attractions and history from the water. You can also book a boat tour directly here.
From Piazzale Roma to San Marco
To have seen and experienced Venice, you have to go up and down the Grand Canal. The lively boat traffic on the water is always a show and a must for every visitor to Venice. Then there are the magnificent palaces, which you can see from the outside or, if you stop off, you should also visit from the inside. My recommendation, as already mentioned, is to take the vaporetto line 1. The water buses stop at all the stops on the Grand Canal, moving slowly and giving you plenty of time to photograph the beautiful buildings. This is also the best way to get a first overview of Venice. It starts at the Piazzale Roma stop (photo above) and ends at St Mark’s Square at the S. Zaccaria station (photo below).
There are only a few bridges over the Grand Canal, so the vaporetti stops sometimes on one side of the canal, sometimes on the other. For both directions, there is always only one stop, about every 200 meters. So you always have a chance to get off and visit one of the many sights and museums on the Grand Canal. Many locals also take line 1 for just one stop to cross the Grand Canal. When getting back on, always keep in mind which direction the water bus is going, although the problem has been well solved by now with many signs.
The stops of the Vaporetti Linea 1
The journey from Piazzale Roma to the final stop of line 1, the island of Lido, takes about 1 hour. For the part through the Grand Canal to the stop at St. Mark’s Square you have to allow about 45 minutes, all without interruptions. Line 2 takes about 30 minutes to reach Piazza San Marco.
Waterbus Line 1 Stops – Attractions and Miscellaneous
► Piazzale Roma: The bus station is where all Venice travelers arrive by car, bus, or tram.
► Ferrovia: The “Stazione Santa Lucia” is Venice’s main railway station. All long-distance and local trains arriving on the island of Venice end here. Next to it is the church of Santa Maria di Nazareth, an impressive late Baroque building.
► Riva de Biasio: From here it is only about 50 meters to my money-saving tip Pizzeria All’Anfora from Culinary Venice. On the opposite side of the canal, the church of San Geremia is clearly visible directly on the water.
► S. Marcuola: At the San Marcuola stop is the Chiesa di San Marcuola, an old church with a simple façade. Ideal starting point for a stroll through the authentic Cannaregio district.
► S. Stae: Possible exit to the Ca’Pesaro Museum. Modern art in a baroque palace on the Grand Canal.
► Ca’Oro: The water bus stops directly in front of the Ca’ d’Oro Gallery. Also a good starting point for a walk through Cannaregio.
► Rialto Mercato: The original Rialto market. Here tourists and locals shop for fruit, vegetables, and fish. One of my top 15 sights of Venice.
► Rialto: Rialto Bridge, probably the most famous sight in Venice next to St Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace.
► S. Silvestro: View of Palazzo Cavalli with a classical 16th-century style façade.
► S. Angelo: Opposite the S. Angelo station, the side canal Rio di San Polo flows into the Grand Canal. 10 meters before the mouth you can see Commissario Brunetti’s roof terrace.
► S. Tomà: Just before the landing stage on the opposite side of the canal is the Palazzo Mocenigo Casa Nuova with a museum.
► Ca’Rezzonico: Important museum Ca’Rezzonico, opposite is Palazzo Grassi with modern art collections.
► Accademia: At the mouth of the Rio S. Travaso you can see the Palazzo Rocca, followed shortly afterward by the Accademia Gallery.
► Giglio: Now one magnificent palace follows the next until the Giglio stops. Here you get off at Musica a Palazzo with many musical events.
► Salute: Here you can get off to visit the imposing Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, one of the few churches directly on the Grand Canal.
► San Marco Vallaresso: Right next to the pier is the famous Harry’s Bar. From here you also have access to St Mark’s Square.
► San Marco Zaccaria: Here the Grand Canal ends and merges into St. Mark’s Basin “Bacino di Marco”. Exit for the tourist center of Venice with its sights including St. Mark’s Basilica and Campanile, Doge’s Palace with Bridge of Sighs, and of course the world-famous St. Mark’s Square.
Grand Canal – “From Venice with Love”
If you remember the showdown of the agent film James Bond – Casino Royale, you will find this row of palaces on the Grand Canal opposite the Rialto Market. In the film, however, the red house in the middle was replaced by a fictitious building, which then sinks spectacularly into the waters of the canal, as in the film.
Bridges on the Grand Canal
In total, there are over 400 bridges in the historic part of Venice, but only 4 of them cross the Grand Canal. The most recent bridge is the Ponte della Costituzione, built only in 2008. It connects the main railway station Stazione Di Venezia Santa Lucia with the bus station Piazzale Roma. At the station itself, you cross the Grand Canal via the Ponte degli Scalzi.
This is the only place where you can reach the historic center of Venice on foot. This pedestrian bridge is therefore the most used bridge in Venice. Then there is only the world-famous Rialto Bridge and, in the south of the old town, the Ponte dell’Accademia, an iron bridge near the famous Accademia Art Museum.
✅ Note: The world-famous Bridge of Sighs is part of the Doge’s Palace and does not cross the Grand Canal but the Rio di Palazzo, a side canal that flows into St Mark’s Basin.
Rialto Bridge and the kiss of love
Legend has it that if you give each other a kiss under the Rialto Bridge at sunset, it seals your love forever. Of course, it would only be truly romantic on a private gondola ride, but who says that kissing on the Vaparetto as you cross the bridge doesn’t also promise eternal love? It’s definitely worth a try and you shouldn’t miss the moment on your tour of the Grand Canal!
✅ Another tip for romantics – Grand Canal Sunset Boat Tour
Crossing the Grand Canal with Traghetto
In some places where there are no bridges over the Grand Canal, there are traghetti, real gondolas that take you from one bank of the canal to the other. This only takes a few minutes and gives you the opportunity to experience the gondola feeling. You pay the low fare of 2 to 3 euros directly on the boat, just like the other passengers, and hand the amount to the gondolier.
Landing stages are Traghetto di Santa Sofia (at the Rialto fish market), Traghetto di San Tomà, and Traghetto di Santa Maria del Giglio (photo, near the Salute church). The gondola ferries, which are also used by many locals, run on weekdays roughly between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Restaurants and cafés on the Grand Canal
Looking down from the famous Rialto Bridge onto Venice’s largest waterway, you can see numerous terraces with restaurants and cafés. Eating or drinking directly on the Grand Canal – “perfect”. The ambiance, service, and quality of the food are perfect. Of course, a large part of the bill is for the mostly beautiful weather and the fascinating view of the Grand Canal. Not only experienced city travelers know that you can eat cheaper, authentic, and delicious food in the maze of narrow streets in the historic old town. If you still don’t want to forego the luxury of a canal view while eating, here are three suggestions, somewhat removed from the tourist centers.
✅ Restaurant De Pisis – In the Hotel Bauer. At the southern end of the Grand Canal, opposite the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Wonderful terrace and a fantastic view of the Grand Canal. Excellent food. The upscale prices for this restaurant in a prime location should not really come as a surprise.
- Address: S. Marco, 1413/d, 30124 Venezia VE
✅ La Porta d’Acqua – After a 200-metre walk from the Rialto Bridge, you can see beautiful tables inside and outside on the waterfront. A somewhat ‘touristy’ restaurant with classic dishes of Italian cuisine. The food is well-cooked, tasty, and nicely presented. The price/performance ratio is okay, but what counts is of course the view.
- Address: Riva del Vin, 1097, 30125 Venezia VE
✅ Trattoria Povoledo Venezia – The view of the Grand Canal from the terrace is fantastic. Close to the train station, opposite my overnight tip Hotel Canal Grande. Good food and friendly staff. Touristy of course but no premium for the location and view.
- Address: 22/ q, Cannaregio, 30121 Venezia VE
A picnic on the Grand Canal?
If you think a picnic is an inexpensive way to enjoy the flair and charm of Venice on the Grand Canal on a sunny day or a secluded evening, watch out because it can quickly become an expensive affair.
Of course, it is not forbidden to eat or drink something in the alleys, along the canals, or in squares, but the classic picnic is basically one of the rules of conduct that you should not do in Venice. As with bathing in the Grand Canal, this can result in a fine of 500 to 1000 euros. This also applies to feeding the pigeons in St Mark’s Square!
Photography on the Grand Canal
Of course, one of the top motifs in Venice is the Grand Canal. At almost 4 kilometers long, the number of different house fronts with different facades and colors is an endless treasure chest when searching for photo motifs. The colorfully marked landing stages for the traditional black gondolas also make every photographer’s heart beat faster.
In fact, you have to travel along the Grand Canal several times a day to fully capture both sides of it. Photographically, this waterway is certainly a great challenge, because with every hour of the day, the sunlight changes and so do the lighting conditions. Venice is famous for its photographs when the sun sets in the evening or when a hint of mist hangs over everything in the cooler season.
There is no solid ground under your feet. You always have to decide on which side of the vaparetto to look for the top motif. During the day, there is always a lot of traffic on the canal, so the vaporetti can get pretty bumpy, even if they are tied up at the numerous stops. But experienced photographers know how to master this situation. The canal becomes calmer in the evening, which may be the time to take your unique picture.
The Grand Canal at night
One feels transported to the Middle Ages when churches and palaces become their shadows on the canal as darkness falls. Some of the old buildings are artfully illuminated, others lie in darkness and only the lights in the windows hint at the beauty inside the buildings. At night, a trip on the Vaparetto is particularly unique! Sometimes you think you have the Grand Canal almost to yourself. Venice now shows its mythical and enchanting side.
✅ Tip: A unique experience Private gondola ride at night
Souvenirs from the Grand Canal
The classic souvenir from the Grand Canal always looks the same. The canal in the middle, the typical palaces on the left and right, the Rialto Bridge in the background, and one or two gondolas with a gondolier and a couple in the foreground. Of course, there are no souvenir shops on a waterway, but the next time you go ashore, it certainly won’t take long to find the right souvenir and stow it in your luggage for the journey home.
People with reduced mobility need not miss out on the Grand Canal experience when traveling to Venice. Of course, there are no alleys or pathways for wheelchair users here, it is mainly the popular scheduled boats that are very well equipped for impaired passengers. Access to the water buses is barrier-free or can be easily managed with the help of ramps. There are reserved spaces for wheelchair users on the vaporetti, from which they can admire and photograph the sights on the banks of the canal just like any other Venice traveler. Wheelchair users only pay a ticket price of € 1.50 on the scheduled boats, including one accompanying person.
For a one-way trip on the regular boat, you pay between € 7.50 and € 10.50. The ticket is valid for a maximum of 75 minutes from the first validation. If you interrupt your trip for a sightseeing tour, for example, 75 minutes are quickly over and the trip on the Grand Canal becomes an expensive affair. So if possible, always buy a day or multi-day ticket. Then all trips, e.g. to the Lido or the islands in the lagoon, cost nothing extra. Here you can find everything you need to know about public transport in Venice.
A hotel room with a view of the Grand Canal
Beautiful Venetian hotels can be found throughout the lagoon city. There is a small selection of my top 10 hotels in the historic center of Venice and for those who want to stay a little cheaper, there are additional hotel recommendations a little outside the center. There are also hotel tips for each of the lagoon islands in the individual articles.
However, those who long for a view over the Grand Canal from their accommodation may find the right hotel here. Rooms with a view of the canal can be booked directly in advance for all suggestions. This may cost a little more than a garden or city view, but unfortunately in the famous lagoon city, even that has its price.
Elegant Venetian-style hotel next to the Ca’ D’Oro vaporetto stop. Five minutes from the Rialto Bridge. Traghetto to Rialto Market is also at the door. The rooms are well equipped. Roof terrace with a dream view. Delicious breakfast to start the day. Overall good value for money for Venice and a great starting point for a trip through the lagoon city.
- Address: Campo Santa Sofia 4200/1/2, Cannaregio, 30121 Venice, double room with canal view from €130.00
Residenza d’Epoca San Cassiano
Villa from the 14th century, quietly located opposite the Cannaregio quarter, max. 5 minutes to the next Vaparetto station, interestingly furnished rooms with lots of Venetian splendor and plush, WLAN free of charge, the good breakfast is always mentioned. If you like the charm of an old city villa with a bit of kitsch and a lot of Venice, this is the place for you.
- Address: 2232, Santa Croce, 30135 Venice, room 35, double room with canal view from € 160.00
This is also the name of the accommodation. A really nice plush hotel not too far from the train station, parking garage, or bus station. Directly on the Grand Canal with a fantastic view of the old palazzi. The nearest water bus stop, Riva de Biasio, is only two minutes away. The rooms are furnished to a high standard in Venetian style and look great. Ideal for guests who don’t want to lug their luggage too far when they arrive in Venice.
- Address: Santa Croce, 932, Santa Croce, 30135 Venice, Room 15, double room with canal view from € 225.00
Hotel San Cassiano – Andrzej Otrębski (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Venezia_Ca’_Favretto.jpg), “Venezia Ca’ Favretto”, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode
More images: Pixabay