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Best Things to To in Venice’s Grand Canal

Bordered by more than 100 palaces, sumptuous churches and jewels of history, the Grand Canal of Venice is not only the most important connecting road of the city but a tourist attraction in itself. Here's what not to miss when you visit the City of Canals.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

11 min read

Best Things to To in Venice’s Grand Canal

Venice Canal | ©Pixabay

The Grand Canal of Venice constitutes the most important commercial route of the entire city since its foundation. Throughout history, this historic site has been the site of some of the city's most important architectural works that gave shape, life and served as the backdrop for important events. Eager to walk along the Grand Canal? Let's take a look at some of the things you can see and do during a gondola ride along its waters.

1. Take a boat trip on the Grand Canal

By boat on the Grand Canal| ©Pedro Szekely
By boat on the Grand Canal| ©Pedro Szekely

The best way to appreciate the architectural and historical richness of Venice is through a quick tour of the city's main thoroughfare: the Grand Canal. In Venice you will find several transportation alternatives ranging from a guided tour or excursion to the city's floating public transport known as vaporetto; which moves at high speed along the canal.

A Grand Canal cruise with an expert guide is the best alternative. This person will be able to point out each of the palaces and sites of historical and political interest; additionally several stops are contemplated in the tours to get closer to the most emblematic constructions and get perfect views.

Please note that the architectural richness of Venice is one of a kind. In the era of commercial and economic growth of this beautiful city, the construction of palaces and stately homes along the Grand Canal was considered one of the greatest signs of wealth and opulence. Today along the canal you can see and appreciate a varied collection of architectural styles ranging from the twelfth century to the late eighteenth century.

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2. Visit the Piazzeta San Marco

St. Mark's Basilica and its Campanile| ©Massimo Adami
St. Mark's Basilica and its Campanile| ©Massimo Adami

Piazzetta is an Italian term that could be translated as "small square". Located right in front of the Doge's Palace, it is a square of small proportions or considered by many as an extension of St. Mark's Square.

Because of its strategic location, it serves several functions: it serves as a connecting element or access point to the iconic square from the lagoon, it serves as a relief space for the Palace and it serves to communicate the surrounding buildings with the Library of Jacopo Sansovino. The Piazzeta San Marco can be viewed very easily from the eastern approach to the Grand Canal and offers fabulous views of the St. Mark's complex.

3. Visit the Santa Maria della Salute Basilica

Santa Maria della Salute Basilica| ©Jorge Franganillo
Santa Maria della Salute Basilica| ©Jorge Franganillo

Santa Maria della Salute is a monumental baroque church located at the mouth of the Grand Canal of Venice; its construction was ordered in 1630 as a way of thanking providence for taking away the plague that by that time struck the small Venice and killed about a hundred thousand Venetians. The work was in charge of the architect Baldassare Longhena who, in order to support the great weight of the building, ordered to nail more than a million beams to the firm ground of the lagoon.

The church is one of the most important landmarks of Venice and one of the most important works of the Baroque movement in Italy. The most striking element is its imposing dome that takes the shape of a crown and on top of which was placed the statue of the Virgin Mary, protector of the city. In your tour of the interior of the jewel of architecture do not fail to appreciate:

La Madonna della Salute: A famous medieval painting located above the high altar.
The marble floor that stands out for its beautiful inlays in various geometric shapes.
The Sacristy whereworks of the famous artists Titian and Tintoretto, such as "The Wedding at Cana'' have been placed.

4. Visit the Palazzo Ducale

Exterior of the Palazzo Ducale| ©Paris Orlando
Exterior of the Palazzo Ducale| ©Paris Orlando

The truth is that you cannot leave Venice without visiting one of its most iconic monuments: the Doge's Palace. Located in St. Mark's Square itself, the Palace is considered the very symbol of the city. It is a Gothic-Renaissance style building made of pink marble, was for over 1000 years the official home of the rulers of Venice, the Doges. The beautiful building suffered a great fire in 1677, after which it was rebuilt to shine with greater splendor. Inside the Doge's Palace you will find a fabulous collection of Renaissance and Venetian art from all periods.

One example is the painting known as the world's largest oil painting called Il Paradiso by Tintoretto. Other highlights of a tour of the Doge's Palace are:

  • Tour of the magnificent Golden Staircase, considered one of the most richly decorated staircases in the world.
  • Visit the Congress Hall to admire the famous frescoed ceiling and other architectural details.
  • Cross the Bridge of Sighs, where, through a small window, condemned prisoners took a last look outside before being condemned.

Book your excursion to Palazzo Ducale

5. Conce St. Mary of Nazareth

St. Mary of Nazareth Church| ©TracyElaine
St. Mary of Nazareth Church| ©TracyElaine

Located in the Cannaregio district of Venice, near the Ponte degli Scalzi bridge and the Santa Lucia station is another magnificent work of Venetian baroque. The design of Santa Maria di Nazareth was commissioned in 1962 to the architect Baldassare Longhena by the order of the Discalced Carmelites, this being one of the reasons why the church is popularly known by the name of Gli Scalzi.

Its beautiful facade, entirely covered in marble, is where its beautiful columns and the statues of the saints, each placed in independent niches, stand out. The interior, also richly decorated in the purest baroque style, is also full of colored marble columns, spiral forms, golden flourishes and exquisite frescoes. In the second chapel, located to the right of the structure, you will find the famous fresco by Tiepolo called The Glory of St. Teresa. In the third chapel, located to the left of the structure, is the fresco Christ Orlando in the Garden of Gethsemane.

6. View the Reali Gardens

Reali Gardens| ©trolvag
Reali Gardens| ©trolvag

On a visit to the Grand Canal of Venice it is worthwhile to visit one of the few green lungs of the city. Giardinetti Realiseis located between St. Mark's Square and St. Mark's Pond. Because of its proximity to such important architectural landmarks of Venice, it is the place to relax and take a leisurely stroll after your visit to St. Mark's Basilica or the Doge's Palace.

The Garden was ordered to be built by Emperor Napoleon in the early 19th century; it contains a variety of trees and flowers complemented by narrow paths and seating areas that give it an air of intimacy. It is not uncommon to see locals and tourists sitting in the sun in this beautiful place.

7. Admire the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Museum

Entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum Collection| ©
Entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum Collection| ©

Located in the Dorsoduro district, just after Santa Maria della Salutte is the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, a must for all those who love the art of the late twentieth century. The museum houses in its spaces the treasures of the American-born art collector Peggy Guggenheim, including cubist, abstract and surrealist sculptures of important figures of modern art such as Pablo Picasso, Vassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder and more.

About the history of the museum, this space was destined to become the Palace of the Garnier family for which work began in 1749; the work was never completed, so in 1949 the only became the museum we know today.

8. Enjoy the Markets

Rialto Fish Market| ©VeneciaU
Rialto Fish Market| ©VeneciaU

The Rialto Fish Market was established in 1907 and soon became an obligatory stop on a gastronomic tour of Venice. The fresh Venetian seafood sold there can be smelled in the distance as you ride the vaporetto or gondola on the waters of the Grand Canal.

Despite being much less ancient than other buildings, the fact is that on the facade you can appreciate beautiful elements characteristic of Gothic architecture; where exposed brick is combined with pointed arches and carefully carved capitals. Its construction followed the traditional method used in Venice since ancient times: 18,000 larch wood piles were buried to raise the foundations of this structure.

9. Marvel at the façades of the Venetian Palaces or Ca's

Palazzo Esquina della Ca' Grande| ©Wolfgang Moroder
Palazzo Esquina della Ca' Grande| ©Wolfgang Moroder

Since the Grand Canal of Venice has been and still is the most important thorough fare of the city, along the way you will find numerous Venetian houses and palaces that will help you understand a bit of the culture and history of this impressive city. Touring inside some of these works is one of the best things to do in Venice, whether you are in Venice for three days or four days. Here is a list of the Venetian palaces you can admire from the Grand Canal.

Palazzo Esquina della Ca' Grande

Located right across from the Guggenheim, this palace was built in 1545 by architect Jacopo Sansovino for the Corronodo family, one of the traditional Venetian families. Its architecture , totally inspired by classical Rome, makes it a work more typical of the Renaissance style rather than the Byzantine style characteristic of Venice. To notice this, look closely at its Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns, strategically placed on each of the small balconies that serve as exits to each of the large windows on the second and third levels.

Grassi Palace

Located in San Marco, Palazzo Grassi was designed by Giorgio Massari in the 18th century. In recent decades it came back into the public eye after being acquired by the Fiat company and transformed into an exhibition hall. The building has both baroque and classical styles, with a rather atypical architectural plan in Venetian architecture, consisting of four three-story wings located around a central rectangular courtyard. Some of Venice's most important events and fairs are held in this building.

Ca' Rezzonico

Ca' Rezzonico is a large building that today houses the Museum of 18th century Venice, a must for anyone who enjoys classical art. The museum's collection provides a very accurate insight into Venetian life during the Rococo period. It is an on-site museum of admirable and quite peculiar aesthetic characteristics, where almost all the art on display was created specifically for this museum.
Its design and construction was carried out in two stages, the first by the most influential architect in Renaissance Venice: Baldasare Longhena in 1660; the second by Giorgio Massair himself almost a century later.

Ca' Foscari

Ca' Foscari University.| ©Gloyra
Ca' Foscari University.| ©Gloyra

Considered one of the most important and beautiful buildings in Venice, the great Ca' Foscari click here rises imposingly from the waters exhibiting a beautifully executed late Gothic architectural style. At the time of its construction it brought important innovations to Venetian architecture being the first four-story building along the canal. The Foscari Family was expelled from Venice, so the building was put to various uses. Today it serves as the administrative headquarters of the Ca' Foscari University.

Ca' da Mosto

Although it does not exhibit one of the most impressive facades among the palaces of the Grand Canal of Venice, Ca' da Mosto has an enormous historical weight as the oldest palace on the canal, erected in the 13th century. Its façade does not exhibit the level of ornamentation, detail and symmetry of other buildings; on the contrary, the three entrance arches, one wider than the others and placed not in the center but at the side of the building at water level, are striking. Currently, the interior is in ruins but a restoration is contemplated to turn it into a luxury hotel.

Ca' d'Oro

The Palazzo de Santa Sofia is affectionately nicknamed by Venetians the Golden House or Ca' d' Oro. This marvelous 15th century palace could easily qualify as the most beautiful palace in all of Venice making it an obligatory stop on any Grand Canal tour.
Its construction was ordered by the Contarini family and it is said that in other times the imposing facade was completely covered with gold leaf; although today it no longer exists, the Venetian Gothic style architecture of the place is still just as impressive thanks to its delicate lines and succulent decoration. Today it houses the Giorgio Franchetti Gallery.

Ca' Pesaro

Another spectacular Venetian Ca' can be found in the Santa Croce area; this building serves as Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art and although its collection is a little less impressive than that of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, it is certainly worth stopping by and paying a visit.

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10. Cross each of the bridges of the Grand Canal

Rialto Bridge| ©Shaun Dunmall
Rialto Bridge| ©Shaun Dunmall

One of the most important elements of Venice are its many bridges, which function as the connecting arteries between the small islands. Along the Grand Canal you will find 4 large, beautiful and imposing bridges.

Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)

The first bridge that was built in this location was a wooden bridge in the year 1118; almost 150 years later in 1588, the Rialto Bridge that we know today with its 22 meters of total height is supported at its base with approximately 6,000 wooden piles at each end. Besides being the oldest, Ponte di Rialto is considered the most interesting and holds all kinds of stories and secrets.

Ponte dell'Accademia (Accademia Bridge) and the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts)

With the Austrian invasion of Venice, a second bridge was built in 1815 to connect the two banks of the Grand Canal. In 1932 the bridge was replaced by a beautiful wooden bridge whose initial intention was to give way to the final construction of a stone bridge. However, the structure won the affection of the Venetians who, years later, did not accept its replacement.

Ponte della Costituzione (Constitution Bridge)

The Constitution Bridge is one of the modern additions to classic Venice. Ordered to be built in 2007, the bridge was designed by the talented Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The intention was to have, at the end of the Grand Canal, a new connecting element between the two banks.
Calatrava's design does not seek to imitate the more traditional Venetian styles, but rather, a design in keeping with our times, characterized by an elegant curved line that takes shape thanks to the concrete structure. The bridge is clad entirely in a combination of marble and glass.

Ponte degli Scalzi (Barefoot Bridge)

The architect Eugenio Miozzi was commissioned to build a new connecting element at the exit of the Santa Lucia station, the intention was to replace an old stone bridge built in this same place in 1858. For the Ponte degli Scalizi, Miozzi chose a stone design for his work.