The Grand Canal is Venice’s famous S-shaped thoroughfare. On any given day you can hear the splashing of the oars of the gondolas that slowly traverse the city just as they have done for centuries. A trip in a gondola is almost unavoidable because there are very few sidewalks along the canal, and the backs of the Floating City’s buildings drop straight into the water. A more modern and faster way to see the Grand Canal, and the main tourist attractions alongside it, is by vaporetto (water bus). For a simple crossing, take a traghetto, a ferry on which you remain standing for the duration of the short trip.
You can travel the entire two-mile (four-kilometer) length of the Grand Canal by boat, passing the many fine palaces and churches that line its banks. See examples of the impressive architectural styles that give Venice its charm. Among the more than 170 landmark buildings is the Gothic palace Ca’ d’Oro, the baroque Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and the Renaissance-style Palazzo Dario. Several agencies offer tours that will explain the history of these buildings in detail, a great way to get an overview of Venice. If you’d rather explore at your own pace, hire a private gondola and punt your way along the calm waters.
Be sure to pause at the Rialto Bridge, one of Venice’s most iconic sights. It’s the oldest of four bridges that cross the Grand Canal. The other bridges are the Ponte degli Scalzi, the Ponte dell’Accademia, and the ultra-modern, and controversial, Constitution Bridge.
Come on the first Sunday in September for the spectacular Regata Storica, when locals dressed in 16th-century costumes race decorated boats.
The Grand Canal is Venice’s “main street,” central to all that goes on in the city. It is common practice to barter with the gondoliers when arranging your canal trip.