Venice’s ultimate attraction is the Grand Canal, a magnificent waterway lined with palazzi and superb churches that bisects the city tracing three wide curves and offering constantly changing views. The Grand Canal was originally the Brenta River, and for many centuries, served as the main route for merchant vessels approaching the Rialto.
It’s almost 2.5 miles long and varies in width from 100-230 ft, with an average depth of around 16ft. The only way to see it all is by water. Most visitors do this by taking the No. 1 or 82 vaporetto (water bus) or No. 3 or 4 in the summer, from Piazzale Roma as far as Vallaresso/San Marco or San Zaccaria.
Other options are by water taxi or gondola. Both are very expensive, but are worth considering, particularly if several people share the cost.
Excellent land points of observation are from the Scalzi, the Rialto and the Accademia bridges. The windows and loggias of museums along the Canal are also great vantage points. So if you’re visiting the Ca’ d’Oro, the Ca’ Pesaro, the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim or the Ca’ Rezzonico, don’t forget to look out of the windows for a great view.
Last but not least, do as the Venetians do and take one of the traghetti that cross the Canal at fixed points. These link crucial city through-routes, saving detours to bridges, and will give you glimpses of the Venetian palaces as they were designed to be seen, from water level.
Some of the gondola traghetti operate for a few hours a day several months of the year, but two of them operate between 8:00 am - 6:00 pm (Rialto-Santa Sofia) or between 7:00 am - 11:00 am (San Tomà-Santo Stefano).
A vaporetto trip down the Grand Canal takes around 50 minutes, and you’ll need to do it at least twice to see everything properly. Some of the most impressive buildings along the Grand Canal have been converted into galleries and museums. Others have been turned into co-operative apartments.
Of course, one of the more romantic ways to travel the Grand Canal is by gondola. If you’re planning a trip, you can discuss the itinerary beforehand with the gondolier. The route will depend on where you’re boarding, but most gondola trips cover the Bacino di San Marco and some side canals. Fares are set by the Gondola Board, but not always respected by the gondoliers. Depending on the season, you may try bargaining. Gondolas can carry as many as six passengers, but there are no discounts for fewer numbers. If you’re in Venice on a package holiday, a gondola ride may be included in the deal.