Have you been desiring to visit Italy but don’t know the best places to tour? Have you considered the Grand Canal? You certainly should.
As the main street in Venice, the Grand Canal is often considered the most romantic, the most fascinating, and the most intriguing street in the world.
This ancient waterway winds a leisurely S-shaped path from the Saint Mark Basin for slightly over two miles and ends in a lagoon not far from the Santa Lucia railway station.
Since its very beginnings, the city of Venice was a merchant’s city. As far back as the 10th Century, it was an important center for trade — and the buildings that line the Grand Canal were showplaces built by the wealthiest merchants, mostly between the 13th and 17th Centuries.
Also, many of these buildings were originally ornately decorated and richly furnished homes owned by noble Venetian families. Many of them are now museums.
Visitors today who tour the Grand Canal can view these fabulous palaces of merchant kings along the waterway. Yes, their colors are a bit faded. But the sights of the Grand Canal include some of Venice’s finest architecture. And their stories are as rich and full of intrigue as the history of this unique city.
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Best Features of Canal Grande (Grand Canal, Venice)
There are many reasons why the Grand Canal is so famous. First, it’s one of the busiest waterways in Europe. Every day, hundreds of boats travel up and down the busy canal, transporting people and goods around Venice.
Second, the canal is lined with some of the most magnificent buildings in the city. Many of these buildings are hundreds of years old and have been meticulously preserved.
Finally, the canal is a great place to people watch. You’ll see Venice’s residents going about their daily lives and tourists from all over the world taking in the sights and sounds of this fantastic city.
If you’re looking for a truly unique and memorable experience while touring the Grand Canal, here are some must-see attractions:
Legends of the Ca Dario
The gorgeous pink marble Palazzo Ca Dario, a classic example of the Venetian Gothic style, was built in the mid-1400s overlooking the Grand Canal. Known to locals as the “house of no return,” this graceful palace is possibly the best-known haunted house globally.
The horror stories surrounding Ca Dario began almost as soon as it was built and continue into the 20th Century.
Home to the Dario family for several hundred years, the mansion’s first victim was Marietta Barbaro, the original owner’s daughter. She was imprisoned in the house and starved to death. Not long after, her father and husband died, while her brother, Vincenzo, was murdered there.
The family finally sold the house to a wealthy diamond dealer who went bankrupt shortly after buying Ca Dario and died a pauper. In 1832 Rawdon Brown, a well-known British scientist, bought the mansion. A decade later, he too went broke — and both he and his lover committed suicide.
Late in the 19th Century, the home was purchased twice. The first buyer was accused of criminal behavior and fled Venice. After buying the cursed mansion, the second became deathly ill and moved to France. Much later, in the 1970s, Ca Dario’s owner was murdered in the house by his lover.
Other owner victims of the Ca Dario include Nicoletta Ferrari, who was killed in a suspicious car accident, Christopher Lambert, manager of the famous rock band The Who, and wealthy businessman Raul Giardini, both of whom committed suicide.
Proving that beauty can indeed be deadly, the Palazzo Ca Dario is a fascinating introduction to the history of the Grand Canal.
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The Rialto Bridge
The oldest and most famous of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge is one of Venice’s most photographed sights. The current bridge, built-in 1591, is actually the fourth bridge constructed on that spot.
The very first Rialto Bridge dates all the way back to 1181, and it was built on pontoons. As commerce in Venice grew, the city needed a larger bridge, so it was replaced with a permanent wooden structure in 1250.
In the early 1300s, the wooden bridge was damaged in a fire during a political rebellion, and in 1444 it collapsed entirely under the weight of onlookers during the wedding procession of the Marquis of Ferrara. A new wooden bridge was built — and it too collapsed in 1524.
The stone bridge you see today from the Grand Canal is the work of Venetian architect Antonio da Ponte, and of course, there’s a story about its origin. Legend has it that da Ponte’s design received a lot of criticism from his peers.
In fact, da Ponte was supposedly visited by Satan himself, who told him that the bridge would never open unless the first person to cross it pledged his soul to the devil.
Da Ponte refused to make a deal with the devil, but Satan won in the end — the first person to cross the stone Rialto Bridge was da Ponte’s pregnant wife. The child was stillborn, and his soul is said to haunt the bridge to this day.
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St Mark’s Basilica (San Marco)
This incredible masterpiece of Italo-Byzantine architecture is something you wouldn’t want to miss while in Venice. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city and a must-see building while touring the Grand Canal in Venice.
History shows that St. Mark’s Basilica’s consecration took place in 1093 AD. And from 1807, the Basilica has served as the cathedral of Venice. It’s undoubtedly among the most astonishing churches globally, attracting huge tourist crowds every year.
If you want to have first-hand experience with St. Mark’s relics, this Basilica is the place. It was initially built as home to the saint’s relics, making it a revered place, especially for the Catholic faith.
Interestingly, Saint Mark’s body was stolen from Alexandria by two Venetians in 828 AD and smuggled to Venice. They concealed it with piles of pork, transporting it in a gondola. All this and more interesting history awaits you here!
And to crown it all, St. Mark’s Basilica was once a private chapel for the ruling Doges of Venice. It’s now one of the most significant churches and squares (Piazza San Marco) in the world.
Sitting in St. Mark’s Square, Pallazo Ducale is among the most iconic landmarks in Venice. It’s like the real symbol of the city. And for over 1,000 years, the place was home to the Doge, Venice’s ruler.
After 1677, the Doge’s Palace was largely rebuilt and became a public museum. This was after a fire almost burnt the entire place down. Today, you can tour the lavish State Apartments, filled with stunning Renaissance and Venetian part pieces The most incredible masterpieces here include;
- The Rape of Europa by Veronese
- The Triumph of Venice by Veronese
- Paintings and Ceilings by Tintoretto
The Palace also has some of the best views in Venice. From the Porta Della Carta, you can see St. Mark’s Basilica. And from the balcony of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, you can get a sweeping view of the entire city!
While here, you can also visit the prisons where Casanova was once held. But the best part of the Ducale is the secret passageway that leads to the Bridge of Sighs. According to the legend, if you kiss your lover on this bridge at sunset, you’ll be together forever.
Pallazo Ducale is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. It’s both gorgeous and also steeped in so much history.
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Hedonistic Luxury at Palazzo Mocenigo
This spectacular 16th Century palace on the Grand Canal was once home to the glitterati of old Venice — and now it’s available for rent as an exclusive luxury residence or the site for special (read exceptional) events. Today the palace and grounds are filled with rich furnishings and majestic spaces, including Venetian marble floors, Murano glass chandeliers gleaming on the ceiling, and a classic Italianate garden.
Back in 1818, though, the palace had a far wilder reputation. It was home to the famous poet George Gordon, the Lord Byron, for several years. The poet was famous for his entourage of servants — 14 of them — and his pets — monkeys, dogs, cats, birds, and even a fox.
As the story goes, Byron kept two separate entrances in the house: one for his girlfriends from Castello and the other for his lovers from Cannaregio. The poet’s diary lists an astonishing number of his conquests by name, and undoubtedly his famous poem “Don Juan” was inspired at least in part by his romantic adventures.
Venice and its breathtakingly beautiful Grand Canal are certainly no stranger to romance. Equal parts business and beauty, history and dreams, there’s no place in the world like it. The best way to experience this remarkable city is on the waters of the Grand Canal — by Vaporetto ferry or with a special someone in a traditional, unforgettably romantic gondola.
Basilica of Santa Maria Della Salute
Also known as Le Salute, this is a true Venetian jewel. The church was built in the 17th Century to thank the Virgin Mary for saving Venice from the plague. The plague left around 95,000 Venetians dead.
Designed by Baldassare Longhena, the Basilica is a magnificent example of Baroque architecture, sitting on top of more than 1 million piles of timber. Its interior is even more impressive, with lavish gold altars and beautiful paintings. As for the floor, it’s made of beautiful marble, while the ceiling is decorated with intricate frescoes.
But what makes this church so special is its location. Le Salute sits at the end of the Grand Canal and provides some of the most incredible views of Venice. From here, you can see all the way down to St. Mark’s Square.
However, if you want to get away from the crowds, I suggest visiting Le Salute early in the morning or late at night. You’ll have the place almost to yourself!
And when you’re through, make sure to walk around the back of the church. From here, you’ll get one of the most iconic views in Venice: a view of the Grand Canal with Le Salute in the foreground.
If you’re visiting Venice, adding Le Salute to your list of places to see is a great idea.
Even if you’re not religious, this church is well worth a visit.
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Peggy Guggenheim Museum
When you thought you’d seen and enjoyed it all, think again! One of the coolest places in Venice is Peggy Guggenheim’s museum.
Peggy was an American heiress and art collector who lived in Venice for many years. And in her will, she left her entire collection of modern art to the city.
The museum is located on the Grand Canal, and it’s one of the most visited museums in Italy. Inside, you’ll find works by Picasso, Dali, Mondrian, and other major artists from the 20th Century.
But my favorite part of the museum is its garden. Here, you can enjoy views of the Grand Canal while surrounded by beautiful sculptures. The garden is also a great place to relax after exploring the museum.
Generally, everything about Peggy Guggenheim’s museum is awesome. But one thing to keep in mind is that it can get very crowded, especially during the high season. So, get the timing right.
Another must-see attraction while touring the grand canal in Venice is the Galleria dell’Accademia.
The Accademia is one of the most important art museums in Venice, and it’s home to some of the city’s best-known paintings.
Among its many highlights are works by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Canaletto. But the real star of the museum is The Tempest by Giorgione. This painting is considered one of the greatest works of Venetian art, and it’s definitely worth a visit.
However, even if you’re not an art lover, the Accademia is still worth your time. The museum has an incredible view of the Grand Canal from its top floor. So even if you don’t enjoy looking at paintings, the view will make up for it.
After visiting the Accademia, you can also walk across the street to see Santa Maria Della Salute.
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The Main Bridges on the Grand Canal in Venice
The Grand Canal boasts four beautiful bridges, each with its unique charm. And as you tour the canal, these bridges make up some of the most iconic views. These bridges include:
1. The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
This stone bridge was built in the 16th Century, and it’s one of Venice’s most recognizable landmarks.
However, if you’re looking for a unique experience, I recommend taking a gondola ride under the bridge. It’s a must-do activity while in Italy Venice.
2. Ponte degli Scalzi (“Barefoot Bridge”)
This bridge gets its name from the barefoot monks who lived nearby. It’s a simple but elegant bridge, and it provides great views of the canal.
The bridge connects Venice’s busiest areas: the Santa Lucia train station and the Piazzale Roma. It replaced the original Australian iron bridge, and it’s among the stunning views that form the grand canal.
3. The Accademia Bridge
The third bridge is the Accademia Bridge, which was completed in 1854. This bridge might be less popular than the Rialto Bridge, but it provides some of the best views of Venice.
It is located almost at the end of the Grand Canal, and it’s the perfect spot to take a photo.
4. The Constituion Bridge (Ponte della Costituzione)
The fourth and final bridge is Ponte Della Costituzione, which was completed in 2008. This bridge is Venice’s newest and it’s the city’s largest.
The constitution bridge also has another name, “Calatrava Bridge,” derived from its Spanish architect. It connects Venice’s main train station to the rest of the city.
Best Canal Grande Tours
For the most memorable moments in Canal Grande, booking a guided tour is the best way to go.
A tour lets you learn a lot about Venice’s history and culture as you explore its most iconic sights. Some of the best tours to consider here include:
This tour lets you glide down the Venice canals on a gondola as you learn about the city’s history and culture from your informative guide.
It allows you to enjoy all the picturesque views of the Canal Grande while learning about its important landmarks. Even better, the tour offers more than a trip down the grand canal. You will love cruising down other smaller and secluded canals that offer stunning views.
As you make your way down these canals, various landmarks and attractions will come into sight, including;
- Le Salute Church
- The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
- Grimani Palace
The one-hour guided tour plus a 30-min gondola ride will certainly be worth your time.
If you want to experience the true romance of Venice, a private gondola ride is the ultimate Venice experience. Book a gondola that accommodates up to six people to get the most out of this tour.
And as you cruise down the canal, you’ll have a chance to soak in the beautiful history and views that Venice offers. In fact, you shouldn’t forget to carry your camera.
This is a great opportunity to get some amazing photos and memories that will last a lifetime. Some of the main highlights of this tour include:
- A 30-min gondola ride
- Stunning views of Venice’s canals and architecture
- Gothic façades sights
The best thing with gondola rides is that you can access one, whether day or night.
There’s no better way to explore the beauty of Venice than on a boat along the city’s canals. And with a shared gondola ride, you can enjoy and learn all that makes Venice.
This tour will give you a chance to see some of Venice’s most famous sights, including:
- The Rialto Bridge
- The Grand Canal
- Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)
It is one of the most comprehensive tours of the grand canal and the entire Venice city.
Here, you’ll start by enjoying the city’s sights on foot. You’ll explore the narrow streets and alleyways, learning about the history and culture of Venice as you go.
Afterward, you’ll take a ride in a gondola down the grand canal. This way, you get to see Venice from a different perspective, which only means more fun and great moments.
The tour will last approximately two hours and include a one-hour walking tour and a 30-minute gondola ride. And, everything you’ve wanted to learn about Venice, this tour offers an excellent opportunity.
Like many other Grand Canal tours, this one starts at St. Mark’s Square, with a boat ride later on the Grand canal. However, this tour is different because it also includes a visit to the famous St. Mark’s Basilica.
You’ll get to explore the basilica and learn about its history before getting on a boat for a ride, passing through a temporary pontoon bridge down to the Canal Grande. The tour will last approximately two hours, which gives you enough time to enjoy and absorb all the beauty that Venice offers.
This tour also includes a break between the tours, allowing you to have lunch or go shopping before embarking on the subsequent tour.