The Grand Canal ★★★

The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy (Photo by Pedro Szekely)

Cruising the Canale Grande (Grand Canal), the watery main street of Venice, Italy

An aerial view of Venice, showing the big backwards-S curve of the Grand Canal, The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy. (Photo by Horst-schlaemma)
A view of the Grand Canal from atop the Bottega Veneta, The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy. (Photo by Zairon)
, The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy. (Photo by Pedro Szekely)
, The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy. (Photo by Modes Rodríguez)

The Grand Canal is Venice's main artery and primary boulevard, a two-mile ribbon of water plied by hundreds of ferries, gondolas, garbage scows, traghetti, speedboats, and small commercial craft daily.

This inverted S-curve of a canal is spanned by just a handful of bridges and lined with more than 200 of the most gorgeous Venetian palazzi (palaces), called home at times by a legion of ex-pats like Wagner, Byron, Robert Browning, Hemingway, Proust, Henry James, Ruskin, and James Fenimore Cooper.

The buildings and palaces fronting the Grand Canal range in style from early Byzantine-Romanesque—where pale green, creamy yellow, or blood-red plaster walls are hung with marble sills sporting pointy, eastern style windows—to proportionately precise Renaissance palaces and neoclassical temple-like mansions.

Best of all, you don't have to book an expensive gondola ride to do it. Just sit back on the no. 1 (local) or 2 (express) vaporetto line and take an excursion in observation from Piazza San Marco to the Ferrovia Santa Lucia (the train station)—or vice-versa.

Don't worry about which palazzo is which. Rather open your eyes and your camera lens to search for the telling Venetian details—an old woman swathed in black leaning out her window; workmen replacing water-rotted wooden mooring piles by pounding in fresh-cut trunks; cats sleeping precariously on open windowsills; churches whose entrances lead up out of the canal, as if only the faithful with boats can attend; and private docks whose ancient marble stairs cling with algae as they disappear under the murky water.

Crossing the Grand Canal

In addition to the traghetti gondola skiffs that cross at eight points for €4 ($4) a ride (just follow any street called "Calle del Traghetto"), there are four to five bridges across the Grand Canalcovered on this page.

Photo gallery
  • , The Grand Canal, Italy (Photo by Pedro Szekely)
  • An aerial view of Venice, showing the big backwards-S curve of the Grand Canal, The Grand Canal, Italy (Photo by Horst-schlaemma)
  • A view of the Grand Canal from atop the Bottega Veneta, The Grand Canal, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
  • , The Grand Canal, Italy (Photo by Pedro Szekely)
  • , The Grand Canal, Italy (Photo by Modes Rodríguez)
The Grand Canal tours
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How long does it take to cruise down the Grand Canal?

A leisurely vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal from Piazzale Roma to San Marco will take about 30 minutes on the express (line 2 to the San Marco-Vallaresso stop) or 45 minutes on the local (line 1 to the San Marco-S. Zaccaria stop).

Between 6:21am and 10pm, there's a boat every 10 minutes, so factor that brief wait into your schedule.

How to grab the best seats

Vaporetto boats are open up at the prow with benches, so dash forward to grab an outdoor seat for the best views.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).



A gondola on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge (Photo by Adam Smok)
Venice: Dorsoduro

A gondola ride is the one Venetian tourist trap everyone falls into willingly

Vaporetto no. 1 motoring down the Grand Canal (Photo by Cycling Man)

Instead of public buses, Venice has the vaporetti, a flotilla of public water ferries