A Ride on the Grand Canal

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on February 24, 2007

A trip down the Grand Canal is the perfect introduction to Venice, whether you are being chauffered with your loved one by a gondolier, sailing a yacht up it (sadly illegal unless you are filming a Bond film), or just cramming onto the vaporetto from the train station down to St Mark's. The vaporetto, the public transport equivalent of Metro, Tube, or Subway, gives you an unprecedented look at the wonders of Venice's main thoroughfare.

The palazzi you see were designed to present their most ostentatious faces to the canal to impress and overawe their rivals and lessers. As a result they reach heights of splendour such as the Moorish patterning of the Ca'd'Oro, reflecting the Doge's Palace at the canal's end, the rich friezes of the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac, the marble veneer of the Palazzo Dario, and the technicolour Palazzo Salviati.

Due to the demand there are not too many churches—those that do exist are located at the (unfashionable) northern end. However, one of Venice's crowning glories, the church of Santa Maria della Salute, does tip the western bank. The Salute is stunning to view, particularly when lit up by a fiery sunset, but plain and dull within.

One of the few open spaces devoid of palace or church, and thereby proving its importance to this most ostentatious of cities, is occupied by the Rialto markets: the Pescheria, Fabbriche Nuove, and Fabbriche Vecchie. The sight of the stalls being supplied by skiffs and the raucous hubbub that floats across the water create a lasting impression. The markets are even more worth visiting after dark. With all the stalls reduced to bare skeletons the market traders retreat to one of the many enotecas built into the arches below the Rialto, the orange light from within throwing distorted shadows across the flags.

The Rialto Bridge has always been a by-word for commerce—witness the number of times it is mentioned in Shakespeare's 'Merchant Of Venice'. It is also the most architecturally noteworthy of the three bridges that span the Grand Canal. The Ponte degli Scalzi by the train station is a plain stone span, but is great for your first view of the city. The Ponte degli Accademia is a looping wooden structure towards the head of the canal, arching high above the waters, and giving a great view of the Salute.

Another way to cross the canal is the traghetti—poled gondolas that cross at prescribed points from one side to the other. If your budget does not run to a full gondola experience follow one of the many signs to a crossing point where you can get a sample for 40 cents. Remember—real Venetians do it standing up!

The standard fare for a one-way vaporetto trip is €5 which is good for 90 minutes of hopping on and off down the Canal. Better value is a travel card (one day €10.50, three days €22), or a Venice card which combines these benefits.

The Grand Canal
Through the Central Districts
Venice, Italy


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