Venice Grand Canal for Cruisers

What is so special about the Venice Grand Canal? How to explore it? Can you walk the Grand Canal? How to take a ride? Everything you need to know about seeing the world's most famous water corridor from the cruise ship!

A ride down the Venice Grand Canal must be one of the things you’re looking forward to most when it comes to planning your Venice Italy cruise.

And you are so right because it will be the most exciting and interesting 30 or 40-minute ride you’ve ever had in your life!

Even if the Grand Canal was just a street that you could drive or walk down, and you tried to compare it to any other city’s famous streets… after a few minutes of thinking you would come up with nothing's so unique!

It’s really hard to think of any other streets, avenues, or boulevards in the world that in a stretch of only 3 kilometers house 170 magnificent palaces and churches.

Grand Canal in Venice Italy from Calatrava bridgeWhen walking into Venice from Stazione Marittima, you can take the Grand Canal in from Calatrava's bridge

What is so special about Venice Grand Canal?

And in those palaces, right there on the Grand Canal, Popes and Doges were born, Emperors stayed or were entertained, some of the most famous painters in the world decorated walls with frescoes, superstar composers of the past created musical master pieces, poets and writers found their inspiration, and where art collectors stashed their invaluable collections!

Looking at the facades of the Venice Grand Canal palaces is almost like flipping through a Who is Who book of European art and high society from the 13th to 20th century.

Dining room table tidbit:
There are only 3 real canals in Venice: the Grand Canal, Giudecca and Canareggio. All the others Venetians refer to as rio (river).

But also, it’s like a ride through a study book on architecture: the facades of the Venice Grand Canal buildings will reveal a whole spectrum of different styles:

  • There are 13th-century Fondaco houses that combined the merchants’ residences with the warehouses. 
  • Venetian-Byzantine style palazzos decorated with elements brought in from Constantinople. 
  • You will see Venetian Gothic style with its thin columns and pointed arches.
  • Renaissance style columns in the three classical orders, the Venetian Baroque, Neoclassicism, and modern style. 

It’s all here in the 3 km stretch.

Grand Canal palazzos view from the vaporettoVenice palazzos seen from the Grand Canal

Where is Venice Grand Canal located?

The Venice Grand Canal is an S-shaped, river-like canal that winds through the main districts (sestieri) of Venice, Italy.

On one side it ends in the Venice lagoon: near Santa Lucia, where the train station is, and close to Piazalle Roma, the traffic hub known as the last point you can reach by car when entering the historical Venice.

On the other side it opens up into Saint Marks basin right in front of the Piazzetta and Piazza di San Marco.

Venice Grand Canal facts:

Length: 3800 m (2,3 miles)

Width: 30-90 m (98-295 feet)

Depth: (on average) 5 meters (16 feet)

How to see the Venice Grand Canal?

Apart from being one of the most romantic ride routes in the world for tourists, its purpose is also very practical for the locals. The Venice Grand Canal is the major traffic corridor of the city.

Most of the traffic on the Venice Grand Canal happens along the canal: vaporetto water buses, water taxis, gondolasand  can be used to have a ride past all the beautiful buildings.

While traghettos are the only ones to take you across the canal. Together with the bridges of the Venice Grand Canal, they are the quickest way to cross from one side to the other.

How to take a ride down the Venice Grand Canal

Venice taxi on Grand CanalFerrovia vaporetto station in front of Santa Lucia train station, close to Piazzale Roma

One way of enjoying the Venice Grand Canal view is by admiring it from one of the bridges that cross over it. This is a no-cost way and it’ll still provide you with some great photos to show off back home.

However, if you would like to maximize your experience, it is so worth spending €9,50 for a vaporetto ride.

The best time of the day to have a ride is probably later in the afternoon.

Remember that rush hours for the local commuters are in the morning between 9-10 and after 7-8 in the evening.

In the daytime vaporettos will be packed with day trippers and locals running errands, so the late afternoon really seems to be the best time.

The two best ways to take a ride down the Canal Grande of Venice are to make them part of your transportation process from the ship to downtown Saint Marks Square or vice versa.

Remember, Piazzale Roma, where you take the vaporetto down the Grand Canal is only 15-20 minutes walk from the Stazione Marittima cruise terminal, but since 2022 this is not where your ships docks, it is in Marghera cargo port.

Still, cruise line's transfer buses will drop you off at the Stazione Marittima, where you will take the People Mover to Piazzale Roma.

That way, if you are in no hurry, you can partially save on the expensive transportation shuttle boats provided to you from the cruise line and enjoy the Canal Grande on the way to Piazza San Marco.

The best vaporetto to take down the Grand Canal is #1, as it takes the longest. Its 40 minute slow zig-zagging between the banks of the canal will give you enough time to enjoy the ambiance and take photos.

If you can, take a seat in the open at the back of the vaporetto, that’s the best spot for taking photographs.

If you are starting your Grand Canal tour from Piazzale Roma, take vaporetto #1 from in front of the Santa Lucia train station, the name of the stop is Ferrovia.

Your 'tour' will finish at the San Marco Valareso stop which is only a few minutes walk from Piazza San Marco.

vaporetto ride down the grand canalTourists enjoy the view from the open back of the Vaporetto on the Grand Canal

How to see Venice Grand Canal from a gondola?

Do Venetian gondolas go down the Grand Canal? Yes, they do, and they are definitely the most unique and most romantic way of seeing this majestic, palazzo-lined waterway.

Have I ever had a ride in a gondola? Not yet, as I was somehow always in a hurry, working out in port visiting my clients but you sure can, if you have a long day in Venice.

I wrote about these fantastic boats in my article Venice gondolas and also about where to catch a gondola in my article How to have a ride in a Venetian gondola. If you want to take a photo from a boat in a middle of the Grand Canal fbut don't have time for the gondola ride, I'll let you in on a little secret in my article Venice traghetto!

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