Although hordes of tourists make the journey along the Grand Canal in Venice every day, most fail to identify the major landmarks among the 170 odd palaces, churches, and other public buildings that line its banks. Given that many of these are the most prestigious buildings in La Serenissima, you’ll need a good guide to ensure you don’t miss anything special. Here’s our list of must-see sights along the Venice Grand Canal to help give your cruise a little meaning. We’ve also included practical information and tips for your convenience.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Grand Canal
Snaking its way through the city with a double curve in the shape of an inverted ‘S’, the Grand Canal is Venice’s high street, and divides the city in half, with three districts (sestieri) to the west and three to the east.
Flowing in both directions every time the tide changes, the Grand Canal is approximately 3.8 km long (2.36 miles) and varies in width
between 30 and 70 meters (100 and 225 ft); it is, however, surprisingly shallow, and has an average depth of just 5 meters (17 feet).
The Grand Canal or “Canalazzo” as it is known to Venetians is the beating heart of the city. Being the main public highway for the city, its glistening waters are chronically dotted with gondolas, vaporetti (water buses), private water taxis, barges delivering goods, and many other water vessels.
Commerce has long thrived on the Grand Canal and in Venice’s heyday any merchant wanting to make it in the world of business coveted to have his home there. For centuries, the cavalcade of palaces lining the banks of the Grand Canal were the abodes of some of Venice’s most prominent mercantile families and trading corporations.
Most of the buildings along the canal originate from the quest by the Venetian aristocracy to outshine their neighbor’s palace. Since visitors to Venice arrived by boat, the façades, in particular, facing the canal were given lavish architectural treatment.
The styles of houses along the Grand Canal are varied and you can see every style of architecture, from the 12th to the early 18th century. Initially, buildings were built in Byzantine style, and then once the influence of the Ottomans had declined Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque and architecture predominated.
Must-See Sights Along the Grand Canal in Venice
Below I have outlined the best things to look out for along the Grand Canal in Venice (from Piazzale Roma towards San Marco Ferry Terminal).
1. Constitution Bridge
The Constitution Bridge (Ponte della Costituzione) is Venice’s newest bridge and one of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal. Unveiled in 2008 and named to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Italian Constitution, the bridge is known to all Venetians as the Ponte di Calatrava, after its designer, the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Modeled on the shape of a gondola’s hull, the fish-tailed 95-meter arc of steel, glass, and stone connects Piazzale Roma with the Santa Lucia railway station.
While most tourists marvel at the graceful bridge, it isn’t very popular with the locals and has courted huge controversy. Some dislike its modernity and think it clashes with the historic Venetian architecture, while others claim the bridge is functionally unusable due to the absence of ramps and the irregularity of the steps.
2. Santa Lucia Railway Station (Left Bank)
Located at the western end of the Grand Canal, the Santa Lucia Railway Station (Stazione Ferroviaria Santa Lucia) is one of the largest train stations in Italy and has been the gateway into Venice since 1860. It is one of the few modern buildings in Venice, having been built in 1954.
The station building is low and wide and the flanks of its façade are decorated with Venetian lions.
3. San Simeone Piccolo Church (Right Bank)
The San Simeone Piccolo Church (Chiesa di San Simeon Piccolo) stands directly across the train station and in spite of its name (piccolo means “small”), it is a large church. As far as Venice churches go, San Simeone Piccolo is rather unimportant, but it is the one that most people see when they first come to the city.
Built in the mid-18th century with a design partly based on the Pantheon in Rome, San Simeone Piccolo is distinctive for its green oxidized dome and Neoclassical façade.
4. Santa Maria di Nazareth Church (Left Bank)
Standing right beside the railway station, the Santa Maria di Nazareth (Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth) is one of the finest Baroque churches in Venice. It is more commonly referred to as “Scalzi” for the barefoot (“Scalzi”) order of Carmelite friars.
The Scalzi was built in the 1670s and its impressive façade is adorned with columns and statues. The opulent Baroque interior is even more impressive and features an over-elaboration of marble, gilded woodwork, frescoes, and sculptures.
The church is also home to the tomb of Ludovico Manin, the last doge (highest official of the Venetian Republic from the 8th to the 18th century) of Venice.
5. Scalzi Bridge
Just after Santa Maria di Nazareth, you’ll come across the Scalzi Bridge (Ponte degli Scalzi), the smallest of the Grand Canal’s bridges. The stone bridge, which was built in 1934, is often overlooked by tourists in the midst of the rush of commuters bound to and from the train station.
6. Palazzo Labia (Left Bank)
Palazzo Labia was built in the mid-18th century for the Labia family, a famously extravagant Catalan merchant family who had literally bought their way into the Libro d’Oro (the register of the Venetian nobility).
The Labia family left behind tales of legendary wealth and pomposity—at one of their ostentatious galas, they hurled gold dinnerware into the canal.
No expense was spared in constructing the prestigious Baroque palace; the walls of its ballroom are decorated with frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo depicting the story of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
In the past Palazzo Labia variously served as a religious foundation, a school, a doss-house, and was home to the Venetian office of the Italian state broadcasting network, RAI.
7. Fondaco dei Turchi (Right Bank)
Dating from the early 13th-century, the gray Fondaco dei Turchi is one of the earliest surviving palaces on the Grand Canal. From 1621 until 1838 it was used by Turkish traders who set up a warehouse (fondaco); the portico was used for loading merchandise.
However, by the early 19th century, it was in such a bad state that a campaign was launched to rebuild it in its original 13th-century style. Unfortunately, the resulting restoration was badly botched and the present building is a mere shadow of its former self.
Although there’s barely an original brick left in Fondaco dei Turchi, its double loggia, the roofline of triangles, and distinctive arches reflect the architectural influence of the Byzantine world.
Today the building is home to the city’s Museum of Natural History—and the only dinosaur skeleton in Venice.
8. Palazzo Vendramin Calergi (Left Bank)
Arguably the finest Renaissance palace on the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi served as a blueprint for other Venetian palaces. Its elegant three-tiered façade is covered with Istrian marble, large mullioned windows, Corinthian pilasters, and other Renaissance motifs.
Home of many prominent people throughout history, Palazzo Vendramin Calergi is best remembered as the place where German composer Richard Wagner died in 1883. Nowadays, the building is the home of the city-operated casino.
9. Palazzo Belloni Battagia (Right Bank)
Built in the mid-17th century, the gorgeous Palazzo Belloni Battagia is certainly one of the most beautiful palaces on the Grand Canal. It was built for the Belloni family who, similar to the Labia clan of Palazzo Labia fame, had bought their way into Venetian aristocracy.
Its richly decorated white stone façade stands out due to the two distinctive obelisks that adorn the roof.
10. San Stae Church (Right Bank)
Sporting a theatrical late Baroque appearance the San Stae Church (Chiesa di San Stae) was built in the late-17th century in the shape of a greek cross. Its theatrical façade is enlivened by rich sculptures done by the main artists of the time.
In the chancel, there’s a series of paintings from the beginning of the eighteenth century by renowned artists including Tiepolo and Pellegrini.
11. Ca’ Pesaro (Right Bank)
Beyond the San Stae Church on your right looms the colossal Ca’ Pesaro (“Ca” is short for casa or house). It was built between 1652 and 1710 by the stalwarts of Venetian Late Baroque, Baldassare Longhena, and Antonio Gaspari.
Characteristic of Venetian Baroque, Ca’ Pesaro’s flat façade features a three-dimensional stone pattern of deep recesses and strong projections. It is also known for its bristling with diamond-shaped spikes and grotesque heads.
Ca’ Pesaro is now home to the Gallery of Modern Art and the Oriental Museum. Though not as famous as the acclaimed Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the modern art collection spans several movements from the 19th and 20th centuries with an especially rich collection of expressionists and surrealists.
If you can, don’t miss out on the chance to see it when it is beautifully floodlit at night.
12. Ca’ d’Oro (Left Bank)
Not only is Ca’ d’Oro one of the great showpieces of the Grand Canal, but it is also one of the must-see sights in Venice. This sumptuous building from the early 15th century is the finest example of Venetian Gothic architecture in the city.
Ca’ d’Oro’s three stories offer various variations and are topped with a spiny white roofline. The pink-and-white façade, with carved ogee windows, oriental pinnacles, bas-reliefs, and exotic marble tracery was formerly covered in gold leaf – hence the name, “House of Gold.”
Inside, the ornate trappings provide a backdrop for the collection of former owner Baron Franchetti. On display in the museum are tapestries, marble sculptures, antique furnishings, and paintings, including the splendid St. Sebastian by Andrea Mantegna and Death of the Virgin by Vittore Carpaccio.
13. Rialto Fish Market (Right Bank)
Part of the famous Rialto Market, the fish market (Pescheria) is housed in a lovely mock-Gothic market hall, built in 1907. The Pescheria has been the site of a bustling fish market for over six centuries and has been the go-to place for Venetians to buy their seafood.
The Pescheria is a food lover’s paradise and delights with artistic piles of writhing eels, soft-shelled crabs, baby octopuses, sardines, huge swordfish, and other species of seafood.
Visiting the Rialto Fish Market early in the morning and seeing the colorful interplay between the locals and vendors is one of the best free things to do in Venice.
14. Ca’ da Mosto (Left Bank)
Built in the 13th century, Ca’ da Mosto is the oldest building erected on the banks of the Grand Canal. Constructed in the then-popular Venetian-Byzantine style, the derelict building is notable for its high narrow arches and distinctive capitals.
It is also famous for being the birthplace of the 15th-century navigator Alvise da Mosto, who discovered the Cape Verde Islands.
15. Palazzo dei Camerlenghi (Right Bank)
The three-storied Palazzo dei Camerlenghi is one of the most famous Renaissance palaces on the Grand Canal. It has tall windows with centrings separated by pilasters and crowned with interesting friezes.
The building was once home to the chambers of the Venetian exchequer (camerlenghi) and the state prison.
16. Fondaco dei Tedeschi (Left Bank)
Located at the foot of the Rialto Bridge, the huge Fondaco dei Tedeschi was once headquarters of Venice’s German (Tedeschi) merchants who at the time were the most powerful foreign group in the city. The ground floor of the building was a multipurpose warehouse and office space while the upper floors contained a refectory and a dormitory.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi’ is one of Venice’s largest and most recognizable buildings. Its architecture is typical of the Italian Renaissance style and sports a lovely arcaded interior.
Today, the building houses an upmarket department store, with a rooftop platform where you can get panoramic views of Venice, particularly the Grand Canal.
17. Rialto Bridge
Although bridges in Venice are a ubiquitous sight, the Rialto Bridge is by far the most famous. The current incarnation of the Rialto Bridge was constructed in 1588–91 and superseded a succession of wooden and fragile structures.
The graceful marble arched bridge is considered an engineering marvel as it was predicted to fail by naysayers. Until the mid-19th century, if you wanted to cross the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge was the only way.
Today, the bridge is lined with shops and stalls selling overpriced goods. It is usually teeming with tourists vying to get a majestic panorama of the Grand Canal.
18. Ca ‘Loredan and Ca ‘Farsetti (Left Bank)
Joint together at the hip, Ca ‘Loredan and Ca ‘Farsetti are two of the first palaces built on the Grand Canal. The two buildings are now occupied by Venice’s city hall.
Their 13th-century Venetian-Byzantine style façades are recognizable by their elegant ground-floor arcades and arched open galleries which run the entire length of the first floor.
19. Palazzo Grimani (Left Bank)
The primary residence of the patrician Grimani family (who contributed three doges of Venice) until the early 19th century, the Palazzo Grimani is a sublime example of Renaissance architecture.
The palace’s fine white façade bears lavish stone carvings and Corinthian pilasters which none but the Venetian wealthy could afford. It is now occupied by the city’s Court of Appeal.
20. Palazzo Balbi (Right Bank)
Palazzo Balbi is one of Venice’s architectural glories and dates back to the second half of the 16th century. Originally built for the aristocratic Balbi family, it currently serves as the official seat of the President of the Veneto Region and of the Regional Council.
Palazzo Balbi is known for its perfectly symmetrical façade, which features a proto-Baroque design coupled with Renaissance forms. The attractive façade is embellished by mullioned windows, double Doric columns, two obelisk-shaped pinnacles, and the coat-of-arms of the Balbi family.
21. Ca ‘Foscari (Right Bank)
The majestic Ca ‘Foscari is located on the widest bend of the Grand Canal. At the time of its construction in the mid-15th century, it was the largest private house in Venice and was originally home to Doge Francesco Foscari, one of the most colorful figures of Venetian history.
Ca’ Foscari is a perfect example of the Venetian Gothic style, with a series of mullioned windows facing the water, surmounted by a finely carved white Istrian stone façade.
It is also known for having four floors, which at the time was unheard of since most Venetian houses were built with three floors. Today, it is part of the University of Venice.
22. Palazzo Grassi (Left Bank)
A fine example of a mid-18th century Neoclassical residence, Palazzo Grassi is famous for being the last palace to be built on the Grand Canal before the fall of the Venetian Republic. It is, thus, considered to be the “swansong” of a glorious era.
Its stylishly restored salons are nowadays filled with contemporary art of the Pinault Collection and it’s also used as an exhibition center.
23. Ca ‘Rezzonico (Right Bank)
Designed by Baldassare Longhena, one of the finest exponents of Baroque architecture, Ca’ Rezzonico is arguably the finest Baroque palace in Venice.
Its magnificent white marble façade is set across three storeys and is characterized by a rhythmic sequence of arches and windows.
Today, the opulent palace is home to the Museum of 18th-Century Venice. Sumptuously decorated with Baroque and Rococo period pieces, majestic Murano glass chandeliers, and Flemish tapestries, the museum highlights the importance of luxury goods to the 18th-century Venetian economy.
24. Accademia Gallery (Right Bank)
Regarded as one of Europe’s most exceptional art galleries, the Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell’Accademia) is one of the best things to see in Venice. It possesses the world’s richest repository of Venetian art and is Venice’s equivalent of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Occupying three former religious establishments, Venice’s Accademia boasts remarkable works by many of the artistic geniuses including Giorgione, Bellini, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo. The paintings are notable for their vibrant color, luminosity, and supreme decorative sense.
25. Accademia Bridge
The wooden Accademia Bridge (Ponte dell’Accademia) was built as a temporary structure in the 1930s to replace a 19th-century heavy iron bridge. The Venetians were so pleased with it, however, that it was retained.
Though not as popular or impressive as the Rialto Bridge, the Accademia Bridge is one of the best spots to view the sunrise and sunset in Venice.
26. Palazzo Venier dei Leoni & Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Right Bank)
The Venier family was another of Venice’s great dynasties (they produced three doges). In 1759, the Veniers began rebuilding their home, but the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which was slated to become the largest palace on the Grand Canal, never progressed further than the first storey because the Venier clan ran into fiscal straits.
The palace, which is nicknamed Il Palazzo Nonfinito (“The Unfinished Palace”), is now home to the marvelous Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of Europe’s supreme modern art galleries. If you’re big on 20th-century art, this museum is a must-visit in Venice.
Representing almost every modern art movement, more than 200 paintings and sculptures are on display. Acclaimed artists represented are Braque, Miró, Picasso, Magritte, Dalí, Kandinsky, Balla, Severini, Pollock, Duchamp, Klee, Marini, and Malevich.
27. Palazzo Dario (Right Bank)
Built in the late-15th century, the lovely Palazzo Dario boasts an ornamental Renaissance façade studded with multicolored stone medallions. The palace is reportedly cursed as a long roster of former residents died under mysterious circumstances here.
Over the centuries there has been a history of murder, bankruptcy, and suicide here. Kit Lambert, manager of The Who, was murdered in 1981 soon after moving out; in 1993 industrialist Raul Gardini, owner of the palace from 1985, was found dead in Milan, apparently having shot himself.
At the end of the 1990s, Woody Allen Woody Allen seemed willing to buy Palazzo Dario, but changed his mind, allegedly after reading about all the strange deaths connected to the house.
In 2002, a week after renting Ca’ Dario for a vacation in Venice, bass player John Entwistle (most famously associated with The Who) died due to a heart attack.
28. Palazzo Salviati (Right Bank)
Two houses down, the Palazzo Salviati was built in 1924 for a glass-blowing family of the same name. Capitalizing on the prime real estate, the Salviatis made the palace the most garish on the Grand Canal by placing a large technicolor mosaic façade, which seems a tad out of place with the Renaissance-style architecture.
29. Palazzo Contarini Fasan (Left Bank)
Dating from the mid-15th century, the tiny Palazzo Contarini Fasan has a graceful façade with mullioned windows and elaborate wheel tracery on the balconies. It’s popularly known as “the House of Desdemona,” a character from Shakespeare’s Othello.
Although the model for Shakespeare’s heroine did live in Venice, her association with this house seems to be purely sentimental.
30. Santa Maria della Salute (Right Bank)
Dominating the southernmost entrance to the Grand Canal, Santa Maria della Salute’s silhouette has become one of Venice’s most well-known landmarks. The 17th-century Baroque church boasts a massive dome and its exuberant façade has more than 125 statues.
The church was built to honor the Virgin Mary of Good Health as thanksgiving for the deliverance of Venice from the plague of 1630. The rather understated grey-and-white octagonal interior dramatically contrasts with the sumptuous white Istrian stone exterior.
Among the works contained within the luminous church are several by Tintoretto and Tiziano.
31. Punta della Dogana (Right Bank)
The erstwhile customs warehouse on the tip of the promontory features two bronze Atlases supporting a gleaming golden globe with a weathervane figure of Fortune on the top. It is now home to an avant-garde contemporary art collection from some of the world’s most creative minds.
What is the Best Way to Cruise the Grand Canal in Venice?
There are several options for taking a boat trip along the Grand Canal. The best value-for-money experience of cruising along the Grand Canal is by taking the water bus (Vaporetto), part of Venice’s public transport system. The Vaporetto provides a utilitarian—but no less gorgeous—journey down the Grand Canal.
For the ride of a lifetime, hop aboard the Vaporetto #1 for a 40-minute ride. Vaporetto #2 travels the same route, but it skips some stops and takes 25 minutes, making it hard to sightsee.
A single Vaporetto ticket costs 7.50 EUR and is valid for 75 minutes from the time of validation. You can also pre-book your ticket online, which I found to be very handy.
The Vaporetti run every 10 to 20 minutes until the early evening, then at slightly less frequent intervals. Details of all the main Vaporetto lines are in the ACTV timetable.
You can also ride the entire length of the Grand Canal on a guided motorboat tour. This way, you’ll pass slower and pull closer for better views of the fantastic palaces.
Normally, I don’t recommend taking a gondola ride on the Grand Canal as it’s far too busy and noisy. Also, with so many larger vessels speeding past and obstructing your view, it’s not the optimum way to see the palaces.
However, if you truly wish to whizz past the palaces in a gondola, I strongly recommend booking one in advance.
Tips for Cruising the Grand Canal in Venice
1. Timing: It’s best to avoid cruising the Grand Canal during morning and evening commuting hours. If you can, try visiting at dusk, when the colorful façades of the Grand Canal take on golden hues.
Visiting at night can also be great since many of the palaces are fully lit at night, and seeing their façades bathed in spotlights is a magical sight. If you can get out of bed early, dawn is also a good time to contemplate the calm waters of the Grand Canal.
2. Before Boarding: Please note that vaporetto tickets need to be swiped against the automatic machines on the boarding points before each journey.
Look for the white electronic card reader on the dock that leads to the vaporetto platform. Place your ticket on the circular panel until you see a green light and the flap barrier gates open.
3. Direction: While our tour lists the sights beginning from Piazzale Roma, you can board the vaporetto from San Marco Ferry Terminal. To ensure that you don’t miss out on the best sights and views, ride in both directions and see one side at a time.
4. Getting the best seat: If you’re cruising the Grand Canal aboard a vaporetto, you’ll want to have a good seat to make the most out of your ride. Since the vaporettos are insanely packed throughout the day, forget about getting aboard anywhere in between Piazzale Roma and San Marco Ferry Terminal if you want a good seat.
I can’t stress this enough. Make sure you’re at the boarding stop (either Piazzale Roma or San Marco) well in advance so you’ll be one of the first ones on board and can thus snag a seat with a good vantage point.
Map of the Must-See Sights Along the Grand Canal
Here is a map of the must-see sights along the Grand Canal in Venice.
Further reading for your Venice visit
That summarizes our definitive guide to the must-see sights along Venice’s Grand Canal. We assume that you’re not going to Venice *just* to see the Grand Canal (although, it wouldn’t shock us if that is the case). Either way, we reckon you’ll find the following resources useful for planning your trip to Venice!
Further Reading For Your Venice Visit
→ Check Out the 30 Essential Things to do in Venice
→ Find Out How to Spend One Perfect Day in Venice!
→ Discover How to Spend a Blissful Weekend in Venice!
→ Read Our Comprehensive Guide to Public Transport in Venice
→ Check Out the 22 Essential Foods and Drinks to Try in Venice!
→ Learn About the Best 12 Best Cicchetti Bars in Venice!
→ Uncover the 19 Best Photo Spots in Venice!
→ Check Out the 14 Best Traditional Souvernirs to Buy in Venice!
→ Find Out About the 11 Best Gelato Shops in Venice!
Do you agree with our list? What do you think are the must-see sights on the Grand Canal in Venice? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!