Venice’s majestic “highway”, the Canal Grande, is only one of the 177 canals flowing through the city, but at some 4 km (2.5 miles) in length, 30–70 m (98–230 ft) in width and averaging 4.5 m (15 ft) in depth, it certainly earns its name. Snaking its way through the city with a double curve, its banks are lined with exquisite palaces, while on its waters colourful flotillas of gondolas, ferries, taxi launches, high-speed police boats and barges groaning under fresh produce provide endless fascination. In 1818, when the water was cleaner, Lord Byron swam all the way down the Grand Canal from the Lido.
The Grand Canal runs from Piazzale Roma, the bus terminal and car park area, to Piazza San Marco. It is easily navigable courtesy of ferries Nos. 1 (all stops) and 2 (main stops only)
With an exotic air and its round arches, this Veneto-Byzantine building (1225) was the Turkish trade centre for 200 years. It is now the Natural History Museum (see Museo di Storia Naturale).
This colossal Baroque palace (see Ca’ Pesaro Galleria d’Arte Moderna), decorated with diamond-point ashlar work, was the final creation of architect Longhena. Home to the city’s modern art collections, it is beautifully floodlit at night.
One of the city’s most familiar sights, the striking 28-m- (92-ft-) wide, 8-m- (26-ft-) high Istrian stone Ponte di Rialto dates from 1588.
A sunny quayside with a string of open-air restaurants, this is one of the few accessible banks of the Grand Canal. Barrels of wine (vino) used to be off-loaded here, hence the name.
The finest feature of this imposing palace is its grandiose staircase. Today it is a museum of 18th-century Venice.
The lovely wooden Ponte dell’Accademia, built in 1932 by the engineer Miozzi, was intended as a temporary measure until a more substantial structure was designed, but it is now a permanent fixture. It affords stunning views of the Grand Canal.
With an ornamental Renaissance façade studded with multicoloured stone medallions, this lopsided palace is supposedly cursed due to a number of misfortunes that have overtaken its various owners.
Longhena’s 17th-century masterpiece of sculpted whorls beneath a towering dome, this church (see Santa Maria della Salute) commemorates the end of a devastating plague in the city.
The figure of Fortune stands atop the erstwhile customs house, now an arts centre (see Punta della Dogana), and doubles as a weather vane. This is where the Grand Canal joins St Mark’s Basin.
The legendary watering hole (see Bellini) of Ernest Hemingway is where the Bellini aperitivo was invented. Opened in 1931 by Arrigo Cipriani, it was named after the American who funded it.
Damage to buildings caused by wash has worsened of late with the rise in motor-propelled craft. Waves provoked by all boats eat into foundations of buildings on the water’s edge, as well as making life harder for the gondoliers. Speed limits aim to curb this: 7 kmph (4.5 mph) for private craft and 11 kmph (7 mph) for waterbuses on the Grand Canal. Narrower canals mean 5 kmph (3 mph), while 20 kmph (12.5 mph) is the lagoon maximum.