Running through the heart of Venice, from near the train station to the area immediately west of Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal is the largest and most scenic canal within the city. It is thought that the Grand Canal used to be part of a river that flowed into the Adriatic Sea and the sediment it carried may have built the barrier islands that turned the region into a lagoon. These days the Grand Canal is full of boat traffic and serves as the city’s main water highway.
As you walk out of the train station the Grand Canal is the first thing you’ll see and depending on your schedule a cruise down the canal can serve as a good introduction to the city. The Grand Canal is lined with historic buildings and palaces from Venice’s glory days and if you mentally remove the motorboats and other modern fixtures you can get an idea of what the city looked like at its peak. To get the best seats on the waterbus and thus the best view of the Grand Canal you’ll either need to be among the first people to board the waterbus at the train station or get on the waterbus before it arrives there. What I’ve done in the past is to visit San Giorgio Maggiore Island, and then get on the waterbus that loops around the east edge of Venice back to the train station and then down the Grand Canal. Obviously this tactic won’t work for people with very tight schedules but if you can spare the time you’ll be able to snag a seat right at the front of the boat.
Today’s photo of the Grand Canal was taken on the Rialto Bridge, which is right around the midpoint of the canal. The Accademia Bridge towards the southern end of the canal also has good views. For an inexpensive gondola experience you can ride one of the city’s traghetti (shuttle gondola) that cross the Grand Canal at several points. The gondoliers won’t sing for you during the crossing but using a traghetti is probably the easiest way to get a photo from right in the middle of the Grand Canal and is worth doing at least once.