Below is a selection of the most impressive buildings to be seen on the Canal Grande. To see both banks at once, make sure you get a seat at the front or the back of the vaporetto; and don’t miss the experience of a nocturnal boat ride.
1. Calatrava Bridge
The newest feature of Venice’s cityscape is officially known as the Ponte della Costituzione, but Venetians generally use the name of its designer, Santiago Calatrava. The elegant arc of steel, stone and glass is modelled on a gondola’s hull.
2. Scalzi Bridge
The successor of an iron structure put up by the Austrians in 1858–60, which had to be replaced in the early 1930s to give the new steamboats sufficient clearance.
3. Fondaco dei Turchi
A private house from the early thirteenth century until 1621, the Fondaco dei Turchi was then turned over to Turkish traders, who stayed here until 1838. Though over-restored, the building’s towers and arcade give a reasonably precise picture of what a Veneto-Byzantine palace would have looked like. It’s now the natural history museum.
4. Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi
Begun by Mauro Codussi at the very end of the fifteenth century, this was the first Venetian palace built on Renaissance lines. The palazzo’s most famous resident was Richard Wagner, who died here in February 1883. It’s now the casino.
5. Ca’ Pésaro
The thickly ornamented Ca’ Pésaro, bristling with diamond-shaped spikes and grotesque heads, took half a century to build – work finished in 1703, long after the death of the architect, Baldassare Longhena.
6. Palazzo Corner della Regina
This palazzo was built in 1724 on the site of the home of Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, from whom the palace takes its name.
7. Ca’ d’Oro
Incorporating fragments of a thirteenth-century palace that once stood on the site, the gorgeous Ca’ d’Oro was built in the 1420s and 30s, and acquired its nickname – “The Golden House” – from the gilding that used to accentuate its carving.
8. Ca’ da Mosto
The arches of the first storey of the Ca’ da Mosto and the carved panels above them are remnants of a thirteenth-century Veneto-Byzantine building, and are thus among the oldest structures on the canal.
9. Rialto market
10. Fondaco dei Tedeschi
The fondaco was once headquarters of the city’s German merchants, who as early as 1228 were leasing a building here. In 1505 the Fondaco burned down; Giorgione and Titian were commissioned to paint the exterior of its replacement. The remnants of their contribution are now in the Ca’ d’Oro.
11. Rialto Bridge
12. Palazzo Loredan and Palazzo Farsetti
These neighbouring palazzi are heavily restored Veneto-Byzantine palaces of the thirteenth century; now the town hall.
13. Palazzo Grimani
Work began on the immense Palazzo Grimani in 1559, to designs by Sanmicheli, but was not completed until 1575, sixteen years after his death.
14. The Mocenigo palaces
Four houses that once belonged to the Mocenigo family stand side by side on the Canal Grande’s sharpest turn: the Palazzo Mocenigo-Nero, a late sixteenth-century building, once home to Byron; the double Palazzo Mocenigo, built in the eighteenth century; and the Palazzo Mocenigo Vecchio, a Gothic palace remodelled in the seventeenth century.
15. Ca’ Fóscari
The largest private house in Venice at the time of its construction (c.1435), Ca’ Fóscari was the home of Doge Francesco Fóscari, whose extraordinarily long term of office (34 years) came to an end with his forced resignation.
16. The Palazzi Giustinian
These twinned palaces were built in the mid-fifteenth century for two brothers who wanted attached but self-contained houses.
17. Ca’ Rezzonico
Longhena’s gargantuan Ca’ Rezzonico was begun in 1667 as a commission from the Bon family, but they were obliged to sell the still unfinished palace to the Rezzonico, a family of stupendously wealthy Genoese bankers. Among its subsequent owners was Pen Browning, whose father Robert died here in 1889.
18. Palazzo Grassi
This vast palazzo was built in 1748–72 by Massari, and was the last great house to be raised on the Canal Grande.
19. Accademia Bridge
As the larger vaporetti couldn’t get under the iron Ponte dell’Accademia built by the Austrians in 1854, it was replaced in 1932 by a wooden structure, later reinforced with steel.
20. Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
In 1759 the Venier family, one of Venice’s richest dynasties, began rebuilding their home, but this palazzo, which would have been the largest palace on the canal, never progressed further than the first storey. The stump of the building is occupied by the Guggenheim Collection.
21. Palazzo Dario
This exquisite little palazzo was built in the late 1480s, and the multicoloured marbles of the facade are characteristic of the work of the Lombardo family.
22. Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande
The palace that used to stand here was destroyed when a fire lit to dry out a stock of sugar ran out of control. Sansovino’s design – built from 1545 – is notable for its rugged lower-storey stonework, which makes it the prototype for the Ca’ Pésaro and Ca’ Rezzonico.