Grand Canal Walking Tour (Self Guided), Venice

The main channel in Venice, the Grand Canal snakes in an "S" shape through the center of the city, dividing its main districts. On both sides of the Grand Canal are the most beautiful buildings dating from the 12th to the 18th centuries that tell the story of a thousand years of Venetian splendor. While one can view the buildings from water buses, this self guided walk offers the opportunity to see some magnificent masterpieces up close and even step inside them.

Getting to Sight #1. The first tour stop (Santa Lucia Train Station) can be reached by: Water Bus: 1, 1/, 3, 4.1, 5.1, 4.2, 5.2, 2, 2/, N; Tram: T1; Bus: 12L, 84, 5E, 6E, 12E, 53E, 56.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Grand Canal Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Grand Canal Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Venice (See other walking tours in Venice)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: naomi
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Santa Lucia Train Station
  • Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth
  • Chiesa di San Simeon Piccolo
  • Fondaco dei Turchi
  • Chiesa di San Stae
  • Fondaco dei Tedeschi
  • Palazzo Grimani di San Luca
  • Campo San Samuele
  • Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti
  • Palazzo Barbarigo
  • Santa Maria della Salute
Santa Lucia Train Station

1) Santa Lucia Train Station

Venice has two major railway stations. We are speaking here about the Santa Lucia station. The other one, Mestre, is located off-shore. Both stations are managed by Grandi Stazioni and they are linked with each other by the Ponte della Libertà (English: Liberty Bridge) between the mainland and the historic city. Venezia Santa Lucia is located in Cannaregio, the northernmost of the six historic sestieri (districts) of the historic city, near the western end of the Grand Canal. The main hall also leads to the station's 16 platforms.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth

2) Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth

Santa Maria di Nazareth is a Roman Catholic Carmelite church in Venice. It is also called Church of the Scalzi (Chiesa degli Scalzi) being the seat in the city of the Discalced Carmelites religious order (Scalzi in Italian means "barefoot"). Located in the sestiere of Cannaregio, near Venezia Santa Lucia railway station, it was built in the mid 17th century to the designs of Baldassarre Longhena and completed in the last decades of that century.

The building is a masterpiece of the Venetian baroque period, very theatrical with many twisted columns built in 17th century. The church is free to enter.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Chiesa di San Simeon Piccolo

3) Chiesa di San Simeon Piccolo

San Simeone Piccolo (also called San Simeone e Giuda) is a church in the district of Santa Croce in Venice. From across the Grand Canal it faces the railroad terminal serving as entrypoint for most visitors to the city.

The building was completed in 1738 by Giovanni Antonio Scalfarotto and represents one of the first fully neoclassical buildings in Italy. The construction of the building has an unusual circular shape that reminds one of the Byzantine tradition and the Palladium.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Fondaco dei Turchi

4) Fondaco dei Turchi

Constructed in the first half of the 13th century by Giacomo Palmier, the Fondaco dei Turchi is a Byzantine-style palazzo on the Grand Canal of Venice. The Venetian Republic purchased it in 1381 for Niccolò II d'Este, the Marquess of Ferrara. During its early history, the palazzo also served as a residence to many visiting dignitaries. From 1890 to 1923, the area was home the Museo Correr collection, which was moved to the Procuratie Nuove and Ala Napoleonica museums, at the Piazza San Marco, after 1923. Today, the area houses the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia (Natural History Museum of Venice), with historical collections of flora and fauna, fossils, and an aquarium.

Why You Should Visit:
Fascinating fossils inside, and excellent presentation of the collection including the traditional 19th-century presentation for some of the animal collections.
Also has air conditioning, unlike most other museums, an English guidebook & audio guide, a beautiful inside courtyard, and reasonable prices.

If you carry a picnic the grounds are a wonderful place to eat lunch.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Fri: 9am-5pm, last admission 4pm; Sat-Sun: 10am-6pm, last admission 5pm (Nov-May); Tue-Sun: 10am-6pm, last admission 5pm (Jun-Oct)
Closed on Monday, December 25th, January 1st, May 1st
Sight description based on wikipedia
Chiesa di San Stae

5) Chiesa di San Stae

Chiesa di San Stae, with its magnificent facade adorned with Rococo statues by Domenico Rossi, overlooks the Grand Canal. The interior dates from the late seventeenth century and has been done by the architect Giovanni Grassi, with a series of paintings by artists such as the Piazzetta and Tiepolo. The latter are a prime example of the Venetian school in the early eighteenth century.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Fondaco dei Tedeschi

6) Fondaco dei Tedeschi (must see)

Once headquarters of the German merchant community in Venice, Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a huge building standing just beside the Rialto bridge. Back in the day, German traders were the most influential foreign group in the city and had rented this centrally-located building from as early as the 13th century. After being destroyed by fire, the Fondaco was rebuilt in the 16th century into a functional 4-story edifice with a grand inner courtyard. While architecturally it is typically Italian Renaissance, the basic concept of the building (much as the word 'fondaco' itself) is typically Arabic. Just like Fondaco dei Turchi, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi comprised a palazzo, a warehouse, and restricted living quarters for the inhabitants – mainly merchants from the German cities of Nuremberg, Judenburg, and Augsburg.

Today, this is one of the largest and resplendent shopping centers in Venice specialized in high-end luxury stuff. No wonder prices here are a bit steep, but the place is still a popular hangout, always teeming with tourists.

But don’t let the crowd put you off, at least not before you check out the Fondaco's rooftop terrace for the views it provides, fit to blow anyone away. The 4th-floor Event Pavilion is an exhibition space with a free access to the terrace affording one of the best panoramas of the Grand Canal, the downward view of the Rialto Bridge, and the top of San Marco's Basilica a kilometer or so away – quite a different angle from what you can see at a ground level!

To enter the roof terrace you need a ticket – offered for free, but issued for a certain time in order to regulate visitors' numbers and to prevent overcrowding. A word of advice is to pick up your ticket at the top floor first, and then explore the below shopping mall. Otherwise, you can book the ticket online at Fondaco's website. And if you're really lucky to catch a sunset while up on the roof, your efforts will be well rewarded!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-8pm
Palazzo Grimani di San Luca

7) Palazzo Grimani di San Luca

The Palazzo Grimani di San Luca is a Renaissance building in Venice. It is located on the Rio di San Luca channel of the city, at the point in which it flows into the Canal Grande. The palace was built in the mid-16th century for procurator Gerolamo Grimani by architect Michele Sanmicheli, and completed after his death by Gian Giacomo de' Grigi, known as "il Bergamasco". The façade has three sectors with Corinthian columns, also inspired to the Roman architecture, in particular to the triumphal arch. The residence of the patrician Grimani family until 1806, Palazzo Grimani is currently the seat of the Venice' Appeal Court.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Campo San Samuele

8) Campo San Samuele

Located on the bank of Grand Canal, this square is home to some amazing palaces of great historical, architectural and cultural importance for Venice, such as the Palazzo Malipiero and the Palazzo Grassi, to name just two. Palazzo Malipiero was the temporary residence of the greatest Venetian lover of all times, Giacomo Casanova. In the center of the square stands the Chiesa di San Samuele, the church where Casanova was baptized.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti

9) Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti

Situated opposite the Accademia gallery, next to the Palazzo Barbarigo, this palace is quite simply one of the most beautiful along the Grand Canal, lavishly adorned with Gothic tracery and a large, beautifully tended garden. Built in the 16th century, it represents a stunning mix of Gothic and Byzantine influences, and today accommodates headquarters of the Venetian Institute of Science, Letters and Art.

In the course of centuries, the palazzo changed hands many times during which it was internally modernized and externally decorated in the Venetian Gothic style with its signature rich window framing. The first round of neo-Gothic renovation took place in 1840 – by the young Archduke of Austria, Frederick Ferdinand, who embarked on this complex project in a bid to make the Hapsburg presence in Venice more prominent. The Archduke lived in the palace until 1878, after which it was sold to Baron Raimondo Franchetti who also undertook renovation, but never actually made the palace his personal residence.

The edifice now serves multiple purposes but is mainly dedicated to hosting changing exhibitions of contemporary art which, in turn, give it a breath of fresh air amid the massive dominance of the Renaissance art all around. Each room within the palace is fitted with Murano glass chandeliers, some of which are quite monumental.

Apart from the art and the unbeatable views of the Grand Canal, visitors to the palace can also enjoy a pretty on-site cafeteria with a fairly good lunch menu!

Opening Hours:
[Cafeteria] Daily: 9am-6pm
Palazzo Barbarigo

10) Palazzo Barbarigo

Once owned by the proprietors of one of Venice's largest glass factories, Palazzo Barbarigo, originally built in the 16th century, is distinguished for its exterior clad in Murano glass mosaics. The mosaics were added in 1886 and are said to have been inspired by the similarly adorned facade of St Mark's Basilica.

Nonetheless, when the front mosaic was completed, it didn't quite impress the aristocratic neighbors who accused the then-new owners of the palace of being “nouveau riches” with a garish taste completely out of touch with the genteel decay of the neighboring buildings. Needless to say that this was unfair criticism as many of the Renaissance palazzi on the Grand Canal were once also covered in polychrome and gilt decorations, with elaborate plaster and stucco work that only added to their splendor.

Today, Palazzo Barbarigo stands as one of the most opulent pieces of architecture on the Grand Canal. The mosaic on its central frieze depicts 35 cherubs actively engaged in various artistic activities, such as painting, drawing, sculpture and architecture. Two separate murals commemorate royal visits to Venice: one in the 16th century by the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne during which he is depicted speaking to Titian on the scaffold of St Mark's Basilica; and the other one by the French King Henry III, in 1574, arriving on the Doge's barge along with a team of glass-makers.

The portraits of two most famous Venetian painters – Titian and Tintoretto – are found right above these scenes. The lion of St Mark – symbol of Venice – tops one of the portraits, while the back rooster – symbol of Murano – crowns the other.
Santa Maria della Salute

11) Santa Maria della Salute (must see)

San Marco may be Venice's most famous church by name, but Santa Maria della Salute may well be its most famous by image and silhouette! Commonly known simply as La Salute, this grand historic church is largely recognized as the pinnacle of the city's Baroque movement.

La Salute is part of the Gesuati parish and is the most recent of the so-called “plague” churches. In the early 1630s, Venice was devastated by a plague that exterminated nearly 100,000 people, roughly one-third of the lagoon’s population. As a votive offering for deliverance from this pestilence, the Republic of Venice vowed to build and dedicate a church to Our Lady of Good Health (or Deliverance) which means “Salute” in Italian. Resting on a platform of more than 100,000 wooden piles, the church was designed in the then fashionable Baroque style by Baldassare Longhena, who dedicated half a century to working on this project and lived just long enough to see it finished in 1681.

Surmounted by a great dome that soon became emblematic of the city, the basilica makes for an interesting visit: it houses a small art gallery in its sacristy, which includes a Marriage Feast of Cana by Tintoretto, along with the allegorical ceiling paintings by Titian and a highly symbolic high altar where the Virgin and Child rescue Venice (depicted as a kneeling young woman) from the plague (depicted as an old woman).

Each year on November 21st, a pontoon bridge spans the Grand Canal to the church for a religious procession commemorating the deliverance of Venice from the plague. Far from a minor event in the Venetian calendar, this procession turns the church into a pilgrimage site – and admittedly very scenic one at that, since the La Salute stands right at the mouth of the Grand Canal and the visitors can get great shots all around.

Whenever you choose to visit, do get your tickets in advance to skip the long lines. Once inside, you can treat yourself to a unique view of the adjoining plaza from the balcony and, perhaps, also a 30-minute organ recital after the service... so do check the events program in advance – and enjoy!

Bring a drink with you as there are hardly any cafes around.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-12pm / 3-5:30pm
During festive Masses, times may be subject to change

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