The two mile long Grand Canal of Venice bisects the six districts of Venice, a city rising up from a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, the northernmost arm of the Mediterranean Sea. The six districts called sestiere are Santa Croce, San Polo and Dorsoduro on one side of the Grand Canal and Cannaregio, San Marco and Castello on the other side. Most tourists arrive by bus and tram at Piazzale Roma in Santa Croce or Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia on the opposite side of the Grand Canal in Cannaregio.
Much of our time during days walking around Venice was spent navigating the maze of streets, alleys and canals to locate bridges taking us in the general direction we wanted to travel. Since the Grand Canal snakes and bends through central Venice, knowing which direction to go can be confusing in places without signs. The pedestrian bridges over the Grand Canal are not always easy to locate without a map.
The Google Maps image below shows Piazzale Roma, the bus station parking lot where we arrived in Venice on the airport shuttle, the train station, Hotel Aquarius, St. Mark’s Square and the four bridges over the Grand Canal. Given the scale of this 5.0 km walk through the inner part of Venice is an indicator to how many hours you can wander across the six districts of central Venice. A dozen other surrounding islands also have towns and historic sites.
Four pedestrian bridges over the Grand Canal are the only free passage between the two sides of Venice separated by the large canal.
- Ponte della Constituzione (aka Ponte di Calatrava) (current bridge opened 2008)
- Ponte degli Scalzi (current bridge opened 1938)
- Ponte di Rialto (current bridge opened 1591)
- Ponte dell’Accademia ( current bridge opened 1933)
Ponte della Costituzione – Constitution Bridge (2008)
Ponte della Costituzione – Constitution Bridge is the most northwesterly and newest bridge over the Grand Canal at Piazzale Roma bus terminal in Venice. Our stay at Aquarius Hotel in Santa Croce made Constitution Bridge out of the way for our walks around the city. When we wanted to cross the Grand Canal from Santa Croce to visit Cannaregio, San Marco and Castello we found ourselves searching for the fastest route to one of the other three bridges. Wandering canal side lanes between buildings and getting lost in the visual spectacle of a city built on water took us meandering along paths and over bridges until we decided to head somewhere located on the other side of Grand Canal. Then tracking down the nearest bridge was the objective.
Constitution Bridge, opened September 11, 2008, is the newest of the pedestrian bridges over the Grand Canal of Venice.
Ponte degli Scalzi (1938)
Ponte degli Scalzi was the nearest bridge to cross the Grand Canal into Sestiere Cannaregio from Hotel Aquarius Venice where we stayed the week in Santa Croce. I realized when I got back to California that I failed to take any intentional photos of Ponte degli Scalzi even though I crossed the bridge six or eight times during the week. Thanks to wikipedia for the image.
I snapped several photos from Ponte degli Scalzi.
Ponte degli Scalzi seemed to be the favored bridge for luggage porters, men for hire with a dolly who transport tourist luggage to and from hotels around Venice. San Marco and Castello hotels can be a long haul from the bus and train terminals with hundreds of canal bridge stairs along the way.
Ponte di Rialto – Rialto Bridge (1588-1591)
Rialto Bridge is one of the main photo spots for tourists in Venice, so expect some of the densest crowds you will encounter in the city outside of St. Mark’s Square. Rialto Bridge was the original foot bridge across the Grand Canal, originally built as a pontoon bridge in 1181. The pontoon structure was replaced by a wooden bridge in 1255 with a removable structure to allow boats to pass. Rialto Bridge connects Sestiere San Polo to Sestiere San Marco.
The pedestrian wooden bridge over the Grand Canal operated for more than 300 years with periodic disruptions due to fires and structural collapses. In the late 1500s bids were requested for a stone bridge design. Antonio de Ponte designed the current Rialto Bridge and construction began in 1588 and opened in 1591. The single span stone arch bridge with two rows of shops was similar to the wooden bridge design it replaced.
Venice has so many historic structures and monuments that structural maintenance is a fiscal challenge. Rialto Bridge received a 5 million euro restoration during the past decade through a project funded by Renzo Rosso, founder of multi-billion dollar Diesel fashion.
Rialto markets in Sestiere San Polo is the major fruit and vegetable markets of the city. The fish market is also located here.
Ponte dell’Accademia (1933)
Ponte dell’Accademia is a wood and metal bridge that crosses the Grand Canal near the southern end. The bridge links San Marco and Dorsoduro, the university district.
Venice Stairways and Canals (April 2022)
Views from the four bridges over Venice’s Grand Canal