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A gondola ride is an essential part of a trip to Venice. These wooden boats were, for centuries, the preferred mode of transportation through the watery city with its ancient canals, and though there are fewer now, they remain one of Venice’s iconic symbols. And while gondola rides are a bit pricey, they really do offer the best view of the city’s handsome architecture and famous bridges.
You can grab a gondola at any number of the city’s gondola stops along the Grand Canal or the lesser-trafficked side canals, but booking a specific ride or tour in advance is also a possibility, and often a very good one, as you can use the pre-planning to avoid real-time language barriers or financial misunderstandings.
You also won’t get stuck fighting the throngs or waiting in long lines, and sometimes you can even get a deal by combining your gondola ride with other activities. Have a look at some of these great pre-planned Venice gondola ride options from Viator.
Best Classic Gondola Ride: Venice Gondola Ride and Serenade
Though the iconic image of a gondolier is one who serenades you with classic Italian songs as you float through the canals, the reality is that it’s rare to find a modern gondolier who also sings. This gondola company offers a guaranteed classic experience (with a bit of a twist) at a price lower than a private gondola ride. You’ll board your shared gondola at a predetermined afternoon or evening departure time from the gondola pier at Piazza Santa Maria del Giglio and join together with a small flotilla of other gondolas.
A trained classical singer will be aboard one of the boats to sing traditional Venetian songs as the group floats through the magical city. The ride is approximately 35 minutes long and returns to the same pier at Piazza Santa Maria del Giglio when it is finished.
Best Accessible Ride: Accessible Gondola in Venice
Gondolas are not traditionally wheelchair-accessible (they do have comfortable seating with backs but the transfer from chair-to-chair can be an issue). This company saw the need for accessible gondolas and built a boat in the traditional style with very slight modifications in order to secure a wheelchair, plus a lift system (200 kg maximum) to get the chair into the boat.
The boat can also fit two additional people. It’s a classic tour that sticks primarily in the Grand Canal and features a gondolier who sings (a rarity) as you pass by La Fenice Opera House, the Guggenheim Museum, the Salute Church, the Ca’ Dario Palace, and numerous Venetian Baroque and Gothic palazzos and churches. The tour lasts approximately 30 minutes and departs from and returns to Piazzale Roma.
Best Walking Tour Combo: Venice Combination Gondola and Walking Tour
Catch views of Venice from both the land and the water on this tour, which combines a 90-minute guided stroll through beautiful central Venice with a 30-minute silent gondola ride through its beautiful Grand Canal. You’ll meet your guide at Hotel Bauer and begin your walking tour. You’ll see Venice’s most famous sights, including the Teatro La Fenice and the Rialto Bridge, as well as lesser-known landmarks, like Scala Contarini del Bovolo, an architecturally-remarkable palazzo that’s tucked down an almost-unnoticeable street near Campo Manin.
Your expert guide, aided by complimentary headsets that’ll help you hear in the bustling city streets, will illuminate the city’s history, explain the evolution of its art and architecture, and offer insight into the challenges faced by a water-filled city. The walking portion of the tour will conclude at a gondola stop, where you’ll board your shared gondola and head off. After your 30-minute boat tour, you’ll return to Campo San Moise, where the tour finishes.
Best Tour for Families: Venice Private Tour for Families with Gondola Ride
Kids love boats, so a gondola ride isn’t really a hard sell for most of them, but walking around an old city looking at architecture isn’t always their idea of an adventure. This tour combines both, but presents the latter in a totally kid-friendly way, with an engaging, age-appropriate walking tour that turns history into an adventure. The three-hour walking tour includes skip-the-line entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace.
Your guide will make sure to point out kid-friendly attractions (like the giant bronze horses at St. Mark’s Museum and the golden, jewel-encrusted Golden Pall altarpiece) and you’ll stop for a complimentary gelato along the way. Finally, you’ll watch a master glassblower turn molten glass into a beautiful, functional object right before your eyes at a private demonstration at a Murano glass shop.
After a break for lunch, you’ll head out for your 30-minute private gondola tour where you can see, from the water, many of the locations you visited on foot, and then many more.
Best Morning Tour: Morning Walking Tour of Venice Plus Gondola Ride
Early birds, this is the tour for you. Wake up with the sunrise, have a leisurely Italian breakfast and an espresso, and then at 9 a.m., meet your tour guide in St. Mark’s Square to begin your leisurely walking tour. You’ll visit all of Venice’s most famous sites, including the Church of Santa Maria Formosa, the Teatro Malibran, the site where Marco Polo’s house once stood, and a stroll through the Mercerie, the historic shopping district of central Venice.
At the conclusion of the 90-minute walking portion of the tour, you’ll board your gondola for a 30-minute ride through the city’s canals. From the water, you’ll get a particularly good view of the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute, built in dedication to Our Lady of Health after the end of a particularly brutal plague outbreak in the 1600s, and Teatro La Fenice, the city’s grand opera house, where many original world premieres of now-legendary operas (like Verdi’s La Traviata) once took place.
Don’t forget to bring your camera, as Venice is particularly stunning in the bright morning sunshine.
Best Romantic Tour: Gondola Ride and Dinner in Venice
There aren’t many potential dates anywhere in the world as hopelessly romantic as a private evening gondola ride in Venice followed by a table for two at one of the city’s most delicious restaurants. This private gondola tour begins at 6 p.m. in front of the beautiful baroque Chiesa de San Moise and takes the romantic quieter back canals for an enchanting 30-minute ride. When the boat ride is finished, you’ll move on to a leisurely two-course dinner (complete with vino, of course) at a cozy restaurant specializing in traditional Venetian delicacies, including a decadent version of the city’s most famous dessert, tiramisu. Further romance beyond dessert is up to you, but after all that, you shouldn’t be short on inspiration.
Best Food Tour: Venice Walking Food Tour with Lunch and Gondola
Like every corner of Italy, Venice has its own unique cuisine and culinary traditions, and exploring these can tell you so much about the culture. Among these traditions is the cicchetti, Venice’s homegrown version of what the Spanish might call tapas and the Japanese might eat at an izakaya — a finger-food or appetizer-sized snack, typically served at a bar and eaten standing up with a glug of white wine to wash it down. Typical cicchetti in Venice are served in little wine bars called bacari, and include little plates of olives, open-faced sandwiches, local cured meat and cheeses, salt cod on toast, and other savory little nibblies.
This tour takes you through Venice for some of the very best cicchetti on offer, with your food expert guide explaining the culture of Venetian bar food and what the individual ingredients can teach you about the past and the present of the city.
The tour includes a quick ride across the Grand Canal via gondola and finishes with a hearty pasta lunch and a serving of gelato. This is a small-group tour with a maximum of 10 people, so it will be cozy but not crowded at most of your stops.
Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Tour: Grand Canal by Gondola and Secret Venice Tour
If you’re looking for a guided tour of St. Mark’s Square of the highlights of the Doge’s Palace, there are certainly oodles of great tours that offer that. This isn’t one of them. This tour seeks to get travelers just a bit off the well-trodden tourist circuit — still within the old part of central Venice, but with an eye for some lesser-walked streets and underappreciated details.
This tour puts the gondola ride at the beginning, offering you the opulent sights and sounds of the Grand Canal first, and from there, you’ll meet your guide and start in on your deeper explorations. It’s not without famous highlights — you’ll pass the Teatro la Fenice and Rialto Bridge, among others — but you’ll focus largely on the buildings that line the little byways and alleys that weave through the heart of the city and their place in Venice’s rich history.
The walking portion of the tour lasts approximately an hour and 15 minutes.
Best Interactive Ride: Private Venice Gondola School
Get an insider’s look at the history and practical operation of Venice’s iconic wooden boats in this training course which teaches you the basics of how to be a gondolier. You’ll start the way the pros all did: boarding a gondoletto, a training boat that is a bit smaller and slightly easier to maneuver than a full gondola, and learning to maneuver through the less-traveled back canals of Venice and even out into the open Venetian Lagoon.
As you and your small group learn how to paddle the boat, your teacher will also explain the history of these boats and how they factor into the history of the city as a whole. You’ll also get an insider’s view into the culture of gondoliers, typically an inherited job that has been in many families for longer than anyone can remember.
It’s a rare treat to get to interact so fully with a piece of living history in this way, so if you can swing it, do consider it.
Our writers spent 2 hours researching the most popular Venice gondola rides on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 20 different rides overall, screened options from 20 different brands and read over 35 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.