The gondolas plying the busy Grand Canal and smaller waterways of Venice are one of the most iconic images in the world. They are the symbol of history, tradition, and romance in the city on the lagoon, and a gondola ride in Venice ranks among one of the most dreamed-about experiences for travelers.
So when you finally get to Venice and have a chance to ride in one of its gondolas, of course you should go, right? That depends. While undeniably romantic and a one-of-a-kind experience, gondola rides also can be expensive, and sometimes they are a let-down for visitors.
Here are a few tips to help you decide if a gondola ride is for you, and how to get the most out of your ride should you decide to take the plunge.
What is a Venetian Gondola?
While gondolas were once regularly used by Venetians, especially of the upper classes, today vaporetti have become the main form of water transportation in Venice. A few hundred years ago there were about 10,000 gondolas plying the canals and lagoon but today, there are only about 400.
A gondola is a flat-bottomed, wooden boat. It's 11 meters long, weighs 600 kg and is hand built in special workshops called squeri of which there are still a few today. Gondoliers own and maintain their own boats, and the crafts and careers are often passed down from father to son for generations.
Watch Now: 8 Things to Know Before Taking a Gondola Ride
How Much Does a Gondola Ride Cost?
Gondola fares are standard and set officially. As of this writing, rates are €80 for a daytime ride and €100 for rides after 7 pm. Rides last 40 minutes. If you want to extend your time on the water, you'll pay €40 for each additional 20 minutes aboard – or €50 after 7 pm.
You can check the current gondola fares before you book. And be aware that if you book a gondola ride through a hotel or agency, there's likely to be an additional fee.
Gondolas hold six people. They can be shared without affecting the fee. So if you're traveling solo or with another person, you can find other travelers with whom to share the ride. It's not quite as romantic but will save you some euros.
What to Expect on a Gondola Ride
A gondola is like a luxury car. Although black is the official color, many are ornately decorated and have comfortable seats and blankets. You can stroll around and look for one that suits your fancy.
Most gondoliers will speak some English and maybe a little German or French. They're required to wear black pants, a striped shirt, and closed dark shoes. They usually have a banded straw hat but don't always wear it. In busier areas where they know the next boatload of tourists is waiting to hand over their money, gondoliers may try to cut the ride short instead of rowing the full 40 minutes. This is a good reason to choose a gondola away from the most congested areas (see below).
The image of a singing gondolier is more a product of Hollywood movies than reality. Singing is not a requirement for a gondolier and although some may sing, it's best not to expect it. Some gondoliers may offer some sightseeing narration during the ride but again, don't expect it.
Gondoliers stand up to row and use only one oar, as this is the best way to row through the narrow canals of Venice. If you want to go to a particular place, be sure to discuss it with the gondolier before the ride. There may be an extra fee involved.
Gondolas do not have awnings or sun umbrellas, so on a hot summer day, you'll be riding under the full sun. While it costs more, at sunset or after dark, a gondola ride is off-the-charts romantic and beautiful. The cool temperatures and soft light of early mornings are also prime riding time.
Where to Go on a Gondola Ride
Most people recommend taking a gondola ride on the quiet back canals rather than on the crowded Grand Canal. Riding on canals outside the main tourist area lets you see a different view of Venice and there won't be bumper to bumper gondolas. Good places to find gondolas away from the Grand Canal and St. Mark's Square include the San Polo and Campo San Barnaba areas, and the Jewish Ghetto.
Choose a gondola stop in the area you want to visit. If you want back canals, walk a few blocks off the main street (and away from San Marco) to look for a gondolier. Our Venice sestiere map and information can help you choose what neighborhood you want to explore.
Is a Gondola Ride for You?
Gondolas allow you to see Venice from a completely different perspective and better appreciate how the city functions with canals instead of streets. They are undeniably overpriced, and possibly overrated. But there is only one Venice, and only one place in the world where you can ride an authentic gondola through the canals of a city that is more than 1200 years old. If you feel like you'll regret not taking a gondola ride in Venice, then our advice is to not miss out on what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Now, if all you really want to do is get into a gondola, you can take a 2-minute traghetto across the Grand Canal. A traghetto is an empty gondola used to ferry passengers back and forth across the canal. While it might not be so romantic, it's much cheaper and you do get a great view of the Grand Canal.
Find out more about visiting Venice with our Venice Travel Guide.