Ah, the gondolas of Venice. Is there a more iconic symbol of this romantic city than the boats that take young lovers (and not-so-young lovers) through its many canals?
If you go to Venice, you must take a gondola ride. But while it's undeniably romantic, gondola rides also can be expensive.
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your Venetian gondola ride.
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 couple hundred years ago there were about 10,000 gondolas but today there are only about 500.
A gondola is flat and made of wood. 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. Gondolas are seen in festival parades and in regate or rowing competitions.
Booking a Gondola Ride
Gondola fares are standard and set officially. These are the minimum fares for a standard gondola ride but rates can go higher. Most fares are higher at night, so if you're a couple looking to canoodle under the stars, it'll cost ya.
If at all possible, arrange your gondola ride ahead of time (and pay in American dollars) with Viator, which offers shared gondola rides that will save you money or romantic private gondola rides complete with a serenade. If you're feeling adventurous you can even take a few hours to learn how to be a gondolier.
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.
How Long and How Many in a Gondola?
A standard gondola ride is 40 minutes so if you negotiate for a lower fare, you'll end up with a shorter ride. Gondolas hold six people and can be shared without affecting the fee so you can save money by sharing a tariff with several people.
What to Expect from your Gondolier
Gondoliers must be officially licensed. Most will speak some English or even French. They're required to wear black pants, a striped shirt, and closed dark shoes. They usually have a special hat but don't always wear it.
Singing is not a requirement for a gondolier. Although some may sing, it's best not to expect it. Some may also give information 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.
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. If you want to ride on the Grand Canal, a vaporetto is much less costly. 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.
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.
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.
Traghetto Crossing on the Grand Canal
If all you really want to do is get into a gondola, you can take a 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 get a great view of the Grand Canal.
Find out more by visiting the Venice Naval History Museum.