Last Updated on October 5, 2020 by Anisa
When you think of Venice, you think of gondolas. Riding on a quaint canal with that special someone as you are serenaded by a gondolier. If you haven’t ridden in a gondola, can you even say you have been to Venice?
The problem is, a gondola ride is expensive! I don’t want you throwing your money away, so in this post, I will share more about what it is like to take a gondola ride, if a gondola ride is right for you, and tips to save money and make the most of your gondola experience.
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What is a Gondola?
A gondola is a flat-bottomed, wooden boat that historically was used as a regular form of transportation in Venice. Now, they are a popular tourist attraction. At their peak, a few hundred years ago there were about 10,000 gondolas in Venice but today, there are only about 500.
The gondolas are hand-built, over 11 meters long, and weigh over 1,000 lbs each. The gondola drivers are called Gondoliers. They own and maintain their own boats. In many cases, the gondola has been in the family for generations.
How Much Does a Gondola Ride Cost?
Gondola ride prices are actually regulated in Venice. The standard charge is €80 for 30 minutes or €120 for 45 minutes. The prices go up after 7:00 pm. In the evening, it will cost €100 for 30 minutes or €150 for the 45-minute ride. Do not let a gondolier try to charge more than the official price.
The prices are per gondola and each gondola can hold 6 people. The more people in the gondola the lower the price per person. You are not expected to tip your gondolier, but of course, if they have provided superior service, I am sure they would appreciate it.
Note: If you have decided a gondola ride is not in your budget, scroll down to my suggestions for cheaper alternatives.
Our Gondola Ride
We chose to do our gondola ride by St. Mark’s Square. It was convenient, we would see many iconic landmarks, and there would be a lot of gondola options. All seemed to offer the same choices:
A) 30-minute ride which basically goes down one canal and back
B) a longer 45-minute ride that goes on a much longer route deeper into the canals.
Both options go under the Bridge of Sighs.
Originally I thought we would do the shorter ride to save money, but once I learned about how brief it was, we decided we might as well go for the longer one. The problem was we only had €80 in cash but the ride we wanted was €120. I tried to do some negotiating and spoke with a few different gondoliers and was able to get one to go down to €100.
As we were discussing what to do, another gondolier approached us. We told him that we wanted to do the longer ride but only had 80 cash. He was quick to offer a solution. On our gondola ride, he would make a stop where we could go to the ATM and get more cash. It made me laugh and we decided to do it.
We enjoyed the ride! There is no doubt a private gondola ride is romantic (even if you do stop at the ATM). The smaller canals were so peaceful and it was interesting to see both Cassanova and Marco Polo’s homes. Seeing Venice from a gondola provides a different perspective, almost like you have gone back in time or even traveled to a fantasy land. See what our experience was like in this video.
Looking back it was the right decision. From St. Mark’s Square, the longer ride is the way to go because the deeper you get into the canals the more magical the experience becomes. The peace and quiet made us feel miles away from the crowds in Venice, and the architecture of the buildings and the picturesque bridges made me feel like I was in a fairytale.
Is a gondola ride in Venice worth it?
There is no doubt gondolas are expensive and arguably overpriced, but it’s an iconic bucket-list experience so maybe it is worth the splurge? In our case, I think it was worth it, but that may not always be the case.
The tourist trap is the shorter gondola ride in a crowded area like St. Mark’s Square. You don’t get to see much and with the gondola traffic, it could be stressful. I understand some travelers may be on a budget so they want to opt for the cheaper option, but this is definitely not worth the €80 in my opinion.
We decided we would splurge on a gondola ride as a way to celebrate our anniversary. It would be romantic, so we went for the longer ride and a private gondola. After we got through the initial crowded area, it was peaceful and charming. It was a special experience that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world. (The gondolas at the Venetian in Las Vegas are lovely, but not authentic.)
Would I do another gondola ride in Venice? Probably not. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the intimate ride through the canals but I think it’s one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences. It wouldn’t be as special the second time.
How Do You Book a Gondola Ride?
Gondola rides don’t need to be reserved or booked in advance. (Note: See below details on booking a wheelchair accessible gondola.) In our case, we were visiting Venice in June and there were plenty of gondolas available. I think the price scares some tourists away. We were able to just walk up to the gondoliers along the Grand Canal right by St. Mark’s Square and get a ride. Keep in mind, you will need cash to pay the gondolier.
If you prefer, there are options to book the gondola ride online in advance (and use a credit card). Just be sure to read the details to understand where the ride goes and if it is a private or shared gondola. If your heart is not set on a private gondola, booking a shared gondola online is an easy way to find other tourists to join you and lower the per-person cost. Check out the gondola rides available on GetYourGuide.
Where Do You Pick Up a Gondola?
The most popular area to find a gondola is St. Mark’s Square. We choose to get one there because it was convenient and we knew we would get to go under the Bridge of Sighs.
Looking back it might have been better to find a gondola somewhere else because the part of the ride that we enjoyed the most was when we were going through smaller quieter canals. You wouldn’t want a gondola on the Grand Canal, it can get choppy. If you do pick up a gondola by St. Mark’s Square, they are not on the Grand Canal for long.
Other places you could get a gondola:
- By the Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio
- Near Campo San Barnaba in Dorsoduro
- Near the Rialto Bridge in San Polo
- Piazzale Roma (There is a wheelchair lift, more details below)
When to Take a Gondola Ride
The timing of your gondola ride can make a big difference to your experience. I would avoid the peak heat of the day in the summer. A gondola does not have any shade. If you are battling the heat, it might be hard to enjoy the trip.
I think the best time to take a gondola ride would be early in the morning or in the evening before the prices go up (at 7 pm). We picked up our gondola about 6:30, so I feel like we got a similar experience to the more expensive evening cruises at the lower price.
Venice is a popular tourist destination so be prepared for the crowds in the summer. It might be smart to plan your trip for the off-season, but I would avoid November and December as that is when the city is prone to serious flooding. You may remember the awful floods in November of 2019.
What is it like to take a Gondola Ride in Venice?
For the most part, riding in a gondola is very relaxing. It’s also one of the most romantic things to do in Venice. Gondolas are very stable boats so there will probably be less rocking then you might expect. You don’t need to worry about the boat tipping over or getting wet.
Your gondolier is your guide and will handle the boat during the ride. They stand on the back of the gondola and use one long oar to steer through the narrow canals. Gondoliers usually wear a striped shirt and traditional long-brimmed hat but they don’t typically sing to you like you might have seen in the movies. In fact, in modern times, they might even take a call on their cell phone.
Boarding a gondola is easy, just listen to your gondolier. He will tell you where to step and where to sit to keep the boat balanced. I think you will find the seating in the gondola is more comfortable than expected. It is helpful to have back support.
Then, it’s time to sit back, relax, and soak in the atmosphere. Snuggle up and grab the hand of that special someone. Admire the elaborate architecture and unique scenery. Watch your gondolier duck under the bridges. In some cases, your gondolier may point out landmarks as you pass them.
When the ride has come to an end and it is time to get out of the gondola, again listen to your gondolier. He will tell you when it is safe to get up.
Also, keep in mind that during the summer, it can get hot out on the water without any shade. Be sure to wear sunscreen if you are going for a ride during the peak sun hours.
How to Save Money on a Gondola Ride in Venice
Is it possible to save money on a gondola ride? You may be surprised but I have a couple of suggestions that will help you to do just that:
- Share the gondola. The prices are set per gondola which makes sense as it doesn’t cost a gondolier more if he is taking six people compared to two. If you can find people to share the gondola with then the per-person cost is decreased.
- Buy a tourist pass that includes a gondola ride. If you buy the Classic or Complete Venice City Pass, you can choose between a Canal Grande Tour or a classic Gondola Ride. Get more information about the Venice City Pass options with Turbopass here.
- Book online in advance. If you don’t know other people to share a gondola with but are open to the idea, then book a ride online in advance and they will pair you with others.
- Bring cash and negotiate. I do think it is possible to negotiate with the gondoliers to some extent. I was able to get one to reduce the price of the longer ride down from €120 to €100, but unfortunately, we didn’t have enough cash with us at the time.
Is a Gondola Wheelchair Accessible?
Most gondolas are not wheelchair accessible, but thanks to the organization Gondolas4all there is a special lift to load wheelchairs onto gondolas by Piazzale Roma. The prices for these gondolas follow the standard rates but they can only fit three people with a maximum of one wheelchair. Click here for more details and to make a reservation.
Alternatives to a Gondola Ride in Venice
If you have decided that a gondola ride is not for you, but still want to see Venice from the water, there are a few other options. Some are actually very affordable. Keep in mind most of these options don’t go down the quaint little canals which was my favorite part of the gondola ride.
In Italian, traghetto means ferry. These large gondolas, without any fancy decorations or other luxury features, take passengers back and forth across the Grand Canal. For tourists, it costs €2 for the two-minute ride. You will need to pay the oarsman in cash when boarding.
There are seven official points where the traghetto can cross. Look for signs on buildings pointing toward the landings when you’re walking through neighborhoods along the Grand Canal. Most locals will stand during the short ride, but there are seats too.
They are rowed by two oarsmen: one who stands behind the passengers like a traditional gondolier, the other closer to the bow. While it might not be as romantic, it’s much cheaper and you do get an unobstructed view of the Grand Canal.
Vaporetto (aka Water Bus)
We used the vaporetto as our main form of transportation while we were in Venice, and it can be a fantastic way to see the city too. While it did get crowded at times, we were often able to get a seat.
The #1 Vaporetto runs along the Grand Canal from the train station and makes many stops, so it’s like your own hop-on-hop-off tour of Venice. The trip takes 58-minutes one-way and makes 21 stops. If you can, try to do this boat ride at sunset and grab one of the seats in the front or back that are outside the main cabin.
Each trip costs €7.50 but I would recommend buying a daily pass, which can be purchased at the airport when you arrive, for as long as you plan on being in Venice. Be sure to validate the pass each time you get on the water bus.
Venice has water taxis which are similar to taxis you might find in other cities but they are boats on the canals. These water taxis are not cheap, although you can fit up to 10 people in one water taxi. (Note: There are additional fees for more than four people).
It’s popular to take a water taxi from Marco Polo airport to your hotel since it’s the fastest form of transportation but it will cost you around €110. You can also pick up a taxi to travel around Venice. Make sure to only use licensed taxis for safety. Unlicensed taxis may not have the appropriate insurance or life jackets.
Venice Boat Tour
A boat tour lets you appreciate the beauty of the Grand Canal and learn more about the city. There are plenty of different options in a variety of price ranges including:
- Sunset Boat Tour with Aperitif: Enjoy a panoramic sunset cruise around the St. Mark’s Square basin. Admire the breathtaking views of the city of Venice as you sip a typical Venetian spritz aperitif. Click here to check price and availability.
- Burano, Murano, and Torcello Boat Tour: This boat tour will take you to the outlying islands in the Venice Lagoon. Click here to check price and availability. (Note: You can also visit Murano and Burano independently using the Vaporetto.)
- Lagoon Tour and Galleon Dinner: Take a candlelit dinner cruise through the Venetian Lagoon aboard the majestic Galleon. Taste the chef’s specialties and take in the scenic view of San Marco Square and other islands in the lagoon. It will be an evening you won’t soon forget! Click here to check price and availability.
- Grand Canal 1-Hour Boat Tour: This tour is perfect for those that want to see more of Venice but are a bit tight on time. You will ride through the Grand Canal and other more secluded waterways with live commentary from an English-speaking guide. Click here to check price and availability.
If you are looking for a more active way to be on the water, what about learning more about being a gondolier. Who knows, those skills could come in handy one day?
Is a Gondola ride for you?
Now that you know more about the gondola rides in Venice, what do you think? Would you spend the money to tour the canals on a gondola? It is expensive, but it’s a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else. If it’s your first time in Venice and you have room in the budget, then I think you should go for it. If you are visiting Venice with that special someone, I can’t think of anything much more romantic.
Have you gone on a gondola in Venice? I would love to hear about your experience and whether or not you thought it was worth it.
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