Is A Gondola Ride In Venice Worth The Money?
Earlier this year Jason and I began planning our trip to Italy. After much debate we opted to visit Rome and Venice. It was a tough choice because Italy has so many amazing destinations. But once selected, we were happy with our plans, so the next step was researching what to do in each city.
I knew that touring the Colosseum in Rome was non-negotiable, and I knew that riding a gondola in Venice was as well. But I do know that many people skip the gondolas. I read numerous reviews with complaints about the price, unfriendly gondoliers, and crowded canals. Those who prefer ‘local’ experiences criticize the gondolas as being too touristy. These opinions concerned me, but not enough to skip it. Instead, I figured this would be a great topic to write about when we returned home. So here’s my honest review.
About Gondolas In Venice
While today gondolas are rather touristy–locals rarely ride them–they are an important part of Venetian history.
What exactly is a gondola? It’s a light, flat-bottomed boat with a high point at each end and worked by one oar at the stern. The oar rests in an elaborately carved wooden rest known as a forcola. The purpose of these light boats was to navigate narrow waters.
Gondolas were first mentioned by name in 1094, so we know they’ve been in use since the 11th century. By the 17th and 18th centuries, it is estimated there were eight to ten thousand gondolas in use as a primary form of transportation through the canals. Today there are 400 gondolas in use throughout the city.
The Facts About Riding A Gondola
It’s important to separate fact from opinion when it comes to gondola rides. Of the many negative reviews I’ve read, many stem from a misperception about the experience. So let me cover the facts and then share my opinion.
Types Of Gondola Rides
You have the option to take a private or shared gondola ride. If you’re booking in advance online, then your boat mates will not be up to you. However, finding people to share the boat with while in Venice may not be possible. The benefit of a shared ride is cheaper pricing. And for solo travelers, a shared ride may be an opportunity to meet other people.
Pricing for private gondolas is standardized and currently is 80 Euros (roughly 85 USD) for a thirty minute ride during the day. Up to six people can be accommodated. At night the price increases to 120 Euros for a thirty minute ride. Longer rides are possible for an additional fee.
Gondolas can be boarded at many locations throughout the city, but the largest number are available at St. Mark’s Square. When you’re ready to ride, just approach one of the gondoliers. They are easy to spot since they are required to wear the same ‘uniform’–black pants, striped shirt, and a banded straw hat.
The route of the ride depends on the place you board and routes are mostly predetermined. So if there is something you are hoping to see during the ride, you’ll want to ask about it in advance. All gondoliers have maps of their individual routes along with the price list. You aren’t obligated to ride with any particular gondolier, so if you find someone too pushy, rude, or don’t think you’ll enjoy the route, just walk on and find another dock.
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You do have the option to pre-book a gondola ride through a service like GetYourGuide. The benefit of this is it’s the only way to pay by credit card. However, the downside is it typically costs more. Most commonly the gondolier is paid at the end of the ride and with cash only. If you’ve enjoyed the experience, you can tip, but it’s not expected.
Gondoliers are not guaranteed to sing. Some do, but it’s not automatically part of the ride. If this is important to you, a ride with music can be booked in advance online through GetYourGuide and similar services. This will include a singer and accordion player.
If you’re looking for a quiet ride with few other gondolas in the canals, then morning is the best option. If you’re visiting during the heat of the summer, morning will also be much cooler. Late afternoons and evenings definitely get busy along the canals, so if this concerns you, it may not be the best option. On the flip side, the canals really come to life when there are plenty of boats and the gondoliers are interacting.
Our Gondola Ride In Venice
We waited until our last night in Venice to ride a gondola. As we walked through the city for two days we looked at the different boats and docks, and considered our options. We decided to ride shortly before sunset. Fortunately, this qualified as a day time ride, so we paid 80 Euros.
We found a lone gondolier waiting at the end of Rio Della Zecca, just in front of the Royal Gardens. He was polite and eager, so we boarded the boat. The docks at St. Mark’s Square were a bit too chaotic for me, so I appreciated the quiet of this particular place.
Our gondolier did not sing, and I hadn’t expected him to do so. However, he occasionally pointed out interesting sights along the way. Jason and I held hands, took plenty of photos and videos, and simply appreciated the beauty of Venice’s canals.
We also had the fortunate experience of listening to music from another boat. A boat ahead of us had hired both a singer and an accordion player, and thanks to the acoustics of the canals, we could hear it clearly.
Most of our ride was through random canals, none that I would particularly remember. We enjoyed watching boats and gondoliers ahead of us, seeing people walking over the bridges, and admiring the homes lining the canals. Gondoliers spoke to one another in Italian, adding to the ambiance of the whole ride.
Finally we entered the Grand Canal for our final few minutes. A few gondolas were ahead of us as the sun was just beginning to set. This might have been my favorite moment in Italy. It was magical.
As we returned to the dock, our gondolier kindly took our pictures, making sure the Royal Garden was in the background.
The Verdict–Riding A Gondola In Venice Is Worth Every Penny
Jason and I are in total agreement, the gondola ride in Venice was worth every penny. In fact we tipped our gondolier, so we paid more than 80 Euros.
I was determined to ride a gondola, but I had realistic expectations. I knew it was expensive, the ride was relatively short, and the gondolier probably wouldn’t sing. I was not expecting to see any major sights along the way. In fact I didn’t know we would return on the Grand Canal, so that was a nice surprise. I’ve read about rude gondoliers, but since ours was so polite and helpful, we didn’t have that experience. Overall, my expectations were reasonable, and therefore easily exceeded.
If you’re planning to visit Venice, I definitely recommend a gondola ride.
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