A Venetian gondola ride is a real bucket-list experience. And, as cliché as it sounds, no trip to Venice would be complete without a gondola ride. It’s like visiting New York and not going to the Statue of Liberty… So even if you have just 1 day in Venice, this is one of the experiences that you really shouldn’t miss!
For centuries, black gondolas have been the unmistakable symbol of Venice. Even people who’ve never been to Italy would identify the city just by seeing a picture of a black gondola. Venetian gondolas and canals are among the most iconic and most-recognizable images in the world.
If you are wondering if it’s worth taking a gondola ride in Venice, how much it costs, where to (not) do it, or how to make the most of your experience, then read on. In this article, we share some tips and useful info that should help you avoid disappointment and have a truly unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience. Find out!
1. Know what to expect
Already in the 13th century, Venice started to ban horses in the busiest parts of the city. Gradually, gondolas became a popular means of transportation, especially among the upper classes.
However, today, Venetian gondolas are no longer used as a means of transportation. So don’t just walk up to a gondolier asking him to bring you to San Marco’s Square or to Rialto Bridge. For that, you’ll either have to take a water taxi, a vaporetto (public water bus), or walk. You can ask the gondolier to drop you off at a different place than where you started, but usually, they won’t go out of their usual route in order to bring you somewhere.
Nowadays, gondolas are mainly used for entertainment of tourists – for sightseeing, romantic evenings, or simply to experience Venice in a similar way as people have done it for centuries.
There are quite some rules and regulations meant to ensure a similar ‘authentic’ experience for all tourists and fair business for gondoliers. For example, gondoliers have their own standing places and the routes they take. They are also required to wear the same ‘uniform’ – black pants, a striped shirt, closed dark shoes, and a banded straw hat. And even gondola ride times and prices are uniform everywhere in Venice. More about it below.
Even the size, shape, and color of an official Venetian gondola used for work is fixed. It has evolved over hundreds of years and is strictly regulated. For example, already in the early 17th century, it was decided that all Venetian work gondolas should be black. The current shape of the gondola has remained unchanged since the beginning of the 20th century… The only thing that differs is how each gondolier chooses to decorate their gondola.
TIP: If you want to know more about Venetian gondolas and have the time, you may want to consider this tour/workshop that brings you to an authentic Venetian gondola maker.
2. Don’t take the first gondola you see
Even though all Venetian gondolas and gondoliers look pretty much the same and they all charge the same prices, your gondola ride will be unique depending on where you take a gondola. They can be found all over Venice and take different routes. So even if you’ve been on a gondola in Venice before, chances are very small that your second experience will be similar to the first one. It depends so much on where your ride starts.
I don’t think that you can have a really ‘bad’ gondola ride anywhere in Venice. But I also think that it will be more special if your gondola route includes a combination of some quieter places and impressive landmarks.
So for the best gondola ride in Venice, I recommend choosing a route that includes some smaller canals as well as a part of the Grand Canal southwest of Rialto Bridge. It’s here that you get to see the most impressive Venetian palaces dating from 13-18th centuries, the glory days of the Republic of Venice.
At the same time, you don’t want to take a gondola that only tours the busy Grand Canal or the waters close to St. Mark’s Square and skips smaller and quieter canals. Because you’d miss that special experience of riding Venetian gondola on the narrow canals, under bridges, and past the more authentic parts of Venice.
Furthermore, it’s usually so busy on the Grand Canal and at St. Mark’s Square that there’s not much authenticity left. Instead of telling you about the sights along the way or singing, your gondolier will be occupied with the bumper to bumper ride and trying to avoid crashing with the other gondolas or boats.
TIP: Make sure to ask a gondolier which route they take. For that, it’s best to wait to take a gondola until you’re quite close to the Grand Canal, but not directly at it. On our most recent visit to Venice, we took a gondola at Ponte San Polo (see map) and it was just perfect. Our route included some very quiet canals, but also a small part of the Grand Canal. We loved it!
3. Choose a friendly gondolier
In my view, a big part of your experience will depend on which gondolier you choose.
A friendly chap willing to talk to you and tell something about the sights along the way will make your ride so much more pleasant. Sometimes, gondoliers also take a picture of you in the gondola or sing a song along the way…
Whereas if you take a gondola with someone who is in a bad mood or spending his time on a smartphone, it might ruin the whole experience.
So talk to the gondoliers before you get on the boat, get the feel how friendly they are, and don’t be afraid to walk away and find somebody else if they look and sound overly arrogant.
TIP: Gondoliers will be more friendly and relaxed when it’s quiet and they are not too tired. For that, it’s best to avoid busy times and summer heat. Below, you can find our recommendation for the best time for a gondola ride in Venice.
4. Go in the morning
If you are visiting Venice in spring or in summer, the best time to go on a gondola is in the morning before it becomes too hot. There is no shade on the gondolas, so you’ll be in full sun all the time. Our gondolier said that it gets so warm during the day that it’s just not pleasant. It might be different in the lower season, but in summer – try to avoid going on a gondola in the middle of the day.
Furthermore, not many tourists take gondolas in the morning. So it’s much quieter on the canals and gondoliers are more relaxed and friendlier. We were the first clients of the day and our gondolier was super enthusiastic and very friendly, but without overdoing it (if you know what I mean). He also took his time on the Grand Canal so our ride was longer than expected. And he even sang a nice romantic Italian serenade without us having to ask for it. It felt more spontaneous and more authentic.
Alternatively, you can also choose to take a Venetian gondola ride in the early evening, at sunset, or even in the dark. However, gondoliers will be more tired in the evening. You should also know that rates are higher after 7 PM. So if you’re hoping for a romantic gondola ride at sunset, be prepared to pay more. More info about how much it costs – below.
READ ALSO: Venice One Day Itinerary
5. Bring cash & don’t negotiate
As already mentioned, the gondola business is highly regulated in Venice. Gondola prices are the same all over the city, determined by the ‘comune’ of Venice, and non-negotiable.
At the moment of writing, a 30-minute gondola ride in Venice costs 80 EUR during the day and 100 EUR from 7 PM to 8 AM. This is the price you pay for a private gondola that can be shared with up to 6 people. The duration of your Venetian gondola ride will highly depend on how busy it is on the canals. So on a quiet day, your gondolier might cover their standard route in 20-25 minutes, whereas if it’s busier, it might take longer.
If you want to take a longer trip, the price will depend on the duration of your ride. It will be calculated proportionally. So a 45-minute tour will cost you 120 EUR and a 1-hour trip – 160 EUR. It’s very hard to negotiate the price of a standard gondola ride. But if you are going on a longer tour and it’s not very busy that day, you might be able to agree on a somewhat lower price. Make sure to do it in advance, before you get on the boat and don’t count on it.
Good to know: Unless you pre-book a gondola tour, you’ll have to pay cash for your gondola ride. So make sure you have enough money on you. Venice gondola tours that you can pre-book online are usually more expensive than the official rates. The only reason to book a private gondola tour in advance would be if you are short on time and want to be absolutely sure that you can do it at a specific time and place. If you do want to book your gondola tour in Venice, you can find the best deals here.
6. Save money by taking a shared gondola
If you are traveling on your own or just with two people and find the gondola price too high, you can also opt for a shared gondola ride. Ideally, you find 2-4 other people to share a ride with (as the maximum number of people in a gondola is 6).
However, since it’s usually a bit difficult to arrange your own ‘group’ on the go, you may want to pre-book a shared gondola tour. It costs more than 1/6th of the price, but that’s because you won’t always have a full gondola and it’s hard to know that in advance (for you, but also for the gondolier).
TIP: For a really cheap gondola ride in Venice, you may try the traghetto gondola service. It’s a ferry service used mainly by locals who want to get from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. For just 2.5 EUR, you can cross the Grand Canal in a real Venetial gondola. You can find this service at the following locations: Dogana, Santa Maria del Giglio, San Tomà, Riva del Vin, Riva del Carbon, and Santa Sofia. It’s the cheapest way to ride a gondola in Venice! However, you can’t compare this experience with a regular gondola ride.
7. Just do it!
If you are wondering whether Venice gondola rides are worth it, I’d say go for it (just don’t forget to take our tips into consideration)! Yes, it’s expensive, touristy, and all those things… But there is only one place in the world where you can take an authentic Venetian gondola through the picturesque canals of a stunning floating city, and that’s Venice. And how often will you be in Venice? For most people, it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you don’t take a gondola ride in Venice, you’ll probably end up regretting it later on. At the end of the day, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, don’t we?! And so my advice is not to miss this bucket list opportunity. If done right, it will make your whole trip to Venice so much more special!
Our experience: We’ve been to Venice several times and have taken a gondola ride twice. As I said before, no two experiences will be the same, but we enjoyed both rides very much. It remains a truly special experience and I’d absolutely do it again next time we are in Venice.
Venice Gondola with Kids
I couldn’t publish this article without adding this small section for families. If you are wondering whether you can take a gondola in Venice with kids, yes, absolutely!
Taking a gondola is safe and kids will be just as impressed with all the sights around them as you.
We even saw gondolas with young kids in a stroller in them. By the way, check our post on Venice with a baby or a toddler if planning to visit the city with very young kids!
Our experience: On our most recent trip to Venice, we took a gondola ride with our three boys (age 9, 9, 11) and I thought they might find it too boring. But I haven’t seen them as quiet, as impressed, and as interested in something for a long time! They all loved it! The special boat with all its decorations, the singing gondolier, the centuries-old palazzos on the water… Our kids truly enjoyed the gondola ride in Venice! I’m sure that it will be one of the few things they’ll remember from the city even many years later.
So, these are our top tips for a gondola ride in Venice. I hope that this will help you have a better experience and truly enjoy your gondola tour.
If you are planning a trip to Italy, make sure to check our Italy Travel Guide. It contains a lot of articles from our many trips in various parts of Italy.
READ ALSO: How to Visit Venice by Car
More inspiration and travel tips for Italy:
- Best Places to Visit in Italy
- Italian Food by Region
- Tips for Visiting Rome
- How to See the Best of Milan in One Day
- Lake Garda
- Bellagio, Lake Como
- Hiking in the Dolomites
- Tips for Visiting Cinque Terre
- Italian Riviera
- Best Towns in Tuscany
- Amalfi Coast
- Capri Island
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