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Gondolas and Gondola Rides

How to hire a gondolier in Venice, plus a money-saving alternative to gondolas on the Grand Canal.

There are two important rules to remember about gondola rides in Venice:

  • If the price bothers you, don't do it.

  • If the price doesn't bother you, make sure you understood the gondolier correctly.

Fact is, a gondola cruise in Venice is like traveling by hansom cab in New York's Central Park: It can be a delightful experience, but only if you're able to forget the price and focus on the ride.

gondola photo

ABOVE: A gondola carries up to six passengers. INSET BELOW: A gondolier in a traditional straw hat, happy gondola passengers, and a squero where gondolas are built and repaired.

What a gondola ride costs

gondolier photoThe city of Venice sets official rates for gondola rides, which started at 80 for 40 minutes the last time we checked. Additional 20-minute increments are  40. After 7 p.m., the base rate climbs to 100, with 50 for an additional 20 minutes. Up to six people can share a gondola.

gondola passengers photoThis doesn't mean you'll actually pay 80 euros, or that you'll get a 40-minute ride. Depending on demand, gondoliers may regard the official rates as a polite fiction. Special services, such as singing, can boost the fare even more. This means you should negotiate both the rate and the length of the ride before you get into the boat. Otherwise, your gondola ride may be memorable for reasons that have nothing to do with sightseeing.

If you dislike negotiating, you can leave that chore to your hotel concierge, though he (or she) may add a hefty surcharge. A few years ago, a reader told us that he'd paid the Hotel Bauer's concierge 120 for a gondola ride just before Carnevale, but he added that he didn't mind the rate and got great service. Another reader (presumably well-heeled) spent a mind-boggling 150 for a 50-minute ride and thought the expenditure was "well worth it."

squero photoTo be fair to Venice's gondoliers, they invest a great deal in their boats: about 20,000 for a traditional hand-built wooden gondola with a useful life of about 20 years. They need to earn the bulk of their annual income in a few short months.

Finally, a gondolier's living costs may be higher than yours, since Venice is an expensive city in one of Italy's wealthiest provinces. Look it at this way: The man who's rowing you up the Grand Canal probably could earn more money for less work at an industrial plant on the mainland.

Next page: Where to hire a gondola


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