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:
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.
What a gondola ride costs
The 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 five people can share a gondola.
This 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."
To be fair to Venice's gondoliers, they invest a great deal in their boats: upwards of €20,000 for a traditional hand-built wooden gondola with a useful life of about 20 years, plus annual maintenance. They need to earn the bulk of their annual income in a few short months. (See Squero di San Trovaso for photos of a Venetian boatyard.)
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.
Where to hire a gondola
You'll find gondolas and gondoliers throughout the main tourist areas, from Tronchetto and the Piazzale Roma (where motorists park their cars) to the Rialto Bridge area, the Doge's Palace, and busy pedestrian crossings along the secondary canals. Chances are, you'll encounter men who politely ask "Gondola?" as you walk past the flotillas of parked boats.
The traghetto: a two-euro gondola crossing
Venice's best transportation value is the traghetto, a public gondola ferry.
A traghetto, also called a gondola parada, is a larger version of the usual gondola da nola, carrying 10 instead of five passengers. You'll pay €2 to cross the Grand Canal at one of the half-dozen ferry points between the railroad station and the Campo del Traghetto near St. Mark's Square.
The ride is short, and service can be sporadic these days, but the experience is memorable--especially if you emulate the Venetians by standing up during the crossing. For more information and photos, see our Traghetto article.
External Web links
Learn about the gondola's history, or assemble a bibliography of books (mostly in Italian) about gondolas and Venice. The site also discusses the traghetti or gondola ferries across the Grand Canal.
Official Gondola Tariffs (Comune di Venezia)
Gondolas4all: Wheelchair-Accessible Gondola Rides
The Gondola Maker
For well-heeled tourists in a hurry:
Top inset photo copyright © Elizabeth Korenbaum.
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