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Gondolas and Gondola Rides (2020)

Gallivanting by gondola in Venice, Italy

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


gondola photo

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

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

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.

Where to hire a gondola

Grand Canal photo

ABOVE: Two gondolas pass a vaporetto on the Grand Canal. INSET BELOW: Parked gondolas with oars tucked away, and a gondola flotilla in a side canal.

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

traghetto photo

ABOVE: A traghetto crosses the Grand Canal. INSET BELOW: A fisheye view from inside a gondola ferry.

traghetto photoVenice'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

Official Gondola Site
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)
Use the numbers on the City of Venice's gondola page as a starting point for negotiating with gondoliers. If you're lucky or it's out of season, the gondolier may be happy to take you for the official rate.

Gondolas4all: Wheelchair-Accessible Gondola Rides
A special pier and gondola, introduced in 2016, make it possible for travelers in wheelchairs to enjoy gondola rides in Venice's canals. (From Venice Travel Blog.)

The Gondola Maker
Laura Morelli has written an historical novel about a gondola maker who "restores an old gondola with the dream of taking a girl for a ride." (The novel has been praised by Publishers Weekly and by Francis Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun.)

For well-heeled tourists in a hurry:

Hotel Cipriani's 'Gondola Massage' veniceforvisitors.com
Are you pressed for time (but not for money) and stressed by a tight vacation schedule? Get a soothing spa treatment and see the sights in one two-hour session.

Related articles:
'Gondola Serenade' tours (gondola rides with music)
Traghetti (gondola ferries across the Grand Canal)
Squero di San Trovaso (gondola boatyard)
Gondolas4All (wheelchair-accessible) - Venice Travel Blog

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