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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.
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 six 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: 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.
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.
Decide what kind of trip you want, then find a gondola stand in the area nearest your destination. For example, if you'd like to experience the hubbub of the Grand Canal, hire a gondola near the Doge's Palace or the Rialto Bridge. If, on the other hand, you'd rather tour the quiet and romantic side canals, book a gondola away from the vaporetti and water taxis. (The latter may be the best idea if boats make you nervous or if you're inclined to seasickness.)
If you'd rather not haggle with gondoliers, or if you prefer music with your ride, consider booking a tour through a travel agency. Viator offers online reservations for the Gondola Serenade Tour and other excursions; you can book ahead and lock in the price by prepaying in your own currency.
Venice's best transportation value is the traghetto, a public gondola ferry. Traghetti are similar to privately rented gondolas, but you'll pay only €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.
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.)
Gondola in Venice
This article from VeniceWord, a media service in Venice, describes the history of the gondola and current construction rules.
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.)
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.
|'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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Top inset photo copyright © Elizabeth Korenbaum.