RIDING A GONDOLA IN VENICE
Long, sleek, black, slightly crooked, looking like a cross between a canoe and a coffin, the single oar worked by a professional gondolier. the Venetian gondola, has been a primary form of transportation in Venice from the 12th century until motorized boats came into the canals in the late 20th. And touristy or not, your visit to Venice isn't complete until you take one of these time honoured water taxis for a spin.
Technically the gondola is a mode of transportation, and technically you might find a gondolier willing to ferry you from point A to point B, but in practice these most famous of Venetian boats operate as supremely overpriced tourist mini-cruises, not as a viable means of public transportation. There are gondola-like boats that do serve as public transport; they're called traghetti, detailed below.
How much does a gondola ride cost?
The official rates if you're using a gondola as a taxi are €80 ($104) for up to 6 people for a 40-minute ride; additional 20 minute increments cost €40 ($52). As soon as the clock strikes 7pm, the price jacks up to €100 ($130) for 40 minutes, €50 ($65) each additional 20 minutes. Travel Tip: Check with the tourist office for the current offical rates, if they have a paper with these rates posted that this with you. If you show this paper to the provider they are less likely to over charge you. Remember the saying in Italy is that if it goes it goes, if you are willing to pay more they will gladly take your money.
How long should a gondola ride last?
The average gondola ride lasts 40 minutes. Make absolutely sure you agree upon the price and the duration of the trip before you step into the boat, write it down, and go by your watch (strangely, the gondoliers' often run fast).
Venice's gondolas and gondoliers are regulated by the Ente Gondola (tel. +39-041-528-5075; www.gondolavenezia.it), so call if you have any questions or complaints.
Bacino Orseolo — The gondola parking lot
If you want to see the biggest gondola parking lot in Venice, it's surprisingly easy to find but surprisingly often missed. This magic spot is called the Bacino Orseolo, a small basin or wide spot in the canal where dozens of boats bounce gently in the water. It is located just north of the northwest corner of Piazza San Marco, encaved in the curving yellow walls of the Best Western Hotel Cavalletto. Travel Tip: some of the best views are from the hotel's red-awninged windows).
What is a Traghetto
Want to ride in a gondola while in Venice without paying more than $100? Look for any street named Calle del Traghetto leading toward the Grand Canal (marked by a yellow sign with the black gondola symbol) and hop aboard a traghetto (ferry skiff). These oversized gondolas rowed by two gondolier cross the Grand Canal at eight intermediate points not covered by the Grand Canal's four bridges. The fare is a bargain €0.50 (60¢) for locals and 2 euro for tourist, which you hand to the gondolier when boarding. You then ride standing up if there are more than 5 or 6 persons. Travel tip: The ride only lasts five or six minutes, but it's a thoroughly Venetian way of getting around and way cheaper than a tourist gondola. Be aware that there does not seem to be on defined business hours, after 17:00 and normally during reposo they are not working.
Be a gondolier for the day — Gondola rowing lessons
Ever wanted to take the stick and learn how to steer a gondola around the canals of Venice? Several tour services teach you do just that: spend the afternoon taking gondola driving lessons. (Or at least Venetian-style rowing lessons.)
The easiest to use is Row Venice (tel. +39-345-241-5266, www.rowvenice.com), which will teach you the Voga Veneta, the traditional Venetian rowing style, in an open, canoe-like boat called a sandolo (think of it as the gondola's less stylish cousin). Lessons last two hours and cost €50 (or €40 per person for two).
If only a full-fledged gondola will do, ArtViva tours (tel. +39-055-264-5033; www.italy.artviva.com) offers a two-hour "Learn to be a Gondolier" tour for €80 (min. 1 person, max. 4; tours at 9am, 11am, 2pm, and 4pm Mon–Sat).
You can also try contacting the local canoeing club Canottieri Giudecca (tel. 041-528-7409, www.canottierigiudecca.com), which claims to offer lessons for just €6 per hour.
If you are curious how gondolas are made, Casanova/Oltrex (tel. +39-041-524-2828 , www.oltrex.it) offers a two-hour tour that visits a working squero (gondola workshop). Their office and meeting point is a cubby-hole office in the base of the Hotel Daniele on Riva degli Schiavoni, just off Piazza San Marco.
- Planning your day: Gondola rides last 40 minutes, unless you pay for overtime.
- You can get a cheaper ride by sharing the boat with other tourists.
- Remember: evening rides are more romantic, but cost a premium. Those wanting to save will want to take their gondola ride before 7pm.
- All gondoliers will want to row you in a big circle back to where you boarded. If you want to end up elsewhere, insist upon it—firmly but politely.