You’ve seen the pictures, you’ve seen the price tag and now you are wondering if a gondola ride in Venice is worth it, eh?
Well, there is no easy answer and I guess it depends on your budget. In this post, I’m going to show you exactly what to expect, what not to expect and very viable alternatives to enjoy the unique flair along the Canal Grande in Venice. For many tourists, a gondola ride is at the top of their list, but there are also many other things to do in Venice.
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What to expect of a gondola ride in Venice (and what not)
As of 2020, half an hour on a gondola will cost you 80€ and an hour will be 120€. That’s a lot of money. Then again, up to 6 people can ride in one gondola, so if you are traveling in a bigger group, the cost isn’t that crazy anymore (you can pre-book a gondola ride here).
In fact, I feel you get a good value for your money regardless. Remember, these gondolas are hand-crafted and are actually quite pricey. Living in Venice is expensive and so is the maintenance of the boat. And well, it’s not like there is no competition for the gondolieri either. If you take a cab through New York for one hour, you won’t get away with paying 10 US-Dollar either.
Now, is it worth to ride a gondola in Venice? That depends on your personal preferences. It is the most traditional way to move around in the city and by riding in one you partake in this ancient history.
It is also a very slow way to travel through the city, and I personally feel this speed kind of matches the through soul of Venice, which also goes by the name La Serenissima (“the most serene”).
Also, consider that you are sitting considerably low on the water and this is a unique view-point. The gondolas can also maneuver through the narrowest channels of the city, which means you go to places public transport won’t get you.
Of course, it’s also a very good picture opportunity and there is no denying that sitting in a gondola is quite a bit more beautiful than sitting on the public bus. (I actually ranked it among my 15 best photo spots in Venice)
For the perfect experience, you do have to consider that you won’t be the only one to ride a gondola in Venice. In fact, there will be hundreds of other gondolas around you during the high season. Especially around Rialota and San Marco, there can be veritable gondola traffic jams. Which, I guess, is a little bit less romantic than you originally thought it would be.
Also, there will be a lot of tourists taking photos of the passing by gondolas. So, if you were thinking to propose during the ride, do consider it won’t be very private in most cases! You can, however, arrange for a longer ride to get to places where most other tourists don’t go.
So, is a Gondola ride in Venice worth it?
It’s quite pricey and most waterways will be crowded with other gondolas in high season. At the same time, you pay per gondola and not per passenger, so the bigger the group, the cheaper it gets. Also, it’s a unique point of view and can get you to places you cannot access otherwise. Above all, it’s a perfect photo opportunity.
Tips for getting the best out of your gondola experience
1. Where is the best place to get a gondola ride in Venice?
Santa Maria dei Miracoli is an excellent starting point and so is the Campo San Barnaba. If you opt for the 1-hour ride, Rialto is actually quite amazing as well. The area around Campo del Ghetto Nuovo is quite interesting as well, but maybe not as lavish. Please consider that the gondolas travel quite slowly and you’ll probably just travel once around the block in 30 minutes.
So, pick a starting point where you’ll see something that interests you and/or where it is not as crowded! As you walk around the city, you will see gondolieri offering their services to tourists basically around every street corner.
2. Take a close look at the gondola & gondolier
Not all gondolas were created alike. They are made to order and especially the upholstery inside will look different in each of them. If you want to take good pictures, take a look first, so you don’t end up with one that doesn’t agree with your idea. The price is everywhere the same, and you won’t have big trouble finding another opportunity.
Also, if you want to take beautiful pictures, the gondolier itself matters. Some choose to wear traditional hats, but others will put it away as soon as you board the ship. Some wear striped shirts, other’s don’t. Take a careful look, but don’t expect them to sing (there are special tours that offer it though).
3. Pick the right day time
Earlier in the morning is usually much quieter than later in the evening, when the crowds have visited San Marco and are now looking for different things to do.
It’s also a matter of the lighting. Waterways might be already in the shadow close to sunset, etc. It’s very hard to give you definite points here because conditions change from season to season. As a take-away just have a look at the scenery before you book. Is the light good for taking pictures? Is it crowded, etc.
4. Sharing, the cheap way to get a gondola ride in Venice –
120€ is a lot of money if you are traveling as a couple. But it’s always possible to share! 4 people easily fit into a gondola and you can take turns sitting in the back and taking pictures. There are plenty of tourists looking to do a gondola ride and if you ask around a bit, it’s easy to find a willing couple! You can even book a shared ride in advance.
Note: Also, do consider that the gondoliers are one of the best-paid workers in Venice. There is no need to tip them (nor anywhere else, really).
Alternatives to a gondola ride in Venice
If you are just looking for a picture of yourself sitting in a gondola and the Canal Grande in the background, then a Traghetti is the perfect alternative. Traghetti are basically simple gondolas that just cross the canal. The ride is usually just 2 or 3 minutes and will costs you 2€ per person.
There is a popular one between the Rialto fish market and Santa Sofia and another very famous crossing between San Tom to Sant’Angelo. In a lot of cases, it’s also quite a bit faster to get to the other side (otherwise you have to walk all the way to Rialto or Accademia).
While you are in Venice, I definitely recommend you to get a day ticket for the Vaporetto, how the water taxis are called in Venice. It costs 20€ for a day and 30€ for two days and it is, generally speaking, the fastest way to get anywhere for tourists.
Route 1 and 2 follow the Grand Canal and there is usually a little viewing platform at the front or back where you can shoot some amazing pictures of the waterways and the Rialto bridge. You can also book a single ride, which will be 7,50€ as of 2020.
Believe me, the ride from the train station to San Marco is amazing!
3. Water taxis
My personal favorite alternative to a gondola ride is actually taking the water taxi. It’s actually not cheaper and in fact even a bit more expensive, but it will get you to places! Gondolas are slow, and if you want to explore the waterways of the cities, it would probably take you a day to see half of them.
A private water taxi (which again could be shared with other tourists), can easily get you around the city in an hour. Close before sunset can be an amazing time. Just arrange a route with the taxi driver and he’ll show you his city – you won’t regret it!
On my last trip, I did a tour down the Canal Grande to San Marco, then enjoy the view from San Giorgio towards the Doge’s Palace and then head back through the smaller waterways to the train station. It was was nothing short of amazing, as we also had some prosecco and some little snacks along!
Pro tip: Combine the ride with your arrival or departure
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