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A gondola ride in Venice is a unique bucket-list experience but many people either think of it as too touristy or too expensive to include as part of their itinerary. I’ve taken a ride on a gondola twice now and both times I thoroughly enjoyed it. To me it’s totally worth it as part of the Venice experience.
On my first trip to Venice I visited with friends and we were traveling on a budget. I’d heard all sorts of stories about how expensive gondola rides were and I didn’t feel it was worth breaking the bank. It’s the kind of thing I figured I’d reserve for a romantic holiday with a husband/wife/partner/lover, and it wasn’t one of those holidays. I didn’t quite imagine my first gondola ride to be with two Aussie friends I met backpacking in Europe. As it transpired, that was what happened.
When we arrived at Camping Fusina hostel, we met a group of backpackers who said they negotiated €60 for 20 minutes. They split it between 5 of them, so it was €12 each. Impressed that it didn’t cost hundreds of euros, we realized that maybe it was actually something we could afford to do. And since it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Venice I soon came around to the idea.
When you get to a city like Venice, you start to think “I might only be here once. I’d regret it if I didn’t”. I’m very much of the attitude that you should seize the opportunity while you can. Plus when you step off the ferry in Venice and you see those gondolas gliding down the Canal Grande, you can’t help but want to go on one.
Our gondolier was really good and told us a lot of information about the sights we were seeing. He took us down some small, quiet canals and Venice is seriously a different world from the water.
At this time of year, fighting our way through tourists on the streets was stressful, noisy and hectic. Gliding down the water was quiet, peaceful and calm. For this reason it was so worth taking a gondola ride to relax and catch a moment of tranquility. It is funny to watch the gondoliers ‘kick off’ from the wall and shout to each other in Italian as they pass by other gondolas.
Our gondola then emerged from the quiet canals onto the busy Canal Grande, with the Rialto bridge behind us. The gondolier pointed out several famous buildings for us, including the building that featured in the end of the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
A few years later I ended up returning to Venice with a boyfriend and we did a gondola ride again. This time it was a little more romantic and we also picked up some wine and plastic cups so we could enjoy the gondola ride with a drink in hand. If I ever return to Venice I’d probably still do another gondola ride – it’s incredibly relaxing and you get a totally different view of Venice from the water.
So how much does a Gondola ride in Venice cost?
‘Official guide price’: 80 euros for 40 minutes
What we paid: 90 euros for 30 minutes
The ‘official’ fares are listed on the official website for gondoliers www.gondolavenezia.it
According to the website, a 40-minute gondola ride should cost €80 for a maximum of 6 people. For each additional 20 minutes it costs €40 on top of that. Evening gondola rides after 7pm cost €100 for 40 minutes and €50 for every additional 20 minutes.
The reality is that gondoliers will try to charge you a lot more than this. The three factors you need to think about when choosing your gondola are 1) the length of time you want your ride to last 2) the sights you want to see 3) the price you want to pay.
Make sure you are aware of exactly what you’re getting for you money. If you want your gondolier to play the accordion or sing songs, you’ll have to pay more.
Negotiating a Gondola: My Experience
You can find gondolas all over the city, but initially me and my friends went to the main gondola pier on the river next to Piazza San Marco and asked how much it would be. Being the most expensive part of the city- a complete trap for tourists- they quoted us prices all well over €100 even for the shortest rides. Quite high compared to what we had heard and compared to the ‘official’ prices. We tried negotiating down, but they were happy to let us walk away.
So on we moved to one of the small canals off the main drag. We were trying to haggle on the price, but the gondolier was very insistent on the prices and wouldn’t budge very much. I forget the prices now, but we were trying to negotiate on 20 minute or 30 minute rides. 20 minutes just covered some of the small canals, whilst 30 minutes covered the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge.
In the end we did the whole ‘pretend to walk away’ technique again and he said he’d do a gondola ride for €90 for 30 minutes, including the Rialto bridge and the main sights. Now in retrospect, I know we paid more than the ‘official price’, but this was the best deal we could get after talking to 3 or 4 different gondoliers. Venice was so busy, it was getting late in the afternoon and it’s so easy to get lost that we didn’t feel like walking around any longer.
At the end of the day, we were comfortable paying it and the boat was one of the nicer ones with flowers and very well maintained. As a rule of thumb, if you’re comfortable with the price, do it, if you’re not, then walk away. That was €30 per person between three of us in peak season in the middle of Easter holidays when Venice was rammed with tourists.
Tips for Taking a Gondola Ride in Venice
Know where the gondola piers are
Approach a few different gondoliers
Be prepared to negotiate
Know what duration you want
Know the official prices
If short on time, book online
FAQs About Gondola Rides in Venice, Answered
Yes I think they’re totally worth it. It’s a must-do experience and very relaxing, even though it may be considered a ‘touristy’ activity. It gives you a totally different perspective to see Venice from the water. Plus, you get to rest your feet for a bit!
If you enjoyed your gondola ride in Venice and the service was good then you can tip about 10%. It’s not compulsory but it’s obviously appreciated. If you’re traveling in a group and there’s a few of you I would say definitely tip. However, if you’re being charged a lot more than the ‘official’ gondolier prices then I wouldn’t feel the need to tip.
You don’t really need to pre-book a gondola ride as there are lots of them and you’ll usually come across them all over Venice. However, if you’re short on time and you need to take your gondola ride at a specific time, then you may want to pre-book one online. The great thing about booking online in advance is that you can also pay by card in your home currency and you don’t have to do any negotiating. Get Your Guide allows you to book both shared gondola rides and private gondolas.
No, you can’t pay with card. You’ll need to make you have some euros in cash. You can take money out from the ATM or exchange money.
Planning Your Trip to Venice
As a side note, hotels in Venice can get super pricey during the summer months, costing hundreds a night. Even hostels can be rather expensive and they get fully booked. If you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, theres a site called Hundredrooms that will help you compare holiday rentals in Venice, meaning you’ll pay less on accommodation and you’ll also be able to cook at home, meaning you’ll save money on eating out.
Waiting until you arrive to arrange a taxi from Venice airport may lead to unexpected hidden costs. However if you book your Venice airport transfers in advance, you can agree the prices upfront, and better still, you won’t need to pay the agreed price until after your journey.
A Final Word…
I felt it was definitely the highlight of my visit to Venice and a gondola ride isn’t just reserved for romantic dates. Since the canals are Venice’s roads, you’ll be sharing them with other boats and gondolas. But it’s so worth it to rest your weary feet and see Venice from a different perspective, to the quiet sound of the paddle hitting the water.
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