Things to do in Venice

All you need to know about gondola rides in Venice

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Crane your neck and look out the aircraft window when you’re about to land in Venice. You will understand why Venice is rightly called “The Floating City”.

Nestled in between the Adriatic Sea and Italian mainland, Venice is an archipelago of 121 islands built over an ancient lagoon. Lapis lazuli water in meandering canals flanked with brightly painted buildings and a labyrinth of 435 narrow bridges is what Venezia is all about. Not to forget, the bedecked gondolas gracefully gliding through these dreamy waterways.

venice goldola ride

Getting around Venice

Motorized transport or bicycles are not allowed in Venice, hence these waterways are basically the arteries of this city. Roads are a rarity in the Land of Canals. Hence, the best ways to get around Venice is by foot or water-borne modes of transport. Under the water-borne modes, you have 4 options to choose from:

  • The vaporetto (public ferry)
  • The taxi acquei (water taxi)
  • The gondola ( Venetian flat bottomed boats)
  • The traghetto (gondola ferry)

A visit to Venice is incomplete without gliding on a gondola, by the lagoon because there is nothing more Venetian than the absolutely romantic gondola ride. Here's all you need to know before taking a gondola ride in Venice.

What are gondolas?

Gondola (pronounced as gone-duh-la) are Venetian flat bottomed rowing boats built specially to waft by the Venetian lagoon. It may look like a canoe, however it is much narrower and almost always more decorated than a canoe. Gondolas were traditionally the chief means of transportation and though they still hold that role in the public transit system, they are touted to be the most romantic way of exploring the tapering alleys and charming landmarks of Venice, that you can’t imagine reaching on foot.

venice gondola ride

A hundred years ago there were about 10,000 gondolas but today there are only around 400 licensed gondoliers in Venice. A standard gondola ride is for about 30 minutes and their fares are standard at around 80 Euros. However buying them online works out cheaper and is a more peaceful affair than haggling with the gondoliers who rarely entertain bargaining their quoted price. Fares for gondola rides are higher at night so if you intend to romance under the stars, it might cost you a few extra bucks.

History of gondolas

Hop into a gondola and you're taking a trip back to 11th century Venice. Back then, gondolas were the main ride in town and a big deal for showing off wealth. Think of them like fancy cars, but on water.
Designed for the city's maze-like canals, the early gondolas were more about function than style. As time went on, they took on the graceful and iconic shape we know now. By the 17th and 18th centuries, these boats had turned into a mark of wealth and elegance, decked out with fancy designs and manned by expert gondoliers.
However, with the rise of motorized boats in the 20th century, gondolas shifted from a common mode of transport to a symbol of Venice's charm, mainly attracting tourists. These days, taking a gondola ride is a much-loved and romantic way to see the beauty of Venice and connect with its storied past.

Why a gondola ride in Venice is an absolute must?

gondola ride in Venice

Going to Venice and not hopping onto a gondola is synonymous to going to Dubai and skipping the Burj Khalifa. There’s nothing, I repeat nothing more quintessentially Venetian than a gondola ride. Descending onto an elegant black boat and setting off on an enchanting glide is one of the most romantic affairs in Venice. Picture yourself sitting confortably on the cushioned seats of your traditionally clad gondolas, passing under ancient bridges flanked by architectural masterpieces, is an altogether paramount affair.

Venice gondola ride tickets

While there are different types of Venice gondola ride tickets, the most sought after ones are the rides with a serenade experience, like having an Italian singer hum mellifluous music while you glide on the canal. Experience a Gondola ride in Venice and know it for yourself!

A typical gondla ride in Venice

Depending on whether you choose to waft by secluded canals or cruise down the Grand Canal, your views will vary, like turning the pages of a book. From the backdrop of Baroque buildings to bright colored dwellings; from famous landmarks with intricate ornamentation to hidden gems that you just might encounter. If you are taking a gondola ride with your partner, don't forget to sneak a kiss under the Bridge of Sighs. Legens goes that if you kiss under the bridge during sunset, lovers are granted eternal love.

gondola ride in Venice

Though gondola rides are popular throughout the day, there's something special about watching the sunset from a gondola, as the sky turns a pinkish hue and the water a golden shade from the sun's reflection. Don’t resist it, breathe in the mystical air and enjoy this experience.

Highlights of a gondola ride

1Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge stands as a testament to the architectural prowess of the Venetian Republic. As your gondola glides beneath its arches, you're transported back to the Renaissance era when this bridge was the bustling heart of Venetian trade. The structure itself, a marvel of engineering from the 16th century, is flanked by small shops and markets that continue to thrive to this day. The view from beneath, looking up at the intricate stonework and out at the lively Grand Canal, is a moment of pure Venetian magic.

quinta de regaleira

2St. Mark’s Square

Approaching St. Mark's Square by water will give you a unique perspective on this world-renowned public space. From your gondola, you can absorb the full scale and splendor of the square. The basilica's Byzantine domes and the Campanile tower stand as proud symbols of Venice's rich history. The Doge's Palace, with its ornate façade, serves as a reminder of the city's once-mighty maritime empire. This approach offers a serene view away from the bustling crowds, allowing you to appreciate the square’s architectural wonders in all their glory.

quinta de regaleira

3Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

The Doge's Palace is an architectural masterpiece, showcasing Venice's Gothic style. From the vantage point of your gondola, its grandeur is even more pronounced. The palace's intricate façade, with its patterned brickwork and delicate tracery, reflects beautifully on the water's surface. The experience of passing by this historic seat of Venetian power and intrigue is heightened by the relative calm of the waterway, offering a moment of reflection on the city's past.

quinta de regaleira

4Bridge of Sighs

As you pass beneath the Bridge of Sighs, a hush seems to fall over the canal. This enclosed bridge, known for its poignant history, is a symbol of Venice's dual nature - beauty and melancholy. The bridge's limestone baroque design and the story of prisoners sighing at their last view of Venice create an atmosphere of poignant reflection. It's a moment that captures the essence of Venice – a city where beauty and history are always inextricably linked.

quinta de regaleira

Know a little about your gondolier

The gondola is steered by a gondolier who uses a rowing oar and swifts through the canal, occasionally humming Italian melodies. It is interesting to note that gondolier-ing is a centuries old guild and is considered a noble profession in Venice. Gondoliers are required to go through years of apprenticeship and clear levels of exams on art, history, boating and linguistics. They are required to know a minimum of three languages to become a licensed gondolier! Your gondolier is likely to be in his uniform - black pants, a striped shirt and closed toe black shoes. He stands on one edge of the gondola and rows with a single oar and occasionally yells out ‘OY’ in a peculiar fashion to caution his fellow peers around the corner.

venice gondolier

Venice gondolas during the Venice Carnival

Venice's most popular mode of transport - gondolas, are part of the Venice Carnival (January 27 - February 13, 2024) and how? In the spirit of the festivity, gondolas too take on a festive atmosphere with additional decorations and enhancements. Carnival themed embellishments, colorful ribbons and masks are used to decorate the gondolas to add to the celebratory mood. Some gondolas may even feature live music or performers onboard, to create an entertaining experience for passengers.

During the Carnival season, gondolas may even follow special routes to highlight iconic venues around Venice, an experience you'd not get any other time of the year. So make the most of it and revel in the festivities of Venice Carnival!

venice carnival

Tips for your gondola ride in Venice

  • Request a Specific Gondolier: Locals often know the gondoliers by name and reputation. Before you go, ask a local resident or your hotel concierge for recommendations on a specific gondolier who is known for their knowledge, skill, or singing ability.
  • Explore Specific Neighborhoods: Instead of just cruising the main canals, ask your gondolier to take you through specific neighborhoods like Cannaregio or Dorsoduro. These areas offer a more authentic Venetian experience, away from the crowded tourist routes.
  • Evening Rides in Residential Areas: For a truly unique experience, take a gondola ride in the evening through residential areas. The quiet, lamp-lit canals and the sound of water lapping against the walls offer a magical and serene experience.
  • Inquire About Historical Routes: Some gondoliers know routes that cover historically significant areas or paths that famous Venetians might have taken. These routes provide a historical narrative that enriches the experience.
  • Ask for Recommendations on Local Eateries: Gondoliers are great sources of information on where to eat. Ask them for recommendations on local bacari (wine bars) or trattorias for authentic Venetian cuisine.
  • Learn About Gondola Craftsmanship: Request a route that passes by a squero, a traditional gondola boatyard. Some gondoliers can provide insights into the art of gondola-making, which is a key part of Venetian culture.
  • Customize Your Route for Photography: If you’re into photography, discuss with your gondolier about taking a route that allows for great photo opportunities, especially less-known spots that offer unique views of the city.
  • Sunset Rides Near San Giorgio Maggiore: For a breathtaking view, take a gondola ride near the island of San Giorgio Maggiore during sunset. The silhouette of its church against the setting sun is a sight to behold.
  • Early Morning Rides for Tranquility: Venice is exceptionally peaceful in the early morning. A gondola ride at this time lets you see the city in a different light, with fewer tourists and more locals starting their day.
  • Ask About Venetian Legends and Folklore: Many gondoliers are well-versed in local legends and folklore. A ride filled with stories about mysterious happenings and historical figures adds an intriguing layer to the experience.
  • Consider buying your Gondola ride tickets online for a hassle and haggle free experience.
  • Plan your ride such that you can watch the sunset while you're on your gondola.
  • Combo deals of Gondola rides with a dinner or tourist attraction work out to be more economical.
  • Shell out a little extra for a gondola serenade, it is worth the experience.
    Note: They consider it offensive if you ask them to hum a tune, so unless you have paid for a serenading experience, don't ask them to sing.

Gondola Ride in Venice Guide