Taking Your First Venice Gondola Ride: Tips & Tricks to Keep in Mind

When you think of Venice and its countless canals, one image jumps out above all others: the iconic gondola ride.

While it may seem cliché, taking a gondola in Venice is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s not to be missed.

Having traveled to Venice twice while living in Italy, I can tell you from my own personal experience that a Venice gondola ride will give you an entirely different perspective on the gorgeous city. 

So, without any further ado, here’s everything you should know about this bucket-list experience.

About the Venetian Gondola

a venice gondola on a canal sitting unused on a peaceful day
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First things first: let’s talk about these quirky little boats and what makes them so unique. 

Gondolas are traditional flat-bottomed Venetian boats with slender, curved shapes, allowing them to navigate the narrow canals of the Venetian Lagoon.

The gondolas have an asymmetrical hull, designed to counterbalance the weight of the gondolier standing on the stern, facing the bow.  

Gondolas first appeared in Venice sometime around the 11th century. The first known depictions of the unique boat date to the 15th century, when artists Bellini and Carpaccio included them in their paintings.

At the time, gondolas were adorned with sumptuous decorations and were a luxury means of transportation reserved for the elite.

In the 16th century, the Italian government banned lavish gondolas and passed an order to paint them all black that stands to this day, so you’ll notice that nearly all gondolas are painted black.

Two gondolas painted black with red cushions in the inside

The presence of the gondolas along Venice’s canals reached its peak in the 17th century when something like 10,000 gondolas would sail around the city.

Nowadays, the number is much lower, with only around 400 gondolas that official gondoliers use mainly for tourist rides.

If once gondolas were part of Venice’s public transportation system, now they are exclusively a tourist attraction. 

I don’t know about you, but I would have loved to visit Venice at a time when you could hail a gondolier to take you to an appointment a few canals away!

While those days may be long gone, at least we can still experience riding in a gondola in Venice, enjoying a charmingly decorated boat while we admire the stunning city.

The Rigorous Process of Becoming a Gondolier 

aerial view of a gondolier with his typical straw hat, striped shirt, and black pants, holding an oar

At the time of the Republic of Venice, the local aristocracy would have private gondoliers.

They were called “gondolier de casada” and were considered almost part of the family!

Today, this figure no longer exists, and the gondolier profession is mainly for tourism.

While much has changed since the days of the Republic of Venice, some traditions are still observed.

Gondoliers still have their traditional uniform, consisting of a striped T-shirt, black trousers, and the optional straw hat.

Another tradition that hasn’t changed is that the profession of gondolier isn’t open to just anyone with an oar.

Positions are limited, and the process of becoming an official gondolier is not a simple affair. 

Historically, the profession was passed down from father to son, but today, there’s an official school for gondoliers (and women can be gondoliers now, too).

a female gondolier with a straw hat, striped shirt, and black pants, with her back to the camera

The requirements are tough! Anyone who wants to become a gondolier in Venice must have a good knowledge of the history and art of Venice, speak a second language, be an able oarsman and a good swimmer, and have a water rescue certification.

Access to the gondolier school is limited to those who pass the selection process. At the end of their studies, gondolier students must pass a final exam. 

Next, they do an internship with a professional gondolier and must pass a practical exam.

At this point, those who pass can be substitute gondoliers. Finally, substitute gondoliers with sufficient experience can request an official gondolier license!

Currently, there are roughly 430 official gondoliers in Venice and 180 substitutes.

Should You Take a Gondola Ride in Venice?

a man in a gondola rowing it through a canal during the daytime under a bridge

Yes, going on a gondola ride in Venice may sound corny, but it’s one of those things you can’t leave Venice without trying at least once!

Gliding along the lovely canals, passing by impressive palaces and under iconic bridges will reward you with a whole new perspective on the gorgeous city.

Of course, some could argue that gondola rides are not worth the expense.

While it’s true that gondola rides are not cheap, you can find more affordable options, like group rides. 

If you ask me, it’s more than worth it to splurge on a gondola ride in Venice for a once in a lifetime experience.

After all, it’s not like you’ll be taking gondolas everywhere, every day of your stay.

All in all, I think it’s worth it to take a gondola ride in Venice, especially if it’s your first time in the city.

How Much Does a Venice Gondola Ride Cost?

view of gondolas at night with the background of venice skyline in the back and a street lamp with three lanterns

The cost of a gondola ride depends on whether you book online or hop on the first gondola you see while strolling around Venice. 

In general, if you want to be spontaneous and just hop in a gondola when you get to Venice, you’ll be looking at a price tag of 80 euros during the day or 100 euros at night.

The good news is, these prices aren’t calculated per person but per ride.

Gondolas can fit up to five people, so if you’re traveling with friends or family, you can share the cost.

If you’re traveling solo and don’t want to spend that much, you can join group rides.

A standard gondola ride takes 30 minutes. If you want to ride longer, though, be aware that the cost of the ride increases proportionately to the duration.

For example, you’ll pay 120 euros if you want a 45-minute ride and 160 for a one-hour ride. 

For the bargain hunters and hagglers among you, here’s where you can negotiate the price in some cases.

For longer rides, and depending on the number of people, you may be able to get a lower price.

If you book your gondola ride online, you can pay significantly less sometimes — but also a lot more for unique personalized experiences.

A gondola ride with a serenade by night, for instance, can cost as much as 400 euros.

What Do You See on a Gondola Ride?

view of rialto bridge from the point of view of someone on a gondola with the boat facing towards the famous venice landmark bridge, made of white stone

Depending on the ride options you’ve chosen and the starting point, the gondoliers may stick to the Grand Canal or go along smaller canals.

In general, the Grand Canal tends to be busier, so a ride along the secondary canals will be more picturesque and relaxed.

Getting a gondola ride with a tour guide will make the experience more interesting.

Your knowledgeable local guide will tell you about the buildings and areas you pass by, so you don’t just look around wondering what that cool building over there is all about.

Usually, gondola rides pass by the most iconic landmarks in Venice, such as the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, and Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute.

When Is the Best Time for a Gondola Ride?

a man on a gondola in front of a large church in a short sleeve shirt during warm weather

When it comes to the best months to travel to Venice and enjoy a gondola ride, shoulder seasons are ideal.

From April to early June, or between late September and the end of October, you can get nice weather without the sticky, summer heat of July and August.

As for the time of day, try to go on a gondola ride early in the morning. At this time, the canals aren’t too busy, and the gondoliers are just starting their day. 

In the middle of the day, the canals tend to get more crowded, and, especially in summer, it gets hotter.

Remember, there’s no shade on a gondola, so you want to avoid the hottest hours with the sun beating down from overhead.

Of course, a gondola ride in the evening is also a great idea, but thanks to high demand, this popular option is more expensive.

If you can spend the extra money and are looking for a romantic experience, definitely go for the evening ride.

Should You Book a Venice Gondola Ride in Advance?

a venice gondola boat with the sun setting and pastel colored buildings of venice on the sides of the canal, creating a romantic ambiance

While booking a gondola ride in advance isn’t technically a must, it can be a good idea for many reasons.

For instance, if you book online, you can skip all of the stress that comes with finding a ride on-site, possibly negotiating the price, and spending time asking around to find the best solution.

Another reason why booking online is a good idea is that you can find better prices.

Aside from finding many group rides, you may even also come across promotions on existing tours, allowing you to save some extra money. 

Given the price of a gondola ride, even a small discount can make a difference!

If you’re the detail-oriented planning type (and if you’re reading this, you probably are!), booking a gondola ride in advance will allow you to better structure your Venice itinerary.

Since you’ll already know the start and end point of the tour, you can plan other activities around that area before and after your gondola ride.

Last, but certainly not least, by booking a gondola ride online, you don’t risk missing out on the experience.

Although it’s hard to not stumble across a gondola ride in the entire city, if you want to be spontaneous, you may need to wait a long time for your turn, especially in the busiest seasons. In winter, this is less important.

If you don’t have much time in Venice, booking your ride in advance is highly recommended.

Most Popular Gondola Ride Tours for Every Budget

the detail of the bow of a gondola with a bridge and canal as background

There are countless options for gondola rides online, so many that it can be daunting to choose one.

So, to narrow things down a bit and make your life just that much easier, here are a just few of the best options for every budget.

I’ve chosen two shared gondola ride options and two private options to keep your options to a minimum (decision overwhelm can be so real when you travel!).

Best Budget Experience: Grand Canal Gondola Ride with App Commentary

pink seats on a gondola with turquoise canal water contrasting the beautiful colors of the gondola

If you’re on a tight budget but want to cross this experience off your bucket list, this Venice gondola ride may be the best option.

You’ll join a shared gondola ride with a maximum of four other people and experience an enchanting ride along Venice’s canals.

The ride begins in Piazza San Marco, where your host will tell you a few facts about the history of gondolas and the gondoliers before you start your ride.

You’ll also get access to a free app with commentary on the itinerary your boat is taking.

During the 30-minute ride, you’ll sail along the Grand Canal, passing beautiful buildings like the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Palace, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, The Gritti Palace, and Punta della Dogana.

You’ll then sail along the smaller canals, passing by Teatro La Fenice and the Mozart House, ending at San Moisè Square.

Book this budget-friendly, small group gondola ride here!

Best Live Guide Budget Gondola: Grand Canal by Gondola with Live Commentary

a man on a gondola stearing it awaya from another gondola

For a slightly higher (but still reasonable) price, you can enjoy roughly the same tour as above, but with a live guide.

As your gondola sails along Venice’s canals, your guide will tell you about the history of the places you pass by, curious facts about gondoliers, and fascinating stories.

Before the 30-minute gondola ride, you’ll also get a 20-minute walking tour of the area around the meeting point, where you’ll check out the Biennale Café and the San Moisè Church and learn about the history of Venetian gondolas.

The whole experience lasts just a bit less than an hour, but it’s a nice way to enjoy the fascinating gondola ride and learn a few cool facts about this unique tradition!

Book a shared, small-group gondola experience with live guide here!

Best Private Gondola Ride: Private Rialto Bridge Gondola Ride

a man on a gondola with the rialto bridge behind him, the canal waters peaceful without other boat traffic

If you can spend a bit more, and especially if you’re traveling with a small group or with your family, you can get a private tour for the same price, if not less, than the group ride.

The cost of the private ride covers up to five people, so the price per person depends on how many there are in your group. 

This 30-minute tour starts at Bacino Orseolo, in front of the Hard Rock Café, and follows a few smaller canals before reaching the Grand Canal.

You’ll pass under the iconic Rialto Bridge, admire the gorgeous palaces Ca’ Farsetti, Palazzo Grimani, and Palazzo Manin, and sail back to the starting point.

You can also choose the slightly more expensive gondola ride at night, a 60-minute ride only available at night, or even a special ride with a serenade.

The latter, aside from being quite a bit more expensive, is limited to three people (since you have a few musicians on board with you!).

Check the different options for a private gondola tour here!

Best Alternative Route Private Gondola: Private Bridge of Sighs Gondola Ride

two gondoliers going towards the bridge of sighs in venice in their boats on a partly cloudy day

This private gondola ride has the same prices and options as the previous one but takes a different route.

You’ll start the ride at St. Mark’s Basin and slide along picturesque little canals, passing through Rio del Palazzoa and making your way under the iconic Bridge of Sighs.

Then, you’ll be passing along Rio di Santa Maria Formosa and Rio di San Severo before returning to the starting point.

The extended 60-minute ride follows the same route, but includes an additional portion along the Grand Canal as well.

As with the previous tour, you have the options of taking the nighttime ride or even the one with the serenade.

If you’re looking for a romantic experience, the evening ride with the serenade is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience. Of course, you’ll need to be prepared to spend a significant amount!

Check options for this private gondola ride in Venice here!

These are some of the best and highest-rated gondola rides in Venice, but you can find countless options online and in Venice.

I hope this guide helps you make the most of this bucket list experience in Venice!

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