Before traveling to Venice, I had read countless articles and blogs from travelers warning visitors not to buy into the tradition of the gondola ride. The main reason was always the same—it was too expensive. At 80 euros for forty minutes (before evening increases the rates) the critics were correct about the price. But they were so wrong about the experience.

I think taking a gondola ride is the best thing to do in Venice.

From the moment my husband and I entered the sleek black boat we had smiles from ear to ear that lasted the whole ride. We set the route and the price with our gondolier and he took our picture. He was wearing the ubiquitous striped shirt and straw hat typical of his profession, but quickly took it off once we were along for the ride.

Our gondolier took us down small canals where larger boats couldn’t tread. I was eminently aware that I was traveling the same way that people had done for centuries. History came alive. It was as if modernity had not touched Venice.

Next thing I knew my husband had his arm around me and my head was upon his shoulder. The canals and the gondola were seducing us. We had been stressed from a long day of travel, but the ride dissolved the tension. Slowly I felt every last care drifting away. My shoulders dislodged themselves from my ears and I was utterly relaxed and at peace.

We were able to see into little gardens and onto little patios with bistro tables and chairs. I imagine it must be very lovely to come home after a long day and sip wine while looking at the canal. It probably gets a little tiresome waving at everyone going by in gondolas, but no one seemed to mind.

We passed the ghostly ruins of doors that once would have been magnificent entries to stately homes. Past Casanova’s house we glided. Our boat bobbed as the water ebbed and flowed. At one point we had the thrilling experience of listing severely to one side. At another time, we came to a slight traffic jam with another gondola, our gondolier deftly navigated past the other boat.

He gave us a tour pointing out interesting historical features as we floated along. I liked hearing the names of all the bridges. The water was quite high affording us the chance to reach up and graze our fingertips along their arches.

For the grand finale, our gondolier took us under the famed “Bridge of Sighs” and then out into the lagoon. He turned the boat around giving us the opportunity to see Venice in all her glory. We arrived at Venezia’s front door—Piazzale San Marco—as the rich and powerful had done for years. It was a perfect end to the most magical ride I have ever experienced. After paying and thanking our gondolier, my husband and I drifted off hand in hand still under the spell of the gondola ride. The romance, the history, the beauty, and the thrill were worth every precious euro.

I’m glad that I didn’t listen to the critics. I wonder if any of them have actually taken a gondola ride? Perhaps the price scared them off? It’s too bad because it’s a great experience and a “must-do” while in Venice.

By the way, if you read one of those articles slamming tourist sites and experiences and they mention Pisa—they’re wrong about that one, too. 😉

Tips:

  • Set the route and the price before taking off. Although prices are standardized to some degree, routes vary and prices do, too.
  • You can find gondola rental stands in all the main tourist areas, but I suggest going to a side canal to rent one where there aren’t lines and you start with a more intimate route.
  • Be wary of the shared gondola rides by tour companies. If you have two people taking the ride, it’s probably cheaper (or close to the same price) to just rent it yourself. Plus, that way you have the whole boat (and the best seats) to yourself.
  • Don’t take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal—it’s way too choppy. Boats zoom all over and your sleek little gondola will get bounced around. Since you may have spent your extra cash on the gondola, think about taking a vaporetto (water bus) for a Grand Canal tour. A one-way trip on a vaporetto will cost 7.50€. The #1 line will give you a leisurely cruise down the stream.
  • If you really can’t swing the price for a gondola ride (and I know it’s pricey), for a couple of euro you can take a traghetto (a public gondola) across the Grand Canal. These boats ferry people from across the water. Locals will often stand up in them. It’s not similar at all to an intimate gondola ride, but it’s better than nothing.

Official Gondola Site: http://www.gondolavenezia.it/homeng.asp

The History of the Gondola: http://www.gondolavenezia.it/history.asp?scelto=1

Using the Gondola: http://www.gondolavenezia.it/history.asp?scelto=2

Prices: http://www.gondolavenezia.it/history_tariffe.asp?Pag=43

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