Venice Gondola Ride - Venice's Most Iconic Boat

The Gondolas and the city of Venice share a historic bond!

Venice Gondola

Not only are these traditional Venetian boats shaped to fit through the city’s narrow and small waterways, but they are also a symbol of history, tradition, and romance in the city built to be travelled by boats such as these. While Gondola rides are amongst the most dreamed-about experiences for travellers, they can also be expensive, and sometimes a let-down for the first time visitors.

Here are a few basics to know more about the Gondolas, and how to get the most out of it should you decide to take the plunge.

So, what are the Venice Gondolas?

The most famous form of water transportation in Venice, a gondola is a flat-bottomed, wooden boat that is 11 metres long, 1.4 metres wide and is handcrafted in special Venetian workshops called ‘squeri’. Gondolas originated in the 11th-century but the design we know now was developed over the 19th and 20th centuries. Being an important mode of transport in historical Venice, during the 17th and 18th centuries there would have been around 8,000-10,000 gondolas on the canals. However, nowadays there are only a few hundred left and these are primarily used by tourists.

All gondolas are designed similarly with many aspects of their design being symbolic. The curved front of the boat is called a ‘férro’ and its main purpose is to balance out the gondolier at the back of the boat. Its design also holds a lot of meaning. The ‘s’ shape of the férro mimics the curves of the grand canal and the six-pronged, comb-like structure underneath called the ‘rebbi’ symbolises the six districts of Venice. The single prong pointing back towards the gondolier represents the island of Giudecca. The curved top of the ‘s’ shape is meant to replicate the Doge’s cap and the semi-circular space between the curve and comb shapes symbolises the Rialto Bridge. All gondolas are also required to be painted black, but no one is sure of the reason behind this.

Becoming a gondolier is not as simple as learning to paddle a boat along a canal, it requires a lot of training and testing. Following at least 400 hours of training and an apprenticeship, hopeful gondoliers must take a test. The exam establishes their knowledge of the vessel, Venetian landmarks and history, and their language skills. Only after these criteria have been met can someone become a fully qualified gondolier.

While Gondoliers make, operate and maintain their own boats, the careers and crafts are inherently passed from father to son for generations.

How much does a Gondola Ride cost?

Generally, the standard Gondola rides in Venice have a fixed cost and it fares €80 for a daytime ride, while a night-time trip (after 7 pm) would hurt your wallet by €100. A typical ride lasts for close to 40 minutes and extending your time on the water will cost you €40 for every 20 minutes aboard – or roughly €50 in the night-time after 7 pm. Booking a gondola ride as a part of a tour can also be a cheaper way of experiencing this iconic boat trip.

Pro Tip: It is advisable to check for the current gondola fares before booking your ride. And be wary of the fact that booking the gondola ride via a hotel or travel agency will possibly cost an additional fee.

Where to go on a Gondola Ride?

Gondola Ride

It is highly recommended to go for a gondola ride on the silent back canals of Venice rather than the crowded and overhyped Grand Canal. A Gondola ride on canals in the peripheries of the main tourist area allows you to soak in the majestic views of Venice without going bumper to bumper with other gondolas. Some good places to enjoy gondolas away from the overcrowded St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal include the Jewish Ghetto, San Polo and Campo San Barnaba!

However, if you do want to splash out on a gondola ride that takes in the major sights of Venice then many places are a must-see. The Grand Canal is an iconic part of a gondola ride, particularly since this stretch of water is symbolised by the structure at the front of the boat. From your gondola, you can see some of the most famous and important buildings of the city such as the Doge’s Palace, and the bell tower belonging to St Peter’s Basilica. Other buildings to view from the water around the city include La Fenice Opera House, the Guggenheim Museum, and the numerous other beautiful houses and churches that line the water’s edge. Though the buildings either side of the canal are wonderful to behold, so too are the bridges that pass overhead. In particular, the Rialto Bridge with its shop-lined streets dating back 500 years is glourious to see as you slowly sail underneath.

What to expect from a gondola ride

Gondola Ride Venice

Other than the potentially high prices, there are some things to expect from a gondola ride. Firstly, not all of the gondoliers sing. If you would like a singing tour guide, then you may have to pay extra and book onto a specific type of gondola. Don’t assume that all gondoliers can sing. Secondly, there are no awnings to provide shade. In the past, gondolas did have small cabins and awnings, but these have removed to provide a better view of the surroundings. If you are hopping on board in the middle of the day then make sure you pack sun cream or something to shade you from the sun. Finally, expect to have a wonderful time. There is nothing like slowly drifting along the water, seeing one of the most beautiful cities in the world from the comfort of your own, beautiful gondola.

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