If you’re planning a trip to Venice, you may have visions of yourself floating down the canals in a Gondola. It’s an iconic thing to do in Venice. And we all know that Venice is best seen from the water. But is a gondola ride actually worth it?
Over the years, riding a gondola in Venice has become “the thing to do”, pretty much every guide on the floating city will tell you that it’s the best way to see the city. But with all those recommendations, this tourist attraction has become just that. An expensive tourist past time. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with a gondola ride in Venice, and I didn’t when I was there. I found a much more fun alternative. Read on to find out my gondola ride alternatives.
What Is A Gondola?
Before I get into why you shouldn’t ride a gondola in Venice, let’s have a look at what gondolas are. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, as I do think that they are beautiful boats and it is a skill to steer them. I’m not here to slate gondolas, just give a different view.
A gondola is a typical Venetian boat that has been found in Venice for centuries. The boats are just under 11m long a little under 1.5m wide. They are narrow and have flat bottoms, which allows them to be steered through the narrow canals of the lagoon of Venice.
As a gondola is rowed by one person (the gondolier) on one side of the boat, to ensure the boat can go forward, it is built asymmetrically. The boat is made with eight types of wood and every detail of the boat is steeped in symbolism.
Gondolas have been in Venice since at least the 11th century, though they were much different from the modern ones. These historic gondolas were a major means of transport in the city of Venice and were the most common watercraft in Venice for centuries. Though now their role is simply to carry tourists at fixed rates.
There is also a lot of skill in rowing and the gondoliers have to earn a license before they allowed to take tourists on a gondola. To get a license, they have to train and pass exams. During this time they learn not just practical skills in rowing the gondola and navigating the waterways of Venice, but also foreign language skills, and Venetian history and landmarks.
To row a gondola, the gondolier rows stood up, facing forward. This style of rowing is native to Venice, which has become iconic and pretty much a symbol of the city.
There is a guild that protects the profession of gondolier in Venice. It is this guild that issues the licences, of which about 400 are given out.
Being a gondolier is a highly skilled job and, although I think you shouldn’t necessarily bother with a gondola ride in Venice, they are a beautiful sight. Taking a gondola is much more than simply taking a Venice boat ride, but that doesn’t mean you should.
Reasons Not To Ride A Gondola In Venice
There are a couple of reasons why I think you shouldn’t bother riding a gondola in Venice. Here’s why I think they are not worth it:
Gondola Rides Are Expensive
Trying to find a cheap gondola ride in Venice? I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t exist. All gondoliers have a set price for gondola rides. This fixed rate (at time of writing) is at least €80 for up to 40 minutes.
You hire the boat, not pay per person, so if you want a cheap 40-minute gondola ride, you need a group of six (the maximum a gondola can take) to split the price. For solo travellers or couples, this could be easier said than done. And if you are on a budget in Venice, this can eat a significant chunk.
If you have your heart set on a gondola ride but are a budget traveller so the cost doesn’t look great, you can book ahead for a shared ride with Get Your Guide
And even if you find others to split the cost with, is 40-minutes enough? Personally, I don’t think it’s enough time to see Venice from the water which is a must in Venice.
Gondola’s are now essentially just a tourist attraction in Venice, and nothing else. Although they are a lovely tradition, for what you get, it is a very expensive activity. And if you want to ride a gondola near the main tourist attractions of Venice, like Rialto Bridge it’s likely to be crowded and difficult to get a gondola unless you’ve booked in advance. And don’t forget the waterways near these spots will be crowded.
If you really want to ride a gondola in Venice, but think it’s pricey for what you get, why not do a tour that includes a gondola ride so you get more for your money? Like this 2 and a half hours long tour
It’s Not Inclusive
The profession of gondolier has been held solely by men for centuries. Although there is now one female gondolier this does not seem to have opened the doors for women.
Alex Hai, who is transgender, tried to pass the exam eight times and failed each time with a lower score. He accused the examiners of being overly strict due to his gender at the time. He has since become a private gondolier but does not hold a full licence.
Although women can not be prohibited from becoming a gondolier, it seems that male gondoliers find it a little difficult to accept women in their profession. At the moment, when women pass the exams they are put on the list of substitute gondoliers.
Even though there is technically nothing to stop women from becoming gondoliers, there obviously is something getting in the way. Maybe it’s the amount of training needed in a short time – 400 hours over 6 months, which would make it difficult for mums if they are the main carer for children. If there are no women to look up to, little girls simply won’t dream that they can do this job. You can’t be what you can’t see.
For whatever reason that there is only one female gondola, the result is the same. It is simply not an inclusive profession.
Gondola Ride Alternatives In Venice
If you’d rather not fork out for an expensive gondola ride, but still want to see Venice from the water, you do have a couple of options. Why not try one of these alternatives:
The Venice water bus or Vaporetto is part of the public transport system in Venice. And so it is much cheaper than a gondola ride. This is probably the cheapest way to see Venice from the water.
To make the most of the water bus in Venice, you want to take route 1 or 2. According to the map, this goes past Rialto Bridge. Route 2 is almost circular, so you can take the full route and finish close to where you started, rather than having to wonder where to get off.
There is a downside to this gondola alternative though, as you won’t get the same low vantage point as you would on a gondola.
Get your public transport ticket for Venice, including the water bus, in advance with Get Your Guide
Last, but by no means least, here is what I think is the best gondola alternative in Venice, learning to row another traditional boat with Row Venice.
Check out reviews of Row Venice
With Row Venice, you will learn to row a batela boat, which was a dying tradition. These hand-crafted “shrimp tailed” boats can be seen in historic paintings and were once very numerous in Venice. Now there are only seven replicas, of which Row Venice use four. In these boats, you get the same low vantage point in the water as a gondola.
The best part about this activity in Venice is that you can have a go at rowing yourself. You will learn the exact same style of rowing that the gondoliers use. So instead of just observing this unique style of rowing, you get to learn how to do it. During the lesson, you can row as much or as little as you like.
Taking A Lesson With Row Venice
Row Venice lessons usually take place in quieter canals of the city, so you will have a relaxing time away from the busy waterways. However, if you want to row the Grand Canal, this is also an option. Though this is only available on evenings and Sundays.
Although the price for these lessons starts from €85 (so sounds more expensive than a gondola), this is for two people, and you get a 90-minute lesson, so you get a lot more for your money. Additional people cost a little extra. Rowing the Grand Canal also costs a bit more. You can check out full prices here.
The company is also a not-for-profit organisation. A portion of your payment goes to supporting women who race boats and teaching children to row, some also goes to organisations that work to support the voga traditions. If you want extra reasons to support this charity, Row Venice used their boats to deliver groceries to elderly residents of Venice during the city’s coronavirus lockdown.
Seeing Venice From The Water
Seeing Venice from the water is definitely a must in the city. It gives a unique view of the buildings and allows you to see parts of Venice you would not otherwise see.
However, unless you truly have your heart set on a gondola ride in Venice (and there’s nothing wrong with that), be aware that it will be a pricey experience. Personally, I believe there are better ways to explore Venice by water. The best way, if you ask me, is to take a rowing lesson with Row Venice. But then again, I’m not one to sit back and observe, I love to learn new things and have a go.
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