Everything you need to know
When you visit this unique city of Italy, you should experience a ride in a beautiful Venetian gondola. It is the most romantic ride in the world, in the most romantic city in the world. It is a must, in my opinion. I have been lucky to ride in a gondola twice in my life, and have found it to be a magical experience. They are memories I will treasure forever. I’ll tell you all about the iconic gondola, everything you need to know, history, rides, cost and why people love this tourist attraction so much.
What Is A Gondola?
There is no other boat like it
The gondola, in case you’ve never heard of one, is a sleek and shiny boat a little like a canoe, but with a flat bottom and the ends which sit out of the water. There really is no other boat like it. It’s designed especially for the shallow lagoons of Venice. The front and back are curved up and are adorned with lovely ornaments. There is a special oarlock (forcola) for the wooden oar to sit and can move in any direction. The gondola is also slightly asymmetrical, i.e. crooked, to help with balancing and turning.
Gondolas are made from seven, yes 7, types of wood – oak, walnut, mahogany, lime, elm, cherry and fir. They are 11 metres long and weigh 700 kg. The large front ornament on the bow actually counterbalances the weight of the Gondoliere at the back. It is called the ‘fero’ and symbolises Venice. The top part represents the Hat belonging to the Doge of Venice, the 6 prongs are the districts of Venice, and the ‘S’ shape is the Grand Canal.
These elegant boats are handcrafted by only three local Venetian workshops and cost about 20,000 Euros. These days there are only approximately 300 gondolas in existence, mostly tourist attractions. Whereas once upon a time there were 10,000 of them, as they were essential to Venetian life.
One of the oldest trades in Venice
The “Gondoliere” has been part of Venice for over 1,000 years and was always a very respected trade. They used to work for the aristocracy and most have come from a long line of gondoliers in their families. Remarkably, it requires a lot of skill and about 400 hours of training to learn the trade which includes rowing, water skills, swimming, knowledge of the city, geography, history and exams.
Standing in the gondola to manually row and manoeuvre it through the narrow canals is not easy and quite hazardous. The gondolier uses his hands and feet to push off the pier and walls of buildings, and ducks his head as the gondola goes under the many low bridges.
Sometimes he will explain the landmarks along the way or even sing in Italian, if you’re lucky, although that’s not part of his job description.
Many ‘gondolieri’ speak languages other than Italian, such as English, French or German. They usually wear the traditional clothing, although the straw hat with the ribbon is optional. They or their families often own the gondolas, passed down from generations. It is one of the oldest trades in Venice and they are very proud.
History of The Gondola
An ancient mode of transport
The gondola was a symbol of wealth amongst Venetian families and the main form of transport, after horses were banned in Venice in the 1200’s. It may surprise you to learn that nowadays, Venetians don’t use gondolas at all, other than for a special occasion, such as their wedding.
Gondolas are only allowed to be black according to a law passed in the 17th century, prohibiting gondola owners from decorating their boats in multi colours. Apparently they used to try to outdo each other with very gaudy and outrageous embellishments. The law has remained in place, except for the few fancy gondolas used for regattas.
However, the colours of the interiors are bold and bright, with fabrics, carpets and cushions in vibrant patterns.
Gondolas used to have a small cabin on them to protect passengers from the weather. The cabins even had blinds or curtains in them, but have since been eliminated because they blocked the view for the passengers.
The most iconic thing to do in Venice
If you don’t take a ride in a gondola, I’m afraid you will probably regret it. It’s a bit like going to Paris and not going up the Eiffel Tower or going to London and not seeing Buckingham Palace. Everyone will ask, “did you go in a gondola?” as it is the most iconic thing to do in Venice. It is a great way to see all the hidden parts of this amazing city from a different perspective and experience the Venetian way of life. That’s why it is so popular and it’s a ‘must-do’ on all tourists’ itineraries. Yes, rides are a bit pricey, but here is some info for you to consider.
‘To ride or not to ride in a gondola’ – That is the question!
- The cost is 80 euros for 40 minutes, but make sure you establish the price and length of time upfront and right it down, so there’s no dispute. Or you can book online.
- You can’t have more than 6 passengers at a time. If there is only 2 of you, you might consider sharing the ride with others to reduce your cost.
- After 7pm, the cost goes up to 100 euros. Sunset in a gondola is truly beautiful. Just saying! Of course, you can have a longer ride if you wish, which will cost extra.
- Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend this money, you can go on a ‘traghetto’ for only 3 euros. This boat is like a gondola, but just plain, with no decorations or comfortable seats. Or you can ride in a ‘vaporetto’, a motorised boat. Both of these options will still show you the main sights of Venice, but not the small canals.
- You can take a gondola ride from anywhere you see them docked. Most hang out in the main tourist areas, such as near Piazza San Marco. Usually there is a sign, “Servizio Gondole”.
- Tipping the ‘gondoliere’ is at your discretion, and
- You can probably just sit in one to take a photo, if you ask nicely.
Here are some of my recommendations for gondola experiences that I’m sure you will love.
Interesting Facts About Venice
That will surprise you!
In Venice there are:
- no cars, roads or freeways,
- you have to walk everywhere or take a water ride,
- no tall buildings,
- virtually no grass,
- 177 canals,
- 117 islands,
- 417 bridges,
- in the beginning it was a temporary refuge for people escaping attacks, because large ships couldn’t get into the lagoons,
- the city is built on supports of wood pillars,
- the wood doesn’t rot, as it is not exposed to air and is in fact strengthened by the minerals in the water,
- it has managed to stay afloat against all odds of rising sea-levels, damaging waves, eroding foundations and floods,
- the Venice airport is accessible by water taxi, and
- finally, the first woman in the world to obtain a university degree in 1678 was from Venice, Elena Piscopia.
There is no other city like Venice. Have fun exploring and enjoy a gondola ride.
Have you had a gondola ride in Venice? Leave me your comments below.