An iconic symbol of Venice, gondolas are a traditional, flat-bottomed rowing boat that was once the preferred means for Venetians to get around the city’s canals. These wooden boats are made by hand in special workshops known as squeri, with some still in operation today. A ride in one of these remains one of the top things to do in Venice by tourists.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, it is estimated that there were between eight and ten thousand gondolas in the city, with vaporetti now the main means of getting around. Of the few hundred gondolas that remain, most are used in festival parades and local rowing competitions or by tourists wanting a romantic perspective of Venice.
Gondolas are traditionally colored black and many feature ornamentations, including comfortable seats and blankets for guests to stay warm. Gondoliers wear black pants and striped shirts and some will also offer information during the ride.
You can book a shared gondola experience or a private one complete with a serenade, as well as learn how to be a gondolier during classes! A standard gondola ride takes around 40 minutes, although you can negotiate shorter or longer rides, and prices usually increase at night. Most gondolas hold six people, with the tariff shared between the boat load, and you can discuss with the gondolier if you want to visit a specific area or be dropped at a certain sight.
The quiet back canals are the most atmospheric spot to enjoy a gondola ride, with the Grand Canal being generally noisy and crowded. However, if you do want a short gondola experience without the hefty price tag (or romance), you can jump into a traghetto, which is a gondola used to ferry passengers across the Grand Canal.