As you may recall from previous posts on the subject, I’m one of those people who thinks taking a gondola ride in Venice isn’t a necessary part of enjoying the city and can even be a huge disappointment. (And it’s not just me saying that – gondola rides came in at #2 on this list of the most disappointing attractions in Europe!)
One of the biggest reasons I advise people to skip the gondola ride if they’re not totally wedded to the idea is the cost. It’s easy to get taken for a ride (literally and figuratively) when you don’t know any better – especially when you’ve heard that it’s an expensive proposition. When you hear some ungodly sum you might think it’s standard and just agree to it.
Unfortunately, while there are perfectly wonderful gondoliers in Venice who won’t overcharge you, there are those who will if they think they can. Which is why it pays to do your research on what the going rate is for gondolas (it changes every year). Nan at the Living Venice blog has a page on her site dedicated to the official gondola fares for the year, which you should definitely peek at before you go.
One important thing to keep in mind, Nan points out, is that the prices for a gondola ride are supposed to be per gondola and not (as is commonly thought) per person. So whether you ride solo or bring five friends along, a 40-minute ride before 7pm should (as of 2009) be €80 plus tip. But even when you’re a close personal friend of a Venice resident like Nan, you can still fall prey to an unscrupulous gondolier.
And of course, just knowing the current official gondola fares doesn’t necessarily help you if you’re a budget traveler without a lot of extra spending money. After all, you’ve already spent a huge chunk of your travel budget on airfare to Venice, and even the Venice hostels aren’t particularly cheap (if you can find them – they’re also pretty scarce).
If you’re one of those budget travelers, but you feel like you won’t have experienced Venice without a gondola ride, here’s my suggestion – when your family asks you what they can get you as a gift for any holiday from now until when you leave on your trip, tell them you’d like a Venetian gondola ride. Because now they can book it online in advance – meaning you won’t have to pay for it yourself, and you also won’t have to carry around that oh-so-tempting money they’ll give you instead!
Since the folks at HostelsClub are based in Venice, they’ve recently worked out an arrangement where you can book a gondola ride in advance online. You do have to pick a specific date and time, so anyone traveling without a set itinerary will have trouble with this one, but if you know when you’ll be in Venice then it’s easy. Just go to this page on the HostelsClub site and click on the “Book This Tour” tab. Choose the date you want to go, the time (there are two options – either 18:30 or 19:30), and the number of people going on the tour.
>> Important Note: When you’re booking a gondola ride in advance through HostelsClub, you’re booking individual seats on a group ride – you’re not getting the whole gondola to yourselves for a private ride. Thanks to reader DM for finding this out and letting me know!
The price for this book-ahead service is €38 per person, which goes against Nan’s admonition against per-person rates – but is much cheaper than the €50-100 per person some gondoliers charge (however wrong that is). And, as mentioned, it also means it’s taken care of in advance and you don’t have to worry about anything but a tip.
Obviously, the option of booking a gondola ride in advance isn’t limited to budget travelers and backpackers – I can totally see this being something couples add to their wedding registry, for instance. It’d be a lovely way for friends and family back home to contribute to the honeymoon without just handing over an envelope full of cash.
At any rate, whether you decide to haggle with a gondolier and produce a list of the current official fares or skip the haggling altogether and book a gondola ride ahead of time, you can help make sure you have a great time in Venice by reading these Venice survival tips. And hey, if you still aren’t interested in a gondola ride, don’t worry – it didn’t even make my list of the top 10 things to do in Venice.
Photo by: Giuseppe Mazzarolo