When it comes to getting around Venice: what is a Gondola?
Venice is famous for its bridges, the canals and the small ‘campi’ where to observe the life flowing by the bar’s table eating ‘cicchetti’ with a glass of wine. But we can’t forget about the gondolas, the real symbol of the city.
Gondolas play an crucial role in Venetian culture! They’ve existed since the early years of the glorious Serenissima Republic, around the 11th century.
Even if the city has changed over the centuries, gondolas never did, and that’s where their charm lies.
What is a Gondola?
Ciao, I’m Maddy! Welcome to my blog all about Venice (read my story). In this article, I’m going to explain what a gondola is and its characteristics.
I am also going to go into more detail as to why these traditional rowing boats are still used in Venice and even show you where they are built.
Gondolas in Venice
Gondolas are the most ancient means of transport to move around Venice’s canals and the lagoon.
These are traditional rowing boats that you can spot all around the city, and in particular navigating the Grand Canal.
The gondolas are black-coloured, with a sinuous long shape, and an iron-prow head. This looks like a comb with six teeth facing outwards.
Ask a Gondolier and he’ll tell you that it’s function is to give the boat balance.
However, its unique shape holds more meanings:
*The person who drives gondolas is called a gondolier.
You can recognize a Gondolier from a mile away since they wear a hat and have a black and white striped t-shirt with black trousers.
Believe it or not: Gondoliers need to pass a difficult exam to prove they can drive gondolas and know all about Venice’s history.
Why do they use gondolas in Venice?
Venice was built on 118 small islands, connected one to the other by bridges.
Here there are no roads or normal streets like in any other city around the world, but thousands of canals.
For this reason, from the very early years of the Republic of Venice, it was extremely important to find ways to navigate the waterways.
Back in the 11th century, gondolas were not the only means of transport though, there were also caorlinas, batellas, galleys and other boats.
Only in the 14th century, the noble class accepted to use gondolas as a way to move around the city and as a consequence of the government’s prohibition to use horses in the streets.
Where are Gondolas built?
Gondolas are built in the squeri.
A squero is a boatyard and the place where gondolas and other types of traditional boats are built, undergo maintenance and are being repaired.
At the moment, there are just 5 squeri left in Venice, but in the past there were many more!
The gondolas’ shipyard is a wooden building with a covered area and a tesa, the open-air side going towards the water, where boats are built/repaired.
There’s also a ramp section of the tesa used to take in and out of the water the boats.
Inside a squero normally works a squerarol, that knows everything about the building techniques and stories of gondolas and a remer, the craftsman that creates the moving parts of the boats: oars and forks.
What is a Gondola ride?
A gondola ride can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a must-do activity once in Venice.
It’s a chance to explore Venice in a completely different way and look at the city from a different perspective.
There’s no better way to move around the Venetian canals, navigate (under) its bridges and see locals and tourists walking around its calli than from this traditional boat.
The gondolier is a Venetian resident, and he can share with you some history and secrets about Venice that hardly anyone else will know.
You can spot gondolas all around the historical city centre.
I suggest avoiding the canals around St. Mark’s Square or Rialto Bridge, as the queues for a ride can be quite long.
Is a gondola ride in Venice worth it?
Yes, a gondola ride in Venice is certainly worth your time and money.
The official cost for a gondola ride in Venice for 30 minutes ride is:
- 90 euros (and it goes up to 110 euros between 7pm to 8am)
It is expensive, but considering that it might be the only time you’ll do it in your life, it’s worth the money you’ll spend.
This set price is valid for up to 5 people, this means you can share the gondola ride with other 4 people you’re travelling with or that you might find around the gondola stop that are happy to share the ride.
This will help to keep the cost per person down.
Best Gondola tour in Venice
What makes a gondola tour ‘the best’, is when you do it and from where!
With the daylight, you can see historical palaces, important sights and the streets clearly and observe life flowing from the boat. Around dawn time, it’s a good way to look at the city when there are still not many tourists around.
Night-time is a good option too, and probably the most romantic time of the day to ride a gondola: the city is silent, gloomy and mysterious.
If it’s your first time riding a gondola, the time when the sun sets is extremely fascinating and a recommended one. You can book your gondola tour in advance, try this Grand Canal Gondola Ride (with commentary).
Instead of getting to a gondola from the busiest areas such as St. Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge, you can start your tour from a different place.
For example: I suggest you start at the Gritti Palace Hotel to get the chance to see the Santa Maria della Salute church, Grand Canal and Peggy Guggenheim museum, or alternatively from the Accademia Bridge.
Do you tip gondola drivers in Venice?
Gondoliers don’t expect a tip, but if the service was very good and you enjoyed the experience, you can tip him. It’s always much appreciated!
If you want to tip the gondolier, it’s up to you how much to give, it could around be 5-10% of the ride cost.
If you’re riding a gondola in four or five, maybe a tip is more expected than if you go privately and spend all the money for the ride.
In general, in Italy is never expected a tip at the restaurants, bars or for any other service you get.
Gondola Venice FAQ Guide
Here are the most frequent questions people ask about Gondolas in Venice.
Gondolas in Venice, Italy
Now you know a bit more about gondolas in Venice, Italy their peculiarities and history, as well as their tariffs and when it’s a good time to ride one.
With all this information in mind, you can now decide when and from where you’ll ride a gondola to experience the best gondola ride of your life!
For more inspiration, I invite you to read my article all about the best Venice tourist attractions to visit and see where a gondola ride could take you.
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