Venice is well known for the gondolas that float up and down the Grand Canal of the city of Venice. It's pretty easy to identify the operators that will be more than happy to row you in their straw hats and black and white or red and white striped shirts. As one of the city's most popular tourist attractions, however, it comes at a hefty cost. Is it worth it?
This is the question I found myself multiple times throughout my stay in the magical city. The sleek gondolas are among the first things you will spot along with the bright padded and rather ornate chairs in the boat. The signs posted near most major tourist spots list the prices as 80 Euros for a 40 minute ride (for up to 6 people), 40 Euros after that for every 20 minutes. What they don't tell you is that after 7 pm the rates jump to 100 Euros and 50 Euros.
As a solo traveler, I was willing to splurge on this experience as I was thinking, "when else am I going to be headed back to Venice?" But when I was having tea in a cafe off the Rialto Bridge area, I was warned by another solo female traveler about how its not exactly what it seems. The gondola rates that are listed are more of a guideline. You will in reality have to haggle with whomever is operating your boat.
I expected to hear that the prices were higher in the tourist areas like San Marco and the Rialto Bridge area were much higher than some of the sleepier canals in the middle of the city. The operators depend on tourists to walk away if they do not agree with the rates. The traveler I was with didn't have a great command of English or Italian and sadly had agreed to pay 110 Euros for a 30 minute ride by herself!
She felt embarrassed to share that her gondola ride was only through the sleepy areas and not what she expected on the Grand Canal. With this in mind, I decided to inquire with my hotel concierge and their thoughts about the gondolas. The concierge shared similar information with me and also recommended the vaporetto water bus service as an alternative to see the city.
Decided to try my luck, I thought I might start in the San Marco tourist area to see what the gondola operators said. I waited in line early in the morning of my second day in the city to get a quote knowing I probably wouldn't agree to anything until I had spoken to 3 or 4 people. The first person I spoke to was unhappy when I inquired about a ride for a single person for 30 minutes. He spoke rapid Italian to another operator and advised me it would be 120 Euro!
I was shocked! I pointed to the sign he was standing next to that listed the official prices. He shook his head and pointed that it listed for up to 6 people as if to say 1 person was much more expensive. Unhappy I walked away. I tried again near the Accademia Gallery Museum and had slightly better luck. This time I was offered a 95 Euro rate. Walking away again, the gondola operator yelled after me and offered to lower it to the 80 Euro, but would only give me a 20 minute ride and not through the Grand Canal.
I had hoped since it was the off season that the rates would be more reasonable, but after the second encounter decided against doing the gondola ride. I didn't feel I could justify the expense this time around. If I was traveling with another person or group maybe, but not for just myself.
Ultimately I took the recommended vaporetto water bus around the city of Venice and felt that it was worth the day pass I had purchased for unlimited rides around the lagoon. The water bus was slow and took about 2 hours to complete the entire loop. I took the 1 Line as opposed to the 2 Line that bypassed some of the stops. It was a fantastic way to see the city on a budget! I loved being able to get on and off at will and even take a trip to Murano, Burano and Torcello!
I would highly recommend the water bus and getting a seat outside if you can to sit and enjoy the views. You can take a lot of great photos and soak in the atmosphere. The cost of the gondola ride was not worth it to me this time around, but it may be worth it for you. I am planning to go back to Venice in the future and it may be something I want to do next time. Only you can know the true value of the experience. Until next time, happy travels!