Riding the Venetian gondolas

Venice always makes appearances in books (my favorite portrayal of it is in Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion). It was an easy decision to travel there. But I’d never done much research into the place and really didn’t know anything about it beyond what I’d read in books. So I started my research.

The things that most caught my attention were the gondolas. In my research it seemed that this was the absolute best way to see the city of canals. It’s no surprise that the Venetians have been using them as a main mode of transport for hundreds of years.

The gondolas are surprisingly steady on the water. Because they look so narrow in photos, I expected them to be fairly tippy – and me not being much of a water person, I had my fair few concerns about this aspect of the trip. But the boats are actually quite flat in the bottoms. This explains how the gondolier’s are able to stand in the back to row.

In my research looking for a good tour I discovered that the gondolas come in various sizes (it makes perfect sense!) and the larger gondolas seat up to 6 people – plus the gondolier! The Venice government sets the price of the tours but apparently those prices are usually ignored by gondoliers jostling for customers. I decided not to book anything online and, instead, waited until I could talk to someone in person to get the best price I could.

The canals are quite a hub of activity. But that’s nothing compared to the 17th and 18th centuries. There used to be an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 boats in use in the canals. Now there are only about 400 – and they’re primarily only used by the tourists on sightseeing tours of Venice.

There are gondoliers at most of the crossings, offering rides to passers-by. Not wanting to get ripped off, I spoke with the concierge at my hotel and she set up a tour for me. Prices can range from 28 Euros for a half-hour tour on up to an hour ride. I made sure to book one for the evening after hearing a story from a friend about how they got seasick in the rough waters during the afternoon.

My tour of Venice was stunning. Sitting back in the gondola was extremely relaxing, knowing that we were in the capable hands of the gondolier. He told us incredible stories as he steered us through the narrow canals (I have no doubt that some truths were stretched). He also sang to us! I had been worried about taking this trip alone, but on the gondola ride, there was no need to talk.

The rest of my time in Venice was spent wandering around the alleyways. I watched artists and ate in cafes – a wonderful trip to do solo or with others.

Carol Atkins is a Group Travel Leader with YMT Vacations.

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Comments (1)

  1. Venice is such an amazing city. The islands around are great too and in many ways more laid back. Thank you for the reminder of what a great (and threatened) place this is.

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