Gondolas are to Venice what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The iconic boat rides don’t come cheap, which turns people off from the experience. Some people suggest that it’s worth it, and some believe it’s a tourist trap. In deciding whether or not gondola rides in Venice are overrated, you have to be aware of some of the practical aspects of taking a gondola ride.
Where to get a gondola and how much it costs
The experience you’ll have on a gondola in part depends on where you choose to take it from. Since all of Venice’s roads are waterways, there are a lot of stands from where you can begin your ride. Given that the rides are timed, this considerably limits the area you’ll get to see. So if you want to enjoy yourself, make sure you take a gondola from an area you will enjoy seeing from the water. In my opinion, this means staying away from the Grand Canal. I could understand someone taking a gondola up and down the Grand Canal and feeling like the experience was overrated. To me, the magic of a gondola ride lies in going in the little quiet little nooks beneath some of the city’s arched foot bridges.
For most people, the biggest issue with the Venice gondola rides is that they’re so expensive. Even though gondolas are private vessels and each gondolier is different, their rates are fixed by the city. Officially, a gondola ride is €80 for 40 minutes, with each additional 20 minutes costing €40. If you want to ride a gondola at night with the lights reflecting off the water around you, the rate goes up to €100 for 40 minutes and €50 for an additional 20 minutes. That’s cash only, so save your coins! The good thing is that they accommodate up to 6 people, so if you’re in Venice with family or a group, you can at least split the cost.
If you don’t know the official pricing, you’re liable to get scammed for a more expensive ride. If you do know them, you’re still liable to get scammed. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, you should arrange the time and cost in advance. A good gondolier will probably also ask you about the kind of tour you prefer, so you can specify whether you prefer a busier area, smaller canals or some combination of both.
Why gondola rides are not overrated
There’s a difference between being overrated and simply being expensive. If you’re the kind of person that will never be able to get over the cost of the experience, it will never be worth it. But as long as you make peace with the cost and you know what to expect, I think gondola rides in Venice are exactly as they’re billed. It’s a boat ride, but it’s one of the best ways to see one of the most unique cities in the world.
Here’s the thing, Venice itself is kind of overrated at this point. It’s not because it’s not gorgeous or unique or romantic. It’s because it’s overrun with tourists and water levels are rising. Venice floods. Venice smells bad. Venice is constantly packed. So if you already went all the way out there, and you’re staying in an expensive hotel, and you’re rubbing shoulders with everyone around you because the streets are so narrow, and you’re walking in flood waters up to your ankles, then getting on a gondola is absolutely the best possible thing you can do to enjoy Venice and escape all of the city’s unpleasantries.
Not all of the trip will be beautiful and glamorous. There will be traffic at times – expect cruises, water taxis and other gondolas to get in the way of your tour of the Venice waterways. But in my experience, watching them maneuver around other gondolas in tiny spaces is funny and impressive to see. But most importantly, the city’s crowds don’t bother you at all when they’re watching you from dry land as you relax on the comfortable padded seat of a gondola. If you want to really drown out the outside world, you can hire a singer and/or accordion player to go along with you. Contrary to popular belief, most gondoliers do not sing.
As long as you know exactly what you’re paying for, a gondola ride in Venice is one of the key components of visiting and enjoying the city. But if you disagree, the solution is simple: don’t take one.