A Guide to Venetian Gondolas

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Yes it’s cliche. And yes it’s touristy. But riding a gondola in Venice has always been on my bucket list. How could it not be? The romance, the peacefulness, and the fact that you are doing something so classically tied to the city you are visiting.

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Under the Rialto Bridge

But be warned – you can have two types of Gondola rides. The first type is calm, through the back twisty, turny canals of the quiet neighborhoods. And the second is on the more famous “Grand Canal” but is the equivalent of riding a cab through Times Square.  A gondola on the Grand Canal means gondoliers texting, crowds of boats so thick you can’t see around them, and lots and lots of shouting in Italian.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is something very intriguing about choosing the ride on the Grand Canal.

1- It’s easy, no need to book ahead. There are always crowds of gondoliers trying to entice you as you walk by.

2- The Grand Canal is “grand” for a reason. It’s wide and beautiful, but it is also packed because of it’s popularity.

We, however, chose to book in advance and find a private gondolier online.  In case you want to repeat our exact experience, we chose Luca.  Don’t worry about paying more for a private gondolier, the prices for gondola rides are regulated by the city and are all the same rates.  They are expensive.. there is no doubt about that! But a fun Venetian experience that is a must-do in my opinion.

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Our gondola ride began and ended in the quaint and quiet Jewish Quarter, Cannareggio.  Luca sent us a photo of our meeting point and was there right on time.  He gave us lots of fun facts and Venetian history as we glided through the canals.  It wasn’t exactly like the movies where there is sappy music and a glowing sunset… but it was a lot of fun and very peaceful. We really enjoyed it and wished the ride was much longer.

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The history of the gondolas is really fascinating, also.  Luca told us a gondola costs about $50,000 and is handmade in the local Squerro.  He also said that although there were at one time about 7,000 gondolas in the Venice canals, the number is now regulated to 733 via city assigned permits.  His permit was handed from his grandfather, to his father, to him. It is permit # 3.

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The “Ferro”

The “ferro” on the front of the gondola is so intriguing to me.

  • The curve on top represents the dodge’s (sherrif’s) hat, a symbol of power.
  • The semi-circle cutout underneath that represents the famous Rialto bridge.
  • The six horizontal lines represent the six sestieri, or sections, of Venice (like NYC’s boroughs)
  • And finally, the curved piece of metal that runs down the front of the boat and curves under is supposed to represent the shape of the Grand Canal.

We love learning about local traditions and symbolism!  We even bought a little bronze ferro to bring home with us as a souvenir.

In conclusion – I know it’s expensive. And touristy. But it’s popular for a reason; it’s fun and traditional. GO DO IT!

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