Venice seen from the side of the canal is an unforgettable experience. Venice from the Gondola perspective is another altogether. Go to Venice they said. Ride a Gondola they said. Other than Venice itself, the most unforgettable part of your trip may just be how much you paid for your Gondola tour.
For any visitor to Venice on a budget, you might as well forget about it. Despite your best bargaining efforts, the city of Venice actually sets the official rates. The gondolier guild operates a very efficient and regulated system. Rates officially start at €80 for just 40 minutes. A full hour will cost €20 more. If you want a romantic sunset gondola ride, anything after 7pm the official rate leaps to €100, plus €50 for a full hour. The best way to make the ride more affordable is to split the cost up to six people, which is the maximum allowed.
Our only success in getting a less than official rate involves finding a gondolier in training, on a slow day for high season, in an obscure area, off the heavily trafficked tourist trail. We were in the area of Dorsoduro, near the Accademia bridge, and happened upon a pair seeking customers. As a group of four, we knew that officially we expect to pay €20 each for the typical 40 minute ride. However, after a bit of a discussion, we miraculously all piled in for €10 each for a half hour tour of off the beaten path Dorsoduro canals. Two gondoliers for less than the price of one, thanks to one being an apprentice who impressed us, and his master, with well practiced skill, including navigating the superhighway like Grand Canal.
Your only other mainstream option to getting a view of Venice from the water is of course on a Vaporetto – not to be confused with a water-taxi. The Vaporetto, or water-bus, operates just like any bus or metro system in any major city in the world. The two main differences being the obvious fact the system operates on the water, and the other being the outrageous prices. Unless you’re a resident, single trip 60 minute Vaporetto tickets are €7. Sorry if you were expecting a public transport fare similar to any other major European city. You are a tourist. Welcome to Venice, now pay up.
If you opt for the more authentic, more relaxed, more Venetian, Venice experience, we’d recommend not ever stepping foot on a Vaporetto unless you need to get to one of the outlying islands (see our previous post Trattoria da Romano – Burano). Instead, and this is a topic for a future post, do the main island of Venice on foot. Get lost down roads that lead nowhere, discover a deserted piazza, soak up some ambiance away from the crowds.
When it comes time to cross the Grand Canal, you can choose any one of four bridges. Up until the 19th century there was only the Rialto Bridge. Then came the other three, the Ponte degli Scalzi, Ponte dell’Accademia, and the most recent Ponte della Costituzione. However, unbeknownst to the vast majority of Venice day trippers, there is another way to cross without ever boarding a Vaporetto.
The Grand Canal crossing alternative is called a Traghetto. If you didn’t know any better, the vehicle is the same thing as a Gondola, but the Traghetto’s only purpose is to ferry you from one side of the canal to the other. You’ll find lots of conflicting information on the price of a crossing, but it is still by far the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way, to get across. This is NOT a Gondola ride, but the technology is the same, as is the perspective.
There are seven points along the grand canal, well marked on most maps with a straight or dotted line across the water, where you can cross on a Traghetto. You can also look for the signs pointing to the Traghetto landings. Locals use this method and pay €0.70. The tourist rate is now €2, but it gets you in an authentic Gondola like mode of transportation for a tiny fraction of the cost of an over-rated, over-priced, Gondola ride. Locals generally stand for the short crossing.
It might not be the most romantic option, but the Traghetto is probably the most authentic way to cross the Grand Canal, in the same way locals have been doing it for a thousand years. If the boat isn’t full no one will care if you want to sit down and take pictures during the 5-7 minute crossing. By doing so you’ll immediately be identifiable as a tourist, but you’ll get the highly coveted gondola perspective of Venice for only €2.