To gondola or not to gondola .... that is the question.
When you hear “Venice,” do you automatically think of gondolas? For me they go hand and hand. When I discussed our trip to Venice with various friends, the first thing almost every single person said was “You’ve got to go on a gondola!”
Not being one to follow the crowd, I immediately begun to question this. Do you really have to ride a gondola when you go to Venice? Is your experience that much less if you don’t ride one?
My aim when traveling is to be a traveler, not a tourist. I want to imagine myself living in the country that I visit, and so I eat local food at out of the way places and even try out a few new words and phrases in the local language. Of course, seeing the most famous sights are all part of getting the true feel for an area, but I feel that tourists more often than not can carry out a box-ticking exercise as they move from sight to sight without ever getting the true experience of what that city has to offer.
I can be a little stubborn when it comes to tourist attractions, especially ones that cost a lot of money. And when you are in a city only for a day - priorities become even more critical. You can start like I do: ask yourself “why?” before you commit to any of the famous (and famously expensive) attractions.
Sometimes the famous attractions are truly the best option. When we visited London this past October for the day with 6 kids in tow, those big red buses really came in handy. Even though I wanted to be like the locals and ride the tube I realized that it just wasn’t practical. That big red bus was, after all, the best option. So when it came to our Venice trip and the question of a gondola ride arose - I took a step back and started to think. Why do I want to ride a Gondola?
1. HAVE A GOOD REASON
Do you ever stop and ask yourself why? My previous self had a list of things to see and do and I ticked them off accordingly. After all, I wanted to tell people that I’d done whatever it is that I was supposed to do in that city. I actually never gave it much more of a thought and I moved robotically through must-do after must-do, and left the city no more enriched than when I came. But I am now learning to pause, and ask myself why (and if I don’t have a good reason, I give myself permission to skip it).
So when I really took the time to think about the must-do gondola ride, I realised that it had never been on my bucket list of things to do anyway. Hubby was also of the same mentality, so it was easy to for us to decide against it. After doing my “why” exercise, I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted to do was to be near the water in some way. So I skipped the gondola ride and instead watched other gondolas glide by from the bridges above, which was actually very satisfying!
TIP: Has a Gondola ride been on your bucket list? Then go for it and enjoy it guilt-free! But don’t feel you need to ride on one to experience the “real” Venice.
A gondola ride is expensive. We don’t have an unlimited budget, so we considered the price of a gondola carefully. We were looking at spending 80-100 Euros per gondola for a 30-40 minute ride. With 7 people in our group, and only 6 seats available in the gondola we would have needed 2 of them. The cost of two gondolas was completely out of the budget. And going without one person (even though my husband volunteered not to go) just didn’t feel right.
I thought about what would really bring value to our trip—a 30 minute gondola ride, or a long Italian dinner of fresh seafood sitting around the table exchanging stories at the end of the day. The second plan won, hands down.
TIP: If a Gondola is on your bucket list and in your budget be sure you agree on a price before you start your ride, so there are no unwelcome expenses at the end of the trip. Don’t just agree on price and duration, but also on where you will go and what extras are included (like singing).
Venice is crowded, and the idea of a romantic trip down the canal quickly evaporated! Venice has so many tourists, and most of those people want a ride in a gondola. You can probably imagine how crowded the canals can get and shouldn’t be surprised to see gondola traffic jams. (Not exactly what it looks like in the tour book.)
TIP: If you do decide to go on a gondola, then consider heading onto the back streets and chatting to a gondolier there. The lines for gondolas down at St. Mark’s were huge, and looked more like a line for a Disneyland ride. However, just a few streets back we found gondoliers just waiting for customers. You may not get to see the famous sights from your gondola, but it seems like it could be a better overall experience.
4. THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO SEE VENICE
As we were staying at a campsite on a peninsula away from the island of Venice, we arrived into the city by water. It was a really magical way to view the city in the morning light. We also took the option of paying an additional 5 euros per person to convert our round-trip tickets into a 24-hour passes. This enabled us to use all the ferries in Venice and around the lagoon for a 24-hour period. We were then still able to go on a boat down the grand canal by ferry (albeit a very full ferry). We had plans to go visit the other areas (away from the more touristic sections) by ferry—but by 4pm we were all exhausted and decided to call it a day. For a small additional cost there is also the option of a 48-hour ticket, and this would be a brilliantly cost effective way to combine a visit to the other areas around Venice, if your timetable permits.
TIP: If gondolas are out of your budget, but you still really want to ride on one, consider a traghetto (fun fact: more than one traghetto are traghetti). These are long gondolas manned by two gondoliers and for 2 euros you can use them to go across the grand canal. There are a couple of them along the Grand Canal and they can be very helpful for cutting across when a bridge can’t be found - saving you lots of walking. The locals actually use them too, and can do so for free! These gondolas are not made for sitting, so stand like the locals and enjoy the quick but fun trip across the grand canal. And then you can go eat a plate of spaghetto. I mean, spaghetti. (Who writes these jokes?)
When it comes down to it, if you want to ride a gondola, you should do so. I saw couples with bottles of champagne jumping on together and taking selfies - and it was so nice to see people so happy. But don’t feel like you won’t experience Venice without doing so. I, for one, skipped the Gondola and still felt the magic of Venice—plus with the money I saved I had a tummy full of yummy seafood.
Did you go on a Gondola in Venice? What made you decide for or against? Is there any other tourist attraction that you’ve skipped because it didn’t pass your “why” test? Got any other tips for our community? We would love to hear from you in the comments!