Gondolas in Venice are a luxury form of transport used only by tourists (apart from Venetians on their wedding day). There are a number of gondola ranks throughout the city with plenty of gondoliers waiting for business.
Gondoliers are part of the symbolism and mythology of Venice. Local legend has it that they are born with webbed feet to help them walk on water. Their intimate knowledge of the city’s waterways is passed down from father to son. For centuries This has been a male preserve, but as of 2007two women are in the waiting list to become the first female-gondoliers in History.
Before boarding, check the official tariffs and agree a price with the gondolier. Prices are available at gondola ranks. Official costs are around €60 for 45 minutes, rising to €80 after 8:00 pm, but gondoliers are notorious for overcharging, sometimes by double the official price.
Try bargaining, whatever the cost quoted. During the low season, or when business looks slack, you may be able to negotiate a fee both below the official rate and a journey shorter than the minimum of 45 minutes. Another way of cutting costs is to share a gondola; five is the maximum number of passengers.
Gondoliers all speak a smattering of English, and have taken basic exams in Venetian history and art. Do not expect your gondolier to burst into “O Sole Mio”, however. The most you are likely to hear are the low melodious cries of “Oe Premi!” and “Stai!”, the warning calls that have been echoing down the canals of Venice for centuries.
If you want to go on a serenaded tour, join an evening flotilla with accompanying musicians, organized regularly from May to October. Hiring a gondola ride independently is more romantic, but will cost considerably more. Details are available from any local travel agent.
Once essential for the transport of people across the city and the islands, and as luxury cabs for the Aristocracy, gondolas today are largely a pleasure craft. A trip on one is an essential part of the Venetian experience. It gives an entirely different perspective on the city, gliding past grand palatial homes on a form of transport used for more than a thousand years.