A gondola ride in Venice can be a romantic voyage for two. Or it can be a fun group activity shared by half a dozen. Morning, afternoon, evening or nighttime are all options. Long, short and in between rides are all possible. Along the Grand Canal or out of the way locations are available.
In short, when it comes to a gondola ride, there is no limit to your choices.
There are several convenient locations to catch a gondola ride. One way, popular with many, is simply to let your hotel work out the details. They bargain for you, or include a gondola ride as part of the package. They may even arrange transportation for you from the hotel to your point of embarkation. Many don’t have to go that far, since you simply step out of the hotel and you’re there already.
The main tourist sections are the best places to board. Venice has a few – though it’s hard to narrow them down, since the city is one giant tourist attraction. Tronchetto, the Piazzale Roma, the Doge’s Palace in Piazza San Marco are all good places to catch a ride.
Many of the pedestrian crossings in secondary canals will have men offering a gondola ride. Exercise caution, especially when handing out money, but most are actually there to drum up business, not to con you. You’ll generally find less crowded (and slightly less expensive) rides in these less populated areas.
The 2mi/3km stretch along the Grand Canal is the most popular, because it covers some of Venice’s grandest sights, including the Basilica di San Marco, the Campanile and others. But prices here do tend to be a little higher.
Prices currently range anywhere from €80 (about $120) for 40 minutes to €150 ($220) for an hour or more. These, however, are official rates set by the city government. Many gondoliers politely ignore them. Hence, your price could be lower (rare) or higher (more common).
Bargaining is normal and expected. But remember the basic principle of supply and demand. There are a relatively small number of boats and lots of tourists. Gondoliers rarely have to do much beyond wait for the next potential customer willing to meet their price. Costs per person can be lowered by sharing a ride with up to six.
If the cost strikes you as too high, forego the experience. The gondoliers often come from families that have been rowing up and down the Venetian canals for generations, sometimes centuries. Some gondolier activity began as far back as the 11th century. They don’t need to be hassled, or to hassle you to make a living. There are plenty of low cost things to do in Venice if you’re on a budget or just think the ride won’t be worth it.
For those who choose to, the rides really are quite fun, though. The romantic aspect is mixed, since you’ll be seen by thousands of people crowding the bridges across and streets along the canals. If you can ignore them, and only pay attention to the scenery (or each other), more power to you.