Budget Travelers Should Avoid Venice's Gondolas (And Get Around This Way Instead)

While there are likely several beautiful Italian islands and cities you may not have heard of, Venice is certainly not one of them. This city buzzes with tourists who are eager to step foot inside the Doge's Palace and sample cicchetti, the Italian version of tapas. Although hundreds of movies have been filmed with the Italian backdrop of cafes and Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy is not to be confused with the Venice Beach location that California filmmakers flock to. Both are beautiful in their own rights, but Venice swaps out ocean surf for canals and the famous boats that transport people and supplies from one place to another.


Perhaps the most iconic of these rides are gondolas, those long boats with a singing gondolier at the helm, slowly drifting past facades of Venetian gothic architecture while riders canoodle on the softly padded seats. As an icon of the city, a gondola ride might be on your Venice bucket list. But if you're planning a visit, there's a good reason to skip the gondolas — they come with an inflated price tag. However, there's an alternative that'll only set you back a few bucks, and it's called a traghetto.

The over-popularity of gondolas in Venice

We're not saying gondolas aren't romantic, at least in theory, but the reality may be very different from what you imagine. Like many hot spots in Europe, Italy is suffering from over-tourism in some places. Venice's government has taken action to control tourism by banning cruise ships from entering the lagoon and even charging a day fee to enter the city (on a trial basis). So, it's not surprising to expect the main canals to be industrious. That means that in contrast to the quintessential experience you might envision, chances are good that your gondola tour will test your patience and your pocketbook.


That's because a gondola ride runs about 90 euros for daytime rides and 110 euros at night. In USD, that's approximately $95-120 for a 30-minute ride. Queues are often long and the canal you're on may be bumper to bumper with others who are seeking the same experience. Although there are only around 400 gondolas allowed to provide services, it can feel like they're all on the water at the same time. Plus, you're also sharing the waterways with a variety of other types of vehicles.

The alternative to Venice's gondolas

Part of the appeal of this classic experience is being able to see Venice from a perspective other than the street. With this in mind, another way to go about achieving this goal is to hop on another type of boat: A traghetto. Traghetti (plural) are long, thin boats with curved up ends that look very similar to the tourists' gondolas. However, they employ two oarsmen instead of one — neither of which serenade you while you ride. Plus, traghetto is a public transportation used by the locals, so you probably won't be alone in your journey. 


While you might be giving up some exclusivity and the gondolier's song, for around $2.20 per person, it's an efficient way to cross the Grand Canal and see Venice from the water at the same time. Catching a traghetto is easy. You'll just need to wait at one of the clearly marked traghetti stops along the Grand Canal. There are maps of the stops online and they will likely show on your printed tourist map, too. Note that because the traghetti is a public form of transportation, crossings are primarily during working hours rather than on the weekends. 

Even if the experience is lacking a bit of Hollywood romanticism, once you've budgeted how much cash to bring to Italy, you'll be able to use it for an extra gelato, an aperitivo, and dinner rather than a half-hour float.