There are certain things that are on everyone’s Venetian wish list. From exploring the Doge’s Palace, to strolling through the narrow streets, to sharing an ice cream in St Mark’s Square, the entire city is awash with history, culture and jaw-dropping beauty. But if you want to experience the real Venice as Venetians have done for centuries, nothing quite beats a private gondola ride down the jade-green canals for creating unique memories that will last a lifetime.
A gondola ride offers a unique view of the city
Unlike most cities of the world, Venice is built on water, crisscrossed by canals and surrounded by a large lagoon. In fact, Venice owes her fortune to the sea as she was the center of trade between Europe and the Middle East and dominated shipbuilding in the Adriatic Sea for centuries.
As a result, Venice’s merchants and nobles grew very wealthy so when they decided to build their palaces they naturally wanted to show off, building them to face directly onto the busiest arteries of the city – the canals.
Today taking a classic gondola ride is a fabulous way to see Venice’s stunning palaces, as their ornate facades and water-gate entrances are beautifully reflected in the canals below.
Gliding along the Grand Canal or the quiet, hidden byways of the districts of St Mark’s or San Polo, you’ll be lulled by the tranquility and romance of it all as your gondolier gently rows you past famous spots where Mozart played or Venice’s greatest families lived. And you’ll be surprised at how quiet Venice really is away from the hubbub of the shops and cafes. It’s a truly unforgettable way to explore this wonderful watery city!
Get a real taste of Venice with cicchetti and Prosecco on board
You’ll discover that Venice is a city for all the senses. As you admire her hidden architecture from the comfort of your seat, why not treat yourselves to a spot of local cuisine for a taste of real Venetian life?
Raise a toast to romance with a bottle of light, sparkling Prosecco wine, typical of the Venetian region, and satisfy your tastebuds with a tray of tasty appetizers, known as cicchetti, made with fresh, local ingredients straight from the fish market. The bite-size delicacies, similar to Spanish tapas, are just perfect to top off your Venetian picnic as over a thousand years of history floats by — perfetto!
The hidden secrets of a gondola ride
Taking to the water is often the only way to discover some of Venice’s more secluded, sheltered neighborhoods. But the gondola itself hides a secret, too, coded into its design and known only to Venetians.
In fact, if you look more closely at the sleek iron prow (ferro) at the front of the boat, you will see that this striking decorative feature, while protecting the tip of the boat from damage, is also an important symbol of Venice, representing all the major aspects of the wealthy republic.
For example, the six prongs or teeth facing forwards in the design symbolize the six districts or sestieri of the historic city. The conical peak at the top represents the Doge’s ceremonial hat, while the semi-circular gap in the middle of the ferro is the Rialto Bridge and the long sweeping curve mirrors the shape of the Grand Canal.
In all, the ferro symbolizes 14 of the most important parts of Venice. It has become not just the sign of the gondola but also of the city itself, making it one of the most easily recognizable, but least understood emblems of Venice.
Venetians designed the perfect gondola ride
As well as being wonderfully decorative and hugely symbolic, the gondola is also perfectly designed for the narrow, shallow waterways of the city.
For instance, you might notice that the gondola leans slightly to one side, but don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe! The gondola is actually built to be slightly asymmetrical so that when the gondolier stands at the back his weight doesn’t tip the boat over and it steers in a straight line.
The boat is also flat bottomed to make it more stable and to allow it to glide gracefully at low tide or in shallow areas of the lagoon where the water is often less than a meter deep. Clever, eh?
And over the years, the Venetians have evolved a unique rowing style, standing up, that gives them full control of the 11-meter long boats, enabling them to slide gently round tight corners and maneuver gracefully under low bridges without crashing into each other or the priceless palaces that line the canals.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to row like a Venetian, why not take an unforgettable 90-minute rowing lesson in the quiet canals of Canareggio to the north of the city. You’ll learn the basics of the voga alla veneta standing style, as you test out just how skilled the stripy, singing gondoliers of Venice really are. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience one of the most important Venetian traditions, and a truly exceptional glimpse into the heart and soul of Venice. Are you ready to give it a go?
Your gondola awaits!
Ultimately nothing conveys the romance of the historic city of Venice more than a gondola ride. Whether you choose the lively Grand Canal as the city awakes, or the quiet backwaters at sunset, few things will transport you back in time as effortlessly and smoothly as stepping onto this truly Venetian boat. For an unforgettable Venetian vacation, check in with one of our travel experts and check out more inspiration in our Espresso blog. Buon viaggio!