By far the most common modern use of Venetian gondolas is for tourism. But infrequently, visitors to the city may see the boats used for other purposes, including weddings, funerals, pageants and even races. For the most part, the gondola is a special occasion boat, in no small part due to the current cost of a ride, which runs in the neighborhood of 80 Euros for a 40-minute cruise (glasses, but not wine, usually included), though cheaper deals are available for the creative and stingy [source: CapisaniHotel.it].
Is this overpriced? Well, the answer to that question puts us in the shifty realm of behavioral economics, but suffice to say that it wouldn't cost this much if people weren't willing to pay it. And really, how can you go to Venice and not ride a gondola?
Hiring a gondola isn't difficult -- like cabs, they wait for fares in most of the main tourist areas. Some offer guided historical tours of the city, and some simply offer a quiet ride. The cardinal rule of booking a gondola is to negotiate what you're getting out of the ride and for what price before you step into the boat. If you want a better guide or are disinclined to haggle, consider booking a trip through your hotel or through one of the many established vendors.
Inexperienced tourists choose a choppy ride up the visitor-choked Grand Canal. More savvy visitors opt for a ride into the tight canals that crisscross the city, likely with the route chosen by the gondolier.
About 15 million tourists a year visit Venice, and the vast majority of them visit during the summer months [source: BBC]. If you choose to visit in the peak season, book ahead or prepare to compete for a ride. If you plan to visit in the off-season, you may haggle your way to a reduced rate. There's no proper attire for riding a gondola, but one popular booking sites recommends against high heels -- "especially for guys" [source: GondolaMan.com]. For more on Venice and travel, visit the links on the next page.