Gondola Training – It’s All Wine and Boats

What could be better than a Venice gondola ride at sunset? How about learning to row and steer the gondola yourself?

What’s the iconic thing to do in Venice? Take a gondola ride. In our heads we have visions of the striped shirt gondolier serenading us with the likes of “Amore” or another Italian love song as we glide romantically through the pristine canals of the city. Tell me this isn’t on your bucket list!

It was definitely on mine, but I had been a few years ago with my girls and some friends. We attended Carnivale, and oh was it crowded and fun. At that point, we did hire a gondola, and after I got over the sticker shock of way too many Euros, I settled back in my seat closely clutching my daughters to me, because it was so darn cold!

Venice Gondolas.
Venice gondolas wait in the fog

The Ultimate Gondola Experience in Venice Italy

Venice Gondola in a picturesque canal.
A gondola ride in Venice is on everybody’s bucket list.

We took the typical gondola tour through some of the back canals for about 30 minutes, and had a chance to marvel at the elaborate carnival costumes from the water. We really enjoyed it, but when Jim and I went back I wasn’t sure I needed to shell out the big money again for something I’d done. The problem with not always traveling together, though, is Jim had never taken a gondola ride. I did some searching online, and I found an alternate experience, something I thought we both would really enjoy. It still was not going to be cheap, but at least we were doing something new and a little different.

Venice boat dock.
Meeting our instructor at the docks on the outskirts of Venice

We came across a chance to learn how to pilot a traditional fishing boat called a batellina, not a gondola. The batellina is a sleek, wooden boat with a shrimp-shaped tail. It is piloted similar to the gondola, and used to be the traditional boat that all Venetians would own. Nowadays there are only a few left, but there is a tour company that has a couple of them and they will take you out and teach you how to row and steer.

Our batellina instructor expertly navigates the small boat through Venice.
A batellina is very similar to a gondola.

Jim and I love to learn new things, especially things that are rooted in the local culture, so we were keen to try this. We perused the Row Venice website to choose our experience. Luckily, we were able to pick a tour that suited our quest for knowledge and learning new skills, along with our love for Italian food and wine. We booked an evening lesson, and our guide met us, gave us a quick safety lesson, and got us out on the water by 5:00 PM. Then we spent the next hour or so taking turns learning how to drive the Venetian boat.

Sites outside of the main tourist areas on our Venice batellina ride.
Floating through a Venice neighborhood

Our instructor took us out into the Canale Grande, which was a bit intimidating because of all the big ships that go racing past. Luckily, she would take the helm if the water got a bit choppy, but other than that Jim and I had fun trying to steer and pole the boat where it needed to go.

Jim takes the oar on the batellina.
Steering the batellina out in the open water can be quite challenging.
Trendy Cichetto Venice.
Time to stop for a snack and some wine in the Cichetto neighborhood Venice

After the lesson, our guide took us through some of the canals of Cichetto Row, where we stopped at two local pubs, called bacari. She then ran in to get us some cicchetti, or appetizers, and some local wines. Here, she took over the rowing duties completely while we munched and sipped our way through the dusky canals, watching the locals hanging out in this quiet section of the city.

The views from the batellina, down on the water, were so much different than walking alongside the canals. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was even a bit romantic as well.

A traditional Venetian gondola goes under a bridge.
Jim and Corinne enjoy a glass of wine on their Battelini excursion.

So back to the question…While in Venice do you want to have a gondola ride or not?

To hire a gondola, the official gondola prices begin at 80 Euros per boat for about a 40 minute ride, and this is good for up to four people. If you want to go longer or if you want to take a sunset gondola ride, your cost will of course go up.

A small family out for a boat ride with their dog in Venice.
The sun sets behind the harbor pf Venice.

What we did was book our lesson for sunset, so sunset cruise, check. It was a lesson where both Jim and I got to try our hand at steering and rowing the boat, check. And, we also got to see a quieter neighborhood of Venice while trying out some local snacks and wine, check. All this cost us about 240 Euros.  Doing the math, you will definitely notice that it was not cheaper than a gondola, but for us and in particular, Jim, it was okay. We loved it.

What would you do? Gondola or batellina lesson?

Save Gondola Training for later!

Is taking a gondola ride on your Venice bucket list? It was on mine, but here's what I did about it.

24 thoughts on “Gondola Training – It’s All Wine and Boats”

  1. Wow, Venice looks like such a special place. I have visited many places in Italy but unfortunately have not made it to Venice yet and this blog post just makes me want to go even more. I had no idea either that this experience was even available so I will definitely try this out when I finally make it there!

    1. Venice is amazing, but it can be incredibly crowded. Try to go in the off season if possible. And we highly recommend the gondola training.

  2. Carolina Colborn

    Of course, we will GOndola! But first, I have to look for another couple to share the cost with!

  3. I didnt eveb know you can take such a lesson in venice! Ive been few times in venice but never took gondola, mostly because it seemed to me too expensive for such a borring thing lol. But this is for sure something i would like to try. Thanks for sharing!

  4. It is hard to justify that cost for riding in gondola with a guy who spends most of the time on his phone. We figured, this would be a far more romantic, enlightening, and fun experience. And I think we were right!

  5. We thoroughly enjoyed it and knew it was expensive. But like you said, the gondola rides are expensive, so why not make a little more out of it? And we learned so much about the history of Venice that isn’t in any books.

    1. Hi Shere, it is a good option to be aware of. Since Jim hadn’t been on a gondola before, I let him do most of the rowing while I took pictures and asked questions (I did take a short turn at the oar, though).

  6. This is such a unique experience and one I’ve never heard of. It sounds so fun and really is the best of both experiences. We’re going to be in Venice again in June. We’ve done the gondola ride so we’ll be skipping it this time. We’d love to do your tour but not sure if we’re willing to splurge that much for 4 people.

  7. That looks like a fun experience. I had a gondola ride and it was less expensive. However, learning how to steer one and getting into the locals neighbourhood for wine and snacks is worth the extra money.

    1. Rhonda, That’s exactly how we looked at it. We had a great time, and since it was in the evening we’d already walked around all day long seeing the sights…a great end to the day.

  8. This just looks too cool – what an experience! Thanks for sharing as I would never have even known it was an option. Great idea!

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