Gondola rides are everyone’s idea of how to see Venice by boat

When thinking about a trip to Venice, there are a few things that come immediately to mind: Saint Mark’s Basilica, Piazza San Marco, and the Grand Canal. The waterways are as much a part of Venice as any artwork or building.

As a tourist in Venice, crossing the water to get to where you want to be will become an obsession. There are 150 canals and 117 small islands connected by 409 bridges (only three of which cross the Grand Canal).

While you can visit Venice entirely on foot, it can mean a lot of walking to the nearest bridge. As a result, the city’s residents and visitors depend on boats to get around. Venice is one place where you don’t have to worry about looking like a tourist—there are often more tourists than residents.

Commute on the canals

The traghetto are boats that just cross the Grand Canal in specific places. The vaporetto are public boats that follow a specific route, like a commuter bus. The first vaporetto line was started in 1881. You can download audio tours to narrate the routes and explain the sights. Unfortunately, the vaporetti are often too crowded to allow you to enjoy the audio tours in peace. At less than NZ$10 these are the least expensive options if you are on a budget and you still get to experience Venice from the canals.

Tour of the canals

The typical Venice experience that everyone imagines is the gondola ride. Then the reality sets in that gondolas are really only for tourists and you wonder if you should do it or not. You should—you’ll enjoy the experience, and it is one thing you’ll regret not doing later. Gondola rides last 30—35 minutes and you should be able to set your own itinerary. (You don’t have to end where you start.) Take a look at these six gondola routes from the Institute for the Conservation of the Gondola to give you some good ideas of what is possible. Prices start at NZ$132 for up to six people.

If you’re looking for a longer ride than a gondola offers, consider a topetta—the small, motorised boats that Venetians use to get around town. You can book several set itineraries for private tours that last up to two hours.

Dine on the canals

If you are celebrating a special occasion or just want to treat yourself to the views of Venice at night, a dinner cruise along the canals is a less crowded and relaxing way to enjoy the views. As of July, the Galleon now offers dinner cruises twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays from the Museo Navale. Bookings should be made at least 48 hours in advance and special requests (flowers, champagne, etc.) can be accommodated if you are celebrating a special event. Prices begin at NZ$165 per person and include dinner and a three hour cruise.

Stay on the canals

Why just tour on the canals when you can arrive by boat or barge. You can even stay on a houseboat or yacht while in Venice. Arriving by water offers a unique perspective on the history of the city. Some of the houseboats and yachts are moored at a single location while others can be moved around and offer different perspectives during your stay.

No matter which boat trip you decide on to see Venice, be sure to get a quote on international travel insurance before you go.

Image courtesy of Flickr user David Blaikie; cropped from original