With all the water flowing through Venice, it’s no wonder that boats are so important to residents and visitors alike. Here’s a rundown of two of the most popular vessels you can climb aboard to experience the canals of Venice.

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Traditional Gondola Ride

The very symbol of this European city is the gondola. These traditional vessels were once the primary means of navigating the city’s maze of canals — it’s estimated that nearly 10,000 of these boats once plied their way through Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, gondolas and their skilled gondoliers (oarsmen) are symbols of the city’s simpler past. Approximately 350 gondolas remain, much to the delight of visitors in search of romantic moonlit rides while the songs of gondoliers echo through the narrow canals.

Note that Venetians regard gondoliers as highly skilled practitioners of a noble trade. This, along with the expense of building a gondola (upwards of €20,000) and the high cost of living in Venice, contributes to the rather exorbitant prices they charge for their services. Though prices are supposed to be fixed by the city (about €80.00 for a 40-minute ride), it’s not unusual for gondoliers to ask for more. So, don’t be afraid to haggle or walk away if needed. Additional services, such as singing or special guided tours, are considered add-ons.

Gondola tips:

Hiring a gondola is the best, and sometimes only, way to see some of the more hidden areas of the city, as many canals have no roads or walkways along them.

Prices are usually higher for nighttime rides, where the rate can be around €100 for a short ride.

Stands are located around the city or you can book a gondola ride through Holland America.

Vaporetto (Water Bus)

These water buses are a common sight on the waterways of Venice. Though it should be noted that Venice is not a very large city, so most points of interest can be reached on foot in a reasonable amount of time. For most visitors to Venice, the vaporetto is great for a long ride up and down the Grand Canal while getting a feel for the city. It’s also essential for visiting some of the islands of the lagoon. For those with mobility issues, or if you’ve just had a long day and don’t feel like walking any more, the vaporetto is always a great option. And best of all, most of these boats are wheelchair and stroller accessible.

The vaporetto is managed and run by the Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano (ACTV as it is more commonly known). ACTV stops and ticket purchase points are found throughout Venice. Note that vaporetto is both the name of a specific type of vessel and a catchall term for all water buses running in and around Venice. The main types of water bus are: vaporetto, single-level boats with large, open spaces in the middle commonly found in the city center; motoscafo, narrower vessels with enclosed cabins for travel on more open waters outside the Grand Canal; and the motonave, larger vessels resembling the vaporetto (can be single- or double-decked) used for traveling to more distant points.

Vaporetto tips:

Single-ride tickets are usually quite expensive. If you think you’ll be using the vaporetto a lot, it’s best to purchase a Tourist Travel Card — available for durations ranging from 12 hours all the way up to seven days.

Another option is the Venezia Unica tourist pass — more expensive but it also includes access to museums and other tourist attractions as well as public toilets.

Try to nab a seat within a vaporetto’s outdoor seating area located on the stern — this is the perfect spot for sightseeing on your ride up the Grand Canal.

Explore Venice’s canals on a cruise to Europe with Holland America Line.