The Art of the Gondolier


The water was so close. So tempting on a hot summer’s day. I wanted to reach my hand out and trail my fingers in it as we glided along the Grand Canal. I refrained for fear of being scolded in a string of Italian I wouldn’t understand. Most likely our gondolier would have just laughed. He seemed friendly like that.

The larger vaporetto passed us carrying their crowds, depositing passengers at the various stops as we cruised our way by. I relished being the open air instead of being crammed like sweaty sardines. It somehow detracts from the charm of being in Venice when you’re vying for limited foot space while breathing boat fumes.


We gently rocked and swayed, guided down our floating path by the expert oarsman standing at the rear. Gondoliers steer these vessels with only one oar. The gondolas themselves are built asymmetrically, with the left side being 24cm (10in) longer than the right. This may seem a bit wonky at first, but this design ensures the boat doesn’t veer off in one direction. Otherwise it would probably look a lot like trying to paddle a canoe with one paddle – essentially turning around in circles.


Becoming a gondolier requires more than knowing how to wield a stick in water. There is an extensive training and licensing procedure in place. In 2010, there were only 425 licensed gondoliers in Venice. These men (it is mainly men – Giogria Boscolo became the first female gondolier in 2010) must find a mentor, complete intensive schooling (Mrs. Boscolo’s course had 400 hours of instruction), spend hours in practice, and finally take the exam offered by the Gondolier Association. No mistakes are allowed, so no bumping into buildings by accident.  Then you are a gondolier, free to charge tourists an arm and a leg for a spin around town.


Given the part of history we took part in (gondoliers have been around for 900 years) and the uniqueness of the experience, we were happy to pay the price. Consider this one bucket list item checked!

As a visitor (and therefore no threat to local competition) you too can learn how to be a gondolier. There are short courses available that let you try your hand at wielding one oar while standing on a lop-sided boat floating. Too easy, right?

  • As always, gorgeous photos! I had no idea becoming a gondolier was such an extensive process! Riding in a gondola through Venice is definitely going on the bucket list – but I think that class in how to pilot one might have to go on there, too!

    • Thank you!! I’m telling you though, it is truly difficult to take a bad photo of Venice! I do have quite a few of those as well lol. I didn’t know about the class when I was there, but it would be a really cool experience. You’ve already mastered paddle boarding, so you should be a natural!! 🙂

      • I don’t know about “mastered.” I did well enough to look cool in our sunset photos and to muster up a “Hey, I’m awesome” thought before reality kicked in and a stray wave knocked me off 😀

        • Haha hey, that’s good enough in my book! I haven’t tried yet – it’s on my list. I can do it here in Florida, but I’d love to do in on some Caribbean island or somewhere in the South Pacific. Or even Hawaii! Haven’t been there either… yet. 🙂

          • Come visit on your way out to New Zealand! And then we have an excuse to come say hi whenever we get out there. My big trip goal for our time in Hawaii is to be able to take my husband on an adventure to Australia and New Zealand. He’s never been, and I haven’t been since I was a kid.

          • That would be a great idea!! I might be meeting a friend in Singapore en route, otherwise I keep seeing all these promotions for a free stop in Fiji from LA to Auckland… so many options! lol And it would be amazing if you two made it NZ sometime in the next year! It will be my first time in NZ, but I loved Australia. I’m super excited to be on that side of the world again here soon. 🙂

          • Fiji! I’m envious. Or Tahiti. Or Bora-Bora. I keep seeing all those over-water bungalows in my dreams.

          • Haha me too!! I see the photos, and it makes me want to go on some fabulous retreat somewhere on an island. Or take up residence there for a month or so and finally start writing my book lol. Oh the dream land… 😉

  • Alex

    Such beautiful photos! I have been to Venice once but I did not have time to get on one of those:/ It looks like a lovely experience:)

    • Thank you! It was a fabulous experience, although I have to say my favorite was simply drinking wine in the Piazza San Marco. Just hanging out, watching all the people. If you ever get back to Venice though, I do recommend a gondola ride. 🙂