Beauty, power, mystery and intrigue, and a generous serving of food, music and art: your senses will be tingling when you explore Venice with its serious Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque heritage. And is there a more elegant way to take in the seductively faded grandeur of this hot-blooded and tenacious city than on the water? We don't think so. It may be touristy, but it's also unforgettable.
This unique floating city is built on centuries-old wooden foundations driven into 118 small submerged islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon in northeastern Italy. A labyrinthine network of canals and bridges connects the islands and its people. For centuries, the traditional flat-bottomed Venetian rowing boat, or gondola, was the most practical way for Venetians to traverse the city. Gondoliers knew who was going where and what they were doing, privy to the juiciest pieces of gossip, drama and downright naughtiness.
Nowadays, these distinctive craft and their iconic drivers are one of the city's biggest tourist attractions and a bucket list favourite. Lie back and enjoy the view, from tiny hidden canals and grand, peeling houses to classic sights like the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Doge's Palace and St Mark's Basilica.
There used to be lots of talk of stinky canals during the Venetian summer, but that's no longer a problem. However, it is very crowded and extremely hot during the peak season, so some visitors choose to avoid the months between June and August. Carnival time in February can also get rather lively.
Spring, September and early October are all very pleasant times to idly discover the mysteries of Venice's canals and secret passageways. When it comes to booking your gondola ride, there's no need to pay a 'per person' premium to a tour company before you've arrived in the city. Plus, if there are fewer than six of you, then you're likely to be put in a gondola with strangers to fill it up, which may not be the gondola experience you were dreaming of.
There are standard rates - although these aren't always adhered to so it's worth confirming the price and duration before you hop aboard. And if you fancy a bit of serenading, then it'll cost more. Officially, you should currently be paying €80 for up to six people for a 40-minute ride and €40 for each additional 20 minutes. After 7pm the rates rise to €100 for 40 minutes and €50 for each additional 20 minutes. You could actually get a bargain if business is slow.
You might want to reserve your gondola a few hours or days ahead if you're visiting during a busy time. Head to the Stazio at Bacino Orseolo behind St Mark's Square to do this. You should then be able to arrive at your pre-booked time for your gondola ride and skip the inevitable line. For the cheapskate experience, hop on a traghetto - a gondola-like taxi that costs €2 for a five-minute trip across the Grand Canal!
You'll be spoilt for choice on the photo opportunity front in this stunning city, but the sight of St Mark's Square from gondola is a cracker.
To squeeze the maximum romance out of your gondola ride in Venice, head out on the water during the early evening with your loved one and take a bottle of prosecco and two glasses. Salute! Some tour companies offer evening private gondola journeys which include dinner at a local eatery.
Taking a gondola in Venice is part of the well-worn European tourist trail and a bucket list staple, yet it remains a breathtakingly beautiful and memorable experience - and a unique way to explore the magical mazes of this watery city.