Best of Venice: Row Like a Venetian

Posted June 6, 2014 by

Push the oar, don't fall out of the boat. Push the oar, don't fall out of the boat. I'm so busy repeating these mantras to myself that I almost miss it when my rowing instructor, Felix, says, "Venice is meant to be seen from the water." It's a simple statement, but one that hasn't occurred to me until now. I look around and realize just how true it is—many of the city's most ornate facades are impossible to see from land, and the best views of nearly all of Venice's 400 bridges are from its canals.

And what a view it is, standing at the front of this boat that looks like it's straight out of an 18th-century Canaletto painting. While there are plenty of ways to experience Venice at water level—from the black gondolas that crowd the canals around Piazza San Marco to the water taxis that ply the wide Grand Canal—a Venetian rowing lesson is perhaps the most unfiltered, the one most likely to leave you with sore hands and a visceral sense of what it means to navigate a city dominated by water.

I've found my way to these quiet back-canals with the help of Row Venice, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the traditions of rowing in Venice. The organization employs a team of passionate instructors who teach visitors the basics of the voga alla veneta. Using all-wood batela coda di gambero boats—which are more stable than the sleek black gondolas cruising the more congested canals of the city—Row Venice combines rowing lessons with a tour of the city's past and present.

Felix calls my attention back to the boat, and I remember that, at least for the next hour and a half, I am a vogatrice in training. I find my footing, shift my weight onto my front leg, and propel the oar back and the boat forward. This delicate interplay between balance, technique, strength, and endurance is something that can't be properly appreciated until you're doing it yourself, and as I try to remember to do the right things in the right order, I develop a new sort of admiration for everyone around me making this style of stand-up rowing look so effortless.

We continue south, toward the Grand Canal. We duck under bridges, slip past water taxis, and (with the expertise of Felix, who is doing all the steering) manage the tight turns in the long wooden boat. It's not easy, but it is incredibly fun. And in a city as dense with tourists as Venice, to be gliding quietly through it feels like a rare gift.

Venice was built to be beautiful from the water, and navigating it this way feels right. Suddenly the canals aren't simply a picturesque novelty, they're the very heart and lifeblood of Venice. I dip the oar and lean into the horizon.

To Book: The cost for two people is 80 euros for the 1.5-hour lesson. There are also options for a combination rowing lesson and cicchetti tasting, as well as a night lesson. Lessons can be booked in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Venetian. Book online at the Row Venice website.

(Photos: Jane Caporal and Christine Sarkis)

You Might Also Like:

This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Best of Venice: Row Like a Venetian.

Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at

Like this story? Join the 1 million other travelers who read our free Deal Alert newsletter. It's full of our best tips, trip ideas, and travel deals. Subscribe here today!

Secrets and Scenery in Venice

Posted May 20, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Italy-Venice_LineadombraTerrace-DEF Long admired for its beauty and ingenuity, Venice captures the spirit of romantic dreams and artistic inspiration. The city may be sinking, but people come for the breathtaking scenery, historical buildings, and comfortable places to rest. And though the streets and canals are well traveled, this grand old city still has a few secrets up its sleeve.

The Secret Itinerary Tour of Doge's Palace: Walk in the footsteps of Venice's leaders as you skulk through the hidden passageways, the torture room, the prison where Casanova was once held, and the secret chancellery of the Doge's Palace. As your guide unlocks the door to start the tour, you're on your way to uncovering many of the ancient secrets of the city. Tours in English occur at fixed times each day. Tickets cost €16 (about $22 U.S., check for current exchange rates), and reservations are highly recommended.

Ristorante Lineadombra: The floating terrace of Ristorante Lineadombra, which overlooks the Giudecca Canal, is enough to take your breath away. While most come for the view of the Venice Lagoon, others stop in for the restaurant's specialties of tuna tartare and bass cooked in a salt crust. As one of the leading places to dine in Venice, prices can be a little steep. The view, however, is priceless.

Pensione Guerrato: With the Grand Canal at your doorstep and the Rialto marketplace selling fresh fish and vegetables next door, Pensione Guerrato is a hotel worth sighing over. You'll walk in the hallways of Venetian history when you stay at this affordable gem built in 1227. Many of the rooms are decorated with antiques, with some of the original stucco works still remaining. Prices, including breakfast, start at €70 for single rooms without a private bathroom.

To search for flights and compare prices to Venice, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Ristorante Lineadombra)

  • From:
  • To:
  • Depart:
  • Return:
  • Travelers:

Hotels, Rental Cars, Cruises, and Vacations