As much a symbol of Venice as the winged lion, the gondola is one of Europe's great traditions, incredibly and inexplicably expensive but truly as romantic as it looks (detractors who write it off as too touristy have most likely never tried it). The official fixed rate is 80€ for a 30-minute gondola tour for up to six passengers. The rate bumps up to 100€ from 7pm to 8am (for 35 min.), and it's 40€ for every additional 20 minutes (50€ at night). That's not a typo: 150€ for a 1-hour evening cruise. Note: Although the price is fixed by the city, a good negotiator at the right time of day (when business is slow) can sometimes grab a small discount for a shorter ride. And at these ridiculously inflated prices, there is no need to tip the gondolier. You might also find discounts online.

Aim for late afternoon before sundown, when the light does its magic on the canal reflections (and bring a bottle of prosecco and glasses). If the gondola price is too high, find someone—other hotel guests, say—to share it. Though the price is fixed, before setting off establish with the gondolier the cost, time, and route (back canals are preferable to the trafficked and often choppy Grand Canal). They're regulated by the Ente Gondola (www.gondolavenezia.it; tel. 041/5285075), so call if you have any questions or complaints.

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And what of the serenading gondolier immortalized in film? Frankly, you're better off without. But if warbling is de rigueur for you, here's the scoop. An ensemble of accordion player and tenor is so expensive that it's shared among several gondolas traveling together. A number of travel agents around town book the evening serenades for around 50€ per person.

Venice has 12 gondola stations, including Piazzale Roma, the train station, the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco. There are also a number of smaller stations, with gondolieri in striped shirts standing alongside their sleek 11m (36-ft.) black wonders looking for passengers. All speak enough English to communicate the necessary details. Remember, if you just want a quick taste of being in a gondola, you can take a cheap traghetto across the Grand Canal.