Got Canals? The Secret of Venice by Kayak

by Bianca Gignac

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Venice stretches over 117 small islands that are intricately laced with 177 canals and 409 bridges.

Paddling Venice’s secret canals lets you explore the city from a view that many will never see; which is exactly why kayaking should top your “things to do in Venice” list. It’s a juicy little loophole that is just waiting to be loved.

Most people won’t suggest Venice as a kayak destination. Why? Because most visitors lean on the Venice-in-a-shiny-black-gondola  fantasy. But that doesn’t work for everyone, especially people who crave unique angles. I’ve never been tempted to spring 100 euros for a 40 minute gondola ride — no way.  But listening to the drips of my kayak paddle in a backwater canal while peering down the silent alleyway of a faded pallazzo — yes, pretty please!

Why Kayak Venice?

Jetting around the canals in Venice is totally fun and is why the city has a shiny gold star on most people’s Italian itineraries.  I love travelling on the vaporetto; the city’s ferry system. This is the main way of getting around Venice and the tickets set you back just a few euros which leaves plenty of coin for sunset aperitivi at a rooftop wine bar.

Other ways to travel the canals include water taxis or booking a  tour in a motor boat.  One extreme case is packing an inflatable boat in your luggage like these crazy peeps — but that would really thrash on my whole light packing mantra.

The downer with most modes of travel on the waterways is that you are just a passenger within a group. The rockin’ thing about renting a kayak is that you are in control of your vessel, and you call the shots of where you go and what you see.   If that miniature canal looks like it leads to a perfect photo opportunity or enticing little lunch spot then you can make that happen.

The fact is,  Venice highly restricts the operation of motorized vessels to specific canals but non-motorized boats have free rein. You can go anywhere at anytime in a paddled or rowed boat;  even against one-way traffic (how perfectly Italian!).  The only portion that is off limits is the military zone around the arsenale and the lagoon.

In a kayak you have virtually unlimited access to Venice’s waterways big and small.  I love that.

How to Rent a Kayak in Venice

The company Venice Kayak is run by these lovely folks and they will set you up in style.

All kayak rentals come with a guide. No, you can’t just rent a boat and go ramp up the Grand Canal solo in the fray of vaporetti, ambulance boats and every other conceivable water craft (think of the garbage boat, the baker’s boat and butcher’s boat!). Although the guides won’t tell you where to go, they will get you where you want to go safely. If you just want to follow someone else’s brain they will take you on a guided trip.  You can view the prices and other goodness here. Their night trips have my emphatic vote.

 Who took these gorgeous shots?

My friend Filippo Mutani photographed these images for a spread in the Financial Times. Fillippo is a bad-ass Milan based photographer and you can see his crazy-beautiful fashion editorial shots here.  I kinda want to scream it from the rooftops: Filippo is locked and loaded to photograph you in Italy when you come and stay with us in the Cinque Terre in June 2012. Booking high end fashion photogs is exactly the incredible experiences we manifest for our precious guests who experience Italy with us.

If you wanna get in on the crazy-fun action in Italy you can join our waitlist here and you’ll be the first to know about future dates.

Groovy Ideas for Sleeping in Venice


The Certosa Hotel is the meeting place for Venice Kayak excursions and is located on an island in the middle of the lagoon. They offer a pretty sweet 10% discount on your stay if you book a kayak trip. If you want go the rock-star route and pass out naked from too much prosecco like the rest of the guests, then stay at the Cipriani Hotel (but you might have to sell your first born to afford it). They can also arrange your kayak trip as well as accommodate over the top requests of the glitterati who flock to these posh digs.

For alternative lodging to a hotel you could sleep in a houseboat or camp on the Lido or stay in my personal favourite: a gorgeous tented lodge just outside of Venice.

Just Remember

The key to hanging in Venice (or any city where tourists outnumber the locals) is seeking out under the radar sights and activities by connecting with people who can give you great recommendations. Going on a kayak trip isn’t just about seeing more, it is about spending time with people who are the heartbeat of a city. And that is the golden ticket to upgrading your “trip” into a life lifting experience.

{all images by Filippo Mutani}

PLEASE COMMENT: I would love to hear your feedback. Have you been to Venice? What are your favourite things to do there? Thanks!  xx B

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

lisa chiodo | renovating italy

Totally loved your post and the unique ways you see Venice. I’d love to try the kayaking one day. I imagine that waterway traffic is even more chaotic than road traffic and would love to see the Italian driving skills on the water up close and personal.
ciao lisa



Hi Lisa,

Yeah, Italians and moving vehicles can be a chaotic opera. But man, most can parallel park in a teacup! I’ve seen outstanding manoeuvres down one-way streets into opposing traffic that could have been on the set of a Bond movie!

Thanks for your comment. Happy renovating Lisa.

xx Bianca



I’d love to kayak when I visit Venice this July, however the €120 price tag is very high for me as a student inter railing through Europe, is there a cheaper option (half day trips or trips without a guide)? I fear that it might have to give it a miss at that price, particularly as Venice is only the second city I will be visiting



The best, cheapest, watery thing you can do in Venice is take the vaporetti around. For a few euros you can get out on the water. I suggest taking it to some of the farther islands if you want to “get away”. Sure — it’s not as tranquil as kayaking but the price can’t be beat.

Also, check out my other post on Venice that will give you solid suggestions on taking a boat to the next town:



Hi Callum,
Contact us for more information.
We organise a different trips and we have more solutions for your exigencies.



I love kayaking!! And I never would have thought that I could do that in Venice. When I visit Italy that will be a top thing on my list of things to do. Thanks for the great idea and a wonderful website.


Bianca Gignac

Thanks for being here Sandy,

I was really excited to share this little loophole with everyone. Write us and tell us how it went! xx Bianca


jeff barris


Any ideas if we want a guided tour of back streets in Venice?



Bianca Gignac

Hi Jeff,

Connect with a local through — I can imagine how nice it would be to have a local to *not* get lost in Venice!

Cheers, Bianca




could you tell me if is possible to go further to sea and get for example to a some island, like Poveglia ? Thank you a lot :-)


Tom Osborne

As part of a two week Italy trip, I was in Venice (unfortunately, for only three days) last summer (late July 2013) and really loved it, but never once thought to kayak its canals until tonight, eight months later! Your article was such a great idea and for sure people should do this! (So, I would like to go back there and do that.) Instead, I yearned to be able to afford a water taxi, which I thought were very beautiful and elegant boats, but settled for the vaporetto, instead, which was remarkably cost-effective (mostly though, I just walked, and that was great in itself, begin in such a beautiful and fascinating city). I never considered spending the money to take a gondola tour, but figured I could at least get into a gondola by taking the S.M. Del Giglio Traghetto as a ferry across the Grand Canal from Dorsoduro to San Marco for a few euros, but, let it be known, that after I patiently waited around for half an hour while the guy who ran the operation dicked around uncovering boats and stuff, telling me he didn’t open until 10:00, but when I pointed out that it was now way past 10, he very rudely took across somebody else who came after me, so he drained me of any respect for ANY gondoliers or any interest in their impractical, anachronistic, pre-industrial revolution, fake dumb tourist Disneyland ride.

What I enjoyed most about Venice were the beautiful cathedral bells ringing, the cool breezes along the Zattere, sitting at the “point” of where the Grand Canal and the Guidecca split, watching the gorgeous sunset as all the boats go by (early mornings were also great for watching every conceivable kind of working boats!), having a delicious dinner outside dry under an umbrella in a sudden rain storm next to a small canal at the Restaurant Cantinone Storico, visiting the several modern art galleries in the warehouses along the Zattere and having deep conversations with young and very-fluent-in-English docents who worked there, and just simply walking around in all the alley ways, enjoying the beautiful buildings, doorways, bridges, and canals. I would not go back there in the summer, though. Way too hot, way too many tourists, way too many “totally done with tourists” Italians at that time. Florence and Pompeii were also very bad in this way (both much worse than Venice), but, interestingly, Siena, Rome, Amalfi, and Sardinia were not (hot and crowded, yes, but mellow, friendly and helpful Italians). But in a heartbeat, I would go back to Rome, Amalfi, Sardinia…and Venice. But in the spring!



Hi! So I flew in my inflatable kayak from the US this May and paddled around Venice. It is fantastic!!! It just means paying for an extra suitcase….$100/flight.


Debra Healy

Loved the idea about kayaking in Venice but when I checked the price starts at $120 per person for a 1/2 day trip during the day up to $200 per person for a night trip. Starts making taking the more traditional boats more attractive.



Hi Debra,
I think the information did you found was wrong.
We have more solutions and we propose a different kind of trips.
Hal day trips and night trips are cheaper than you indicated.


Franco Vendramini

My name is Franco and am of Swiss/italian origin. We live in Australia but are in Lugano visiting my mother. We (my wife and I) love kayaking (me more than my wife) and do this all around Brisbane. This brings me to my questions, we have 2 kayaks here in Switzerland and would love to take them to Kayak in Venice. Are we allowed to do that? What and where is the best way to park a car with kayaks and move them to a waterway? And can you suggest us a guesthouse or airb+b or other where we can safely store the kayaks overnight? I have been in Venice on a few occasions as a child and a few years ago. So I am not new to it.
We look forward to your answer and thank you for your help. Cheers. Franco and Letty.


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