Venice. An enchanting city built entirely on water; a city unlike another; a city that offers art, history and culture by the truckloads, and is as dreamy as it gets with all the water and the sunset gondola rides. Whether you travel to Venice with kids or without, Venice is one tourist destination that is not so much about the attractions, Venice is THE attraction.
As a student of Architecture (eons ago), I still remember being completely awed by the concept of a ‘floating city’. So, over a decade ago, as we planned our first big trip, Venice was the top choice and an entire trip across 3 European countries was planned around Venice.
12 years and 3 kids later, our second trip to Venice with the kids was as successful as the first one, albeit very different. Play your cards right and yours can be too. Venice can be as enchanting for the kids as it is exciting for you. Before you go, tell them about the magical city built on water, where you cross a bridge every 5 minutes, which has gondolas instead of cars and vaporettos instead of buses, and best of all ice-cream around every corner.
And once you get there, here are some of the things that the little ones will enjoy. (When you plan your trip, you would also need to decide whether to stay in Lido, Mestre or on the Island. You can read here about our Island stay at Aqua Palace Hotel Venice).
1. Chase Pigeons at St Mark’s Square and visit St. Mark’s Basilica
Start at Piazza San Marco, the heart of Venice. Surrounded by architectural and historical gems like St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s campanile, Doge’s Palace and Piazzetta dei Leoncini, Piazza San Marco is like no other. While you admire the space or queue up to enter the basilica, let the kids chase the 100’s of pigeons that make the square their home. During this trip, we realised that our 3-year-old’s favourite thing to do is to chase pigeons and that’s exactly what he did every day we were in Venice. Keep a close watch though, as the piazza can be very, very crowded.
Continue on to St. Mark’s Basilica, but don’t be scared by the long queue as it moves pretty fast. You can also purchase an inexpensive ‘skip the line’ ticket online (and beforehand). The basilica is beautiful with its golden domes, inlaid marble floors, gold mosaic lined walls and columns, and much more.
2. Art for you, spook for the kids at the Doge’s Palace
A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, Palazzo Ducale offers something for everyone. The interiors are magnificent, displaying works of several popular artists and the sculptural decorations are striking with gold just about everywhere. Start at the Courtyard and move on Doge’s Apartments, Institutional Chambers, Armoury and Prisons. The chambers can get a bit boring for kids as there are many, and unless you’re an art-buff, they might get a bit repetitive for you as well. But when the kids start complaining (and they will), show them signs for the Armoury and Prisons that are up next and get them excited about the world’s largest painting that is hung in one of the chambers.
While I was awe-struck by the splendour of the palace and apartments, the children enjoyed the drab and grim prisons the most – you’ll cross under the bridge of sighs to get to the prisons. Legend has it that criminals were taken from the Palace to the Prisons over this bridge, and they would sigh as they cast once last glimpse at Venice and freedom; hence, the name. When you get out of the palace, don’t forget to take the mandatory picture on top of the Bridge of Sighs, if you can get through the hordes and hordes of tourists that is.
3. Wander Around, Get Lost in the Alleyways (& Explore Castello while you’re at it)
Well, all alleys and bridges in Venice look pretty much the same, so getting lost is a given – yes, even if you’re using Google maps you’ll still get lost. The good part though is that Venice has to be one of the best places to get lost in, so have fun getting lost.
Venice is divided into 6 districts, Castello is the closest to St Mark’s, just a 10-15 minute walk away. Explore the little alleys and piazzas of Castello, we had some amazing coffee and food just walking around Castello. Castello is also a great place to stay, we split up our stay between Al Bailo Venezia Luxury Apartments and Aqua Palace Hotel, both in Castello – I would highly recommend both. Al Bailo apartments are spacious, luxuriously decorated and value for money, the service can be lacking though. You can read my review of Aqua Palace Hotel, Venice here.
4. Take Pictures of The Grand Canal from the middle of Ponte di Rialto
Good luck getting a nice spot, especially if it is peak season. But you absolutely must pick a spot somewhere in the middle of Grand Canal’s most famous and iconic bridge, and then be patient and wait for your turn because the pictures that you get from here will be worth it.
5. Hop aboard a Vaporetto to get a bird’s-eye view of Venice from St. Giorgio Campanile
As much as I hate the saying, you’re basically killing two birds with one stone here. Ride a vaporetto and get a bird’s eye view of Venice from St. Giorgio while you are at it.
The Vaporetto is the main form of transport in Venice, it’s like a water bus, and you must ride at least one while in Venice, especially if you’ve travelled to Venice with kids. So, hop aboard one (from St Mark’s) to San Giorgio Island. The uncrowded San Giorgio Maggiore basilica is beautiful and the kids will enjoy the ride.
Climb to the top of the San Giorgio campanile for amazing views back across to St. Mark’s and the main part of Venice. We decided to ditch the long queues at St. Mark’s Campanile in favour of this. Best. Decision. Ever.
In fact, San Giorgio Campanile has to be my favourite campanile ever (and I’ve been to 5 just on this vacation). For one, there is a lift all the way up; score! Two, the parapet walls are solid brick and high, so no chance of one of the kids jumping off it or wriggling through wide bars that surprisingly seem to be the norm at Campaniles. You can actually breathe and enjoy the spectacular views.
6. Go Pasta Shopping
Well, when you’re in Italy, pasta is much more than a toss between plain ol’ fusilli or penne. You will be spoilt for choice with every shape, size, colour and flavour imaginable. Venice is a great place to let the kids (and yourself) go a bit pasta-crazy. Think Linguine with Lemon, Linguine with Truffle, Tagliatelle flavoured with porcini mushrooms, Spaghetti with chilli pepper – kids are going to have loads of fun picking their favourites. My kids bought ‘Trottole’, which is pasta shaped kind of like spinning tops (the colours are from being flavoured with tomato, spinach, beetroot, paprika and curcuma aka turmeric) and the fancy ‘Fantasie’ which is multi-coloured, multi-shaped and multi-flavoured. And while you’re at it, pick up a range of dried herbs for everything ranging from Aglio Olio to Bruschetta and Salads.
7. Cool Down with Gelato Everyday
This one is a no-brainer. Venice is Gelato-heaven. Ice cream shops are literally around every corner, the flavours are varied, the prices are great, the serving sizes are big and most places allow you to mix two flavours in a scoop for just around €2. Don’t worry about the sugar rush, the kids are just going to walk it off. In fact, the best time for Gelato is when the kids start complaining about getting tired from all the walking.
8. Check out other Venetian Attractions
I really enjoyed visiting and learning the history of the Teatro La Fenice theatre – it is simply beautiful and lavish with a rich history. To keep the kids busy here, we got them each their own Audio Guide (they’re free here) and the 7-year-olds were busy for an hour listening to everything. I’m not kidding.
We also walked to Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Unfortunately the church closed a few minutes before we reached, but we enjoyed the walk to the church – plenty of nice cafes, souvenir shops and gelatarias on the way.
9. See a Glass Blowing Demo at Murano
Murano is one of the islands within Venice, famous for glass blowing. We actually were not able to fit this into our short stay but if you’ve got the time, I’m sure kids will enjoy watching a demo at one of the glass-blowing factories.
When in Venice, Eat:
Well, there’s pizza, pasta and gelato wherever you look, so even the fussiest kids are covered. We just picked random restaurants to eat and had both good and bad experiences, so it would be wiser to consult TripAdvisor for good eating places near where you are. Incidentally, some of the best food we had was at smaller nondescript places, here are 3 I can recommend.
Creparia Artigianale – A gem we chanced upon right when I did not have it in me to have pasta for lunch, yet again. They’ve got a huge and very interesting variety of both sweet and savoury crepes. While the kids enjoyed the sweet ones, we tried the two vegetarian savoury crepes on their menu. No. 10 with Genovese Pesto, sun dried tomatoes, pecan walnut and Grana Padano D.O.P. cheese is specially recommended.
Happy Pizza – Chanced upon this while walking around and ended up going back the next day. Loved their Pesto Trofie, Pomodoro and Special Calzone. Also a must-try is the Cacio-e-Pepe.
Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to Go – As the kids were tired one evening, I looked for a take-out place and found Dal Moro’s, thanks to TripAdvisor – really not easy to find but the pastas are quite good. They have a few vegetarian options, I didn’t like the Pesto much but the Pomodoro was quite good.
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