It is not hard to entertain kids in Venice, a pedestrian-friendly city full of winding canals, multi-hued architecture, curved walking bridges and church domes. Everything feels enchanted and a bit topsy-turvy, where the streets are water, cars are traded for boats and high tide washes over the squares. This eccentric city will captivate your children with its gondola rides, colorful artisan shops, palaces, piazzas and gelato. Read on for the top things to do with kids in Venice.
Cruise on the Grand Canal
The water transit network in Venice operates with nearly two dozen different lines. To start off on the right foot, get a lay of the land by zig zagging the stretch of the main waterway that carves through the heart of Venice. Linea Uno (Line One) of the Vaporetto, the public transportation system, runs the entire length of the Grand Canal from Piazzale Roma (Venice’s gateway for bus and land taxis) to Piazza San Marco, stopping at 21 different stations during the 60-minute trip. Families will see every kind of water craft imaginable: gondolas, taxis, delivery boats, cargo barges and even police boats. It’s an elaborate dance of vessels that are coming and going, and you’ll see vibrant locals and tourists lining the canals as they go about their day.
Learn About Glass Making in Murano
Linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon, Murano is well-known for its glass making. The history of this magical place dates back to 1291 when glassmakers in Venice moved to these series of islands due to the risk of fires associated with the craft. Accessible via Vaporetto, this is the place to venture to for glass making demonstrations, Museo del Vetro, Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato, Campo Santo Stefano (a popular city square), lots of glass shops and factories, and Palazzo da Mula.
Paint a Carnevale Mask
Your family will see loads of Venetian mask shops throughout the city—fanciful to funny, colorful to creepy. Instead of purchasing one from a souvenir shop, create your own mask and have a keepsake to remember your vacation. The makers at Ca’ Macana are the first to open their doors to the public, teaching the craftsmanship through family-friendly workshops. Choose from one of over sixty different varieties of white Venetian masks to beautify and then learn about the special techniques, materials, meanings and history of this craft as you create your own carnival masks.
Wander Around St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica, located on the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square), is the most celebrated cathedral church in Venice and is known for its Italo-Byzantine architecture. Children will find the detailed lavish design, full of gold mosaics, arched portals, and multiple domes, interesting if you set them out on a scavenger hunt. See if your kids can spot the Horses of St. Mark, the statue of the Four Tetrarchs, the Door of Flowers, and the geometric inlaid marble floor. Kids will also love seeing the street performers that fill the square as well as running after the thousands of pigeons that flock here.
This well-loved attraction is, of course, crowded. Admission to the Basilica is free but entrance into Saint Mark’s Museum, Pala d’Oro, the Bell Tower and the Treasury have costs. To avoid cranky children, reserve tickets in advance or book a tour to avoid the long lines.
Eat at the Rialto Market
To experience the culture of Venice, tour the Rialto Market, located alongside the Grand Canal on the north-west side of the Rialto Bridge (the oldest of the four bridges) in the San Polo district. Here you’ll find fresh vegetables and fruit, fish stalls, and lots of shops (silver, glass beads, fabrics and more). It’s best to go early in the morning so you can catch fishmongers and merchants setting up their shops.
Visit a Gondola Workshop
Seeing how gondolas are made and maintained will create a greater appreciation of the experience of riding in one. Visit the workshop of Squero San Trovaso (see it from the outside; it’s not open to the public) in Dorsoduro, which is one of only five gondola-preserving workshops in Venice. Fun fact: Gondolas are made to fit the gondolier, catering to a specific height and weight requirement. About 400 gondoliers are licensed to take tourists up and down the canal and traditionally the job passes down from generation to generation.
After visiting the workshop, hop on a gondola—dozens of stations are set up throughout the city—and have a quintessential Venetian adventure.
Pet Cats at Libreria Acqua Alta
Libreria Acqua Alta, near St. Mark’s Square, is unlike any other bookstore you’ve ever seen. Stacks of books line the walls and are stuffed in every nook and cranny throughout the shop. You’ll even see bathtubs and boats full of titles; they're protection against constant flooding. Kids will love walking up the staircase made of books, with a slab of carpet on top. This Library of High Water is a must-see for cat lovers as well—you’ll see furry residents perched on stacks of books or wandering through the hallways.
Test Different Flavors of Gelato
Gelaterias are, of course, everywhere in Italy and licking your way through Venice is something kids will love. To be honest, you really can’t go wrong with where you go, but here are some suggestions of well-reviewed places:
Gelateria Nico is a popular place located with a water view near the Zattere water bus stop. Enjoy handmade gelato and planning on sitting for a while to enjoy the scenery.
La Mela Verde is a small shop near St. Mark’s Square that is popular with locals and tourists alike. The flavors are made with natural coloring and there are several options to choose from.
Boutique del Gelato, on Salizzada San Lio, offers a no-frills experience with classic Italian flavors like stracciatella, chocolate and vanilla.
Paint on Kids Day at Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Perfect for kids ages 4 through 10 years old, Kids Day is a free workshop held on Sundays at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Young visitors can visit the collection with a docent and then experiment with various mediums as they create their own themed art. Advanced reservations are required. Other guided family programs are also available throughout the year, including Kids’ Carnival and Families Festival. The museum also has a large sculpture garden and patio where kids can run around and play. To get there from San Marco Square, head to the Academia Bridge—on foot or take a water taxi—and then make your way to the museum.
Visit the Bridge of Sighs
The last view convicts saw before imprisonment was the view from the Bridge of Sighs, an enclosed bridge made out of white limestone, with stone bars covering the little windows. The bridge, built in 1600, stretches over Rio di Palazzo, connecting the New Prison to Doge’s Palace, where prisoners were interrogated. As dark as this all sounds, the bridge is quite lovely, and many songs have been written about this famous bridge—it has become a symbol of love. It’s said that a kiss under the bridge at sunset will seal the love of a couple forever. Parents can teach their kids lessons of love while sneaking in a smooch under the arch.