Venice, locally referred to as Venezia, is an Italian city known for its romantic restaurants and gondola rides through beautiful canals, which may make it seem like it's not an ideal destination for families traveling with children.
If you're planning a trip with youngsters, you may want to consider visiting Venice for three or four days as a side trip from London or Rome. However, there are a number of great things you can do with your kids in Venice, Italy. While getting to and around Venice may be a little more challenging with smaller children, the city is quite accommodating to visiting families.
Before you go, be sure to prepare your kids for what to expect in Venice; consider educating them with a great CD for kids: Vivaldi's "Ring of Mystery," a musical story set in Venice that will get kids of all ages excited about the sights and history of the city.
Arriving in Venice and Getting Around
While there are direct flights from the United States to Venice, it may be easier to book a cheap flight from London or take a train from Rome, especially if you're traveling with children. Whether you fly or take a train, you'll want to pack light since Venice has no taxis or cars to carry your luggage to your hotel—you'll have to rely entirely on boats, which have weight limits on how much they can hold.
In Venice, you'll get around on foot or by some form of boat: from the expensive gondolas to the small ferries (vaporetti) that constantly chug up and down the main canals. Three-day passes for the vaporetti are a good deal; check for discounts for small children and for students.
A word about strollers: in Venice, you are constantly walking up and down the steps of small bridges across the canals. A 3-year-old can probably get out of his stroller and walk over these bridges; if your child can't, consider using a backpack. If you do take a stroller, make sure it's ultra-light.
Things for Kids to Do in Venice
Once you've figured out how to get around the city, there are plenty of great attractions geared toward residents and visitors of all ages. From watching street performers in Piazza San Marco to taking a ride on a water-bus, there's no shortage of entertainment for kids in Venice:
- Piazza San Marco: Known as the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco is a great place for kids to enjoy public art and performance as well as historical architecture and a bit of nature. Thousands of pigeons visit the piazza daily, and kids often enjoy chasing these feathered creatures through the square. Small orchestras play at outdoor cafes, and parents typically enjoy the architectural marvels, including the interior of St. Mark's Basilica.
- Go on Ice-Cream Walks: Walking in Venice is a joy; the trick is to keep those tired little legs trudging onward. Lure the youngsters on with ice cream and sweet treats. Gelaterias are everywhere, and the ice cream is fabulous if you get it "Artigianale" style.
- Ride a Water-Bus: The younger set can enjoy the boat ride while the parents ogle the palazzos on the Grand Canal. Catch a vaporetto at many stops, which run constantly both day and night. You can also take a boat trip to Venice's beach, The Lido, or to the island of Murano, famous for glass-blowing.
- Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Heiress Peggy Guggenheim loved Venice, and now her home is a wonderful museum that suits kids well. To get there, head to the Academia Bridge, a 20-minute walk from San Marco Square, or take a ferry boat; then, follow the signs to a fabulous collection of surrealist modern art—perhaps the most interesting sort of art for young minds, with fantastical creatures and landscapes and animals flying through the sky. Outside is a lovely sculpture garden, where kids can run around. There's also a large patio right on the Grand Canal.
Where to Eat and Drink With Kids in Venice
With ice cream and pizza on display at almost every turn, Venice is a surprisingly kid-friendly city when it comes to eating out. However, kids may have a bit of difficulty finding drinks they like in the city. American children aren't used to the taste of Italian milk, which is either fresh or heat-treated, and juice and sodas can be rather expensive.
Fortunately, bottled water is readily available, and the tap water is drinkable. In fact, some environmentalists have been promoting drinking the tap water because disposal of endless amounts of empty plastic bottles is even worse, ecologically, in Venice than elsewhere. Still, you should always check for the latest information about water quality before your visit to ensure it's safe for your kids to drink.
Where to Go to the Bathroom
If you're lucky, your offspring will use the washrooms at the charming trattorias, where you buy lunch. Most children, however, only need a washroom 10 minutes after one is available. In such cases, you may notice certain posted signs directing you to a public "WC." However, be prepared to pay for something from the establishment to use these facilities throughout the city.
Being a wonder of the world has some downsides. For example, local people don't often go out of their way to accommodate tourist crowds. In fact, there are very few accommodations for visitors at local establishments throughout the city.
Additionally, you should be aware that the pickpockets in Venice are some of the slickest in the world. When you're out, watch your bag for wandering hands, especially when visiting tourist attractions like the piazzas or ice cream parlors.
Overall, visiting Venice is worth almost any price—even with children. It may sometimes be hard to have little kids' hands tugging on you when you want to bask in the beauty and art of the city, but you'll enjoy introducing your children to the culture and history of Venice nevertheless.