Venice with kids

Venice with kids: 12 top things to do

You’d be hard-pressed to find a city more visually exciting than Venice, so you’ll start with a big advantage. Because every bend in the street brings a new set of colorful houses, fanciful architecture or boat-filled canals, there is always something to catch children’s attention, even for families with children of different ages. And it’s hard not to get a sense of place in a city where everything is so different. Just think: streets are water, crossings are bridges (and sometimes gondolas), cars and buses are boats, windows are rarely square, and the buildings are every color of the rainbow. The very different character of Venice shines through in every experience, so give up the idea that traveling here is about seeing a certain number of attractions. There is no checklist to fill out. Venice is the attraction, and the experience is everything.

Read also: Where to stay in Venice

1 Tour the Grand Canal on the Vaporetto

Tour the Grand Canal on the Vaporetto
 

The best way to get a feel for Venice is to cruise the length of the great waterway that runs through its heart in a gigantic inverted S. Linea Uno (Line 1) of the Vaporetto, Venice’s public transport system, runs across the full length of the Grand Canal from Piazza Roma to Piazza San Marco. This is no ordinary city tour: it passes glittering palaces of all those who visited in the Gothic and early Renaissance eras, when Venice ruled a vast empire and enjoyed its riches. As these graceful and colorful buildings glide along each side, closer to the vaporetto are all kinds of vessels sharing this watery boulevard: gondolas, water taxis, freighters, delivery boats, private launches, police boats with sirens blaring, maybe a kayak or two. Watching them navigate and avoid collisions is like watching an entire dance troupe dance against a colorful scenography. Driving around the city also gives you an idea of ​​how it lies, which of course doesn’t stop you from getting lost. Remind your children that the facades they see are the front doors of these palaces, where everyone arrived by boat.

2 Join the horses on the Portico of St. Mark’s

Join the horses on the Portico of St. Mark's
Join the horses on the Portico of St. Mark’s
 

Even children, who usually don’t show much enthusiasm for visiting churches, will find something to enjoy at St. Mark’s. More than 4,240 square meters of golden mosaics line its domes and cover the walls and columns, catching and reflecting light in each of the small pieces of glass to bring the pictures to life. The great Pala d’Oro, the altarpiece behind the main altar, glitters with thousands of gems and precious stones in beautifully crafted gold. Everything in or on the basilica has a story, none more fascinating than that of the gigantic bronze horses that look over the piazza from the balcony above the main entrance.

The original horses began life in the Hippodrome of Constantinople in the third or fourth century, but were captured as spoils of war by Venice after the fall of Constantinople. They were placed on the portico of San Marco, where Napoleon admired them when he took Venice. He sent them to Paris. They had returned after Napoleon’s defeat and watched over the square until 1981, when air pollution threatened them and they were replaced by reproductions. View the originals in the basilica’s museum, then climb to the balcony above the main entrance to join their replacements for a panoramic look at Piazza San Marco. It’s also a window seat to watch the Moors strike the hour on the clock tower over the square.

3 Explore the Haunted Prisons in the Doge’s Palace

Explore the Haunted Prisons in the Doge's Palace
Explore the Haunted Prisons in the Doge’s Palace
 

The exterior of the Doge’s Palace, which stands next to St. Mark’s, looks a bit like a decorated cake with its stone filigree and candy colors. Inside it is opulent and grandiose, Venice’s most beautiful palace, where the man who ruled the Venetian Republic lived in luxury. The public areas – Scala d’Oro (Stairs of Gold); the 14th-century Hall of the Great Council, with its immense 22-metre-long painting by Tintoretto; and the exquisite Sala del Collegio – will impress children, but what they will like best are the grim cells in the second building, reached by the Bridge of Sighs. On a private tour you can descend with a small group into the damp dark cells of the pozzi (pits) and enter the even worse piombi, the cramped low cells directly under the leading roof. Despite all the lavish gold decorations, younger children may find this longer tour boring, but older children will enjoy exploring the prison and getting a glimpse of the medieval justice system. You can see the main rooms with a standard public admission ticket.

4 Go lion hunting

Go lion hunting
Go lion hunting
 

This one is for little kids, although older siblings will be drawn to the fun. And there’s a bit of a history lesson disguised in the game. Everywhere you look in Venice you see lions, most often the winged lion that is the symbol of the city’s patron saint and founder, St. Mark. The lion became the symbol of the city in 828 AD, when the saint’s relics were chased from Alexandria by two Venetians and brought here. The Venetians themselves collected lions (along with everything else they wanted on their travels and conquests), which is how many of the older non-winged ones came here. One of the oldest and most beloved, the sawn-off stone lion in the small square next to St. Mark’s, is a popular support for photographing children.

Spotting these lions is a game that everyone can participate in and gives children a reason to look up and look around. While lions appear all over Venice, and in every medium, they divide into two groups: winged and non-winged. And the winged lions of St. Mark divide again by whether the book in his paw is open, which indicated that Venice was at peace, or closed, when the republic was at war.

5 Ride in a gondola

Ride in a gondola
Ride in a gondola
 

Perhaps the most quintessential of all Venice experiences is being rowed through narrow, winding canals by a singing gondolier. For couples it’s the height of romance, but it’s just as fun for families. Teenagers may object, seeing it as an invitation to be watched, but once the gondola runs through the ‘back alleys’ and under bridges, they will love it (even in secret).

If a good gondola ride is beyond the budget, there’s one experience every visitor can afford, and it’s one that locals do every day. Only four bridges cross the Grand Canal and it’s a long walk for people who need to cross it, so a series of gondolas, called traghetti, shuttle passengers back and forth for a euro or two. The cushioned seats have been removed from here, and although there is a bench, the Venetians stand for the crossing. Look for signs pointing to the traghetto landings, which are also marked on some city maps. One of the most convenient for tourists connects the San Marco district with Dorsoduro, not far from the Guggenheim Museum. The landing on the San Marco side is close to Campo Santa Maria Giglio.

6 Shop for masks

Shop for masks
Shop for masks
 

Wherever you go in Venice, you’re likely to find carnival masks in shop windows and on street vendor stalls. But to find authentic masks made in Venice, cross the Rialto Bridge and enter the warren of alleys in the San Polo district. Look for windows wearing only masks and carnival costumes and look inside to see if any artisans are at work. If so, you’ve hit a real mask maker. There are also several mask makers in Dorsoduro. Both neighborhoods have concentrations of traditional craft studios and workshops, where you will also find artists in paper, fabric and other crafts.

Calle dei Nomboli, near Campo San Tomà in San Polo, has several, including TragiComica, whose child-friendly staff are happy for children to look at the details of harlequin eye masks or elegant and fanciful full face masks. Closer to Rialto, the small and crowded La Bottega dei Mascareri specializes in historical styles, of more interest to older children. On the Rio Terà Canal, at Campo Santa Margherita in neighboring Dorsoduro, Mondo Novo brings the craft into the modern age with more modern designs. At Ca’ Macana, on Calle delle Botteghe, near Campo San Barnaba in Dorsoduro, children can learn how masks are made and even try their hand at it, but you must book ahead.

7 View Glassblowers on Murano

Check out Glassblowers on Murano
Check out Glassblowers on Murano
 

The vaporetto often runs to the island of Murano, where all the glassblowers in Venice have their studios. They were quarantined there in the 13th century for two reasons: first, to prevent fires from spreading from their furnaces in nearby Venice, and second, they could be prevented from leaving Venice and taking the secrets that Venetian glass the most cherished of Europe’s royal courts. Once on the island, pass the hawkers and look for free glassblowing demonstrations. Seeing blobs of molten glass become fragile cups, vases and works of art is fascinating for any age.

After the demonstration you will be led to the showrooms, but you are not obliged to purchase. It’s better to look around Murano before shopping, and you’ll likely find unique and more creative pieces at much better prices in the shops further away from the vaporetto landing. Once away from the big showrooms, you’ll find a number of shops by individual designers whose works make tasteful and quite reasonable, much better souvenirs than the mass-produced (and too fragile to get home safely) glass gondolas on every street kiosk. To be sure it was made here, look for the seal that ensures authenticity on the display window. Little girls will definitely want necklaces made of colorful glass beads.

8 Visit a palace

Ca' D'oro
Ca’ D’oro
 

There is no better way to get a sense of what life was like for the upper crust of Venetian society than to visit one of their glorious palaces. Several of the best have been preserved as museums. Ca’ D’oro is now an art museum, but the interior and furnishings are as they were in the late Middle Ages. You can see the highly decorative carved stone facade, overlooking the Grand Canal, from the Vaporetto. Perhaps more interesting for children is Ca’ Rezzonico , whose interior shows what the good life was like in 18th-century Venice. The ballroom stretches the length of the building and exhibits on women’s lives and Venetian silk production include over-the-top costumes worn by fashionable ladies.

9 Go on a treasure hunt

Boat market
Boat market
 

In a city with so many quirks, eccentricities and treasures to be discovered, it’s easy to make a good list for a treasure hunt that can easily involve children of different ages. It encourages them to look around, and some places will undoubtedly lead to some hidden historical or cultural insights. Some things on the list can be found in different places, while other things that can be good for extra points are one-off sights that you come across when you are on your way to other attractions. You’ll think of a few, but here are a few ideas to get your list started: a lion with a closed book (meaning Venice was at war), an ambulance, a garden, a pointed window, a golden lion, a well,

10 Picknick in the Public Gardens

Picknick in de Public Gardens
Picknick in de Public Gardens
 

If you follow the Fondamenta left on the Grand Canal from the Doge’s Palace, you will pass the Arsenale (a good place for lion hunting) and eventually you will come to the long green strip of the public gardens, Giardini Pubblici. Or you can ride the vaporetto from the San Zaccaria stop at Piazza San Marco to the entrance. In this shady park, along with sculptures and flower beds, you’ll find grass for the kids to run on; a playground with slides and swings; and a faux grotto and benches, where you can sit and watch the kids get their steam on. Along the way you can buy picnic products at the daily market on Via Garibaldi, between Arsenale and the public garden. You have access to a shaded promenade in the garden, right on Via Garibaldi.

11 Go beachcombing on the Lido

Go beachcombing on the Lido
Go beachcombing on the Lido
 

The fact that the Lido was Europe’s first beach resort won’t impress children as much as the long stretch of white sand itself, which seems a world away from Venice. Kings and queens once carefully hid their royal skin from the sun here when they ventured to the grand hotels that still stand behind the beach. In season you can hardly find the sand for the rows of beach umbrellas and sun loungers that lie in front of all hotels, but there are public beaches on the north side, near the Church of San Nicolo.

Out of season the beach is free and quiet, a place where children can run in the sand; pick up shells; building castles; and write messages and photos in the sand to wash away the waves, as the locals do. Rent bikes near where St. Mark’s Motonave, or vaporetto, arrives, and explore the back streets to see the whimsical Art Nouveau villas and hotels.

12 Get lost in a maze at Villa Pisani

Get lost in a maze at Villa Pisani
Get lost in a maze at Villa Pisani
 

You’ll get lost in Venice’s very own maze of streets, canals and corridors at least once a day, but for a real puzzle game, take on the world’s most difficult garden labyrinth at nearby Strà, on the Brenta Canal . Built to connect Venice to Padua, the Brenta Canal quickly became known as the Venetian Riviera as noble families built extravagant summer palaces to escape the city’s heat. A boat still takes tourists from Venice to Padua, stopping at Villa Pisani (you can return by train). But the boat also stops at two other villas, and it can be a long day for children, so you may prefer to take the bus from Piazzale Roma.

The villa is grand and children will love seeing the trompe l’oeil painting on the ballroom ceiling and trying to tell where the painting ends and reality begins. But it is the garden that will fascinate and bewilder them. It’s not like the usual tame mazes, and you’ll want to stay close to small children, because the hedges are big and dense, and small people will be hard to find once out of sight. The route through nearly a dozen concentric rings is not easy, but there is usually someone at the top of the tower in the center, who can summon directions to guide the hopelessly lost. Once at the center, climb the double-spiral staircase to the top of the tower and watch others make their way.

Address: Via Doge Pisani 7, Strà

Official site: https://www.villapisani.beniculturali.it/?lng=en

Where to stay in Venice with kids

We recommend these beautiful hotels in Venice with family-friendly features:

  • IQ’s charming house: luxury apartments, views of passing gondolas, modern design, separate living areas with kitchens, helpful staff.
  • Hotel Sant’Antonin: 3-star boutique hotel, family-run, beautiful garden with turtle ponds, family rooms, friendly service.
  • Hotel da Bruno: mid-range prices, apartments for families, free breakfast, walk from St. Mark’s Square.
  • Suite in Venice Ai Carmini: budget-friendly apartment hotel with canal views, suites with living rooms and kitchens, washing machines and dryers.

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