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Venice for Families

Venice may be a great town for kids to live in, but it probably wouldn't be anyone's first choice as a tourist destination for the preschool through junior-high crowd. Hand a copy of Venicewalks or Venice: A Literary Companion to a child, and you're likely to hear, "Mommy, why can't we go to Disney World?"

Children in Venice

ABOVE: Jack, our American grandson, gets acquainted with a local girl in Venice. INSET BELOW: Jack enjoys the view from a Venice playground.

Jack in VeniceThis doesn't mean a trip to Venice has to be a disaster if you're toting a toddler or anchored to an adolescent. On the contrary: With its canals, boats, ancient alleyways, and complete lack of car and motorscooter traffic in the historic center, Venice may be one of Europe's most family-friendly cities. Here's a list of attractions that you and the kids can enjoy:

Boat rides. Gondolas and water taxis are expensive but fun, vaporetti offer excursions via public transportation, and traghetti--gondola ferries that go back and forth across the Grand Canal--are both entertaining and cheap. If you're an experienced boatman, ask the Tourist Office for information on renting a motorboat.

Tips:

  • Catch the No. 1 vaporetto at  Piazzale Roma at dusk or after dark, and find open-air seats in the bow (if the boat has seating up front) or in the stern behind the main passenger cabin. Stay on the water bus as it zig-zags up the Grand Canal toward San Marco, San Zaccaria , and the Lido. The trip will take about 45 minutes--or longer, if you stay on beyond San Marco--and you'll get glimpses into apartments of palazzi along the way. (We suggest going from the Piazzale Roma to San Marco to avoid crowds of daytrippers who are leaving the city.)

  • Children under 6 ride free on Venice's public transportation, but kids from 6 and up pay full fare. You can minimize the damage with Tourist Travel Cards. (If anyone in your family is between the ages of 14 and 29, ask about the "Rolllng Venice Card" and the young people's 72-hour ACTV travel card at the Venice tourist office or any Hellovenezia ticket office.)

Campanile di San Marco. The view from the belltower is spectacular, and you don't even have to climb steps to get there--an elevator will take you all the way to the top.

Murano: The Glass Island. With its canals and bridges, Murano resembles a Venice in miniature--but for kids, the artisans in the glass factories' workshops are the main attraction. Your children will also enjoy buying glass beads, a tiny fishbowl, glass "hard candy," and other inexpensive items for use as gifts, souvenirs, or Christmas tree ornaments.

Piazza San Marco. It's huge, and although feeding the pigeons is no longer legal, there's enough action in the square to keep kids occupied.

Doge's Palace. The endless series of huge, richly decorated rooms in the Palazzo Ducale may pale after a while, but your kids' interest will perk up when they see the prison cells and the adjacent Bridge of Sighs. (These were the luxury cells--the creepy stuff happened in the palace dungeons, which were located downstairs.)

Basilica di San Marco. This huge church is glitzier than a Las Vegas casino. Your children should be impressed when you tell them that the nearly 12,000 square feet of gilded mosaics were made in the 11th and 12th centuries, and that the four bronze Horses of St. Mark were stolen almost 800 years ago during the Crusades. Don't miss the sightseeing balcony on the façade, which offers a great view of the roofs and the Piazza.

Clocktower. The Torre dell'Orologio stands on the north side of St. Mark's Square. 500-year-old mechanical robots use sledgehammers to strike the hours on a large bell.

Naval Museum. Head east from St. Mark's Square toward the Arsenale to reach the Museo Storico Navale. Inside, you'll find ship models, uniforms, naval weapons, dioramas, and other exhibits from past centuries through the present day.

Rialto Bridge. This dramatic bridge arches high above the Grand Canal, and it's fun to stand at the center and watch the boat traffic. Nearby, the Rialto markets sell everything from fruit and vegetables to fish.

Cemetery of San Michele. A quick vaporetto ride will take you and the kids to a beautiful island cemetery where graves are dug up after 12 years because of space restrictions. Lucky skeletons get condo-style homes; the less fortunate get tossed in a communal boneyard.

Burano and Torcello. These islands, which we describe in our Venice Islands Tour article, are about an hour from central Venice by scheduled boat service. Burano has colorful painted houses; Torcello is a quiet oasis away from the hurly-burly world of the city with a church tower that's easy to climb for views of the Venetian Lagoon.

Next page: Practical advice for traveling with children in Venice


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