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?"
This 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.
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.
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.
Practical advice for traveling with children in Venice:
If you're visiting Venice during the warmer months, consider staying in one of the many family hotels on on the Lido. This resort island is just a few minutes from St. Mark's Square by water bus, yet it offers Adriatic beaches where you and the kids can relax when you (or they) tire of sightseeing. Campgrounds with bungalows and beach access are another possibility.
In the city proper, consider renting a vacation apartment where you and the kids can truly make yourselves at home.
If your kids are open-minded eaters, you're in luck. Italian restaurants tend to be more child-friendly than their counterparts in Northern Europe and the U.S., and your children may find themselves being pampered by doting waiters.
Parents of fussier diners can retreat to pizzerias throughout the city. And if your kids like spaghetti, you expect to find pasta on most restaurant menus. (Menus are normally posted outside restaurants, so you can check to see if there's anything the kids will eat before you go inside.)
Ice cream--gelato in Italian--is a popular treat, especially during the summer months. Finally, North American kids with a longing for fast food should be happy at McDonald's on the Strada Nova, near the Ca' d'Oro vaporetto stop.
For more information on Venetian sustenance, see our Dining in the Veneto feature.
Nearly all museums have convenient (and clean) lavatories; in a dire emergency, buy something at a bar and hope that its WC isn't of the Turkish hole-in-the-floor variety. Better yet, know where the city's official public toilets are (but be prepared to pay handsomely--they aren't cheap).
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