ABOVE: Jack, our American grandson,
gets acquainted with a local girl in Venice. INSET BELOW: Jack enjoys the view
from a Venice playground.
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.
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
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, the "Rolling
Venice Card" is another way to save money.)
Things to see:
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
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
Burano and Torcello. These islands, which we describe in
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
Practical advice for traveling with children in Venice:
Above: A family crosses a bridge near the Campo
de la Fava.
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
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).
Visiting Venice with Kids
suggests things for families to do and see together in Venice.