Venice might not at first seem to be an obvious choice for a blog about holidays with children. While a lot has been written about the beauty and attraction of Venice for honeymooners and romantic vacations, almost nothing has been written about family holidays in Venice. I like a challenge, however, and so in this blog post I am going to cover Venice, Italy, with kids.
When to visit: If your schedule allows, the best time to visit Venice is in early fall or late spring. Alas, parents can only plan their trips during the school holidays and in summer there are lots of tourists and it can be really hot. The waterways of Venice mean that there may be mosquitoes during the summer months and, in winter or late fall, when it's rainy and grey, there may be flooding. I, however, think that Venice is beautiful in any weather!
Special festivities in Venice include: A famous carnival in February and Venice Film Festival in August / September. Both events are worth attending and the carnival is fun for the kids... The downside is that it could be too crowded as a lot of tourists want to visit at this time, and the price of the hotels, which is not even cheap in off peak season, increases significantly for these special occasions. Planning a trip to Venice around these events can be more cost-effective and enjoyable if you're not specifically wanting to attend the film festival or carnival.
Good for older children: In my experience, Venice is a city better suited to older children, particularly those who can walk for a large portion of the day. You can use a stroller but it is difficult because a lot of Venice has steps and bridges and so you need at least two pairs of hands and some good muscles to lift the stroller up and down. Public transport in Venice consists of the waterbus, called 'vaporetto.' Other than this, you'll usually be travelling on foot.
Where to stay with kids:
Don’t bother looking for specific kids' hotels (with mini-club and children's entertainment) :). Instead, check out one of the many decent family-friendly hotels, such as:
- Hotel Flora (3 stars) near Piazza San Marco: This is a family-friendly hotel with family rooms, and cots available. There is a small, cosy Venetian garden. The Hotel Flora has good reviews on TripAdvisor.
- Hotel Cipriani and Palazzo Vendramin by Orient - Express (truly 5 stars!)” This is a luxury hotel, with prices to match. The hotel is gorgeous, the reviews are excellent, and it is very expensive. This is, perhaps, the only hotel that has a kids' club ('Smile Club'), featuring children's entertainment and a swimming pool.
- BEST WESTERN Premier Hotel Sant ' Elena (4 stars): My friends stayed here and liked it, and the hotel welcomes children. However, the location away from the centre of Venice may be a problem for some visitors (it is three stops away from the Piazza San Marco on the vaporetto). The Best Western Elena, has decent reviews.
The hotels in Venice are generally rather expensive, especially if you go there in the high season. You can save some money by staying on the mainland part of Venice in Mestre where there are cheaper accommodations. This is an industrial area though, so there is nothing of note to see here and you will spend a lot of time travelling to more interesting areas of Venice.
During my first visit I stayed at the seaside in a small town, Lido di Jesolo, close to Venice. It's directly on the coast and so you can combine a relaxing beach holiday with city sightseeing. Venice can be reached by ferry, or you can book a daily tour through the hotel. While a day-tour can be convenient, you might miss some of the charm of discovering Venice by yourself.
In order to experience the real Venice you really need to stay for at least a day or two in the central island part of the city. This is because during the day there are crowds of tourists, or 'daytrippers' as they are called by the locals. They come by the buses and ferries and absolutely must see everything during their short visit.
In the evening, however, the 'real' Venice shines through, the Venice that you can see in the movies or on TV. No one is in a hurry, you can even see the Venetians enjoying a cup of coffee or strolling through the streets and it is absolutely awesome! I fell in love with just such a Venice, and this is a lifelong love...
If you are not wanting to stay in a hotel, or outside Venice, then another option is to rent an apartment in the city. This is particularly practical if you have small children and it allows you to live like a true Venetian! In the morning you can go to the shop next door to buy fresh bread and pastries, delicious cheeses, and sausages for breakfast. You don't get this with a regular hotel experience...
There is also an island, Lido, in Venice where you'll find an beach (more on this below). Lido also has hotels but I do not really recommend staying there, because you need a vaporetto to get to the central part and it is not very convenient if you're only staying in Venice for a couple of days.
What you can do with kids in Venice:
Why does everyone dream of going to Venice? For the gondolas, of course! These gondola rides are not cheap, however, and so you might consider the alternative – the vaporetto – as a less expensive mode of transport. Maybe it's not so romantic, but there are interesting routes. Just avoid the rush hour!
Be sure to include a visit to the neighboring islands, Murano, Burano, and Torcello in your trip to Venice. In Murano you can attend glass-blowing workshops and explore how the famous Venetian glass is made. This is especially great for entertaining the kids as they watch the wonders of the skillful master glass-blowers.
Burano is a very bright, colorful, lively little island. It's nice just to walk around and take pictures of the brightly painted houses, sit in a restaurant or cafe on the street, and watch the older local women making the famous Venetian lace.
Torcello is an interesting choice for adults as the island is sparsely populated but very picturesque. I liked it very much. There is an old basilica you can visit and, next to it, a large stone chair that you can sit in and make a wish. My wish came true! Maybe the magic powers of Torcello's stone chair will entice your child to visit the island with you :).
More about Venice: Everyone knows that Venice is famous for its masquerade carnival masks and it is not difficult to find a shop where you can not only see how to make these masks but also have a go at painting one yourself – perfect for if you have a creative child, and a wonderful option for families with children.
Some of the places you might like to check out include C à del Sol, a mask shop where they sometimes hold workshops (you can also try on costumes here). Other options include Ca ' Macana (address: Calle de Le Botteghe, 3172), which the locals say is the best shop in Venice for carnival masks), and Il Canovaccio, or Benor Maschere (address: Calle larga dei bari , 30135 Venezia), where you may be able to paint your own mask.
In the summer, you can take a vaporetto to go to the beach in Lido. The Italians love to spend time there with the families and the beach is nice, the water usually warm, and there is an easy, shallow entrance to the sea that's good for the kids. You can also rent bikes and ride around the island and, while you shouldn't expect the perfect beach holiday in Lido, the hot weather and beach setting is nice here.
One of the main attractions in Venice is the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale). Older, school-aged kids, may find it interesting to pass through the Bridge of Sighs and see the armory's big collection of weapons.
Something to entertain kids of all ages, however, is the Bocca DELLA Verita - 'Mouth of Truth'. According to the legend, if a liar puts his hand into the mouth of truth then it is sure to be bitten off. You can check it out with your kids, I'm sure it's not dangerous :)
With smaller kids you can play a very exciting game all around the city of 'Venice Lion Hunt.' There are a lot of lions, as well as lions with wings, on the frescoes and monuments. And, remember, the winged lion is the symbol of Venice! Who do you think will spot the most if the prize is delicious ice cream? You?!
For other entertainment, the kids can chase the pigeons in Piazza San Marco – it is free of charge :). I'm sure that will be fun. For some reason, most adults seem to prefer to be photographed with the pigeons... I wonder why?
Other attractions include climbing the highest tower in Venice - Campanile di San Marco - the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Mark in Piazza San Marco. Prepare to wait, however, as there is usually a queue. It's worth it though, for the stunning views over Venice (don't forget to bring your camera :)). If you don't want to queue, consider the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore, located on the neighbor island, which some people think offers the most beautiful views over Venice (and there are no crazy queues).
In the evening the Piazza San Marco, which is usually overcrowded with tourists during the day, becomes deserted. You can stop by and soak up the sounds of the real, non-touristy, Venice: the ringing bells, quiet conversations of the cafè visitors, the sounds of street performances and concerts. In the evening, the Piazza San Marco turns into a big theatre, where you can hear a classical music concert or see magicians and jugglers perform – great fun for kids!
Venice has some wonderful museums too, including the Goldoni Museum (Museo Goldoni, address: San Polo 2793, Calle dei Nomboli, Palazzo Centrani). The museum itself is a small two-story building, but the kids will be excited by the old (restored) puppet theatre. Performances are usually held in the first half of the day so get there early.
You may also like to visit the Natural History Museum (Museo Civico di Storia Naturale), which has an aquarium and a dinosaur skeleton.
One of the largest and most beautiful parks in Venice is Parco delle Rimembranze (Park of Remembrance), where there is a roller skating rink, a playground, and a soccer field. This is the perfect place to let the children have a good run around.
If your vacation budget extends to it, take a helicopter ride over the Venetian lagoon ( Heliair Venice). It's expensive, but looks well worth the money...
You can visit the fish market (Rialto fish market): the kids will love the variety of seafood there. Be sure to check when the market is open though (usually in the morning from Tuesday to Saturday). After walking through the market there are bars next door that serve Cicchetti – a key Venetian food, similar to Spanish tapas. These snacks that are often offered to visitors at the bar and include shrimps with polenta, and sardines in balsamic vinegar with onions.
Don't miss out on the Peggy Guggenheim Museum while you're in Venice. There is a wonderful collection of paintings here, and a beautiful park with sculptures and a tree of wishes. It may even help cultivate an appreciation for fine modern art in your children...
Kids interested in history, boats, and warfare might enjoy a trip to the Venice Museum of Naval History, (address: Riva S. Biasio Castello, 2148 - 30122 Venezia), which is near the Arsenal. You pay only 1.55 Euros (in 2013) for entrance! Bear in mind though that the museum closes early - about 1pm and has exhibits over five floors, so get there early to see everything. There are wonderful models of ships, submarines, old uniforms and weapons, and a chance to learn about the Italian Navy.
Budding artists can even attend workshops at the Palazzo Grassi (Museum of Modern Art).
So, despite being famous for romance, Venice does offer a great deal for families on vacation and I am sure that you and your kids will have an unforgettable experience in Venice...