Top 10 Things To Do with Kids in Venice
Venice! Who hasn’t dreamed of going there? The romantic city on water is a true feast for the eyes and but for kids, there’s a hitch. How many museums or churches a day can you really enjoy without going into visiting overload? Hence the idea of the Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in Venice. You won’t find this list in any travel or any guide book, because they are written with adults in mind. We, on the other hand, spent five days in Venice as a family with my girls, who are 10 and 12 years old. We had more than enough time to see what worked and what didn’t. My girls are used to running around and being kids – not exactly the best museum behavior. That’s why I asked them what they liked and here it is as a top 10.
Honest kid fun. No compromise. All kid-approved.
1. Splash on a water taxi ride
Glamour. Glamour. Glamour. Oh, you have to try this once. You probably won’t do it twice as it costs an arm and a leg, but water taxis–not vaporettos–are the ultimate James Bond ride in Venice. Sleek, luxurious, elegant, water taxis will give you the limo ride of your life to a private deck or canal steps. Given the price tag, we told our girls that they had a choice between taxi or gondola but not both. Water taxi, they both said. And thus we splashed on taxi ride back from a restaurant to our hotel on my birthday and they felt like movie stars. You can find water taxis at official taxi stops or call the central line (393429061230).
2. Discover the secret of glass on Murano island
Glass is glass, or is it? A walk through the island city of Murano, just a couple vaporetto stops outside Venice, will change your appreciation of glass forever. My girls didn’t think much of glass until they watched a few videos of liquid glass shaped and cut by hand at the Museo del Vetro, the museum of Glass. Glass was pulled, twisted, cut, bent, blown and molded like candy sugar. Seeing intricate glass creations come to life from expert hands was definitely a “wow” moment for them. “They can make that?” From that moment on, they regarded glass with a different eye. To top it off, Murano is a lovely island and we had lunch al fresco under the watch tower on the piazza. Life is hard! Several shops offer live glass demonstrations “for free” next to their shop and the Abate Vaneti Glass School offers free 30-minute demonstrations every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 and 4pm. Don’t leave without visiting the best glass master of all, the world-famous Venini.
3. Have some gelato
Do you ever need a reason to eat gelato in Italy? Come on, this is the motherland. Eat up! Gelato shops in Venice are literally everywhere but not all–OK, very few– sell good quality gelato. Displays of shockingly-colored gelato are tell-tale signs of factory-produced frozen treats. Resist, there are plenty of good gelaterias in Venice! TripAdvisor has great lists but I’ve read great things about Boutique del Gelato, Grom and Da Nico. We tasted an exceptional gelato at Stickhouse Venezia, a chain gelateria that makes delicious gelato popsicles. I even had mine dipped in chocolate and coated with hazelnut bits (see photo).
4. Embrace modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
OK kids, this is not the place to be shy about expressing yourself. Peggy Guggenheim, the woman who sponsored artists such as Jackson Pollock or Max Ernst, was also a ravenous and discerning collector of modern art in the 20th century. Her collection (Calle San Cristoforo 701) is housed in the palazzo where she lived, a modern house with a terrace on the Grand Canal and a landscaped garden. My 12-year old literally fell in love with Magritte and my 10-year old had a blast playing hide-and-seek outside around the sculptures. I highly recommend the museum cafe for a quick pick-me-up or lunch.
5. Catch a vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal
This is your top bargain tour in Venice – a boat ride on the Grand Canal. Vaporettos are Venice’s version of public transport on water. We bought multi-day vaporetto passes for the kids and us and enjoyed riding along the Grand Canal at all times of day to get to our destinations. At night, we really loved seeing historical palaces lit up like for a party and during the day, we wondered at how close to the water some doorways were. To catch your ride, the following three lines go up and down the Grand Canal: 1, 2, and N. Hop on any of them to go from the Piazzale Roma (bus terminal) to San Marco and you’ll have the ride of your life. Note that kids love standing outside to enjoy the views.
6. Climb to the top of San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore offers killer views on the Palazzo Duccale, San Marco and Venice in general. This startling monumental Palladio church and monastery occupies its own island and just that makes it extra special. The church interior is huge and my girls had a blast making their way through the nave only on red-color floor tiles. However, that was not why San Giorgio Maggiore made my girls’ top ten list. It was the view on the maze. We took an elevator to reach the top in the campanile and once up there, they discovered a maze in one of the monastery’s courtyards. We, adults, loved the surrounding views but they became obsessed with the maze and tried to figure out how to get there from their aerial view point. Where was the entrance? Finding the maze became a bit of a treasure hunt as the monastery is big and many of its buildings were housing various modern art exhibits for the Biennale, which we could not resist exploring. We finally found the coveted maze, only to find out it was fenced in and off limits. Cruel life!
7. Explore the Palazzo Duccale
You haven’t seen over-the-top until you’ve seen the Palazzo Duccale, residence of the Doges and palatial fortress right on St Mark’s square. These guys knew gilded ceilings and grand paintings like nobody else. For my girls, the Palazzo Duccale was both extraordinarily big and extraordinarily decorated. They could run around and up and down the stairs and this was OK. In a city where space is so tight for many because of the lack of land, the Palazzo Duccale throws a grand show. Magnificent staircases, stupendous assembly halls, miles and miles of world-famous paintings–it’s the home of Venetian superlatives but enough with them. You get the point. It’s very grand and well worth the visit.
8. Have afternoon snacks at Caffe Florian on St Marks’ Square
Hot chocolate and cakes? Now, we’re talking. Nothing motivates a child more than the idea of sitting down for food and drinks after visiting yet another church. Call me old-fashioned, but I love a caffe that’s been in continuous operation since 1720. It says it all on how they do things well. Of course, the Florian offers cafes but it also has rich hot chocolates, a luscious flower tea whose flower opens up in a transparent teapot, and more. In the food section, cakes and biscuits are amazing. The Venetian cookie plate was delicious aand the Sachertorte as well. Last but not least, the Florian has a live small orchestra playing outside but unlike another caffe across st Mark’s Square, they don’t charge you for it.
9. Walk around the lagoon island of Torcello
The largely-deserted lagoon island of Torcello is a fantastic breath of fresh air only a few vaporetto hops from Venice. It offers what Venice doesn’t have – green spaces, wild lagoons and real gardens with real dirt and trees. After all the paved and cobbled streets of Venice, Torcello looks like a bit like the countryside. We got off the vaporetto at Torcello after Murano and walked along the canal towards the center of the island. It seemed almost empty of people–the permanent population is 10 people–and that’s probably also part of the appeal. No crowds! My girls loved the playground and farm animals at the local osteria but if you want to see something truly unique, follow the canal and enter into the cathedral. The walls are covered with the most amazing 11th century Byzantine mosaics. To find a wild patch of lagoon, cross the cathedral’s “garden” and follow a small dirt path heading north-east. That’s where the lagoon and its egrets are.
10. Shop for Venice carnival masks
Venice wouldn’t be Venice without the carnival and the famous Venetian masks. Ornate in design and often gold or silver, traditional Venetian masks are made by hand by artisans and look nothing like the knock-off crap sold in tourist shops. My girls were so intrigued by the craftsmanship and details of authentic masks that we spent an entire evening in a small shop letting them try various masks. Feathers, ribbons, lace, these masks looked right out of an 18th century ball. The white face masks that looked very “Amadeus” seemed to be made for men. Whatever the case, we are now the proud owners of two authentic Venetian masks signed by the artist and ready for the next masqued ball – when it comes.
I hope that you enjoyed this list and I’d love to know what your kids enjoyed in Venice too.