Traveling with Kids | Venice
This past Christmas was one of the first times we decided to stay in Italy and spend the holidays in our own home. Although we really missed our families in Belgium and Canada, we ended up having a lovely two weeks lazing around in our pyjamas, geocaching in the local surroundings and visiting the iconic city of Venice for a few days.
When we decided to visit Venice we had quite a few different reactions from our Italian friends. Some said Christmas in Venice is triste (sad). Others said it would be frigido (frigid). Then some remarked Christmas in Venice is favoloso (wonderful). In the end, it was one of those three things. Luckily for us, it was absolutely favoloso. And here was a pleasant surprise for us, the days between Christmas and New Year are considered low season, so although there were indeed tons of people, it was considerably less than usual.
In general, Venice is a city that is best suited for older kids. There is a lot of walking involved and I’m pretty sure having children in strollers would push most parents over the edge. So many steps and bridges!
We decided to leave the car at home and go to Venice by train to avoid traffic and parking problems. Fortunately, Trenitalia offers kids under 15 years of age free travel so it ended up being much more economical for us as well as much less stressful; driving on Italian highways can get tense. Seeing Venice in the distance while arriving slowly at Santa Lucia Train Station was an exciting moment for us all. From there it was an easy and beautiful walk to our hotel.
We booked a small hotel, called Hotel Malibran, very close to Rialto Bridge in the Cannaregio district which was a perfect location. We could easily walk to the various neighbourhoods and main tourist sites and were surrounded by shops, restaurants, cafes and next to the Grand Canal where you can easily catch the water taxis/buses or hire a gondola.
The best way to get the real feel of Venice is to walk and explore all the narrow cobblestone lanes, streets and neighbourhoods. The Jewish Ghetto was a favourite of ours. We spent hours just wandering around and admiring the palatial villas, the ornate churches, the quaintest little squares and the ever famous canals. I highly recommend veering off the popular tourist laden main streets, many times you’ll find yourself alone in the charming little neighbourhoods.
Venice is the most picturesque and, yes I’m going to say it, romantic city in the world. As my daughter said, it sometimes almost seems fake it’s so beautiful. Throw in the twinkling Christmas lights and festive decorations in December and it’s a veritable fairy-tale land.
Venice offers many amazing historic sites and world class museums. When we visit a city as a family we usually pick 2-3 museums or historic sites to visit in between walking around and exploring by foot. We like to keep the kids interested and keen and have noticed trying to cram too many museums into a trip tends to tire them out. And we all know what a tired bored kid can be like in a museum.
These are our family’s top 5 things to do in Venice:
Our favourite museum in Venice was definitely the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which is housed in Guggenheim’s former private residence on the Grand Canal. Apart from the beautiful works of art the kids really loved wandering around the grandiose rooms of the villa, exploring the sculpture garden filled with modern art sculptures and simply watching the boats pass up and down the Grand Canal from the impressive terrace where there is a sculpture by Marino Marini which will definitely have the kids giggling!
Several times a day, the staff at the museum offer 15 minute mini-seminars on the history behind various paintings. We really loved learning the specific story and history behind a single painting. The fact it’s only 15 minutes makes it perfect for kids. After visiting the permanent and temporary exhibitions make sure to stop at the charming museum café for a snack/drink to recharge before heading back out onto the streets of Venice
Another impressive historical site we visited was the famous Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) situated on the world renown Piazza San Marco and next to the Basilica San Marco. This majestic piece of architecture made of pink and white marble is definitely worth the visit for the entire family. My kids loved roaming through the massive halls with walls covered in famous paintings by Tintoretto, seeing rooms full of ancient weaponry and suites of armour (my son more than my daughters) and especially visiting the dungeon with its prison and torture chambers. And for us it was a great opportunity to teach them a little about the early political history of Venice and the world. The Palazzo Ducale tends to get very busy so visiting early in the morning is recommended to avoid the larger crowds and buying tickets online saves the wait in the long line-ups.
One of the things we all decided before arriving in Venice was that we absolutely had to take a traditional gondola ride. As with visiting Caffe Florian it is something that is a typical Venetian tradition and experience. Although, as with a lot of things in Venice, it doesn’t come cheap. A 40 minute ride around the canals costs 80 euro for up to 6 passengers. The rate is non-negotiable as it’s an official government rate.
We spent the first day searching out the perfect gondolier (who we insisted had to have the traditional striped shirt, straw hat and be willing to sing). We ended up finding a great one and really enjoyed our ride despite the short rain shower, which, was the only 15 minutes of rain during our entire trip!
Fun fact: there is only one female gondolier on the team of close to 400. For a cheaper option there is also the possibility to hop on a waterbus/ taxi and soak in the sites and canals from there.
After visiting the Palazzo Ducale we made a special trip to Venice’s famous Caffè Florian. Caffè Florian, also located on San Marco Square, has a rich history of entertaining the Venice elite for over 300 years. It boasts an opulent old style Venetian interior—lots of vintage mirrors and fabric covered walls—and the waiters arrive at your table in white jackets and bowties. Keep in mind that there is usually a cue to enter and the prices are quite high. A Shirley Temple cocktail costs close to 20 euro and if there is live music a “listening fee” will be added to your bill. Sometimes experiences such as these are just really worth it. My kids are still talking about their fancy aperitivo in Venice.
On our last day in Venice we decided to take advantage of the sun and hop on a waterbus to the famous island of Burano. After some schedule issues (we ended up taking the milk-run that got us there over an hour later than expected) we arrived at the charming and colourful little island.
Most people usually head to the island of Murano to visit the world class glass blowing workshops but we opted for the calmer and more picturesque island of Burano. We loved meandering around the car-free streets and admiring all of the vibrant kaleidoscopic coloured houses and buildings.
For lunch we sent the kids to the piazza to order some crêpes and we settled down on a quaint little outdoor terrace at Ristorante Da Forner and enjoyed an amazing lunch of fresh seafood and wine under a surprisingly warm winter sun. The kids loved the freedom to roam around alone and order crêpes filled with smarties. Meanwhile, we relished a relaxing meal between adults.
Have you ever travelled as a family to Venice? If so, what were your favourite parts of the city? If not, is it a destination that is on your travel bucket list?
ps. Can’t make it to Venice? Turn it into a Living(room) Global visit.