Best things to do with kids in Venice
Sure, a gondola ride is a quintessential Venice experience, but for those on a budget, the vaporettos – or slow-moving water buses in the Grand Canal – are just as cool. You’ll want to either grab a window seat or stay in the open air, standing-only area for the best views.
Venice is a crazy maze of narrow streets, covered passageways and hidden alleys – and it’s easy to get turned around. Turn your explorations into family fun by handing your kids a map and having them lead the way to your next destination in town.
The island of Murano is where Venice’s colourful, hand-blown glass has been made for centuries, and where you can still watch artisans craft one-of-a-kind creations from molten glass. Avoid the factory tours offered by your hotel and instead head to Murano by vaporetto and explore it on your own. The Museo del Vetro (glass museum) is a good place to start. For purchasing glass, the farther you are from the vaporetto dock, the better the prices.
Carnevale (Carnival) or Mardi Gras, is Venice’s biggest masquerade party, and artisans create carnival masks ranging from simple to wildly elaborate to downright creepy. Kids can paint their own at Ca’ Macana, one of the city’s remaining handful of traditional mask-making workshops. Carnival masks are as ubiquitous in Venice as glass trinkets and toy gondolas, but painting their own lets kids appreciate the mask-makers’ craft and create a souvenir they’ll treasure long after they’ve left Venice.
There’s so much gelato in Venice to choose from, but there’s a reason this scoop shop is a favorite of Venetians and tourists alike. The historic shop has been scooping artisanal gelato since 1935 and its location on the Zattere waterfront overlooking Giudecca island makes it even sweeter. Nico makes gelato the old-fashioned way: fresh fruit and natural ingredients. Be sure to try “Gianduiotto,” a secret gelato order that locals enjoy.
The winged lion is the symbol for Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, and thus the symbol of the city itself. Winged lions decorate buildings and motifs everywhere in Venice, and it’s fun to challenge kids to see how many they can spot. The most famous version sits atop one of the two columns on the Grand Canal at Piazza San Marco. This treasure hunt of sorts can help kids take a closer look at their surroundings as the family tours Venice.
The farther you venture from the San Marco area, the more you’ll discover the locals' Venice, where life centres around large piazzas,or squares. In the evening, kids play tag and learn to ride bikes, and senior citizens catch up on the day’s gossip. Campo San Polo and Campo Santa Margherita are two such places to get a feel for how real Venetians live. Let your kids safely run off some steam – even if they don’t speak Italian, they may well get caught up in playtime with local children.
Love small plates? This one’s for you. Cicchetti are the Venetian equivalent of Spanish tapas – and Venetians usually take ‘em with an ombra, or glass of wine. While picks like deep-fried baby octopus or a hard-boiled egg topped with an anchovy might not be your kid’s cup of tea, they’ll certainly be won over by polpetti (meatballs) in marinara sauce or mozzarella in carrozza, batter-fried mozzarella cheese, often stuffed with ham. Get several kinds of cicchetti for a cheap family meal your kids will happily enjoy (and don’t forget to treat yourself to some celebratory libations while you’re at it).
Sharing status with gondolas and lions as one of the symbols of Venice, this elegant bridge dates from 1591 and is the oldest of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal. It’s lined with souvenir shops selling everything from selfie sticks and cheap T-shirts to hand-painted masks and pricey Murano glass. Take some time to look out on either side of the Grand Canal for views that will make even the most cynical teenagers sigh. If you’ve promised the kids a souvenir from Venice, this is a most memorable place to buy one.
Despite their murky appearance, the canals of Venice and the vast Venetian Lagoon are full of life – much of those fish and crustaceans for sale at the Rialto Fish Market and on your dinner plate at a local restaurant were caught in the lagoon. From one of the city’s hundreds of tiny bridges or canal-side walkways, eagle-eyed kids can often spot fish and maybe even throw them some crackers or bread.