I was born and raised right outside of Venice, Italy, and then at 27, I was snatched to the United States by love. It was a wise decision that gave me a loving husband, a good home, a crazy dog, and two crazier kids, but I do miss Italy and my beautiful Venice. What can I do? Simply visit whenever I can. Unfortunately, tickets have doubled in ten years and my wages did not, so now that I have a whole family to bring home, I know I have to make the best of every trip. Here are my humble suggestions for your stay in Venice with kids!
Save Money by Staying in the Mainland
There’s nothing like waking up in Venice and hearing the steps and voices of passersby right outside your window. A city without cars is truly a heart-warming treasure in today’s world. However, hotel rooms in Venice are tiny and pricey, and if you cannot find a B&B that fits your budget, you should definitely try staying in Mestre, the other half of Venice’s municipality located across the bridge Ponte della Libertà. I won’t lie to you: Mestre is not even remotely as beautiful as Venice, but it’s a small-ish and well-served city with lots of amenities and easy transportation to Venice 24/7. A bus ride from the center of Mestre to Venice averages 15 minutes with bus, train, or tram, and your kids will LOVE riding any of them. I speak from experience.
Find the Celebration
Italy has many national and local holidays that are often celebrated with public events, special food, and other celebrations. Before your departure, make sure to check what is happening in and around Venice and take your kids to those events. They will love to hear the story behind the celebration (old European traditions are often nice and gruesome, and half of them concern the Plague) and be immersed in a party they never knew existed. I brought my oldest son to Venice Carnival in February, which is basically a 3-week Halloween where kids are allowed to be in their costume, throw confetti in the street, and eat all kinds of amazing fried dough EVERY DAY (read more in this post I wrote here some time ago). My child was in heaven. In late July, the Festa del Redentore is celebrated with the most amazing firework display close to San Marco’s square, with Venetians watching from a bridge of barges on the lagoon.
Shop and Restaurant Hours are Here to Help
Before I had kids, vacation meant waking up at noon and going to bed at dawn. Now my two little monsters wake me up at 6:30am no matter what, so my daily schedule has changed considerably. Shops in Venice tend to open around 9-10 am and close at 7-8 pm, with many of them closing between 12:30 and 3-4 pm for lunch. Restaurants are open for lunch from 11 am to 2 pm and then again for dinner from 6-7 pm to midnight or so. This means that your family can be up and running early in the morning and find stuff to do, have a good lunch at a reasonable hour, and go back to your lodging for naps without feeling you’re missing out on your stay. That’s right: even in the mega-stimulation of a vacation, Italy still helps you maintain your schedule. Isn’t it great?
Visit Gelaterie and Pastry Shops
I’m pretty strict about limiting sweets for my kids, but if we are in Italy and walking all day, then I’m definitely allowing some exceptions, especially if they are of the artisanal variety. Gelaterie, or ice-cream shops, have to be artisanal (they’ll sport the sign, “gelato artigianale”) and, of course, will be your kids’ favorite stop. Pick one or two scoops (palline), decide whether you want it topped with whipped cream (panna montata), and be on your merry way. Pastry shops (called pasticcerie) in Venice are beautiful little jewels of baking skills. Pastries are much cheaper than the US, going for a little over one euro mostly, and they are so delicious with the use of simple ingredients and, in general, much less sugar. Service tends to be pretty quick, but kids will love to choose their pastry from the display, and you parents can join them and have an espresso or an aperitif. Whatever helps.
Relax in a Campo
As I said before, Venice has no cars, which sounds especially dreamy for parents of little ones. Still, there is water all over the place, so you might want to relax without having to worry about your kids diving in the lagoon at any moment. A Venetian campo is like a small square surrounded by buildings where your kids can run free. If the weather is nice, sit on a bench or at a cafè (bar) and just soak in the beauty all around you. Bring a ball or another toy for your kids, or find something of the like in one of the omnipresent edicole (newsagents).
Pasta & Pizza, the Perfect Kids’ Menu
Italian restaurants do not have kids’ menus as in the United States, but they all tend to accommodate for smaller or simpler versions of the dishes on their menu. Pizza often comes in kid size, so your child can marvel at his/her own individual pizza to enjoy. Other kids’ favorites are pasta with tomato sauce or with ragu (bolognese sauce), but more adventurous kids will love a fritto misto (fried seafood). Bread or breadsticks are on the table to keep your kids busy until their dish arrives. One note: meals tend to last longer in Italy, mostly because all food tends to be freshly made so it takes time to reach your table. Don’t worry: kids are welcome, and their rambunctiousness is well tolerated in most restaurants.
Churches, Museums, and Art Events
I am now getting ready to take my kids to art museums, but in my experience, until they are six years old, you might want to stay away from places that demand total silence and the discipline to never cross an invisible line on the floor. Venetian churches are heart-stoppingly beautiful and often free or very inexpensive to visit. Yes, you can’t make too much noise, but if there’s no service going on, your kids will enjoy the different architecture, lights, and perfume enough for a brief stay. Also, visiting churches is a great way to escape summer’s heat, if that’s the case. As far as museums are concerned, the Natural History Museum re-opened recently, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum has a kids’ day every Sunday, and either the Biennale of Art or Architecture are happening every summer in various locations around the city. The Biennale of Architecture has large exhibits that more often than not can withstand your kids’ curiosity.
Take Your Kids on a Gondola Ride
With all that water everywhere, your kids will beg you to take them on a boat. Gondola rides are very expensive, but there are two cheaper options. You can ride a vaporetto (the Venetian bus), although that is becoming increasingly expensive with single tickets now at 7€ per person (yikes!). You can save a lot of money with a shorter ride on a traghetto, or a small gondola used to cross a canal when no bridge is available. A traghetto rides with a maximum of 14 passengers, rides are 2€ per person, and young kids often travel for free (I can’t remember the age cut, but you can ask). A list of the traghetti in Venice is given here.
And Remember, Italians Love Kids!
One final note: Americans love kids, but Italians, with their Mediterranean sensibility, take this love to a whole new level. Shop-owners, restaurant staff, and random people in the street will compliment your child with great effusiveness at all times. Also, people love to make gifts to children. On our outings in Venice, my son would get bread rolls from the baker, cookies and chocolates from the pastry shop lady, stickers from the newspaper guy, and so on. Your kids will think this is the greatest vacation.