This is a guest post from Michelle Duffy of WanderMom. Many families fear the crowds and smells of Venice (with good reason, particularly during July and August) and stay just 2-3 nights. This is sufficient (see my article on Italy family travel tips for reference), however, there are enough nooks and crannies to explore to keep families entertained for a week or more. Michelle stayed in Venice for 5 days — a good amount of time — so I invited her to share their trip highlights. It’s always fun to see what resonates the most with kids.
You might not think of Venice as top European destination for kids, but it is. We spent five wonderful days relaxing and exploring the city. We stayed in a small apartment off Campo San Angelo, a short walk from the famous Piazza San Marco. In planning our trip, I had to consider how to make Venice enjoyable for my very active, very boisterous boys, while still getting to show them this famous city with all her artistic charms.
We arrived by train. It was unseemingly hot for late June so we stopped for gelato on the steps of the train station watching the vaporettos coming and going and once we were done eating, hopped on a vaporetto to get to our apartment. My younger son found traveling by water-bus in itself exciting. Later, when the streets were quieter, we took a walk over to Piazza San Marco.
The evening was the perfect time to visit with kids-in-tow: the dueling pianos were just tuning up, the restaurants were setting up for evening service and the evening sun glinted on the famous lion on the Basilica. The day-time crowds had dispersed and we got to enjoy the square at a kid-friendly pace. We continued our walk looping back through the San Marco neighborhood and discovered that Venice, with it’s small cobbled streets, many bridges and unintelligble layout is an excellent urban destination for adventurous boys.
That first evening set the pattern for our visit. Over the next four days we walked all over Venice. At morning coffee in a little cafe on Campo San Stefano, I suggested sightseeing options for the day and my husband and kids would consider my ideas, discuss, disagree, refute and compromise. Such is our habit when we travel.
On Day 2 we visited the Scuola di San Rocco. For this, I owe thanks to Mary Pope Osborne for including Tintoretto as a character in her Carnival By Candlelight book. She made it easy for me to convince my kids to come with me to the Scuola, and once there, they were enthralled by the paintings on the walls and ceilings. “Wow. Tintoretto sure was prolific” my 12-year-old exclaimed.
We spent the rest of the day exploring sestiere San Polo finishing with a relaxing late afternoon prosecco in Campo San Polo while our boys watched local kids play soccer around the Campo.
Day 3 was easily the high point of our visit to Venice. Heading away from San Marco, we idled by the shops on the Rialto Bridge and wandered North into Cannaregio. The streets in the Jewish Quarter were quiet and peaceful giving me ample time to share with my kids that this area is where the word ‘ghetto’ was originally coined, although I didn’t get time to reflect on the weight of such history because hungry boys need food fast and, regretfully, I walked past the Jewish Museum with my head in the guidebook looking for a recommendation for somewhere for lunch.
With a plate of cicchetti from a nearby bacalo, we ate — and basked in the sun — sitting on steps by a nameless canal. OK, so I’m sure the canal has a name, but this was a perfect, lazy, hazy summer vacation day so I’m afraid I didn’t pay attention to where we actually were, just sat back and enjoyed the moment.
My plan for Day 4 was to spend our morning on Murano and then perhaps visit to other attractions in the afternoon. And we should have been able to do so too had I not taken us on the long way to Murano. Our last full day in Venice was sadly, gone in a flash.
Having saved the best (for our boys) until last, we spent our final morning at the Doge’s Palace. There are rooms and rooms full of beautiful paintings and other artwork, but we spent most of our visit in the Armoury. My boys were fascinated by the weaponry and suits of armour. My older son stood for a long time in front of the fiendish-looking metal chastity belt and gasped when he figured out the mechanics of the device. We lost our younger son in the Prisons. That happens when your child decides he really, really liked the old-style knives and guns so much that he had to go back and see them “just once more, Mom”.
Heading out of the museum, I was actually glad to cross the Bridge of Sighs, how ironic is that?With our bags packed, we stopped for just one more coffee at “our” cafe on Campo San Stefano. We thanked the staff for their patience with our daily visits and pidgin Italian and said our goodbyes to the cafe and Venice — for now anyway.
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Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy
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