On our first visit to Venice many years ago, my 8- and 10-year-old daughters delighted in the charm of our holiday apartment in the Cannaregio neighborhood, peering into the inner canals with wonder, enjoying pastries in Campo Santa Margherita while watching Italian children come and go. We took a day and a half for peaceful activities (like eating a long lunch) while we recovered from jet lag, as Venice was our arrival city. And then, on day three … we went to Piazza San Marco.
We had decided to walk there as we stopped at a cartoleria for some art supplies for the kids first. We strolled freely along calle and elegant fondamente with minimal crowds, and then progressively, the streets became more crowded and we knew San Marco was near. The kids were overwhelmed as we squeezed tightly together, walking in line with hundreds of others, to arrive at the piazza. From a child’s viewpoint, the stress of this arrival made for an unpleasant first impression of one of the most beautiful visions of art and architecture in the world. We decided to hop on the vaporetto and head back, planning to return to Piazza San Marco another morning before 9 am — which was magical.
This tale of trial and error in visiting Venice with kids leads me to my first suggestion: stay a little longer in the city. Kids love slow travel itineraries. They need time to soak it all in, and this also gives parents some flexibility to adapt schedules, perhaps leaving time to explore a surprise discovery or to return to a popular monument at a less crowded time. For Venice, staying longer than the typical two days is also a sustainable travel practice and makes a positive difference in solving the city’s serious struggles with overtourism. Staying in Venice a little bit longer will also give you a chance to explore some hidden gems that create meaningful memories as a family.
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Venice can be a difficult city to navigate, especially with kids. Two top tips for having an enjoyable off-the-beaten-path experience are planning well in advance to minimize stress getting where you need to go in the city, and planning your time wisely. Getting lost amid the canals is fun if you don’t have to be anywhere, but is frustrating when you are trying to arrive at a specific place, as you are losing precious time. Understanding Venice’s transportation system is complex, and walking is often a great option, but parents must cross many small bridges and crowded small streets on the way.
The Prontopia app is a wonderful resource, providing on-demand, immediate assistance from a pre-vetted Venetian local who arrives within minutes to help you get where you need to go, assist with a bag or a travel need (such as finding an urgent item at the pharmacy). It allows you to focus your attention safely on the kids en route to your lodging or activity.
For children ages 6 to 12, an arts and cultural workshop with Arte al Sole in Venice is a great, experiental way to learn about the city with hands-on activities (and a chance for parents to have a quiet coffee or aperitivo in the meantime!). Kids can learn about the history of Carnevale traditions and then make their own masks; do a family game in a boat along the Grand Canal, pretending to be enterprising merchants and then designing their own sumptuous merchant palazzo; or visit a kid-friendly glassblowing artisan on Murano, creating their own art piece afterward out of Venetian glass.
Visit the Museo di Storia Naturale, located within a palace on the Grand Canal known as the Fondaco dei Turchi, which historically was the place where Turkish merchants were allowed to do business with the Republic of Venice. The museum is great for kids as well as for adults. Here you will find interactive exhibitions of the evolution of the Earth, animals and humankind with dinosaurs, mummies and skeletons, plus a collection of animals and … mystery chambers!
Enjoy lunch at a bookstore café, or browsing used comic books in a gondola with a cat? Sulla Luna Bookstore and Bistrot is a charming family-friendly place in Cannaregio, one of the neighborhoods with a more local feel. They offer occasional kids’ workshops, including a snack, for ages 4 to 9. Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in a bookstore cafe with lots of picture books to browse; the kid-friendly menu includes favorites such as hot chocolate with whipped cream and organic, fresh options for light meals.
From April to October, the food and culture club Laguna Libre offers a nice Sunday brunch with family entertainment, plus plenty of space for kids to run around while the parents enjoy a menu of locally sourced ingredients. In Castello, another recommended local neighborhood, children will love to explore the treasures and whimsical setting of the Libreria Acqua Alta bookstore. Used volumes of every kind are stacked floor-to-ceiling in this unique shop, complete with a resident cat. There are even books piled inside a gondola and other quintessential Venetian vessels, both inside and in the garden out back.
Finally, my kids loved the graphic books about Venice at the Feelin’ Venice store in the San Marco area.
For teenagers, a lesson in the inner canals of Cannaregio with the women rowers of Row Venice is a special experience that can be particularly bonding for a mother-daughter trip. Row Venice is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the traditional Venetian waterways culture, particularly the traditions of voga alla veneta — the Venetian style of rowing while standing and facing forward (as with gondolas). Taking a lesson is a fun way to meet some inspiring Venetian locals and take part in an iconic ancient tradition of the city. Proceeds support women who would like to enter regatta races, and Row Venice encourages inclusivity of women in all regatta races with all boat types. The team also works with local high schools to teach young women how to row and inspire them by pairing them with female rowing champion mentors. Teenagers will feel empowered and connected to both the water and the local people.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Shannon Kenny.
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