15 Best Things to Do in Venice with Kids
When I think of Venice, I picture gondolas cruising the canals, people strolling in the piazzas, and colorful flowers overflowing from every window box. It really isn’t a place I ever imagined exploring with children. However, when I visited the city with my children, I discovered there are plenty of fun things to do in Venice with kids.
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How to Travel to Venice with Kids
Arriving in Venice by train
The first time I went to Venice was fifteen years ago. We were backpacking in Italy and through the rest of Europe. I had this misconception about Venice. I thought I would get off the train, walk a few steps, and fall into a canal. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Shockingly, they have these amazing things called sidewalks!
Which is the main train station in Venice?
The Santa Lucia train station is the main arrival destination for travelers coming from other parts of Italy. It is not very big, which makes it easy to navigate. As you walk out the front doors, you are looking right at the Grand Canal. Walk towards the water, and you will see the vaporetto docks.
How do you get from Venice train station to the city center?
Ideally, you should use a vaporetto to reach central Venice. A vaporetto is essentially a Venetian water taxi and public transport for locals and tourists alike.
Most travelers will want to take the line 2 vaporetto because it is the quickest. Line 1 will make additional stops at some of the city’s tourist attractions. You will find maps displayed at the Venice railway station that provide information on the main stops of the different routes.
Buy tickets at the dock for the vaporetto line heading towards your hotel. Tickets can also be purchased at tobacco shops and newspaper stalls. It is essential to time stamp the ticket in the yellow box before boarding the boat.
Your hotel should provide you with directions telling you which vaporetto to ride, where to get off, and how far you will have to wheel your luggage over the cobblestones in order to reach your final destination.
You can also take the waterbus to Venice Lagoon Islands, so keep that in mind for any day trips from Venice.
Where to stay in Venice with kids
Venice is divided into six neighborhoods known as sestieri. If you are planning a family vacation to Venice, you’ll probably want to stay somewhere near the historic center so children don’t complain about too much walking.
The good news is there are a couple of areas that work for families. Look at San Marco, which is central to St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace, the Bell Tower (Campanile), and the Basilica. In our opinion, this is the best area of Venice when traveling with young children due to its convenience.
We stayed at Al Teatro Bed and Breakfast in San Marco and thought it was the perfect property for a family trip. It is affordable, centrally located, and our rooms had views overlooking the canals. We booked adjoining rooms that were the perfect set up for our family of 5.
Our hostess, Eleanora, was amazing, providing us with directions to all the sights and serving an amazing breakfast. Our kids loved listening to the gondoliers singing throughout the day and waving to the tourists as they passed below.
Other popular family accommodations in San Marco include – Al Ponte Antico, Hotel Saturnia, and The St. Regis Venice.
Another great place to use as a home base is San Polo which is close to the Rialto Bridge, Grand Canal, and Rialto Market. It is still within walking distance of Piazza San Marco and the other main attractions. There are many vacation rentals in San Polo, but if you prefer a hotel, stay at H10 Palazzo Canova or Locanda Sant’Agostin.
15 Best Things to do in Venice with Kids
1. Visit the Doge’s Palace
The Doge’s Palace (also known as the Palazzo Ducale) is a 14th-century architectural masterpiece, and one of the must-see Venice attractions. The opulent palace, castle, and prison complex (the famous Bridge of Sighs is located here) fascinates adults and children alike.
Everyone will tell you to book in advance for the “Secret Itineraries Tour”. This tour allows you to see the restricted areas of the palace not available on the regular ticket. It includes a tour guide, and costs little more than the standard entry fee. We foolishly thought we could book a couple of days in advance, and sadly found out that these tours sell out months in advance.
Do yourself a favor, and reserve your ticket for the Doge’s Palace online before you leave home. If by chance, you don’t heed my advice and decide to risk it, know that you will still enjoy the tour.
Our kids enjoyed using the audio guide that provided detailed narratives in multiple languages of each room, artifact, and hallway, and the history of the lavish palace, courtyard, and prison. This easily took us two hours and was well worth the money we spent.
If you would rather take a private, guided tour of the Doge’s Palace, we recommend a private family tour with LivTours.
2. St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica and the surrounding Saint Mark’s Square are probably what most people think of when they think of Venice. Overlooking the Grand Canal, it is awe-inspiring, with its domes, columns, and statues, and that is only from the outside.
We queued in line on the acqua alta platforms and waited for approximately 15 minutes for our opportunity to see the opulence inside the cathedral. The reason for the wait is the requirement that all bags be searched, but this seemed to go quite quickly.
While they were waiting, our kids lamented about visiting yet another church, but once inside, that was all forgotten. The marble statues, colorful mosaics, and jeweled altarpieces will entertain any child (or adult) with a short attention span.
If you want to see the treasury or museum, you can for a fee (we opted not to). Entrance to the main basilica is free.
3. Climb the Campanile for the best views of Venice
The bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica provides some of the best views overlooking the city of Venice and the Venetian lagoon. There is no elevator, so your children will need to be able to climb the 323 steps to the top of the tower. We promise it’s worth it, and bribery might be needed to encourage younger children along the way.
Note: The tower does close if the weather is bad (high winds and frigid temperatures). Be sure to check the official St. Mark’s Basilica website for opening hours as it varies throughout the year.
Also, lines can be long so we recommend booking a time slot before your visit. There are only 30 tickets per session, so make a reservation as soon as you have booked your trip and know your travel dates.
4. Feed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square
There are plenty of pigeons circling the square, looking for food, and there are tourists willing to feed them. Be on the lookout for a group of men who appear to be working together trying to sell you food for the pigeons. Maybe they are honestly trying to make a living, but while I took photos, my husband’s job was to keep an eye on my bag and the guys offering up the pigeon food.
You don’t need to buy food, my kids just stood with their arms out, palms facing upward, and then the pigeons started coming.
One after another, until it was like a bad scene from the movie “The Birds”. Each kid had at least five birds atop their arms and head, and it seemed to be the quintessential experience in Venice with kids.
5. Take a gondola ride
Kids of all ages can enjoy a ride along Venice’s canals with a gondolier at the helm! It’s a unique way to see this beautiful city, and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you prefer to save money, consider riding on one of the city’s water buses. You might not have the personal attention of a gondolier, but you can see many of the best places in the city for a reasonable fee.
6. Have lunch on Calle Delle Rasse
Unfortunately, we did not find very many good restaurants in Venice, but we did spend quite a bit of money eating out. Restaurants in Venice charge a “coperto” or cover charge for the privilege of dining in their establishment. It’s not just a group charge either, sometimes it’s per person.
For a family of five, it could be upwards of 15€! We argued the charge at several places because it was not spelled out for us at the door or on the menu, so feel free to challenge it if you feel it is ridiculous (which it is).
One restaurant we did enjoy was Birreria Forst, Calle delle Rasse 4540. Located a couple of blocks away from St. Mark’s square, this place is great to grab a reasonably priced sandwich and drinks for lunch.
There are a bunch of sandwich shops lining this street, so it’s hard to choose just one, but we found this one to be quite popular with locals and tourists alike.
When you enter, order your food at the counter (you select your panino or salad by pointing to it), then, if you are lucky enough to find a seat, grab it, otherwise, you will be eating your lunch outside.
The staff is prompt and efficient and they will bring your food to you as soon as it is ready. We found this place to be a great option for a quick, reasonably-priced meal with some local flavor.
7. Visit the Rialto Bridge and Market
The Rialto Bridge is probably the most famous bridge in Venice with its sloped ramps that meet in the middle, spanning the width of the Grand Canal. At any time of the day, it will be jam-packed with tourists seeking the perfect photo of the bridge.
There are shops lining both sides of the bridge and a bit further on you will come to the Rialto Market with its fish market, fruit, and vegetables. If you are going to the market, be sure to go earlier in the day, as we went later in the afternoon and many vendors were already closing shop.
8. Take a cooking class with a local
Families with teens and tweens might enjoy this small group cooking class in Venice. The lesson takes place in a local home, and you’ll have a chance to make pasta and tiramisu. Have fun preparing a meal with your family and learning traditional Venetian recipes.
9. Go on a scavenger hunt with Context Travel
Context Travel is known for its small-group and private tours that are made for travelers who love to learn. They have a few tours in Venice tailored for families, but one of our favorites is Venice Tour for Kids: Lion Hunt. A tour guide uses winged lions (the city’s symbol) to navigate through the sights and streets of Venice. The tour is highly interactive and perfect for children between the ages of 4 to 11.
10.Try a mask making class
Mask-making has been a tradition in Venice for centuries, and kids will love an opportunity to create Carnival masks with an expert mask maker. Children will learn about the history of masks in Venetian culture, then make a papier-mâché mask to take home!
11. Head to a museum
If the weather outside is frightful, consider heading indoors. Venice has some wonderful museums including the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Gallerie dell’Accademia, and the Natural History Museum.
Older children might enjoy a visit to the Museo Storico Navale (Naval History Museum) and Museo Correr, which covers the history of the city from its early beginnings to the 19th century.
12. Escape the crowds and visit the parks and playgrounds of Venice
Venice is car-free, so essentially the entire city is a playground! However, if your kids need some green space or public gardens to explore and burn off energy, head to one of these places. Better yet, stop at a local stop and grab some provisions for a picnic in the park.
For a Venice playground, the kids will enjoy, head to:
- Giardini di Papadopoli – a smaller park and playground near the Grand Canal in Santa Croce neighborhood.
- Giardini della Biennale – large park that has hosted the annual La Biennale arts festival since 1895. In addition to pavilions representing destinations around the world, there are sculptures, statues, and gardens. Located in the Castello neighborhood.
- Parco delle Rimembranze – shaded playground on the island of Sant’ Elena.
13. Sample local treats on a food tour
If your kids are adventurous eaters, why not consider a food tour of Venice? This introduction to the city’s food scene features a variety of local specialties including gelato and cookies (which kid wouldn’t love that).
14. Venice day trips
There are several places near Venice that are worthy of a day trip. You can plan to travel on your own or book a tour with a local operator. Here are some of the places we recommend:
- Island of Murano – Known for its glass-making, Murano is a 10-minute ferry ride from Fondamente Nove. There are shops around the island where you can watch glass-blowing in action, and kids will be fascinated. If parents want to purchase glass, many businesses will ship it home.
- Burano – Known for its lace-making and colorful buildings, there are many other things to do in Burano that will entertain families. Make time for wandering the streets and grabbing a bite to eat.
- The Dolomites – Take a day trip to see some of the most beautiful alpine scenery, just two hours from Venice. This small group tour visits Cortina d’Ampezzo and an alpine lake – Lake Braies (in winter/spring) and Lake Misurina – the Pearl of the Dolomites (in the summer).
- Bologna – Take a one-hour train ride to Bologna where kids will love the Ducati Museum (motorcycles) and there’s even Carpigiani Gelato Museum featuring all things related to gelato! Yum!
- Verona – Just over an hour by train, Verona has a waterpark (Caneva World), Gardaland amusement park, and of course all things Romeo and Juliet!
15. Vivaldi Four Seasons Concert at Vivaldi Church
We wouldn’t recommend this for younger children, but if you’re visiting Venice with teens or music-loving kids, don’t miss a chance to listen to an ensemble performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The highlight is listening to this concert in Vivaldi’s Church where the music was composed. Truly a unique experience in Venice!
Tips for Venice with Kids
Acqua alta in Venice
I may have not packed any snow gear for our trip to Venice, but I was prepared for the acqua alta (high tide). Acqua alta occurs when water from the Venetian Lagoon flows into the square surrounding Saint Mark’s Basilica and other low-lying areas in Venice.
To cope with this, the Venetians have temporarily elevated sidewalks they can erect for people to stay out of the water. Unfortunately, the walkways are not built to go everywhere.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself sporting my wellies and carrying my three kiddos through the water, while hubby had to slosh through it in his tennis shoes. Supposedly, aqua alta only happens in the autumn and winter, but I was there in the spring, and it happened to me.
Don’t let your kid fall into the canals
Probably the best money I ever spent was buying identification necklaces for my kids prior to this trip. I bought a lanyard that has a clear see-through pocket for inserting business cards or picture IDs. I made sure they had them on every morning before we left the hotel.
Each lanyard had a photo ID from school with our cell phone information written on the reverse. It also included the business card of the hotel where we were staying.
Unfortunately, while searching for a place to eat one day, we turned into a small alleyway, and everyone made the turn but our six-year-old. It was a good two minutes before we realized he was not with us. I had thirty seconds of panic before I spotted his bright green raincoat on a bridge up ahead.
I have never felt such relief in my life! To this day, we always have a system in place for lost kids, whether it be a cell phone number or a meeting place. You never know when one might get distracted and wander away from the group.
The canals can be tempting for children of all ages. We explained the dangers of the canals ahead of time to our kids and kept a close eye on them at all times. (Except when one got away).
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city’s history, back alleyways, and canals. Although we didn’t have the best weather, we now have an excuse to return again.
We only spent two days in Venice, but you could easily do more. Use this 3-day Venice itinerary if you want to make the most of your stay.