Venice is a fairytale destination. La Serenissima, the most serene, as it’s known, doesn’t really seem to jive with young children who are, well, anything but. And it’s true: Venice is an unbelievably beautiful, romantic place, and maybe you’ll wish you didn’t have your little third or fourth or fifth wheel along for the gondola ride. But we just got back from a few days there with our 2.5 and 4-year-old, and I’m here to tell you that it’s possible, and even a bit magical with super small kids.
Here are seven reasons why you can and should visit Venice with young kids!
It’s a fairytale
Some of the romantic reasons why you might think you’d want to leave the kids at home are exactly why they’ll love it. A floating city with magical buildings rising up from the water? Canals and boats instead of streets and cars? This is the stuff that the best bedtime stories are made of! From the ornate, drip-sandcastle-looking Basilica, to the Rapunzel-esque Campanile, and the spooky Bridge of Sighs that was, as legend has it, the last thing prisoners saw before being taken to the dungeon, you’ll have plenty of material to keep little ones fascinated and their imaginations soaring.
No need for an itinerary
Keeping a slow pace is usually good advice when traveling with little kids, but sometimes that’s impossible when visiting a major destination. You want to try to do as much as you can, even if you run the risk of running your kids (and yourself) ragged. With Venice, the city itself is the thing to see, and there’s very little pressure of a “top 10” or a long list of must-dos. What you really want to spend time doing is wandering, getting a little lost, and discovering the seemingly secret little corners that make up this magical place. Try letting your kids choose which way to turn, which street to walk down. Venice is compact enough that you won’t get lost and the likelihood of you discovering something amazing is very high.
Row, row, row your boat
I don’t know about your kids, but mine are highly entertained by a good boat ride, and here you’ve got plenty of options for ones of all kinds at different price points. The most common and cost-effective way to get around on the water is by Vaporetto, the public waterbus system. You can travel all over Venice and to neighboring islands like Murano via Vaporetto, or you can simply take a roundtrip ride for a different perspective of the city. The popular #1 line will get you to the major sites around Saint Mark’s Square, but will also give you a great ride through Venice.
What’s Venice without a gondola ride? This is a must, even if it will set you back about €80 for a short 30-minute ride. It’s a special and entirely worth it memory for your family.
If you need to get around quickly or are trying to avoid crowds, you can also hire a private water taxi. These are pricey (€60-70), but super comfortable, and a good option for your arrival and departure when you’ve got bags to tow.
Also, keep an eye (or ear) out for ambulance boats! My kids got a kick out of the idea that in Venice if you need an ambulance, you’re going to need a boat.
You’re in Italy, so of course, food is going to be a major part of your trip. Italian food is so regional, each place with its own specialties and ways of doing things, and Venice is no exception. Venice is also known as the “bride of the sea”, and with its unique relationship with water naturally seafood is a star here, so go for the baccalà and squid ink pastas. Another Venetian specialty is cicchetti, which are small bites similar to the concept of tapas. At countless cicchetti bars throughout the city, you can take a break and point to two or twelve chichetto, bites of bread topped with endless varieties of deliciousness piled on top.
We loved the cicchetti at Enoteca Schiavi and Osteria Al Squero, which are just down the street from each other. One of the added benefits of these two spots is that it’s across the canal from one of the last places that they build gondolas in Venice, Squero San Trovaso. My sons loved watching the boat building, helping to choose cicchetti, and scoring themselves some buranelli (small cookies local to Venice) from the sweet woman behind the bar. You should definitely try the baccalà mantecato, a creamy salted cod spread that is to die for, anything with gambetti (shrimp), and then you could do what we did, which was ask the barkeeps to choose for you. This was a fun way to try something unexpected, like a tuna spread with cocoa powder, which was fabulous! Naturally, a glass of prosecco or Aperol spritz is the perfect accompaniment.
A great, easy, super kid-friendly spot that we loved was Baci & Pasta, which is close but not too close to the Rialto Bridge. Here you’ll find freshly made, simple pasta dishes that you can eat at the bar or take with you. We loved the pumpkin gnocchi and cappelletti! For a nearby treat, chocolatier Vizio Virtù is close by – check out their all-chocolate version of St. Mark’s Basilica in the window!
Breakfast in Italy seems to be a race to see who can finish their coffee and pasticceria the fastest and in Venice, it’s no exception. We loved downing espresso and trying different pastries each morning at Pasticceria Toletta. I loved their cornetto with apricot filling.
And of course, no trip to any Italian destination is complete without copious amounts of gelato. Our favorite was Gelato Fantasy!
Dress up and pretend play is an important part of Venice Carnevale, and of childhood too! Masks are a top choice for a souvenir item, and your kids will love getting to pick one out. You can certainly spend a good chunk of change on beautiful, artisan-made, one-of-a-kind masks, but for the kids, there are plenty of cheaper options all over the city. My kids loved shopping for their own and then wearing them as we walked around.
And for the grownups, there is really excellent shopping of all kinds in Venice. Two favorites that I picked up were a gorgeous pair of Piedàterre Friulane velvet slippers and a beautiful watercolor painting of the canals by local artist Nicola Tenderini, whose wife runs a lovely shop with originals, prints, and great gifts like calendars, bookmarks, and cards.
Bridges over not so troubled water
Lots of families in Club Bébé Voyage vehemently discourage visiting Venice with a stroller; after all, there are around 400 bridges in Venice crossing 177 canals, and getting over those with a stroller isn’t exactly ideal. If your child is small enough, a carrier is definitely the way to go, but if they (and you) are more comfortable with a stroller, it is not impossible, and we’d say actually entirely doable. There are so many excellent lightweight travel strollers on the market these days that you can maneuver your way around the city without too much hassle; we managed just fine with our ErgoBaby Metro. Since there’s so much wandering involved with visiting Venice, you’ll be thankful that your kid has a comfy place to rest so that you can quell exhaustion-induced meltdowns.
It’s oh so quiet
Very sadly, Venice has been absolutely overrun with tourists for some time now. The over-tourism problem in the city is, quite honestly, a good reason not to go at all. Not only has tourism negatively impacted the city itself, but it’s also not a great experience for visitors, packing into St. Mark’s Square with the other sometimes over 150,000 tourists per day. Changes are being made though, with large cruise ships being banned permanently, and hopefully, other regulations that will keep this treasure of a place safe are on the way. Having said that, this period of covid tourism recovery is a great time to visit if you can. The number of visitors is way down making the city unusually manageable and more enjoyable. If you are going to visit, please do it responsibly – stay for at least a couple of days, ideally during the off-season, buy from local artisans, patronize local businesses, and wander off the beaten path. In fact, one of the best choices we made was to stay in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, which is about a 15-20 minute walk to the major tourist area of St. Mark’s Square, but much more local.
Venice has been one of our favorite places to visit with our little wild children. We loved the relaxed, no-pressure vibe, the unrelenting beauty, and the warm, welcoming people who were so sweet to our kids countless times. We hope that the city can overcome its over-tourism problem so that it’s protected for the locals and for the many that dream of marveling at this fantastical place for many years to come.
Any questions, comments, or advice about Venice? Let us know in the comments!
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