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Visiting Venice With Kids

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Rialto bridge in Venice, Italy
llamnuds/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
Ah, Venice, Venezia: gondola rides, romantic restaurants...

Would anyone in their right mind take three young kids along?

No; but Venice is so magnificent, we got tempted anyway. Here's some advice from a trip with children aged eight, six, and three.

Arriving in Venice
With youngsters along, Venice is probably best treated as a side trip of three or four days, maybe on a cheap flight from London, or by train from Rome. Prime the children with a great CD for kids: Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery a musical story set in Venice. Check Italy Travel for practicalities about arrival by train or plane.
Remember that Venice has no taxis --no cars at all. So either travel light, or check extra luggage at the train station. And make sure your luggage rolls on wheels; give the kids their own small suitcases to pull.

Getting Around
In Venice, you'll get around on foot, or by some form of boat: from the expensive gondolas, to the small ferries (vaporetti) that constantly chug up and down the main canals. Three-day passes for the vaporetti are a good deal; check for discounts for small children and for students.

A word about strollers: in Venice you are constantly walking up and down the steps of small bridges across the canals. Our three-year-old could get out of his stroller and walk over these bridges; if your child can't, consider using a backpack. If you do take a stroller, make sure it's ultra-light.

And now for the most important question:

What Will the Kids Do?

Photo © Teresa Plowright.Pigeons in San Marco Square. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice: a huge heart beating with thousands of pigeon's wings. Lately, Venice officialdom has frowned upon the pigeons and reducing their numbers. But on our last visit pigeons were still there and little kids were still wildly excited; small orchestras play at outdoor cafes; parents thrill to the architectural marvels-- great fun! The interior of St. Mark's Basilica is so awesome, parents should take turns going in without small kids.

Go on Ice-Cream Walks
Walking in Venice is a joy; the trick is to keep those tired little legs trudging onward. The tactic: lure the youngsters on with ice-cream treats. Luckily, gelaterias are everywhere, and the ice cream is fabulous if you get "Artigianale" style.

Ride a Water-Bus
The younger set can enjoy the boat-ride while the parents ogle the palazzos on the Grand Canal: you can catch a vaporetti at many stops, and they run constantly. You can also take a boat-trip to the Lido, Venice's beach, or to the island of Murano, famous for glass-blowing.

Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Heiress Peggy Guggenheim loved Venice, and now her home is a wonderful museum that suits kids well. Head to the Acaddemia Bridge, a 20-minute walk from San Marco Square, or take a ferry-boat. Follow the signs to a fabulous collection of surrealist modern art-- perhaps the most interesting sort of art for young minds, with fantastical creatures and landscapes and animals flying through the sky. Outside is a lovely sculpture garden, where kids can run around. There's also a large patio right on the Grand Canal.
What will they eat? How kid-pleasing can you get, ice cream and pizza on display every where you turn?

What will they drink?
Probably not milk. My kids weren't used to the taste of the Italian milk, either fresh or heat-treated. Juice was expensive, sodas too. Bottled water is readily available; however, tap-water is drinkable and recently some environmentalists have been promoting the drinking of tap water, because disposal of endless empty plastic bottles is even worse, ecologically, in Venice than elsewhere. (Always check for latest info on water, though.)

Where's the washroom?
If you're lucky, your offspring will use the washrooms at the charming "trattoria"s where you buy lunch. Most children, however, only need a washroom ten minutes after one is available. In such cases, you may notice certain posted signs directing you to a public "WC". You may need to pay for use. Check Venice's Public Toilets for more details!
venice with kids - Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Venice Peculiarities
Being a wonder of the world has some side effects. For example, don't expect local people to toady to the tourist crowds. Also, Venice has some of the world's slickest pickpockets-- and I'm speaking from personal experience. (Watch your bag, when you're buying your kids ice-cream cones!)

Check more resources about Venice and many photos at About.com's Italy Travel site.

Is It Worth It?
It's sometimes hard to have little kids hands tugging on you, when you want to bask in Beauty and Art. But Venice is worth almost any price. Meanwhile, you're introducing your children to a true cultural icon: Venice will always be specially theirs.

A year after our trip, my four-year-old still woke up saying: "I wish we could go to Feniss." I knew that he'd been dreaming of it.
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