The mention of Venice typically conjures up thoughts of a romantic gondola ride under the Bridge of Sighs and leisurely sipping a refreshing beverage at a cafe in St Mark’s Square. However, a visit to Venice with kids is different. Kids will be excited to take a family-friendly treasure hunt tour spotting the winged lion all around the city. Small children will especially love running in and out of alleyways and getting lost amongst the maze of canals. Still looking for what to do in Venice with kids? Here are our picks for the best things to do in Venice, Italy on a family vacation.
If it’s your first time visiting Italy, working with a vacation advisor who knows Italy really well can be a huge help.
Venice with kids is truly magical, a bit like Disney. Long after my kids have forgotten about their visit to any of the other destinations that we visited during our month in Europe, I’m sure they’ll remember getting lost on the streets of Venice. At any age, the magic of Venice is captivating. It’s like no other place that our family has ever visited – expect maybe Disneyland.
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10 Things to Do in Venice with Kids: A Guide to the Magic of Venice, Italy
1. Get Lost on the Streets of Venice with Kids
My kids didn’t mind the crowds of Venice — not one bit. However, managing kids in the most crowded areas of Venice in August can quite an anxious experience for a mama. Energetic children, being much smaller than adults, can dart though crowds and out of sight in moments on the most crowded Venetian alleyways.
Our entire family was so much happier when we got off the main tourist thoroughfares in Venice, Italy. The children were able to run down the residential streets. Often, they were able to choose for themselves which direction they wished to go.
Our family spent every spare moment in the city like this: locating empty streets, letting the children get our family lost, and finding our way back to a familiar point using a paper map or my iPhone. Between bites of gelato, my children begged “Please, mom, can we get lost again?”
2. Take a Break from the Summer Heat with Gelato
The Mediterranean summer heat is exhausting. No matter how well a family is able to avoid Venice’s crowded streets by exploring the far reaches of the island or how frequently they stop for gelato, the heat is exhausting. Within hours of arriving in Venice, our family realized that there is a conspicuous lack of seating and shade on the streets of the city. Aside of the cafes at which it costs a few Euros per person to sit and order, there are very few places to rest.
One of the best ways to cool off for a moment is to step into a church. There’s a church in nearly every square. Many of the churches are free to respectfully enter. However, those that charge a small fee are often more ornate and worth the price for a seat.
3. Spot the Winged Lions of Venice, Italy on a Guided Treasure Hunt Tour
On our first visit to Venice, our family spent most of our stay in Venice casually wandering down alleyways, stopping in a random churches, and sampling fruity gelato flavors with no real plan. There was one exception, our 3-hour Venice for Kids Tour with Context Travel.
Context Tours has one of the best Venice tours for families. It features a scavenger hunt for Venice’s signature winged lion between Piazza San Marco and Ponti di Rialto. This scavenger hunt keeps kids of all ages motivated and observant as families are guided through the city’s neighborhoods by a local guide.
Venice Tours with Kids with Context Travel
Our Context tour guide, Giovanna, showed us the fish market at the Rialto Market. She told us the story of the merchants that brought Venice such fame and fortune centuries ago.
At the end of our tour, she took us up to the terrace above the high-end T Fontego dei Tedeschi shopping mall. The mall’s terrace, a few stories above the hustle and bustle of Venice’s busiest streets, is a hidden gem that I’m doubtful that I could have located on my own. It certainly has one of the best views of Venice.
My kids were surprised that Giovanna managed to find the least crowded streets even in Venice’s most touristy places — without ever getting us lost. And, I loved how Giovanna was able to include details in our Venice tour that appealed to our entire group – from myself, a history lover who has visited Venice multiple times, to my travel-weary, active children who only wanted to eat gelato and ride a gondola.
Touring Venice with Children
In my years of travel with my children, I’ve learned that if I want my kids to learn about a location and its history, there’s simply no better way than taking a private, personalized, guided tour. This is especially true in Europe where everything from the language to the history is unfamiliar and new to American children.
On our Venice tour with Context Travel, our guide, Giovanna, told us about the history of the city using visuals for the kids, including maps and pictures to illustrate her stories. However, more importantly, she fielded my children’s questions about living in Italy’s Veneto region. The more answers Giovanna gave my children about life in Venice, the more comfortable my kids became asking questions. Consequently, the more they listened to her stories about the historic city.
Related: Planning a Trip to Europe with Kids
4. Enjoy the Beauty of Saint Mark’s Square and St Mark’s Basilica
A visit to Venice is simply not complete without a visit to Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Square, and Basilica. Admittedly visiting Saint Mark’s Square in the heat and crowds of mid-August, was not the highlight of our one month spent in Europe — not even close.
However, the gilded mosaic interior of the Basilica is easily one of the most spectacular sights in Europe. It has a history going back almost a thousand years. St. Marks Square and Basilica are the heart of Venice. It is safe to say that if you haven’t gone inside St. Mark’s Basilica, you haven’t really been to Venice. Don’t forget to go up the Bell Tower to get one of the best views around!
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5. Take a Guided Tour of Doge’s Palace
If you want to fully understand the history of Venice, a guided tour of Doge’s Palace is a must. I recommend the tour for children ages 8 and up. The building, especially the prison area, has limited ventilation and can get a bit stuffy. So, it’s best to reserve a tour for first thing in the morning on a summer day. At ages 9 and 10 my children learned a few interesting facts during the Secret Itineraries Tour that took us through the prisons of Doge’s Palace and told the story of Cassanova.
6. Exploring the Venice Lagoon via Boat
There is another side to the city, one that can only be experienced from the water. The islands of Venice’s lagoon including touristy Murano and Burano cannot be reached any other way, and the view of Venice’s Grand Canal by boat is truly unique from anything that can be experienced on land.
So, on our second day in Venice, my family bought 24 hour transportation cards for 20 Euros per person. We took advantage of our full day of access to Venice’s water buses traveling the length of the Grand Canal, out to Murano and Burano. At the end of the day we even made a stop at Lido, home of Venice’s public city beach on the Adriatic Sea.
Take A Ride Down Venice’s Grand Canal
Having heard the previous day from our tour guide, Giovanna, about the limited number of bridges crossing the Grand Canal, my children cheered in excitement when our vaporetto passed under one of the bridges along the Grand Canal as we rode from Ca ‘D’Oro down to Piazza San Marco.
The no. 1 vaporetto stops more frequently along the Grand Canal than any other line. It takes over 30 minutes to traverse the entire Grand Canal from the train station to the entrance of the Grand Canal at Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. However, our family enjoyed the ride and view so much that we chose to ride the slow vaporetto again in reverse later that day.
7. Explore the Lagoon – The Islands of Murano and Burano
The day trip out to Murano and Burano is one of the most popular for tourists spending more than a day in Venice. Families can enjoy a view of the art that the island of Murano has to offer without even setting foot into a shop filled with expensive glass objects.
From animal figurines, to colorful glass balloons to the traditional chandeliers, children can point out their favorite priceless objects as they walk from storefront to storefront. Of course, there are many studios open to the public that give demonstrations.
Burano is a lovely island to stroll around with vibrantly painted houses that reflect vividly along the canals. It’s now popular with photographers, tourists with selfie sticks, and just about any traveler visiting Venice. It was honestly a bit sad to see how over run this island has become with tourists – but it is beautiful.
8. Visit to Venice’s Beach – Lido
On our family’s entire month-long European trip, Venice was our only stop in the Mediterranean. So, I appeased my beach-loving children with a short stop at Venice’s Lido on our return trip from Burano.
While this Southern California raised beach snob did not find Venice’s public beach particularly inviting, the water was warm, the sand near the water was relatively clean and the kids were happy to jump in the shallow waves. The Lido is easily accessible via a 5-10 minute water bus boat ride from San Marco followed by a 20-minute walk through town to the beach. It’s definitely worth it for kids in need of a place to play.
9. Take the Traghetto – A Budget-Friendly Gondola Ride
Of course, my children came to Venice dreaming of riding a gondola. Fortunately for our budget, my son was thrilled with a five-minute Traghetto ride. The short boat ride across the Grand Canal in a public gondola is steered by two local gondoliers. It costs only two Euros per person. This was part of our Venice tour with Context Travel. It was the perfect compromise.
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10. Arrive in Venice by Boat
I have yet to take a tourist gondola ride in Venice, despite having visited four times. Instead, our last three visits, our family has made the decision to splurge on a water taxi ride to our hotel instead.
It’s much more of a treat to take a water taxi from the airport than from the train station. But either way, it’s a great way to enjoy a private boat ride in Venice. Due to all the bridges (and stairs!) wandering the streets of Venice with roller bags can be both exhausting and frustrating.
Most families arrive in Venice by train. In fact 3 of Amateur Traveler’s 11 Exciting European Night Trains terminate in Venice!
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Family Hotels in Venice – Hotel Antico Doge – Our Home Base for Three Nights
Venice, the nearby mainland, and its various islands, is chock full of accommodations. These family hotels in Venice and nearby can satisfy almost every families’ budget from camping to luxury. I love the convenience of staying in the city. It is especially nice to be able to get out and enjoy the city first thing in the morning with fewer crowds.
On this visit, I chose Hotel Antico Doge as our home base. My mother, two children, and I stayed in a quadruple room with a king bed and two twin beds. The included breakfast buffet featured a delicious lemon cake and chocolate croissants in addition to the typical meat, cheese, bread, and fruit found in most buffets at this price point across Europe.
The hotel is located a nice 15 minute from San Marco and about five minutes from the Rialto Bridge; it’s within minutes of the Stada Nova, a newer street in the city that has lots of dining options.
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Eating in Venice with Kids
My favorite part of visiting Florence, Tuscany, and many other parts of Italy is eating. However, Venice is different. The cuisine in Venice is more seafood based. It features squid, octopus, mussels, and shrimp more than that of Italy’s other regions. Also, being along the Adriatic Sea, dinner begins later at 7PM. That’s not the easiest time of day to leisurely enjoy a dinner with young children.
My family ate a full dinner out only one of our three nights in Venice this visit. We checked out the menu of three of the restaurants that our hotel had recommended. It took us awhile to find one where my children would agree to eat. (It had spaghetti with tomato sauce and wienerschnitzel on the menu.)
Generally, we found it more difficult to find small portions here than in other parts of Europe. Also, there were frequently cover charges of a few Euros per person (including children) for tables at both lunch and dinner time.
Disclosure: My family was provided a complimentary Lion Hunt Family Tour with Context Travel for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.