Today would have been Mum’s 67th birthday. She died with a large bucket list that she didn’t get to complete and that I am trying to complete, with Miss M. One of the top things on that list was to visit Venice. So we took Miss M to check it out. This is our guide on visiting Venice with a small child.
When my Mum and Dad came across to Germany for Miss M’s birth, they had planned to take a few days off and go to Venice together. We looked at flights and hotels and in the end, they decided that they would wait for the next trip. That next trip never came, at least not together.
When Dad came across to visit us last summer, we went to Italy for a week. He is a car lover and mechanic and wanted to go to the Ferrari museum and for a drive in a Ferrari. Dad also wanted to visit Venice – both were on his bucket list. He got all his wishes.
Venice with a small child
So many people advise against going to Venice with a small child. We went in the last week of July. Yes, it was hot and sticky and full of people. Still, Miss M loved it! Really, what child does not love a city where they get to ride in boats at the time?
Unless your child will head straight for the water and jump in (in which case, strap them into a stroller or try a wrist link belt), Venice with a small child is fun. Even with the heat and crowds.
We drove to Italy to have the flexibility to see what we wanted to see when we were there. With 3 adults and a small child, this made sense. We did not drive to Venice though, and would not recommend doing so.
So many people have difficulty finding somewhere to stay in Venice with a small child. I do not have anywhere to recommend for accommodation in Venice. In fact, I would actually recommend staying outside of Venice, unless you flew there.
On our recent holidays to Italy, we stayed on a farm. One was located just outside of Verona and one is near Abano Terme. Both had great train connections to Venice! From Verona we drove to Vincenza to catch the train and Abano Terme was local. They were both on direct lines and it was SO SIMPLE. We had no stress about finding a car park and no horrendous parking fees. When we got there, we didn’t have to work out how to get from our car park to the Grand Canal. Instead, we arrived at the train station with the main stop for the Vaporetto (public boats, the buses of Venice).
If you are planning a trip to Venice soon, consider staying outside of Venice and getting there via train. You can find various kid-friendly farm stays on booking.com and agriturismo.it. They are also likely to be much more relaxed and much less expensive than staying in Venice itself.
What kid doesn’t like boats? When visiting Venice with a small child (or without a child) use the vaporetto. They are quite relaxing and easy to use. When you are on a boat, you can look at… other boats. Miss M loved playing “Count the gondolas” and “What’s the weirdest things you can see being transported on a boat?” (FYI: Our winner was this grand piano). They are also a great place to take photos.
You can get a ticket for a day or multiple days. If you are super organized (or are trying to be) you can purchase these in advance online. Otherwise, there are ticket booths and machines just outside the station. At the time of writing, a 24-hour ticket costs EUR 20. Children under 6 ride for free (under 4 for Choggia). Just remember to validate your ticket before boarding each time (hold it in front of the validator and wait for the light to go green).
To gondola or not to gondola, that is the real question. Gondolas are fascinating boats. In use since Roman times, they are made of no fewer than nine different types of wood. Gondolas are a fantastic way to see parts of Venice. A gondola ride is something you and your child are unlikely to forget. Perhaps because they are unique to Venice, they are also quite expensive. Currently, they cost EUR 80 for 40 minutes for maximum of 6 people (during the day).
When you are seeing Venice with a small child, the bigger question is perhaps: will I enjoy a gondola trip? Or am I going to be worried about my child standing up and falling in for the whole ride? Will I have to keep playing “How many boats can you see?” and not be able to enjoy it.
Peter and I discussed a gondola ride in some detail. I was happy to pay the price, but he was more worried about something happening to Miss M. We gave Dad the deciding vote. He decided not to do it this trip, so I can’t tell you what Miss M thought of gondolas.
An alternative to the gondola is the traghetto, which goes back and forth across the canal. Typically, a traghetto ride will take only a couple of minutes and costs only a couple of euro. This might be the better option if you are seeing Venice with a young child. The views are still great. Seven traghetti cross Grand Canal between the station and San Marco, however, the boats can go quite infrequently. Locals also tend to stand up in the boats, while tourists sit. Try explaining that one to your toddler…
The other way to get around Venice is to walk. And walk. And walk some more. There are so many gorgeous little streets and bridges, you can easily get lost. And probably will. The views can be great, but get a good map.
When we went, Miss M was at the stage where she wanted to walk, but was quick to tire. She was then happy to be pushed around in her pusher. Most streets and bridges could be negotiated reasonably easily. The most difficult one was the Ponte Academica, which required Miss M to get out of the stroller and walk up the steps herself.
If you are planning a trip to Europe, or anywhere else and anticipate having to hop on and off boats, buses or trains and navigate bridges and cobblestone streets in ancient cities, we would recommend getting a cheap, lightweight stroller. We bought this one in Australia. It toured with us through Melbourne and along the Great Ocean Road, travelled around Dubai, Munich and Amsterdam, visited various zoos and gardens in Germany, and toured the north of Italy with us. It weighs almost nothing and folds up quickly and easily to help with navigating.
What to see with a small child
Jump on the Vaporetto 1 and take a tour down the Grand Canal. Just get the feel of Venice. Isn’t it gorgeous?
If you feel inclined, hop off at Mercato Rialto. The vibrancy of the city really shows it the market (open Mon-Sat, fish market Tues-Sat). The fish is so fresh that it hasn’t started to smell yet. Fishermen tie their boats up out the font and carry their latest catch to their sellers. They will be stopped by various restaurants on their way. Kids love watching the spectacle and discovering fruit, vegetables and other products that they have never seen before.
Once you’ve seen the market (or if you’d rather not stop), hop back on the Vaporetto and continue to Piazza San Marco. After disembarking, check out the gondola and decide whether you might want to go for a ride later. Have a look at the Doge’s Palace and Ponte della Paglia to view the Bridge of Sighs. Miss M loved the story about prisoners sighing when they saw Venice for the last time before going to prisoners.
Go back to Piazza San Marco and take a few photos. If you only have one day and are doing Venice with a small child, we would recommend seeing either San Marco or the Doge’s Palace. Both would be too overwhelming. We chose San Marco.
We also recommend buying skip the line tickets in advance. This saves a 45-minute wait, which can be a little too long for a small child. Yes, it is normally free to enter the Basilica, but with a child, do you really want to wait? Besides, the tickets only cost EUR 3 per adult (1 April to 1 November). From November to March the wait is not long enough to warrant their sale. Pick the time you want to enter and you are ready to go.
Two things to remember if visiting the Basilica:
- Strollers (and large bags) are not allowed in the Basilica. There is a free “cloak room” to the left of the main entrance, around the corner. Make sure you leave enough time to drop them off.
- There are strict rules about wardrobe to enter the cathedral – no bare shoulders or knees. Take a wrap if it is warm and you are wearing a scrappy dress. Men should have sleeves on their t-shirt, too and there should be no offensive logos.
Once you’ve had a good look at the Basilica, step outside and enjoy the square. Miss M loved
terrorising chasing the pigeons, with her Daddy chasing her. Just a warning: pickpockets are operating. Stay aware if you are the parent chasing the child chasing the pigeons. Also, stay aware if you are the other parent photographing your significant other chasing your child chasing the pigeons.
After our trip to San Marco it was time for us to have some lunch. There are so many options and most are kid-friendly. At least they are kid-friendly for lunch: things may be different if they are catering to the romantic dinner crowd. Italy is also one of the easiest places to feed children. What child does not love pasta, pizza and ice cream?
We had already been in Italy a week and Miss M was getting a little tired of pasta. Instead of one of the local eateries, we decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. It is just around the corner from Piazza San Marco, which made it convenient. The advantage is the view: just across from the cafe is a gondola stop. This stop seems to service large groups of tourists on package deals, cruise ships or tour buses. The rate that they were getting on and off the gondola was almost laughable, but it was entertaining.
After lunch, visit an island.
There are a lot to choose from, but these are our top three. See them in this area because of the valporetto connections:
One of the easiest to reach and closest islands, Murano is known for its glass industry. Some of the glass manufacturers even have glass blowing demonstrations. Miss M was fascinated. She was even more fascinated by the colourful array of glass bracelets and necklaces in the shop. Murano is much quieter than San Marco, so it did not disturb anyone when we let Miss M run around and cross various bridges.
Torcello is a lot quieter again and is probably the least visited of the three. It is best known for the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which has some great mosaics. The bell tower (campanile) can also be visited and has great views of the lagoon and nearby Burano. The great thing about Torcello is that it has a number of child-friendly, little restaurants with garden areas. You can easily let kids run around and let off some steam.
I love Burano and its colourful houses. Apparently, fishermen would paint their houses bold and unique colours so that they could recognise home from the lagoon. Young children love to run around, picking ‘their’ house. Burano is also a great place to pick up some lace from some of the traditional lacemakers.
Depending on timing (and seats on the valporetto), you can hop on over to one of the other islands or make your way back to San Marco. If your child is anything like Miss M, the trip back is perfect nap time.
Go for a wander
When we got back to San Marco, we fueled up with gelato and granita. Yum! We then went wandering through the streets and piazza, all the way to the Ponte Academica (and all its stairs). We stopped where we wanted to look in little shops and to buy a few souvenirs and just took our time. In addition to glass and lace, Venice (and the Veneto) is known for its leather industry. Venice is a great place for handbags and lovely leather gloves, as well as some beautiful scarves.
When we found a place we liked, we stopped at a small bar. Over Aperol spritz (and chips and olives) we watched the gondola and other boats on the Grand Canal. After discussing our day, we took the decision to leave. There were many places we could have gone for dinner. However, we were still full from lunch and all the gelato. Instead, we made our way back to the station.
Other reviews of what to do in Venice with a small child may suggest going to the Lido, finding a park, or visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Watch out if you go out to the viewing deck to look over the Grand Canal at the Guggenheim – there is nothing really to stop small children from falling in. There are a lot of places to see in the Veneto, too. Choggia (the beach) and Caorle (a little like Burano) are lovely. You can also inland to somewhere like Vicenza with its theatre and gardens.
Whatever you decide to see, don’t let other reviews or the fear of navigating Venice with a stroller put you off. Venice with a small child can be great, even in the height of summer. After all, what child does not love boats? And if you do not have a small child in tow, there is even more than you can see.