You may have been to the Venice of East or the Venice of the West but nothing compares to the real Venice, travelers' favorite stop.
The distinctiveness of Venice as a city on water makes it very appealing to any type of traveler, and you can capitalize on its unique charm to interest even the youngest of children. Riding boats, feeding pigeons in St. Mark’s Square, strolling the mazes of narrow streets (be sure to have a good map and expect to get lost), eating gelato and watching the city’s daily life should keep your family as busy as you want to be.
Exploring the Waterways
You don’t need to take an expensive gondola ride (although if you can, it’s great fun) to experience the waterways. Many tourists ride vaporetti (pictured at left) which are really bus boats, running on routes around the city. They are inexpensive and can take you all over town, and when riding them, you will meet up with the locals who use this public transportation daily.
Also, traghetti are the gondola ferries that go back and forth across the Canal Grande (Grand Canal). Whether you’re on your way somewhere, or you just want to float around town, these options are the way to go.
The City’s Major Sights
You must spend time at St. Mark’s Square or the Piazza San Marco, Venice’s version of New York’s Times Square or London’s Trafalgar Square. While you sit at a cafÃ©, listen to music, stroll and people-watch, your kids can feed the famous pigeon residents of this landmark (bags of corn are easy to come by). The views from the 324-foot Campanile San Marco (bell tower) (39 041 5225205, San Marco 328, Venice 31024
Italy) are spectacular for those who don’t mind the exciting hike upstairs.
Footbridges are everywhere and younger children will want to cross them all. Don’t miss taking the kids to the Ponte de Rialto (Rialto Bridge) which rises high over the Grand Canal and is great for watching the boat traffic. By the way, it’s fun to look for the boat version of common vehicles, such as the police boat, the garbage boat, the taxi boat, the moving van boat, etc.
The Torre dell’Orologio (clocktower) is on the north side of St. Mark’s Square. Although you may not enter the structure, the clock, which dates from the late 1400s still works perfectly. The 500-year-old mechanical figures known as “Moors” (from the mixed Arab and Berber conquerors of Spain) use sledgehammers to strike the hours on a large bell. This is one of Venice’s most popular meeting places for locals and tourists.
The Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) is a grand marble structure brimming with art and history that may not interest your kids, but is certainly worth a stop. Children, however, should be intrigued by the attached dank, stone prison cells and the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) which connects the palace to the prison complex.
There are two local museums to consider because of their kid-pleasing potential. The Museo Storico Navale (Naval Museum) (39 41 520 0276, Riva S. Biasio Castello, 2148 Venice 30122 Italy) is for kids interested in watercraft, weapons, uniforms and other memorabilia of this sea-faring city. The Telecom Italia Future Centre ( 041 5213200, Campo San Salvador San Marco, 4826 Venice 30124 Italy) is an interactive technology museum housed in an ancient convent whose exhibits will be of most interest to school-age children and teens.
Dorsoduro is a charming residential neighborhood on the south side of Venice that is fun to explore on foot. Stop at the Santa Margherita Campo, a square devoted to the local outdoor green market, for fresh produce and flowers. This neighborhood is one of the liveliest areas in Venice because of its proximity to the University.
Also, check out the gondola workshop in San Trovaso. From Dorsoduro there are excellent photo opportunities of the most famous Venetian landmarks.
Day Trips from Venice
Easy boat trips from Venice are available to nearby Murano, the home of several glassblowing workshops and factories where you can watch artists create exquisite Venetian glass objects. Dole out some allowance, because this is the place to find inexpensive trinkets to take home as souvenirs. The most fun and easy way to go is via vaparetto #12.
To reach Burano, famous for lace-making, you can take a ferry from Fondamenta Nuove, a fairly long but wonderful walk from central Venice (use a good map). This island and nearby Torcello, an interesting historical site, take about 45 minutes to reach. Burano-Torcello is a low-key destination, and a nice excursion after touristy Venice.
Another side trip is via ferry to the Lido, Venice’s beachfront. Here you can enjoy the water, walk on along the beach and rent bikes. Don’t expect the broad, white sand expanse you may know from Atlantic or Pacific beaches; the gray pebble Mediterranean beaches — in general — are fine for a pleasant day out of town.
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