Exploring Venice with toddlers can be pretty challenging. But it’s one of the most rewarding places to take a young child with a keen interest in the world. If one city is ever going to capture or spark the imagination of a young child, it is Venice.
There are plenty of attractions in Venice for kids, but the best thing of all is the city itself. It is a floating fantasy world without cars and many trappings of modern city life. The street layout is exactly as it was in medieval times. If you want to get anywhere, you go by boat or walk. Even simple everyday details of life are different – why shop at a supermarket when you can buy your fruit and veg from a boat in a canal? There are so many fun things to do in Venice for kids.
Venice is one of those lifetime bucket list destinations, and it’s always been somewhere we have wanted to take our son. As yet, we haven’t. However, I have made ten extended trips to the city, and Faye has been a few times as well, and we’ve taken him to several medieval cities around Europe.
Venice is not the most child-friendly city. Yet with some planning, prior knowledge and strategic use of the #1 waterbus it can be done. It’s a lot easier visiting Venice with kids who are a few years older: going to Venice with a toddler is considerably more difficult.
Here are our tips for your family holiday in Venice, showing you how to get the best out of Venice with toddler in tow. Or even with the toddler towing you.
- 1 Child Safety in Venice
- 2 Getting Around Venice With Toddlers
- 3 Things to do in Venice With Kids- break up the day
- 4 Parks in Venice: somewhere to burn off energy
- 5 Lido Beach, Venice
- 6 Piazza San Marco and other squares in Venice
- 7 The Ultimate Boat Ride In Venice – the #1 vaporetto down the Grand Canal
- 8 Architecture in Venice – embrace the exotic
- 9 A Gondola Ride In Venice
- 10 Rialto Fish Market
- 11 Venetian Masks
- 12 Planning – Where to Stay in Venice
- 13 Food in Venice
- 14 Public Toilets in Venice
Child Safety in Venice
The first thing you notice is water, water, everywhere, and hardly a rail in sight to keep your little one out of it. And big, bobbing boats rocking in the water with sharp metallic pointy bits at the end. Your natural, instinctive reaction is to be on heightened alert, trying to keep their child out of a canal. This is especially true if you have the fearless adventurous explorer type, liable to do a runner at any moment. A toddler harness and rein is essential for visiting Venice with a toddler. It’s worth doing some tests before you buy. Get your child to pull as hard as possible to ensure that the clasp connecting the rein to the harness is secure.
Getting Around Venice With Toddlers
There’s also the issue of getting around with Venice with a young toddler. The city is criss-crossed with canals. So in order to get around you’ll have to negotiate a lot of bridges, all of which have steps – some more than others. This puts many parents off taking a toddler there, opting to travel to Venice with kids when they’re a couple of years or so older.
Some parents who have been to Venice with their toddlers have opted to go without a stroller, preferring to get their child walking, and carrying them when they’re tired. There is the option of taking a child carrier, taking your toddler in a backpack with sun shade. It’s a great solution, but on a hot humid July or August day it would be hard work. I’d try to avoid these months if possible. The best child carriers usually have a maximum weight limit of around 18 kg, which will easily cover most toddlers.
Ultimately, if we were taking our toddler to Venice tomorrow, we would take a light travel stroller with us. I’ve seen plenty of others do it, and back in the days before you could ferry-hop from one side of Rialto to the other, ended up carrying a French lady’s stroller and sleeping daughter all the way up the bridge and down the other side. I’d avoid trying that again, but most bridges are much more manageable than that!
At some point even our runner would need to rest, senses overwhelmed, and settle back into a stroller and hope to be wheeled around for a while. As our little man is not so little – around 14 kg at 18 months – the travel stroller has to come into consideration. We’ve always tended to use ours as a bag and water carrier as well. The easiest way to get over the bridges is to reverse the stroller and pull it up and over, so maneuverability is essential. Assuming there are two of you, carrying them in the stroller over small bridges is also an option – which is where lightness is again important.
Venice’s waterbuses, or vaporetti, are very stroller and family-friendly. The large vaporetti that ply the Grand Canal routes are at the same level as the stop, so it’s just a matter of wheeling along a level surface to board.
Things to do in Venice With Kids- break up the day
One thing we’ve found travelling around historic cities in Europe with a toddler is that we have had to cut back on the sightseeing, managing the mood and avoiding a “not another basilica!” meltdown.
The day will have natural breaks in it anyway with meals or snacks, but getting around Venice lends itself to further breaks, with having to take boat trips. Two or three – or even more – vaporetto rides a day are a great way to see this extraordinary city. You can then try to fit in church, gallery or museum visits around these.
As well as the Grand Canal and historic city, the vaporetto network also covers the lagoon’s outlying islands. The small island of Burano in the north of the lagoon is great for kids. It’s a fishing village criss-crossed with canals, with all of its houses painted in exuberant bright colours.
Parks in Venice: somewhere to burn off energy
Your toddler will want a run or a chance to play at some point, and parks are the place to do that, of course.
However, there aren’t many parks in Venice, and most these are on the fringes of the city. You need to bear in mind where they are and build in boat trip time getting to and from them.
The only park near San Marco is Giardinetti Reali, which is around the corner from the Piazza, behind a row of souvenir stalls near one of the San Marco vaporetto stops. It’s fine for a sit down and a breather, but there isn’t anything for kids to play on.
One of them, Giardini Papadopoli, is right next to the bus station at Piazzale Roma. Parco Savorgnan is close to the junction of the Grand and Cannaregio canals, a few minutes’ walk in the other direction from the railway station. There is also a smaller park, Parco Villa Groggia, in the north of Cannaregio. This is in a residential area close to the Sant’ Alvise church and vaporetto stop of the same name.
Venice’s other main parks are at the other end of the city, in eastern Castello, and both are a short distance from vaporetto stops. This is where the #1 vaporetto comes in. The Giardini Pubblici are the setting for the Biennale arts festival, and are also the biggest green space in the city, with a playground and plenty of room to run around. The Giardini Biennale DX stop is right outside.
The Parco delle Rimembranze is the continuation of the Giardini, across a canal. It’s easier to get off at the Sant’ Elena vaporetto stop for this. It’s another great spot to give your little one a chance to run for a while. It’s also one of the few places in Venice you can sit down for picnic.
Lido Beach, Venice
Don’t forget Lido!
Lido is the next stop after Sant’ Elena, and the last one on the #1 line. It’s a long, narrow island with the main beach in Venice.
The vaporetto stop is on the lagoon side of the island and it’s around a ten-minute walk across to the beach from there.
A visit to Lido beach is one of the top things to do in Venice if you have a toddler with you. It’s such a great way to break up the day. Many choose to stay there for their holidays in Venice.
As with nearly all Italian beaches, there are public, or free, sections, and paid sections. One of the public sections is a short walk from the vaporetto stop, along Gran Via Santa Maria Elisabetta. At paid sections, you get an ombrellone (parasol) and lounger, and use of facilities there. The main advantage the paid sections have is that they are better maintained than the public ones.
Piazza San Marco and other squares in Venice
In the central part of the city, you have to resort to some of the larger squares. Piazza San Marco is where many of the best Venice attractions are concentrated. When it’s quiet, it has plenty of space, and the added attraction of a multitude of pigeons to chase. The best time to see Venice is early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. This is especially true of the Piazza. It’s almost deserted first thing. However, by mid-morning it is swamped with people, as is the waterfront as far as the Bridge of Sighs. I suggest planning to be away from this area between 10 am and 5pm. The crowds can be pretty daunting for a small person.
A few years ago, a friend’s daughter saw a poster in the Piazza showing a missing pigeon named Federico. Their three year old spent the next three days shouting, ”Federico!” to every bird that flew past, and loved it. Small details like this help bring a place to life for a little one.
Campo Santo Stefano is another long square at the opposite end of the San Marco district. It’s far less crowded, with plenty of running room and a couple of gelaterie to cool down at later. Another advantage here is that there are no water hazards.
Across the Grand Canal, Campo San Polo is our pick of Venice’s toddler-friendly squares. It’s more of a locals’ place than a tourist spot, with kids playing football and seemingly happy to let others join in. It’s also canal-free, so footballs don’t end up in the water. There’s also a good pizzeria on one corner.
The Ultimate Boat Ride In Venice – the #1 vaporetto down the Grand Canal
There’s no better way to do your Venice sightseeing than to take the #1 vaporetto the length of the Grand Canal. The starting point is either of the two stations, Piazzale Roma (for buses) or Ferrovia (for trains). We suggest getting off at one of the two San Marco stops – Vallaresso or San Zaccaria.
Once on board, there are priority seats for parents and children either side of the front of the vessel, so you and little one can enjoy the best view in town.
The single fare of €7.50 is very expensive, about five times the equivalent bus fare anywhere else in Italy. However if you have a pass for one or more days, it works out considerably less than this.
This journey, which takes 35 minutes, is one of the best public transport journeys you could ever make. Venice is just astounding. The Grand Canal is mostly lined with palaces, with occasional churches on the waterfront like Santa Maria della Salute, near the end of the journey.
As for your little one, he/she could be spellbound. Or fast asleep.
Architecture in Venice – embrace the exotic
It’s amazing to think that such a small city had such a huge influence on the world. Its empire and trading network extended right across the Mediterranean. The Venetians brought many influences back home with them. The domes of San Marco – St Mark’s – Basilica are very much influenced by Byzantine architecture.
Many of the palaces along the Grand Canal are built in elaborate Venetian Gothic style, with intricate arches and windows – an exotic style unique to the city. It’s a mixture of Gothic arches and Byzantine and Moorish touches. One of the best examples is the Ca’ d’Oro palace on the Grand Canal, which now houses an art museum.
Add in some of the later churches in Venice, like the flamboyant Baroque facades of Santa Maria del Giglio or the domes of Santa Maria della Salute, and you have a mesmerizing mix of fantastic buildings to show a pair of young eyes.
A Gondola Ride In Venice
The gondola is unlike any boat your little one – or you – will ever see. They are unique to the city, one of the great icons of Venice. They will see many of them taking visitors for rides around the city, and eventually start to ask to go for a ride themselves.
There’s no question – a gondola ride is one of the best things to do in Venice with children of any age. Many of the gondolas are plush, with decorations like statuettes on the side of the boat. They’ll be fascinated by the long black shape of the gondola, and the way it glides around improbably tight corners.
We saved our first gondola ride for the last night of our most recent trip there. This gave us the chance to scout different gondolier stops and locations along different routes. Wherever you are in the city, the standard Venice gondola ride cost is €80, and that covers up to six people.
Saving it until last heightens the anticipation and expectation. This magical 40-minute trip through the canals will be one of the best memories you’ll ever make for them. A little delayed gratification does them good too.
Rialto Fish Market
If you want to experience a slice of Venetian life, one of the best places to visit in Venice is the Pescheria, the Rialto fish market.
It’s a great place to stop by and listen to the hubbub. Fishmongers call out to customers in Venetian dialect. All kinds of fantastic creatures are on display, some having their last writhe.
Take your toddler along to Rialto market one morning to see the fish for sale at the Pescheria stalls to show them all kinds of fantastic creatures, some still having their last squirm. Tell the these are the creatures that live in the water around the city, and it comes more to life even more for them.
You can find Venetian masks for sale at most souvenir shops. The quality may not be great, but one of these can make a toddler’s day. They can be as good as dressing them up in a superhero’s suit, as they become a new character. The mask can then be the starting point for long-running games and conversations.
Planning – Where to Stay in Venice
Most of your research will be taken up finding your accommodation in Venice, and our article on our delveintoeurope site gives you information on all the areas inside and outside the city, and their pros and cons.
There are plenty of family hotels in Venice. Some Venice hotels tend to market certain rooms as family rooms. But it’s worth enquiring whether a travel cot can be fitted added to a double room, and if there’s any charge incurred in doing so. We’ve done this in several countries, and the hotels we have asked have been happy to oblige.
Wherever you stay, you also need to consider accessibility. Find out if there is lift access if you’re staying several floors up, and distance from vaporetto stops. It’s worth checking out family friendly hotels in Venice and contacting them directly to ensure you don’t encounter pitfalls like these.
It may also be worth looking at a selection of apartments in Venice. They’re available all over the city, and you may find something just as convenient as a hotel.
The Lido, Venice’s beach island, is well worth considering if you’re travelling with a toddler, as you have the beach and playground only a 20-minute boat ride from the centre of Venice. You can also walk around there without the encumbrance of step bridges.
Food in Venice
Pizza, pasta and gelato: they’re almost a toddler’s ‘holy trinity’ of food. And with these, you always have fall-back options. Even if something isn’t on the menu, most places are happy to rustle up some simple pasta and sauce dish to accommodate your little one. There are plenty of family restaurants in Venice, and pizzerie are usually a good bet. There are quite a few around Dorsoduro, including Pizzeria ai Sportivi, on Campo Santa Margherita, worth checking out.
Risottos are also an integral part of Venetian cuisine, so if your toddler enjoys rice, this might be the time to try out some seafood or vegetable-based risotto.
Public Toilets in Venice
At some point you are going to have to do some nappy-changing. So you need to be aware that public toilets in the city are quite rare, but most have baby changing facilities. The cost is an exorbitant €1.50 per visit.
Around San Marco, two are very close to each other – at Calle Larga dell’Ascensione (just after the arches as you leave the western end of the Piazza) and around the corner next to the Giardinettti Reali.
Around Rialto, on the San Marco side at Calle de la Bissa, off Campo San Bartolomeo. Across in San Polo, there are also facilities in Campo Rialto Novo.
In Dorsoduro, the one option is between the Accademia gallery and bridge.
And around the main arrival points to the city, there are facilities at both Piazzale Roma bus station and the nearby train station.
Otherwise, most museums have good facilities.
However, bars are not a good bet with toddlers. Most have customer toilets, but it’s often difficult enough squeezing oneself into a tiny gabinetto at the back of a bar, never mind trying to carry out a stand-up nappy change.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.