First impressions are so important for families traveling to Venice with kids. Planning your trip in a way that minimizes stress and maximizes exposure to art, architecture, and Venetian culture in a fun and easy way makes for magical memories, and reduces the risk of misguided mayhem. Here are 5 tips for avoiding common mistakes families make when traveling to Venice.
1. Don’t stay at a hotel or holiday apartment in the San Marco area
The first time I visited Venice with my kids my youngest daughter was 8 years old. We were staying in a nice holiday apartment in Dorsoduro, and took the first day to enjoy the quiet neighborhood and overcome our jet lag. The second day, we awoke late and began to make our way toward Piazza San Marco around 10:00 am (see mistake #2…). As we began to get swept up in the maze of tiny streets leading to the famous piazza, the increasing crowds and noise made our journey slower and slower and progressively more hectic. From a child’s eyes, the sea of people in such constrained spaces is unsettling, and indeed my youngest was upset and a little bit scared. Finally, we arrived to San Marco, to merge with the rest of the crowds, but I am afraid the chaos of our arrival had tarnished my daughter’s ability to appreciate the beauty of the sites, and so we had a brief visit and returned to the solace of Dorsorduro.
Fortunately, she enjoyed Venice itself because we were staying at an accommodation away from the crowds and the noise. For families, staying near San Marco is also a mistake in terms of shopping and dining. Whereas reasonably priced family-friendly dining choices and markets can be found in the local neighborhoods of Venice, near San Marco you are more likely to overpay for lesser quality food that will hit family budgets harder. Save your money for authentic locally produced souvenirs, and enjoy eating locally while staying in the areas of Cannaregio, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, San Polo or Castello.
In particular, if you stay in Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, or Cannaregio, chances are you may find it easier to arrive to your lodging by walking, and further avoid the crowds and confusion of the vaporetto upon first arriving, or an overly priced water taxi. The transportation system in Venice is complicated. Whether deciding which ticket to buy or which vaporetto line to take, or wandering around narrow medieval streets with luggage, families can find themselves hoping for a Hail Mary getting where they need to go without the hassle of getting lost or delayed. The Prontopia app is a useful solution that connects you to locals who can guide you for instance to your hotel upon your arrival or help you get a specific product at the pharmacy. The cost is 20 euros per hour, calculated per minute that you use them (with a minimum of 5 euros). For example, assistance getting from Piazzale Roma to a hotel would cost approx. 14 euros, whereas the example of the pharmacy would be 5 euros. If you install the Prontopia app now you can pre-schedule for a connection with a local at the airport, train station or any place you would like help with your arrival. Plus the app will also be available to you for any on-demand request you may have during your stay or for your departure, such as finding a family-friendly restaurant that is not a tourist trap. It’s essentially a help button for local assistance.
2. Don’t visit the main sites between 10 am and 4 pm
One of the primary problems Venice faces today in managing crowds is the influx of day visitors from cruise ships and tour buses. These large groups jam the tiny streets around San Marco and swell the lines of the major monuments such as the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. If you have younger children who tire in the afternoon, plan to visit the sites of St. Mark’s Square early in the morning, arriving if possible by 8:30 am when the piazza will be enchantingly quiet. If you have teens, plan to go in the afternoon, after 4 pm. In both cases, I suggest purchasing skip the line tickets to the Doge’s Palace for either the first entry time of the day, or the last, and if budget allows, book a guided tour with a family-friendly licensed tour guide. We love Rossano Colombo of Venice Kids Tours.
Inevitably, you will find yourself looking for a nice spot for lunch either before or after your visit, and indeed the area around St. Mark’s Square can be difficult to find a nice local spot. This is another great use of the Prontopia app for families – after your tour, you can request a local to come and bring you to a family-friendly restaurant off-the-beaten path but nearby, and perhaps even show you some cool more authentic shops or kids bookstores along the way.
3. Don’t stay for fewer than 3 nights when traveling to Venice with kids
Venice has so much more to see and do for families beyond just the main popular sites. Believe it or not there are gardens to visit, for a picnic perhaps, such as Giardini. Or consider a kids Venetian mask-making workshop. Kids also enjoy a visit to the other islands of the lagoon, such as Murano, Burano, and beyond. There is a wide range of amazing museums for kids in Venice, such as the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, the Arsenale Naval Museum, and the Natural History Museum. Venice also offers great choices for active families with older children, such as a rowing lesson on a typical Venetian boat with Row Venice. It is worth it to get off the beaten path while in Venice and explore a wider range of sites, and take advantage of some great activities. Because it can be difficult to navigate easily to certain meeting points or destinations, it can be helpful to use the Prontopia app to simply get to your tour or activity on time and stress free, as you can use the service for as little as 15 minutes or up to several hours.
4. Don’t eat at overpriced tourist trap restaurants
Family budgets must be cautious about dining out while traveling in general, and especially when it comes to eating in high traffic tourist areas like Venice. In Venice, there is a dramatically wide contrast between price and quality from the tourist trap restaurants around the main sites, and the quality, care, and value cost of dining out in charming local neighborhoods in the surrounding areas, that are nearby, and generally easy to get to within 10-15 minutes walking, but just a little difficult to find. Another interesting thing about Venice is the fact that Venetian cuisine includes dishes that are not the most commonly known dishes of Italy. For example, dishes like pizza or lasagna are not typical of Venice, where the cuisine is centered on fish and accompanied by grains such as rice or polenta. It can be fun to learn a little bit about what to eat in Venice before you go, and encourage the kids to try something different during the trip, like fried calamari, perhaps?
5. Don’t overpack
It is a good general rule of thumb to pack light for family travel to Italy. For Venice, this is especially the case, because inevitably, for your arrival and departure, you will be walking a certain distance along which you will need to carry your luggage and bags, likely across bridges and up and down stairs. If you follow tip #1 and stay in an area like Cannaregio or Santa Croce, chances are, your hotel or apartment may be within 10-20 minutes walking from the train station. The Prontopia app can be very helpful in this case as it provides immediate in-person help when and where you need it. A popular use of Prontopia is to request a local person to show you the way to your destination. This makes navigating the city less stressful, and enables you to choose the walking option more easily.
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