Collect Lions, Make Masks, Get Lost in a Garden Maze…
Kids are immediately enchanted by Venice, where everything not only looks different, but is different. Buildings are candy colored, streets are water, boats replace cars and high tide floods the main square. So it’s only fitting that the places to go and things to do here should be a little off-beat, too. Of course, like everyone else who has ever come to Venice, begin in the city’s great big family room – Piazza San Marco.
Go Inside St. Mark’s – It’s free, and you can reserve a spot to avoid the lines (visit www.alata.it/eng/BOOKING/sanmarco.asp to reserve). Although kids may not always have the patience required of visiting churches, this one has enough to keep them interested, especially if you can plan your visit for later in the day when the crowds have diminished or – better yet, around noon, when people go to lunch and the sun reflects on all the thousands of gold mosaic pieces in glittering glory. Be sure to climb the stairs from the atrium, following signs to Loggia dei Cavalli to stand beside the giant horses on the balcony and look down into St. Mark’s Square.
Tour the Grand Canal by Vaporetto – The best view of the palaces is from the canal, and much of it doesn’t have embankments to walk, so the water is the only way to see some of them. Board near the Doge’s palace and ride the entire circle to get a view of the whole city.
Snap Pictures of the Most Unusual Uses for Boats – A Grand Canal Tour should locate several, but this is a good quest while wandering, too. Among those to look for are boats that replace a grocery store (in the sestiere of Dorsoduro, just off Campo San Barnaba), a taxi, a garbage truck, a hearse, even a DHL or UPS truck.
Get Lost – Not alone, of course, but with parents, finding their through the giant watery maze that is Venice. San Polo is a good place to do it; look at a map and choose a target, then see how close you come to it. Or join in the fun on the Arte al Sole Venice Sketching Treasure Hunt with a cartooning art project for the kids at the end.
Ride a Traghetto – These little stripped-down gondolas form bobbing crosswalks from one side of the Grand Canal to the other between the only four bridges that cross this long canal. Not only do they save miles of walking, but they are the cheapest ride in town at a cost of 1 Euro.
Visit a Mask Maker — San Polo’s narrow lanes are a good place to look for the shops that make the elaborate carnival masks, where they can usually watch the mask-makers at work. Better yet, Ca’ Macana on Calle delle Botteghe off Campo San Barnaba in Dorsoduro holds classes. If the scheduling is right, kids and adults can learn the art themselves and take home a mask of their own design. The Arte al Sole kids art workshop program also offers a kids-only mask-making workshop with an intro to the history of Carnevale.
Find Santa Maria dei Miracoli – In Cannaregio, just past San Polo, search for the Venetians’ favorite little church, one that appeals to children as well. In a very small – by Italian church standards – church is all the lavish opulence of a cathedral, lined in geometric patterns of pink, white, and green marble.
Visit the Glass-Blowing Island of Murano – Sure all the tourists do it, but it would be a shame to miss watching these skilled artists turn blobs of molten glass into delicate vases and figures. It’s also the place to buy bright strings of beads at half the price of the shops and street vendors in the city. The Arte al Sole Family Art Workshops in Venice offer a kid-friendly tour with an artist at their glass-blowing furnace followed by a Venetian glass-beads art activity.
Get Lost in a Garden Maze – After a few days in Venice, everyone will need a break from the sensual overload, and a trip to the Brenta Canal, is just the right antidote. Take a bus directly to Stra or to Mira and rent bikes from Rental Bike Service to ride alongside the canal to Villa Pisani. The palazzo itself may not interest kids, but the garden will. Expect to get completely flummoxed by Il Labirinto, the world’s most difficult hedge maze. A dozen concentric rings of hedges too high to see over surround the tower that stands in the center. Hold onto small children, because once out of sight it will be very hard to find them again. The tower is ascended by a double-spiral staircase — someone is usually posted there to direct anyone who is hopelessly lost. Rental Bike Service will deliver the bikes to any bus station.
Consider the Future of Venice – Even young children can look for the places where the repeated emersion in salt water has eaten the foundation stones beneath the buildings. Children old enough to have studied about global warming and the melting ice caps can form a vivid picture of what a single foot rise in ocean levels would do to Venice – especially if they are there during the high tides when there is a full moon.
Barbara Rogers is a traveler, writer, and guidebook author with a passion for Italy and its neighbors. To read more of her writing on Southern European travel, visit Suite 101.
MORE VENICE SUGGESTIONS