Venice, Italy, for Families
By Candyce H. Stapen
Known for romance and revelry, Venice also rates as one of Europe’s best cities for families. The absence of cars coupled with the fairy-tale like setting of pastel palaces reflected in the canal waters make Venice a walker’s delight.
Kids respond to the picture-book prettiness and the sense of urban adventure you get simply by meandering. Almost any street winds you past shop windows blooming with feathered masks and trays of rainbow-colored gelato. Continue on and eventually you land in a square graced by a centuries-old church and peopled by street vendors proffering strings of red and green glass beads and other sidewalk treasures.
Alas, the cobbled walkways and the arched bridges with steps prevent parents pushing tots in strollers from having much fun, but for school-age kids and teens Venice is magic. Here’s a list of top family-friendly finds.
Palaces, Piazzas and Pigeons: Napoleon described the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), dominated by the Basilica di San Marco, as “the most elegant drawing room in Europe.” The grand edifice, with its domes, turrets, and arches gleaming in the sunlight as well as its 43,000-square feet of golden mosaics glittering inside, outshines any storybook castle. Next door, a real palace, the pink marble Palazzo Ducale (Doges’ Palace) reigns.
If that doesn’t impress your kids, then the pigeons will. Hundreds of them peck for hand-outs in the piazza, swooping just over the heads of scampering kids to land en masse a few yards away. Come back in the evening to waltz with your kids to Strauss melodies played by quintets that spill into the square from the sidewalk cafes.
Boat Rides, Grand Canals and Glass Blowing: Forgo the over-priced gondola rides for a trip via the vaporetti, the ferry boats that carry passengers on the Grand Canal as well as across the lagoon to Venice’s other islands. At Murano’s glass factories, craftsmen demonstrate the centuries-old art of glassblowing, turning molten tubes into prancing ponies in minutes. In Burano, known for its lace and houses painted cranberry, lilac and yellow, go on a “treasure hunt” for the delicate, glass Christmas angels sold at the gift shops.
Markets: Kids like to bargain with the vendors at the Rialto bridge for necklaces, fountain pens, marbleized paper, magnifying glasses, T-shirts and other take away trinkets. The fish stalls and the colorful fruit and vegetable stands add an earthiness for children accustomed to the plastic-wrapped plainness of state-side supermarkets.
Art: Art is everywhere in Venice. Enter a church and you’re likely to come upon a mural by Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto or other master. But the canal front Peggy Guggenheim Collection housed in her former home is the most kid-friendly setting. Whimsical sculptures grace the garden and works by Picasso, Braque, Klee, Kandinsky and Chagall adorn the walls. The café serves light lunches and good coffee.
Lodging: The San Clemente Palace, a former 17th century monastery, occupies its own island just minutes away from the bustle of St. Mark’s Square. The upscale property features an outdoor pool, one of the few in Venice, a spa, and acres of gardens. In high-season, March through October, rooms start at $485. Packages are available.