Yao Yao’s school spring break was around the corner and Jim and I were dreaming of balmy weather, napping beachside, with stacks of books and tall cool drinks. Yao Yao, on the other hand had fantasies of visiting the “floating city” of Venice. She wanted to see it before it sunk! So we quickly re-adjusted our spring break dreams and did what any supportive parents would do – booked tickets to Venice-cold, rainy-Venice.
In spite of fear of frizzy hair, not to mention shoe challenges in the rain, it turned out to be an excellent choice. For most of us, Venice conjures up visions of Gondolas, canals, Bridge of Sighs, St. Marks Square, and so on. But it’s so much more… It’s the birthplace of Marco Polo, Cassanova, Vivaldi, Palladio, and a plethora of creative geniuses. It’s a saturated in art, music, architecture, fashion and of course food. It’s also a city that appeals to children as much as it does to adults. With so much to see and having been several times over the years, our goal was to ensure Yao Yao got to see “her Venice”-before it sunk!
Venice is different than any other place I have been in Italy. It’s like a special world – unfortunately, one that’s sinking! If you like Italy, and all the pasta and gelato, you will love Venice. It’s not a big city like Rome or Paris, full of traffic and crowds. For one thing, there are no cars are allowed, so that’s a big difference. I loved the canals and bridges. It’s fun to be in a city where you see water where streets should be. I also really, really liked that there were no cars. That means my mom wasn’t always saying “watch out” or be careful. (Well, she did when I stood near the water’s edge, but you know what I mean.)
If you need to get somewhere really fast, or somewhere that is on the other side of the island, you just take a boat. Vaporetti are big boats that run like buses on the canals, but they also have boat taxis, and we got to take them, too. And of course, there are gondolas – but you don’t take them when you’re in a hurry, because they’re just for tourists to sightsee.
San Marco Square
I think you should definitely see San Marco Square – first of all, it’s really famous and pretty. There are orchestras that play songs all day and night on both sides of the square and they compete with each other. That’s fun to see.
St. Mark’s Basilica
This is one of the big sights to see so we spent about an hour or so. It’s actually pretty, with lots of amazing mosaics, if you’re into that sort of thing. My parents kept saying that it was not as crowded as coming in the summer so I am glad we came in April. It was still very crowded!
Peggy Guggenheim Museum
I really like the Peggy Guggenheim Museum because it was full of modern art, which I like. It’s also a pretty building and it’s white. Peggy Guggenheim was a really rich lady who loved art and gave a lot of money away to make sure the art was saved. She also loved her dogs. The dogs are buried on the grounds of the museum which is sweet but a teensy bit creepy. Mom and Dad like modern art, too, so it was a really fun time. They also have a cafe and we had hot chocolate there. (Did I mention it was cold in April?)
I wasn’t very excited about going to visit the Doges Palace but there are some really good things for kids (but some really boring things, too). I really liked the tour of the prison. You could really imagine what it was like to be in jail. It would have been cold and dark and really scary. I don’t know if really little kids would be afraid. At 11 years old, I found it interesting and more fun than some of the paintings.
Bridge of Sighs
I liked all of the bridges but everyone makes a big deal of this particular bridge. Then I found out it connected the old prisons to the new prisons and the story was that you could hear the sighs of the prisoners! Anyway you should see it, and if you go to Doge’s Palace, you will. Everyone has their picture taken on it so it gets really crowded.
St. Mark’s Campanile (Bell Tower)
Most people call it the Bell Tower of San Marco, but my mom had me add the other name. You can go up in an elevator and to get a panoramic view of Venice. If you go up when the bells ring, it is really loud. It’s also crowded so you have to pick up little kids or they will get squished.
My mother loves going to outdoor markets in every country we travel to, so I knew we would have to go. This one was surprisingly fun. Some of the ones in Asia or Africa have things I don’t want to see or smell, but this market had really great things to buy and taste. People were yelling in Italian and tossing fish or bread and it’s kind of funny. Just don’t step in any of the fishy water! We ended up having lunch at this little restaurant where you got small plates of different things and the food was really good. This turned out to be one of the really fun things we did.
La Fenice Opera House
I don’t like opera (yes, we went to one anyway) but my parents love opera, so we had to see the new Opera House. I think it burned down and they rebuilt it. This is not recommended by me.
Other Islands Around Venice
I liked this island, but it seemed like it mostly had tourist shops and glass shops. We saw a glass blowing demonstration and then just wandered around.
This was a fun island to visit. It was colorful, not crowded, and I bought some gifts for my friends at school. Each house is painted a different bright color, so the overall affect was really pretty. It is so different from Venice. I liked this island more than Murano, even though it was fun seeing the glass blowing. It is supposed to be famous for lace making, but we only saw a few women making lace and lots of stores selling it. We ate lunch at a really good place called Da Romano. We sat outside and had fish risotto, which the restaurant is famous for. Then we had gelato at this really fun place across the street. This is a good island for kids because there is a lot to do and the food is really good, even for picky eaters.
This is really an island known for its natural beauty. It’s not really a tourist destination, which I liked. I liked how quiet it was, and we got to see really pretty mosaics in the church. It’s worth a visit just because it feels like a different country. I think there are only a few families who live on the island to take care of it.
Side Trip to Verona
Verona is known as the place where Romeo and Juliet took place, and Juliet’s house was one of my favorite places to visit. You get to walk around the house and see where she lived. You can also stand on the balcony where she declared her love for Romeo. Girls buy locks and write on them, then put them on a gate with hundreds of other locks. Next time I visit, I will see if it’s still there
Piazza delle Erbe is a nice square. It means square of the herbs and it’s where they used to have chariot races. There was a big outdoor market where we bought some fruit and then we walked around and finally sat in one of the cafes. There are some really old, neat murals you can see on some of the houses.
Gardino Giusti is a really pretty set of gardens and mazes. It was a pretty day, so I didn’t even need a jacket and we just ran around the maze and walked through the gardens. My mom took photos and dad and I rested, then we all walked to the Giusti Palace. It was a great day. I slept the entire train trip back to Venice.
With all the places we went, my favorite thing about Venice was just wandering around with my family. My mom and dad like to “get lost” in places like Venice because they say “you can’t go too far, you are on an island!” I really liked just walking around, going over the bridges, and taking boats. There were museums and monuments, but it didn’t feel like a class trip. It was interesting and fun – and I did get ice cream twice a day!
Every day we ate gelato at least once – and usually twice. This is a big deal because my mother is not a fan of sugar – and boy, did we eat sugar. I am a chocolate fangir, but this trip I ate a lot of different flavors, my favorite being salted caramel. The good news is, my mom only eats a bit and then usually gives it to my father. My father, on the other hand, usually tries to sneak bites of my ice cream. This time, my mom gave me most of her ice cream, so I could get my chocolate and still try new flavors.
Venice has a lot of chocolate makers on the island, and it was Easter, so I guess you know what happened. My favorite place was only a two-minute walk from our hotel so every day I got to get a few chocolate eggs, too! The people were really nice and every day I would come in and they would let me pick out my flavors of eggs. They were really patient, because I only know like five words of Italian.
I did not have one meal that was really bad except breakfast. I am not a fan of the Italian breakfast. I don’t like cornetti (kind of like a croissant), I am not a yogurt fan, and I don’t want just fruit. I like breakfast, and our hotel didn’t have eggs and pancakes. But we ate so much at lunch and dinner that it didn’t matter that much. Lunch and dinners were sooooo good. I don’t know the names of most of the places we ate, but my mom will write them down. I loved all the pasta dishes, and we ate at one place where I even had some raw seafood. (It sounds gross but a few of them were really good.)
For the first few days of your trip, order things you know you will like. Then encourage your mother or father to order something that sounds interesting to you. This doesn’t always work but it often does. Then you can have something you know you like and eat two new things that maybe you will order next time! I used to hate short ribs and spaghetti with clam sauce, but somehow I like them now. Venice also had some little stands where you order fried shrimp or zucchini or other things and they give it to you in a paper cone and you just walk around eating it. It’s so good!
I “collect” thing when I travel, and in Venice I collected glass animals. (Venice is known for glass blowing.) Glass shops are all over the islands, and you can get really cute turtles and other animals.
I also got a couple of masks. They are different than regular masks, and some are scary and some are really pretty. (Venice is also known for Carnival, and masked balls.)
I also did some sketching with my mom. Sometimes she and I would go sit in a cafe (when Dad needed a nap) we would sketch different things together or play a game.
I always pick something to count, when we travel and this trip I counted lions. It’s an important symbol in Venice. There are lions everywhere: on top of buildings, in front of restaurants, in paintings, in parks, everywhere.
Definitely take your kids to Venice. Even if they are really little there are fun things to do. Italians love kids, kids of any age!
Resources- my mom will add those.
Isola di San Michele
Ile de Re
Yao Yao – sinking so go soon!.
Samantha – is an art lovers dream..
Secrets only a local would know…
Yao Yao – There are tons of things for kids to do and not just the ocean!
Samantha – You can visit many of the stunning residential gardens in Venice if you make arrangements with the owner. I was doing a bit of garden peeping when an Italian women suggested I ask the owner if I could look at her garden. Geeze, whey didn’t I think of that?
Bring from home…
Yao Yao – If you like to draw, bring a sketch book. There are a lot of really beautiful things to draw.
Samantha – If you are going in the Spring bring rain gear. Leave the heels for dinner, the cobblestones are killers.
Yao Yao – Gelato!
Samantha – Any of the cicchetti served in the morning. They are an Italian tapas of sorts reportedly set out for fisherman coming in from long evenings of fishing. Perhaps that’s why the little glass of wine!.
Yao Yao – I loved running through the huge garden maze at the Giusti Gardens in Verona.
Samantha – Sitting on our balcony sipping prosecco and watching the sun set with Jim and Yao Yao. O.K. I was doing my best Audrey Hepburn imitation at the time- you know, little black dress…
What to buy…
Yao Yao – I really like the glass blown figurines and Italian Masks.
Samantha – I just wanted to soak in the Venetian air and didn’t need to buy anything. Just joking, I did manage to find 2 pairs of shoes and a little scarf!
Yao Yao – I like some of the paintings or graffiti on the sides of buildings..
Samantha – Watching the sunrise on the Grand Canal as we headed home.
Yao Yao – Splitting my gelato/ice cream into a scoop twice a day! That means I got ice cream twice a day and ussally part of my mom’s.
Samantha – Buying a one week pass for the vaporetti.
Where to stay…
There are a huge variety of grand hotels, boutique hotels, charming hotels and apartments to let that fit every budget. Maybe you want old world charm or modern chic? Anyway, here are a few of the favorites:
Gritti Palace is the old guard in Venice. Join the likes of Hemmingway, Sir Winston Churchill, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Igor and Vera Stravinsky, Orson Welles enjoy old world charm and elegance. It does come at a price but then what doesn’t?
The Belmond Cipriani is famous with celebrities and noteable people. (I am neither but still think it’s beautiful) It’s also very expensive and unless your children are well behaved it will be a rather stressful stay. (I think that’s true anywhere!(
What and where to eat…
I could write for days and days about all the wonderful places we dined. I will try really hard to keep it to a few highlights…
Da Romano on the island of Burano – you will never have risotto like this anywhere else, ever!
Cicchetti – lovely plates of savory treats on bread, on skewers and every other way you can think of. They are just little bites with a little libation. Yao Yao got into them, sans the little libation!
Do Mori is my favorite but there are about 6 that we went to over and over again. Don’t leave this off your list of “must do’s”
Do Mori Information
Trattoria alla Madonna– branzino grilled to perfection and excellent pastas. I have eaten here at least once, every time I come to Venice.
Trattoria alla Madonna
Ristorante Al Covo – This is a really special restaurant and unfortunately has been given a lot of press in the last five or so years. Do not plan on just walking in or making a reservation a few days in advance. Book ahead, I promise, you will thank me!
Ristorante Al Covo Castello 3968
Trattoria Antiche Carampane – We got this recommendation from our consieur at our hotel and somehow he was able to get us a reservation. He is now in my will. (Yes, I am joking) But the food was amazing. The crudo (raw fish) was out of this world. They were kind as I muddled through in my Italian (I am not sure many would recognized it as Italian) and the owner made a little treat for Yao Yao. This is a resturant I would fly to Venice just to dine here. It’s that good.
Trattoria Antiche Carampane
Frito Inn is just what it sounds like. It’s all about frying up the freshest shrimp, calamari, zucchini and what not and putting them in a rolled up cone of newspaper. Presto, heaven in a cone.
Other great resources
Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome-great resource for all things Italian
Walks of Italy – great information on Cicchetti crawls. Yes, that’s what happens when something goes viral!
Walks of Italy
CN Traveller Guides have a lot of variety in their hotel selection.
CN Traveller Guides to Venice
VIVAVENICE by Paola Zoffoli and Paola Scibilia Fantastic Kids book on Venice. Yao Yao loved this book!
Secret Venice by Thomas Jonglez and Paola Zoffoli- great resources for a more intimate view of Venice. Great information on Gardens, Architecture and more.