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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.
This was a first-time trip to Europe for a family of 2 parents and 2 kids ages 8 and 10 traveling from New York City. They wanted to plan an Italy family trip to Venice, Florence, Rome and Amalfi Coast with nice local experiences during late May, early June, for 2 weeks. Because it was their first trip to Italy, they were nervous about driving, but also about the logistics of transportation between trains and taxis with the language barrier. They wanted to stay at hotels, but booking rooms for a family of 4 in Italy can be difficult (versus self-catering lodging options in Venice, Rome, Florence, etc.). Our Italy family trip planning experts created the following itinerary to ensure a stress-free and local experience for this first-time family visit to Italy.
The family arrived first in Rome, where a private car service met them at the airport (cost for transfer = 70 euro) and drove them to their hotel in Rome city center. They stayed in the premium family suite at the Hotel Nerva for 3 nights at a cost of a little over 1000 euros. This small boutique hotel is based in the charming Monti neighborhood of Rome, a very central area near the Coliseum and train station, yet distinctly local and less touristy. The Hotel Nerva is a small boutique hotel of just a few rooms, and is just a few minutes walk from the Coliseum, or to access to taxis or any nature of public transportation on Via Nazionale. It is also very central for walking the city center in general. Monti has some great dining options for family restaurants in Rome, and a nearby Conad Margherita supermarket. We also love the chocolate bottega in Monti at Via Leonina 82.
The next day they hopped in a taxi to head over to the Ponte Sisto, where they joined the Arte al Sole docent again for a unique tour of some ancient temples, and the Bocca della Verita’, followed by a visit to some food pitstops in the Jewish Ghetto, and then a watercolor art project of the Tiber River and its bridges. They had lunch afterwards in the Jewish ghetto at a family friendly trattoria with authentic Roman cuisine. Then they walked along the Lungotevere to cross the Tiber at the Bridge of Angels, and relaxed in the park behind Castel Sant’Angelo. After the park, they walked over to see St. Peter’s Square, and from St. Peter’s hopped in a taxi to catch a dinner reservation at Felice a Testaccio, a typical Roman trattoria in the more local area of Testaccio.
After three days of fun in Rome, they took a train from Rome to Venice. They had booked first class tickets to Venice Santa Lucia Station with reserved seats on the Frecciarosa fast train line. When they arrived, they wanted help with how to get from the train station to Venice city center using public transportation and assistance for a stress-free arrival to their hotel.
They had downloaded the Prontopia app to request help from a local Venetian at the train station, and hoped this would also be a fun experience for the whole family. They were met by a friendly local who asked about where they were staying, assisted them with purchasing the correct vaporetto (water ferry) pass for their three-day stay in Venice, and oriented them to the map of the vaporetto lines to understand how best to get to the activities they had scheduled during their visit. The local joined them en route to the hotel on the vaporetto, and the kids had a chance to ask questions about how Venetians live, and the best local places to eat. The local also gave them info about an interesting marionette store in town. The cost for help from Prontopia was 20 euro.
Finally, they arrived at Hotel Palazzo Guardi from a very crowded journey on the ferry and along small streets and bridges – they were glad to have had some helping hands! They had booked a Junior Suite with Canal View for 987 euro for 3 nights, which included breakfast. They enjoyed staying in this area, in the neighborhood of Dorsoduro, as it is less touristy and calmer than San Marco, but easy to get everywhere using the vaporetto lines with their passes.
The first night in Venice they did a gondola ride, finding a gondola stand along one of the inner canals near their hotel. The cost was 80 euro for a 40 minute ride. The next day they did a Venice family treasure hunt with art project together for 3 hours in the morning, which was a captivating Venice activity for kids that gave the whole family a sense of the hidden history of Venice in the off-the-beaten path areas that have equally interesting art and architecture as the more popular sites like San Marco.
On their last day in Venice, they did a 2-hour tour of Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Cathedral that included tickets to the Secret Itinerary of the Doge’s Palace with tour guide Rossana Colombo of Venice Kids Tours. The kids loved learning about more of the mystery and intrigue of Venice through fun stories and a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of the Doge’s Palace. After the tour, they took a vaporetto to the Arsenale waterstop to the Castello area of Venice for a less touristy lunch along the Salizada. After lunch, they walked over to the Giardini Pubblici to do a Venetian Mask-Making Workshop.
The next morning, they requested a local again from the Prontopia app to ensure they caught their prebooked train from Venice to Florence on time and had a little help finding authentic Venetian hand-crafted souvenirs along the way to the station.
When they arrived to Florence, they took a taxi to their hotel (cost was 12 euro) on Via Tornabuoni, a great central location where it was easy to walk to anywhere in the city center. They stayed at the Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci in a quad family room for 3 nights at a rate of 270 euro/night. The hotel was in a lovely historic building with frescoed walls and a rooftop garden with views of Florence. It was a good value overall for a room of this size in such a perfect location.
For dinner the first night in Florence, they explored the fun Florence family friendly dining options at the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo and did some shopping in the open market of Borgo San Lorenzo. Later that evening, they stopped at one of the “Secret Bakeries in Florence” to try some of the treats set outside the bakery doors for passersby to sample for free. The kids thought this was very adventurous!
The next day, they did a pizza-making class at a local pizzeria followed by gelato tour with Curious Appetite. On their last day staying in Florence, they took a day trip with a chauffeured driver to Lucca, where they rented bike to bike on the Lucca city walls and enjoyed lunch at Trattoria Gigi. After lunch, they departed for a stop to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and then returned to Florence by 5:30 pm. The kids loved the charm of Lucca, and the driver (from Cusi Florence) stopped along some of the Tuscan country roads on the trip back for photos with a view!
The family departed from Florence the following day by train to head down to Naples. They arrived in Naples at 12:30 and a private driver met them at the station. The driver took them to have some famous Naples pizza for lunch at Pizzeria di Matteo in the city center. The driver waited, attending to the car and the luggage during the meal, and then took them to their hotel on the Amalfi Coast, about an hour drive or so.
They stayed at the Hotel Marmorata in a seaview junior suite for 350 euro/night for 4 nights. By this leg of the trip, the family was ready for simple relaxation and fun in the sun. The area of the Amalfi Coast known as the Marmorata, just beneath Ravello, is enchantingly beautiful yet much less touristy than Positano. The hotel is perched on a cliff above the sea, with an infinity pool with a view and private beach club with crystal blue waters.
They took the local ferry from the town of Minori (just 10 minutes from the hotel) to have lunch and a swim in a cove to a nearby kid-friendly Amalfi Coast beach with beach club and restaurant frequented by many locals.
The following day, the hotel helped them to book a day trip on a small boat with 15 other people for a tour of Capri. The cost was 50 euro/per person and the skipper served light refreshments, stopping to point out sites along the way, and then dropping passengers off to Marina Grande in Capri for a 2.5 hour visit of the island for lunch. They took an open-air taxi from Marina Grande up to the town of Capri for lunch and some shopping, then returned to the boat. Then they circled the other side of the island on the way back, anchored for a swim in a secret cove, and returned to Minori by 6:00 pm.
The last day, they enjoyed the hotel and an early dinner in the town of Amalfi with some time for souvenir shopping at the paper, ceramics, and chocolate shops off Amalfi’s elegant main square. They then departed from their hotel with the same private driver to catch their morning flight back to New York from Naples airport. The total budget for the trip for lodging, transportation, and activities was $9200 for a 2-week Italy family trip to Venice, Florence, Rome and Amalfi Coast.