Our top ten tips for a family trip to Venice with teens. Where to go and what to do in 3 days in Venice: getting around, best buys, and a useful travel card for Venice with kids and young adults. All the essentials to help you plan an unforgettable city break to Venice with teenagers
- A magical city on the water
- Canals, gondolas, waterbuses
- Art, architecture, history, culture
- Lots of shopping for all ages
- Pros and cons of Venice in autumn
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Who went: I went with my sons, Nicholas 16 and Ed 14. We flew Easyjet from London Gatwick to Venice Marco Polo airport in October half term, 2013. This post updated in 2018 including travel tips for Venice with kids.
Best time to visit Venice?
Venice is a magical city! Despite the masses of tourists it hasn’t become a theme park, real life is going on all around, its just that everyone uses boats. We went in October – it was comfortably busy round the main sites and quiet off the beaten track. The weather was misty, sometimes overcast but on the plus side much cooler than in summer.
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Where to stay in Venice
I’ve been to Venice several times and always stay in the San Marco/Castello area. It’s very central and close to the most famous sights which is ideal if you’re in Venice with kids.
From here you can stroll by the Doge’s Palace and along the Riva degli Schiavoni, the promenade with iconic waterfront views. Away from the crowds Castello has a residential feel with quiet streets and squares where day to day life goes on. I’ve never found it too busy – but I always visit Venice out of season so I can’t vouch for it in high summer.
When I book I check that the hotel is close to a vaporetto (water-bus) stop – handy if you have luggage to carry. Of course if your hotel has a canal entrance you can take a boat to the door – the ritz-iest way to arrive in Venice!
For a selection of hotels and apartments in Venice from Booking.com, click here. You can set the filters you prefer then scroll through images, descriptions and reviews to find the accommodation that suits you best.
On this trip I found a very central hotel. It was no-frills, except of the Murano glass, swirly wallpaper variety, and no lift! But we knew we’d be spending the minimum amount of time there and it seemed a good trade off to have the Piazza San Marco on our doorstep. We had a family room, clean but small with a tiny bathroom.
On the first night we inadvertently left the window open and were woken by the tolling of a bell at midnight. We counted 12 boings – and then on and on until over 100. It was a beautiful sounding bell, but we weren’t over-thrilled when it did the same thing again at 7 am. I forgot to ask the whereabouts of the bell in the morning – but we were to come across it later anyway …
3 days in Venice with Teenagers – our top 10 things to do
We began each day with a rough itinerary including pit-stops. At every break we revised the route according to how we all felt. We covered a lot of ground and everyone stayed happy.
1. The best way to see Venice: a trip along the Grand Canal
A bonus of staying near the Piazza San Marco is that the journey by vaporetto from the railway station takes in the full length of the Grand Canal.
It’s an awe-inspiring introduction to the watery world of Venice and we bought passes for unlimited boat travel. Scroll to the end of the post for more info on Venice travel passes. You can often get around quicker by foot but all Venetian day-to-day life is lived on the water and the vaporetto gives you a grandstand view. We spotted ambulance and police launches, children on the school run in a motor boat even UPS deliveries.
At the same time the whole history of Venice unfolds before your eyes. The Grand Canal is flanked by flaking palaces, ancient grain stores and world famous galleries. We were there during Biennale so modern sculptures and installations were planted amongst the traditional scenery too. Incidentally, a night-time trip down the Grand Canal is quite magical for all ages.
2. Piazza San Marco
Saint Mark’s Square makes an impact however many times you’ve seen it. Our paths crossed the piazza several times each day. We weren’t seduced by the traditional – and super pricey – cafes Florian or Quadri with the little bands outside but we did enjoy strolling across the marble paving in the evening. By day we explored the exteriors of the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. Scroll to the end of the post for more details about interior visits and tours. We spotted the two granite columns in the Piazzetta once the gateway to Venice from the sea and we made a point of checking out the quintessential rooftop views from…..
3. The viewing platform of the Campanile
The bell tower in Piazza San Marco has a small lift that takes you up the 99m to the bird’s-eye viewing platform beneath the five bells. If there is a warning that the bells ring on the hour we missed it…..
The view is still recognisable from the landscapes that Canaletto painted for wealthy tourists back in the 1730s.
But the enormous cruise ship we spotted was a bit unexpected. The Campanile is a must-do if you’re in Venice with kids but go early or late in the day to avoid the queues.
4. Great art at the Accademia and Guggenheim
There’s astonishing art at every turn in Venice, but the biggest collection of Venetian works can be found at the Gallerie dell’Accademia. We popped in for a look… and spent an hour wandering from room to room, century to century, Titians to Tintorettos. The sheer size and magnificence of the canvases, and the gruesomeness of some of the subject matter, is striking as are the faces that gaze out at you across the centuries. Once we’d spotted the lookalike for a famous Italian football manager in a portrait of Renaissance dignitaries it was time to go and find a cafe.
We decided that we’d do one more gallery and chose a complete contrast to the Accademia. The Peggy Guggenheim museum is a glamorous low built villa that overlooks the Grand Canal. Once the home of the eponymous American heiress it now displays her glittering collection of 20th century art. It definitely caused us to stand and stare: face to frame with Picasso, Dali, Warhol and Pollock. Click here for more info.
The waterside terrace is a great bonus for views, sunsets and photo opps…
Centre stage on the terrace is the famous bronze, Angelo della Citta, a priapic rider on a horse. Which led to some regrettable selfies.
5. The Rialto market
Nowadays the first thing you see when you enter the Rialto market is rows of tourist stalls selling leather bags and souvenirs. Press on through all that – the heart of the market starts beating early in the morning when fishmongers spread the latest catch on the big stone slabs. It’s definitely worth a visit.
For souvenirs of a less perishable kind shops nearby can provide the traditional gondoliers’ uniform of matelot jumpers or jewel coloured velvet slippers. (Yes, all the gondoliers we saw were wearing trainers – but perhaps it’s a summer thing).
Traditional rubber-soled slippers in silks and velvets make original souvenirs piedaterre, S.Polo 60 – Rialto
The gondola is a flat-bottomed, narrow wooden boat rowed with one oar. Nowadays they are used almost entirely for the amusement of tourists. You see them at every turn. We were pleased to spot a singer on a gondola giving his all to a popular number as if on stage at La Fenice. He and his crew passed under a small bridge as we were crossing and everyone around stopped in their tracks to listen and applaud. For a quick, cheap and authentically Venetian experience you can hop on a traghetto to cross the Grand Canal. Look out for one of the seven traghetti (ferry) points and travel standing up in the gondola like a real resident.
7. Venetian masks
Venice is famous for the February Carnevale – an excuse to dress up in extravagant masks and costumes and pose enigmatically in the little squares. One morning we headed into Castello and found an Aladdin’s cave of a mask shop called Ca’ del Sol. Castello 4964
The masks that absolutely captivated me were the animal heads. I still think wistfully of the elegant long-eared hares.
8. Calli, campi, ponti – aka getting lost
Venice is variously described as maze-like and dream-like. Its mysterious network of streets and alleys wind alongside and cross the innumerable canals. Canals by the way, apart from a handful of the largest, are actually known as rios.
On our first night we went off piste and immediately got lost in a tangle of alleyways, courtyards and dead ends. There wasn’t enough light to read our map and anyway many of the smaller passageways weren’t marked. In the end we fired up the (expensive) data roaming on a phone and resorted to the maps app. Cheating really though as getting lost is part and parcel of the Venice experience. Often the journey is as entertaining as the destination – if you don’t mind unscheduled diversions.
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo for instance has a spiralling stairway tower that is named after a snail shell.
9. Food in Venice with teens
Many tourist eateries are expensive or have photos on the menu – and we know what that can mean. Decent food with a canal-side view seems particularly hard to locate. Venice is famous for its lunchtime bar snacks called chicceti, but the boys were hungrier than that. For a winning combination of quantity, quality and affordability we liked:
This is a stand-up-at-the-counter shop that operates on the main drag between the Rialto bridge and Campo San Polo. Basic but stylish in its own way. Pizza comes in thick crust or thin – sotille – with a variety of toppings. There are cold drinks, including bottled Bellinis if you so wish, and free Wi-Fi. Antico Forno, San Polo 973
You don’t have to mind sitting elbow to elbow with strangers but the starched tablecloths are changed after each customer and the food is proper. We ate here twice and enjoyed tender fried squid, an unctuous spaghetti alla vongole, grilled sea bass, spaghetti with ragu and very chocolate’y profiteroles. I remember this from my first visit to Venice more than twenty years ago and it hasn’t changed a bit. It nestles beside a little bridge and is an easy walk from Piazza San Marco. Trattoria Alla Rivetta, Castello 4625
Venice was the centre of Mediterranean trade for centuries and its small and ancient shopfronts are still seductive. Traditional glassware from the island of Murano, richly decorative fabrics and swirling marbled papers aren’t very interesting for children but….
Tiny glass figures might be. There were whole orchestras, even football teams, to choose from in this window display in Castello. A glassmaker from Murano crafts lovely pastel’y bowls and squadrons of glass figures at the back of his shop here.
Things we could have bought:
Big slabs of choc
A gondolier’s shirt Yes, a fashion-forward souvenir. Those nautical stripes are bang on trend pretty much every summer. You can find traditional garb for sale in a shop beside the Rialto bridge, Emilio Ceccato, Orafechio 16, S. Polo.
Masks These were my biggest temptation, see above. The standard Carnevale masks in gift kiosks are mostly from China. But it’s worth seeking out one of the few handmade mask emporiums. They are full of bewitching affairs to wear to a ball or hang on a wall.
One of those elastic helicopter things The last time we came to Venice the toy of choice on sale in the Piazza each night was a laser pointer. Thankfully they have been superseded by a winged plastic stalk with a blue light and an elastic band. Yours for 2 euros. If you’re a ‘helicopter’ salesman you can send one of these far up the side of the Campanile and then nonchalantly catch it as it pirouettes back to the ground. On our way back from a day trip to Verona our first glimpse of Venice was of the little blue lights soaring into the night sky. If you’re a local I imagine you dislike them but they can liven up an evening walk along the waterfront no end. (Ahem, actually we did buy one of these.)
Venice with teenagers: traveller’s tips
Sports Bar The boys love football so the neighbourhood Bar Verde with its two big screens showing Sky Sports was the obvious choice after supper. Cakes and pastries were big sellers and customers were just as likely to pop in for an espresso or a sandwich as a beer. At 10pm there was a male contingent around the screens, a cluster of women chatting at a corner table and a mother and small boy with hot chocolates who settled down to watch Milan v Barcelona. We did learn some new Italian phrases though when Messi scored.
We wish we’d had time to…
There’s never enough time on a city break to do everything you’ve planned. Here are some of the sights on our list that we either didn’t get round to or had already visited on a previous trip. I’ve included them for inspiration – and for next time!
The Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale. This hard-to-miss Venetian icon is in the centre of Venice at St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) next door to the Basilica. It’s a major museum but perhaps of more interest to teens is the Secret Itineraries guided tour. It takes in hidden chambers and cells used by the Doge’s secret service and crosses the infamous Bridge of Sighs. We haven’t done this yet and it’s on our Next Time list.
St Mark’s Basilica or Basilica San Marco. This is actually free to enter but the queue can be daunting. It’s possible to book a skip-the-line entrance for a small fee online up to 30 minutes before entry. Visitors are allowed about 10 minutes in the cathedral itself, for additional entry fees there’s more to see in the Treasury and St Mark’s Museum. On a previous visit we went to the Museum because it’s here that the stunning and original bronze Horses of San Marco are stabled. Their four replicas can be seen out on the terrace too, overlooking the Piazza.
Take a boat trip to the glass-making island of Murano or pretty Burano with its colourfully painted cottages and fish restaurants.
Cross to the Lido to hire bikes and cycle the length of the beaches.
A day trip to Verona
After two full days of walking and sight-seeing we woke to a rainy-looking Venice and decided to go out of town. So we caught a train to Verona and spent a blue-sky day in the sun just an hour away. For Venice: city break with teenagers Part 2 – Day trip to Verona Click here
Venice Airport to Venice – transfer tips
We arrived at Venice Marco Polo airport in the evening. The ATVO bus runs frequently, non-stop, from Venice airport to Venice, terminating at the Santa Lucia railway station on the edge of the historic city and the western end of the Grand Canal. The journey takes around half an hour and there’s room on the bus for luggage. From close by the railway station you can catch a vaporetto to travel across Venice to your accommodation. Buy bus tickets from a counter or ticket machine at the airport and then validate them once you get on board.
Other routes into Venice include taxi by road to the railway station, airport waterbus, or private water taxi. The latter is one of the most James Bond of all experiences!
The waterbus service to and from the airport is run by Alilaguna.it. You can buy single or return tickets and they’re available online too with a discount if you book in advance.
Rolling Venice card for Venice with kids and young adults
From the modernist railway station concourse we stepped straight out into the picturebook world of Venice and jumped aboard a vaporetto to San Marco. This journey took about 45 minutes and ran the length of the Grand Canal – a fabulous if sedate way to arrive.
The standard vaporetto ticket costs 7.50 euros a trip or 40 euros for a 3-day visitors travel card for waterbus and bus. If you’re in Venice with kids a Rolling Venice discount card for young people between 6 and 29 years costs 6 euros and gives reduced prices for travel passes and some other concessions too. With a Rolling Venice card a 3-day Youth Pass is 22 euros. We bought our Rolling Venice cards and travel passes in Venice but they can now be bought online at Venezia Unica. NB they are not valid on the ATVO airport buses or the Alilaguna airport boats.
This info is based on our experiences, for the most up to date travel details check the ACTV website before you travel.
If you’re interested in booking ahead, here’s a selection of tickets and tours from Get Your Guide.
Venice weather in October
The UK forecasts for Venice in October were pessimistic so we packed waterproofs. In fact we were lucky and managed to avoid rain altogether. I took boots and Birkenstocks and was glad of both on different days. Our stay was generally warm, approx. 18 – 20 C, though overcast and misty. I was the only one of us to wear a coat and that was just on one evening on the Grand Canal.
You can be lucky in the autumn and get a classic blue sky. We didn’t but nor did it pour with rain. Arguably the mistiness just added to the mysterious and haunting quality that makes Venice so magical. Certainly I think it’s an acceptable trade-off for the intense heat, the crowds and yes, the smell of Venice in high summer!
The ‘What went wrong’ bit:
Our biggest mistake was leaving the bedroom window open. I heard the tell-tale whine of a mosquito in the night (in between the bell-ringing) but it was only in the morning that we realised Ed had been the main course.
Our second mistake was not packing either insect repellent or sting cream. Long sleeves and insect protection were essential in the evenings. But there was no problem finding medication in a neighbourhood pharmacy.
Venice with Teens
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