During the summer I had the chance to spend a day in Venice – eight hours in fact. While we weren’t on a cruise this time it did give me an insight to what it would be like to spend a port day in this incredible Italian city. So what is there to do on a port day in Venice? Which Venice excursions should you consider with children? And how easy is it to get around? Here’s our port guide to Venice with kids:
What you need to know for a port day in Venice with kids
The best view of Venice
Probably one of the best views of Venice is when you sail into the port early in the morning. Cruise ships usually arrive at between 6am and 8am, and one of the entertainment team will normally give a commentary as you sail past the main points of interest. If you are not lucky enough to have a balcony cabin on the starboard side, position yourself high up on one of the top decks of the ship to get an amazing view looking down on such iconic places as St. Mark’s Square and views up the first stretch of the Grand Canal.
Can you walk to Venice from Venice cruise terminal?
It is possible to walk to Venice’s old town from Venice cruise terminal but there is no footpath on part of the road to Piazzale Roma. Families would be better off using the monorail, the Venice People Mover. This takes you to Piazzale Roma from where you can walk or pick up the vaporetto water bus.
Alternatively you can use your cruise line’s water shuttle or catch a private water taxi from the cruise terminal.
Getting around Venice with kids
A port day in Venice will mean a lot of walking so make sure everyone is wearing sensible shoes. You might also want to consider leaving the pushchair onboard in favour of a baby or child carrier for younger children. Small and larger bridges, like the Rialto, as well as narrow streets and crowds will make manoeuvring a buggy difficult. We managed with our five and three-year-old without a buggy or carrier by keeping the pace slow and hopping on the vaporetto when they were getting tired.
If you are planning on wandering the streets of Venice on a self-guided tour than it might be worth getting a day ticket for the vaporetto. This costs €20 per person over the age of six-years-old for unlimited rides within 24 hours. A single trip lasting no more than 75 minutes costs €7.50. The easiest way we found to purchase tickets was on the vaporetto app. Be aware that the water bus isn’t the best way to ‘see’ Venice. It gets you from A to B but is not an open top boat ride. You might want to hire a private water taxi or go on a boat tour for this kind kind of experience.
Free things to do in Venice with kids
We appreciate that it’s not possible to go on organised shore excursions at every port, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out experiencing Venice. Here’s some things you can do for free or minimal expense:
Find a park
Viale Giardini Pubblici is a large park area which is ideal for escaping the bustle of St Mark’s Square. It’s a 20 minute walk away along the Grand Canal at the far end of the island. This the perfect place to relax, watch the canal traffic pass by and give the kids some time to let off steam.
Cross the Rialto Bridge
This iconic bridge stands on the oldest crossing on the Grand Canal and is lined with shops selling colourful Murano glass, clothes and Venetian masks. Children will enjoy looking through the windows but resist the pester power if they try to persuade you to make a purchase – the prices are much higher than you’ll find elsewhere.
Explore the art and architecture of St Mark’s Square
The sky high bell tower and gilt murals on St Mark’s Basilica are extraordinary. Give yourself a bit more time to appreciate the piazza and cathedral exterior by tasking your children with spotting different animals and signs on the buildings around them. Just around the corner from St Mark’s you’ll also find the Bridge of Sighs where convicts crossed on their way to prison after sentencing at Palazzo Ducale. Today the hands your children spot poking through the stone work are those of other tourists rather than prisoners!
Venice, like every Italian city, is full of symbology and art. You’ll see plenty of winged lions, dragons, tributes to St George and masks all around. Make a game of it to spot and ‘collect’ pictures of these symbols. You might even like to reward your treasurer hunters with a gelato for their good work. Sorry, this part doesn’t come free, but who doesn’t have daily gelato when visiting Italy?!
Venice tours and cruise excursions
If you do have some cash to splash on a cruise excursion in Venice then here’s a few your kids will enjoy:
Venice goldola ride
See Venice from the water in a gondola. This is a perfect excursion for a small family group – gondolas can take up to six people. Prices start at around €40 per person for a 30 minute ride. Book in advance either through your ship’s excursion team or with a local tour company for the best rates. You will be charged a lot more if you try to find a gondola on the day.
A private tour of Venice
We enjoyed a private and child-friendly tour of Venice with Macaco Tour. They specialise in walking tours, boat trips and workshops designed for children aged six to 11-years-old. Parents and grand parents can come along too. The excellent thing about taking a Venice tour for kids rather than tagging along with a generic Venice tour was that it was done at the right pace for children and included lots of interactive activities. Disclosure: we were offered a complimentary Venice tour in exchange for coverage on my Tin Box Traveller blog, but I can highly recommend them regardless.
Boat tours of Venice
There are various options for seeing Venice by boat. You can board the vaporetto, which I have mentioned above, or you can book a guided tour. As well as seeing Venice from the Grand Canal you can also find hop on hop off tours that will take you to the Venetian islands of Murano, Torcello and Burano.
Where can I eat in Venice?
Strict rules have been introduced in Venice to preserve its beauty and encourage visitors to respect the city. The only places you can eat a picnic or takeaway food in Venice are in its public parks. We’d recommend eating in cafes and restaurants where possible to avoid being caught out and receiving a hefty on the spot fine.
Which is the closest airport to Venice for joining a cruise?
Marco Polo Airport is your closest airport if you are joining or disembarking a cruise in Venice. This is a 25 minute taxi journey or 30 minutes by water taxi from the cruise terminal.
What is the weather in Venice?
We visited in August and the temperature was more than 30°C which was uncomfortable in the middle of the day. If you are visiting Venice with kids factor this into your excursions as it would be better to be wandering the narrow streets with some shade or visiting a park rather than jostling for space at one of the major sights. Click for a detailed Venice weather report.
If you’d like more reading I’ve written in detail about our day in Venice with kids.
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