Venice with kids top tips contents
Join us on our adventure to Venice with kids – flamingos, beach clubs, Murano glass tigers and chocolate box Burano houses. Marvel at the fabulously elaborate architecture and walk amongst Roman horses on the terrace of St Marks Basilica itself.
Why not learn from my mistakes (and successes) and enjoy your trip to Venice with kids to the max! Whatever you do – do not miss tip 35, a 2 Euro Gondola, and the coloured houses of Burano.
1. Planning for Venice with kids in Covid
Things to consider:
1.1 Be flexible - with plans A, B and C
Venice with kids Tip 1: In these uncertain travel times have a plan A, B and C - all fully cancellable.
PLANS A, B and C: The Venice with kids plan was actually a Plan B (albeit an A lister of a Plan B). We’d booked Vegas for our 20th wedding anniversary in 2020. Covid ended up closing America in the end but as luck would have it, in July Italy opened instead. Our wedding day lunch had been at the Venetian, Las Vegas but we could go to the actual Venice instead for our 20 year rematch. Flights were £29 each and the idea became a plan B.
We also booked Cornwall as a plan C, just in case. Fully cancellable (Booking.com is happy for you to have 2 venues booked for the same date).
THE 2 CENTRE PLAN: Initially, we decided on a beachside campsite as a base for the week, popping into Venice for the big day. But as changing flight dates with Easyjet is free at the minute, after a couple of wines we talked ourselves into adding 4 days on the end of the trip staying in Venice itself. We could have a beach holiday and a city break for the price of one. It was time to get excited again. But not too excited, as Covid could still whip the travel rug away from under us at any moment. We now had 5 weeks to plan a holiday.
1.2 Choosing a campsite near Venice with kids
Venice with kids Tip 2: Campsites in Europe are great for kids - combine them with a city break for a bit of R and R
Coping with last minute booking
Speedy decisions needed to be made about where to stay. Would there be anything available at this late stage in the game? It was so close to our intended departure date and I usually book a year ahead, so I can spend the rest of it dreaming. I was out of my comfort zone.
The ban on international travel from the UK was still in place at this point but was due to be lifted in a week or so. We might still beat the booking crowds waiting for the starter gun. Fortunately, the internet revealed that there are many fab campsites near Venice and plenty left for us to choose from.
Do some initial Venice with kids research
I tend to start with Vacancesoleil which has the best prices, then navigate to Eurocamp, as they cover the same sites and have better pictures so you can see what you’re signing up to. I then check prices against travel comparison sites like Trivago, Expedia and Booking.com.
We asked a few friends for recommendations for campsites near Venice, but these sites had already been nabbed, presumably by stay-cationing Italians.
Make a campsite checklist for Venice with kids
I narrowed it down to the ones near the best beaches, with the best reviews and water parks. One suggested it had human marble run slide new for 2020, but I doubted they had manged to complete the construction in the circumstances.
Venice with kids campsite choice
We went for Isamar with its 5 pools, water slides and beach side location. It was only an hour’s drive from Venice and 7km from Chioggia, a mini-Venice, where we would be able to drop in for tea. You could also catch a boat from here across the lagoon into Venice itself.
Choosing the company to book through
Choosing which company to book with and which accommodation type still lay ahead of me. I needed to book the best accommodation (allowing myself an anniversary upgrade), for the cheapest price, and also fully Covid-cancellable.
I could see if I pushed the boat out there was a fancy beach side chalet. Yay. It worked out cheapest to book directly with the campsite, and we could cancel up to the week before departure. This meant fewer options for rebooking if the holiday fell though in the last week, than if we booked with a bigger company, but we’d just have to stick with this campsite and try to negotiate a date change if the borders closed!
1.3 Hotel rooms in Venice with kids
Should you stay in Venice with kids or on an island?
For part 2 of the trip, we toyed with the idea of 2 days in Venice and 2 days at the Lido, the beach island. But the thought of and extra day lost to carrying cases through the streets of Venice was enough to shelve this one. We would just boat it out to the Lido for the day, bag-free
About 25% of hotels in Venice were still closed but those that were open had plenty of availability and were pretty reasonable. It was just a bit harder to find a family room than normal as hotels clearly struggle for space in the back streets of Venice.
Expedia led us to a 14th century canal side palace for about £200 a night. We just wouldn’t be able to afford breakfast. On Googling, I found a nearby Spar to keep us in bread and biscuits, so sorted. (At this point I was unaware of the “no eating in the streets” law in Venice.)
Venice with kids Tip 3: As there are no cars in Venice, unless you have a waterside hotel entrance and a water taxi arrival, you will be carrying your bags from the ferry - so pack light and work out your nearest ferry stop in advance.
1.4 Insurance - boring but important!
Venice with kids Tip 4: Make sure you are Covid covered, including for self-isolation
Were any insurers covering Covid? Annoyingly, we had annual insurance for our cancelled US trip but it did not cover Covid. We found an insurer online, Staysure, which does cover emergency care and repatriation for Covid and was offering 15 months for the price of 12. An annual family insurance policy would cover us for 2 summers. (There was no mention of Covid cancellation cover.)
We made all bookings fully cancellable until a week before travel and crossed our fingers for the last few days after we’d committed, but were probably uninsured. (As it turns out, Staysure had retrospectively added Covid cancellation cover to all policies bought after 13 March 2020, but this was not in the policy paperwork I had, so I was not aware of this at the time. It was a long week.)
SELF ISOLATION TOP TIP: Check out the Which? Website as this lists companies which currently provide cover for Covid. Trailfinders are one of the companies which now cover for self-isolation due to close contact with a confirmed case. Anyone with children in school might want to consider adding this in light of the number of school bubbles that are closing (my child’s included). Guttingly, I will be buying a third insurance policy to cover my rescheduled US trip next year as sadly Staysure do not cover this, only if you actually have Covid yourself.
1.5 Car hire, in Venice?
Venice with kids Tip 5: Consider a car for travel to your campsite and/or exploring.
Would I need a car to get to the campsite? It looked like the answer was yes, no handy train out of Venice to Chioggia seemed to exist. The upside was we would be able to do some exploring if the roads weren’t too horrific. I booked the car through trusty Zest, which always seem to offer great rates through the big companies and is a winner of a Which? Award for being an all round good egg and providing back up if things go wrong.
Only needing a few t shirts in our luggage, we’d decided to claw back a bit of cash by only taking 2 bags between the 4 of us, and so we could also go for smallest car they had. The boys’ legs are a bit longer now, but they could squeeze in the back and who needs 4 doors anyway? The tiny Fiat selected from the bottom of the price list was going to be compact and bijou, but it had aircon.
Check out my Budget Travel page for car hire tips.
1.6 Would flying to Venice with kids in Covid be safe?
What was it going to be like flying in a pandemic? Would they fly the plane half empty so there were 2 metres between each person? How would the aircon work? What if we failed the airport temperature check? So many questions, so few answers.
I Googled plane aircon, as sharing hundreds of people’s recycled air for 3 hours seemed like it might be an issue. On planes, apparently, fresh air is channelled from the outside and vertically down in front of each individual passenger. No sharing. Good.
2. Italy travel in Covid
2.1 Flying in Covid
Venice with kids Tip 6: Bone up on the Covid flight regulations for the country you are visiting.
I’d read all the emails from Easyjet about how Covid would affect the flight experience. There was a link for people travelling to Italy to follow, with forms for each passenger to complete confirming that they had not had any symptoms in the last 14 days. Printed, completed and in-hand ready.
We couldn’t quite believe we were actually being allowed on holiday. Up until the last minute we were sure someone would catch a cold requiring symptom declaration, or Italy would be closed or we’d be back in lockdown. But all was quiet on the Western Front, bags were packed and the (masked) taxi driver had dropped us at the terminal. This was actually going to happen.
At Bristol airport there was no forehead check but you do walk through a tented area which we assumed conducts an infrared scan of your temperature. We walked though without incident and with much relief.
With all travel to Spain having been advised against that week, the airport was devoid of the usual scrum of people. There was no queuing at the gate either, where you are waved straight through on to the plane. So far so good.
It is on boarding the plane that you are plonked right next to strangers. In my mind I had pictured that every other seat would be empty for social distancing or we would at least sit in isolated family units. We weren’t. All seats were taken. Also, the hostesses served snacks and food, so face masks were generally removed for consumption. Were just thankful that the rates were pretty low in Bristol.
When we touched down, the cabin doors opened, letting the hairdryer blast that is Venetian wind tickled our cheeks as we descended the exit ladders. In the terminal, no one asked for my forms, completed in quadruplicate, nor conducted a forehead test. We were in!
2.2 Car hire and driving in Italy
Venice with kids Tip 7: Driving in Italy is not for the faint hearted. Go for an excess waiver on car hire insurance.
Lots of wandering around a badly signed airport later (with 4 people’s luggage on 2 people’s backs) we found Rentacar where we were pleasantly surprised at the lack of force behind the sales pitch on pick up. The lady behind the desk issued no warnings about our paltry excess waiver nor sought to persuade us to upgrade (though I could see a smile on her lips looking at our bags). It did take a few goes to shut the boot, and too many hot minutes in the metal bubble before locating the aircon switch, but we were off! Only the exceedingly rubbish car park exit signs and car speedways around Venice to negotiate next!
The roads were kind to us in terms of being generally empty, although the side roads are really not quite wide enough for 2 cars to pass, and do have a steep 2-foot deep penalty drainage ditch on each side, which adds an edge both literally and metaphorically.
3. The Venice with kids campsite
Venice with kids Tip 8: Pick a site by the beach with at least one pool, and a pretty town nearby.
We rocked up to the campsite at 9pm to a pretty decent looking alpine lodge style reception. Foreheads passed the test and we were in. The final temper test for the day was standing in our airtight chalet box, trying to work out the aircon. It was like an oxygen-free escape room. And breathe.
3.1 First meal - pizza and prosecco
Venice with kids Tip 9: Plan arrival times to coincide with food outlet opening times.
Food is always a priority when travelling with kids. We were hoping that even though it was 10pm, this was continental Europe and someone would be willing to give us some kind of food, ideally pizza.
Approaching the pool/restaurant area you could hear children screaming at regular intervals and in unison, as if on a pirate ship ride. The boys got excited, was there a fair? The chorus turned out to be the children’s entertainment, a game they would play for an hour every evening, the only rule we could discern being to scream when told to do so. It was the land that Covid forgot as seats lined up next to each other under a large awning for the adults, enclosed a large throng of their noisy offspring.
It may have been disturbingly shrill but was a sign that things were still open. Heading nearer the pool,, the day and stomachs were saved by the fact that although the restaurant appeared to be closing, both pizza and prosecco were available, the latter on tap and by the jug.
Venice with kids Tip 10: Order prosecco on tap and by the jug/vase
The waiter looked on blankly at my pronunciation of the words “margarita” and “fungi” and menu pointing was required before she repeated back to me, in a light bulb moment kind of way, the exact words that I thought I had said in the first place. My accent must be really bad.
All the while, a silent electric storm raged dramatically in the distance, lighting the sky white in a spooky rainless way.
3.2 The Venice with kids cabin
Venice with kids Tip 11: Make sure you book aircon if you want to be able to breathe/sleep.
Waking up and examining the lodge by the fresh light of day, we could see that the cabin was top drawer: clearly new, extensively decked in fresh wood with minimalist chic décor inside and with a luxurious 2 bathrooms inside. Plenty of room for everyone and Venice with kids all-round winner. And definitely worth the 6 months’ overtime worked to pay for the upgrade.
You couldn’t go wrong booking any accommodation on this site really, as walking round the wooded pathways, all the chalets looked great, albeit a bit high density at times.
We had woken up to our anniversary day and, the fridge being bare, husband kindly went in search of celebratory coffee. Returning proudly with 2 cups we discovered that in Italy “latte” turns out just to mean milk. We sipped our comedy frothy milks and waited for the boys to get up.
Venice with kids Tip 12: The more the merrier. Check they have one for your child's age.
Pools are clearly high on the agenda on a Venice with kids holiday and Isamar did not disappoint. The site has 5 pools, for all ages:
- a multi waterside-fringed party pool for the big boys,
- a moon-scaped shallow one with fountains squirting from white hills and a fun waterfall feature (for pretty much the whole family),
- and several smaller ones with mushroom fountains and mini slides that we are lucky enough not to have to venture into now the boys are a bit older.
The only evidence was that things were not 100% normal was the temporary metal barrier erected between the restaurant and pool, so you had to enter the pool via a designated checkpoint for a forehead check. (The flaw in the system was that people were generally just walking through a large gap in the fencing.)
A day of sliding, sticking heads through waterfalls, commando manoeuvres through tunnels and shooting fountain water ensued.
3.4 Campsite dining
Venice with kids Tip 13: More restaurants means less cooking. Book your table to avoid disappointment/ tears/ hunger.
Exploring the site we clocked that there were 3 poolside restaurants and one on the beach, all fairly reasonably priced and serving pizza/ grill fare. We saw queues forming and disappointed diners being turned away and immediately made a booking for later. Anniversary cooking was not an option.
There was also a smattering of cafes, takeaways and ice cream parlours, mainly in the market area. You could stay here for the whole holiday and be fully catered for.
A poolside seafood (adult) and “chip pizza” (kids’) tea later, it was time to check out the beach where we were delighted to find the tented beach bar, complete with plants and illuminated by standard lamps. Perfect for an anniversary bucket of prosecco.
3.5 Italian weather - like a dark and stormy rum cocktail
Venice with kids Tip 14: Italy is stormy. Pack a waterproof and have a rainy day plan.
You may imagine Italy to be a hot sunny country, but violent storms have been a feature of every summer break we have ever spent here.
After prosecco on our lovely wooden veranda at the end of our first full day, we played with the external blinds. They were huge – about 20 foot wide and 10 foot high and were great for providing evening shade for your decking. Leaving them down proved to be a big mistake.
About 2am the metal poles running along the bottom edge of each blind started to bang against the decking frame. The electric storm had clearly crept across the sea and come for a visit. As the ferocity of the banging intensified, we discussed the wisdom of using the remote control to retract the blinds, thus temporarily extending their reach into the rising storm, before being safely stored in their casing. Before a decision could be made, the electrics went off and this was no longer an option. The aircon stopped breathing and bright emergency lighting lit up the cabin. It was getting on for 3am. The air was running out and the blind edges were rising higher and slamming down more noisily with each gust of wind. The caravan was shaking and thunder bolts sounded like someone was coming for us with a shot gun.
Over the course of the next hour the four 6 foot metal arms holding the sides of the blinds in place snapped one by one and the material began to swing wildly in full 10m arks like billowing sails with a deadly boom edging. They twisted in the gale as sheets of rain slid horizontally over the decking. The now exposed patio tables, loungers and chairs danced around the veranda in the spiralling wind. A bolt of lighting stuck the caravan a few feet in front of us. Having until this point been glued to the full length bedroom window, we withdrew, figuring there was a good chance of the furniture or ripped-off blind booms crashing through it.
We then assumed brace position behind the bed until dawn, listening to the storm rage though the site, snapping trees and vaguely wondered where we might find any of our clothes which had ironically been left out do dry outside over night. We waited nervously for the rising sun to heat the remaining cabin air to the usual 30 degrees, as we remained trapped inside by the angry and dishevelled blinds.
At 6am, we were more than a little relieved when the electricity and cool air returned, and the emergency lights and storm went out. We hadn’t been impaled and weren’t going to boil to death after all, and could risk sleeping for an hour or so before inspecting the damage and trying to escape.
A mini-sleep later we tentatively pushed our way past the sagging blind remains and explored the fallout. Trees and shattered loungers littered the site.
Fortunately, none of the debris appeared to have landed on our hire car (as I’m not sure that would that have been covered by our minimalist policy). The pool and beach bar were closed due to damage. The rain continued to lash down as a disappointed management toured the site taking photos of broken mechanisms. Much use was made of chainsaws to remove the dead and dying branches. Somehow our blinds were wrestled limply back into their casing, and the broken parts taken away. At least we had our first Venice with kids holiday story.
Scouring news reports about the storm, we saw that St Marks Square in Venice was closed due to flooding. This didn’t bode well for leg 2 of the trip. Would the rain ever end? I could see a huge green blob heading this way on the forecast for night 2.
3.6 Campsite beach
Venice with kids Tip 15: Not all Italian beaches are great. Do a bit of research (we didn't).
The campsite beach had looked quite pretty in the sun on our first day, with comedy whole-family cycles and pedalos with slides for hire. The sand was a bit more brown than golden and the water not particularly clear. More Weston-Super-Mare than Maldives, but it did the job of cooling the children.
In a break in the rain on day 2, we ventured out for a soggy beach walk. The sand had darkened to a mid-brown under the daytime rain. Child one suggested we move sites to Southern Italy with its sunshine and white sandy beaches. I counter-suggested we read books and make rainy day plans.
The next night loomed ominously, but only delivered buckets of rain in the end.
4. Chioggia - town like a fish with mini-lions
Venice with kids Tip 16: Chioggia really is a not-to-be-missed crowd-free mini-Venice.
4.1 Town like a fish
Day 3 and the rain stopped for a while, so we shot out for our first proper glimpse of Italy, to the mini-Venice that is Chioggia. We ended up hairy-scary driving along the very edges of canals and under tiny archways down back streets in a quest to park, before discovering the wide, cobbled and very pretty main street.
CHIOGGIA: Chioggia is Venice’s little sister, a crowd-free fishing village sitting across the same lagoon. The main street forms its wide back bone and 74 tiny “calles” spring off on either side completing its fish skeleton of a town plan. It’s claim to fame is being home to the oldest clock in the world, dating from 1386.
We strolled down the canal which runs parallel to and behind the main street before exploring the mini-canals. We discovered buildings done up like Mr Kipling cakes, wooden depictions of the Lady Madonna and bridges topped with lion statues, before mainlining Coke and chips at scenic cafes.
4.2 The 3 tales of the Chioggia lions
There are 3 competing versions of the story of Chioggia’s lions.
- The Venetian version is that a cat, fleeing winged lions from Venice, took refuge atop a column in Piazza Vigo. The lions waited on the bridge for the cat to climb down for so long that they lost their wings and turned into stone.
- Proud Chioggians hold that the big cat, a symbol of St Mark the patron saint of Venice, is manmade, but built deliberately small, in order to poke fun at Venetian authority.
- Less charitable others say the miniature lions are the result of simple bad craftmanship, that the sculptor kept whittling away at the stone until the statues were the size of a smiling cat.
5. Po Delta - flamingos and beach clubs
Venice with kids Tip 17: Bring binoculars for the flamingos and be ready for a surprisingly ramshackle eel fishery setting.
Day 4 was still pretty blowy, so another activity rather than pool day was in order. We knew the campsite was close to a national park. From rainy day reading, we discovered that the Po Delta is an amphibious world of water and land protected by UNESCO, and home to hundreds of species of animals, which can be seen up close much like a great African safari.
We were particularly excited to discover that there would be flamingos, and not only that but the second biggest flock in Italy. I’d always wanted to see a wild flamingo, especially after seeing photos of people sitting amongst them on beaches in impossibly turquoise waters in exotic locations. I could recreate that photo!
There were beaches nearby too. Maybe they would be sparklier, with less muddy water?
5.1 Flamingos (and eels)
An hour’s drive south past beautiful crop fields, took us to a strange, rusting eel-fishing area, lined with tackle and huts. We were the only ones in the parking lot where an aging iron gate leading to a decaying café was strung with a padlocked metal chain. This was clearly off the main tourist track. But it had to be the right place as there was a notice board, featuring a flamingo, which you could stand behind as a sort of metal hide. Was that a white flamingo in the distance, or maybe a heron? Hard to know.
We had been instructed by the internet to “wander the walkways” in search of the flock. The walkways were accessed by bridges strung with barbs and no entry signs. We set off anyway. Eventually we came across some sign of life in the form of a small hut/café (?), with an open door and an occupant. The man had good news and bad news. He told us it was a café, but it was closed. He was however able to pointed us towards the land of flamingos, about a mile’s walk away in the adjacent lagoon.
We continued our walk with a renewed sense of purpose (despite the lack of refreshments/ toilets), past surreal scarecrows and more eel fisheries, over more metal bridges with not a soul in sight, in search of Italy’s second largest flamingo flock. How could it possibly be so low profile?
Eventually we were rewarded with a glimpse of bird action through the hedges fringing the lake. I chose to ignore the burnt out car I had to walk round to see them. We had found the flock! There were about 100 flamingos spread across the delta. They were mainly white on the outside, but were definitely pink when they spread their wings.
We stood and watched for a while and took a thousand photos on cameras with rubbish zooms so the birds look more like a sprinkling of white dots in the distance than a flamingo colony. This was not the tropical vista of my imagination but we were pretty excited to have tracked them down. I wouldn’t have thought it was so hard to find a hundred, massive brightly coloured birds.
Hungry, thirsty and needing the loo, it was not the best time to get lost on the way back to the car, but we did. Several kilometres of hot walking later, with no google maps landmark to guide us, we were reunited with our hot metal tin can car and set off in search of a beach, coca cola and food.
5.2 Beach clubs
Venice with kids Tip 18: Lido Di Spina has the best sand and funky free-entry clubs.
Lido di Spino, the nearby seaside resort was going to answer our prayers.
Beaches are different in Italy. Companies buy small sections of the sand, cover them in loungers and charge you to use their facilities. The result of this is that you can’t drive to the beach and see directly in to the sand. We found a road nearby, parked behind some hoardings and entered “Malua” beach club. “Marrakech” was next door. (No wonder I had been confused by the search results I was getting on Googlemaps.)
This was surely a private club? But hunger was a driving force and I insisted we enter. There was a white-lit plastic reception area accessed via a walk-through tunnel, like a set from a 1970’s episode of Dr Who. Could we just pop in for a drink without paying a pricey cover charge? Yes, we could! We were waved through, children n all.
Inside was a deserted playground for rich bright young things – palm fringed pool, raised areas for tables and benches and what was surely scaffolding for a late night dj set in more party-focused times. A sandy pathway led to a grid of empty white loungers. Strange but stylishly beautiful.
The sand was white and the lifeguard huts had a California vibe going on. Next door was a bit more jester-themed, with blue and white frilly-fringed parasols. The next section on had gone for jaunty Jamaican straw umbrellas. As far as the eye could see were grids of loungers in trade colours.
When you can guarantee the weather and when beach fronts can be purchased privately, even when the beaches are empty of people (for instance in a pandemic) they are still full of beach paraphernalia. This is a real contrast with the UK where there is a good chance of rain, but when you are weather-lucky the whole beach is open to everyone for free. And when no one is around, it is just you and the elements.
Having said that, a few afternoons on the loungers here would have been a nice way of adding a great beach to your Venice city break.
We stayed for a surprisingly reasonably priced cola and pizza snack before heading holiday-home via another mini-Venice and land of eels, Comacchio.
6. Comacchio - bridges, eels and canals
Venice with kids Tip 19: Look out for the famously enormous bridges in another mini-Venice.
We pootled back to the campsite by way of this second “Little Venice”, and wandered the empty streets of this pretty town, famous for its eels, canals and enormous bridges.
COMACCHIO: Comacchio, built on more than thirteen different islets, was only joined to the mainland in the 1800s. The maze of canals is fringed by pastel houses and joined by stone bridges, the most iconic being the bridge of the Trepponti, with its huge sweeping stairways.
Having climbed the many steps of the massively oversized bridge, our work here was done. Campsite pizza and check out initiation ceremonies awaited.
Campsite check out
Venice with kids Tip 20: Be warned this is a lengthy process. Head to reception early the day before to book a slot, pay as much as you can at this point and make sure they know you want aircon for the last night.
For the last few days at the campsite, the sun shone and the pool became a second home. Somehow a whole week passed and it was time to move along.
Top tips –
- Checking out will take ages and involves a number of steps. Allow plenty of time for each stage.
- Book a final inspection slot early on the day before departure. Arriving late to this party, we joined reception queue number one and were offered either a 7am or 10:30am check out inspection slot. We took the former, deciding we would work out how to break this to the boys later. You are issued with a 4 page check out inspection form and moved on to the cash desk queue.
- The next step is to pay the tourist tax and aircon bill (this is somehow extra and not payable on check in). Once you make it to the front of the queue it takes about 15 mins to process each family at this second desk. With about 5 families waiting in line and closing time approaching, the pressure was on. You can pay in the morning, but I was guessing that there would be more than 5 families at that point, and desk 2 could potentially involve queuing until midday. We made it just before the doors locked.
- Having paid up, you still need to bring the forms back in triplicate to the original desk the next morning with your family’s 4 arm bands, after your inspection has been signed off. Queuing will be involved.
On our final evening at about 10pm the aircon went off. This was clearly the downside of completing step 3 early, requiring us to go back to reception night service for a top up on our aircon card. This system is clearly a bit broken. When paying up, maybe tell them you would like to continue to breathe for the final night of your stay.
On departure day, we duly tidied at dawn and stuffed oversized bags into the undersized car boot until the catch stopped bouncing open. We passed the inspection (and were not charged for the storm blind damage which had been an unspoken fear for the duration).
During the final stretch of the check out process (number 4), whilst husband was moving the car off site, I realised the masks were all in the car. With no sign of a mask-bearing husband, I hitched up my hem to indecent levels in an attempt to use my dress neckline as a make-shift mask.
I was not made to line up again at desk 2 to pay for the aircon top up (thank god) – as the queue length was as predicted, insane at this time, . With at least half of the morning left, it was time to set off on part 2 of Italian holiday.
7. Conegliano - on the Prosecco Road
Venice with kids Tip 21: Prosecco Road is not an actual road name. The walk up the hill at Conegliano is worth it and there is Pepsi cola at the top.
North of Venice lies the home of prosecco, cultivated since Roman times in the foothills of the Alps. Having children with us and living in Covid times, we had an excuse for not having booked ahead for a vineyard wine tasting, but very much fancied checking the area out on the way to Venice.
We’d read that Conegliano is the first town you come to in the prosecco growing area.
Here, you can follow the old castle battlements up to the top of a hill for picnics and views. Sounded perfect. With the help of a very friendly local we navigated the parking meter and set off up the hill. Steep, hot and winding were not welcome adjectives and rumblings of complaints were in the air.
But at the top, we were not only rewarded with views and the body of the castle itself, but a magical café selling iced drinks. And it was open. The cafe was so pretty in fact that an entire Italian family had booked it for a christening which meant we got to look out over their fabulous floral table decorations in the presence of a real Italian godfather.
Fully refreshed, we set off in search of a selfie on “Prosecco Street”. Unable to locate it on Googlemaps, I turned to Google itself to discover that rather than being a road on a map, it is a 60km stretch along which the vineyards are dotted. Settled for a sign post instead.
I had really wanted to buy some prosecco from Prosecco Road but sadly there was no open bottle shop to be found. Empty handed, we hit the main highway, where not all roads led to Rome, but Venice.
8. Travelling into Venice
Venice with kids Tip 22: Locate a petrol station on the map before you start your journey to return your hire car.
To get to Venice you have to ditch the car as the roads are made of water.
There was a bit of a petrol panic, as not all the roads leading to the airport have petrol stations. I had kind of taken this for granted and we had to overshoot blindly and aimlessly past the airport to the nearest local town, luckily striking black gold after a shortish hunt.
Being worldly wise, when we dropped the car off at the airport we took lots of pictures in case of scams claiming we’d trashed it. But then we felt less wise and more like cynical baddies, as the guy taking it off our hands, having waiting until I finished my photo shoot, with a genial smile on his face, was super friendly and entirely unbothered about the state of it.
Airport water taxis - in
Venice with kids Tip 23: Consider a glamourous private water taxi if travelling in a group.
The next decision to be made was whether to take the ferry (100E return for 4) or water taxi (120E one way) into Venice. We decided to be sensible and go for the former as a ferry into Venice sounded like a pretty fantastic way to arrive anyway.
In hindsight I should have gone for the taxi. The ferry was chocker full inside with tiny windows which were mainly closed. There was no aircon and we were rammed in with 40 other people for about an hour. Past us whizzed taxi speed boats with 2 or 3 passengers standing up outside, hair blowing in the breeze as they raced into town. Hmm.
Boat travel around Venice with kids
Venice with kids Tip 24: Consider a 72 hour boat pass.
We had not taken the time to investigate boat ticket packages ahead of our arrival as it just sounded a bit dull (and my excuse was that although we had a few boat trip plans they may all need binning if flooding was hitting town). Also, there is only so much you can research in 5 weeks.
You can buy a 72 hour boat pass that would have saved us money. We could even have taken the airport water taxi into Venice on day 1 of our 4 day trip and broken even. Something to look at if you are planning a trip.
9. Venice with kids hotel
Venice with kids Tip 25: Google maps is better at finding where you are than a real map, but be ready to get lost anyway.
On arrival, we followed in the footsteps of 99% of visitors to Venice and promptly got lost. With bags this is less fun. But Googlemaps, although not always able to keep up with the twisty dead ends and lanes ending in water that you cannot cross, eventually lead us to our home. Perched prettily on the banks of a gondola strewn canal and next to the fabulously named Ponte del Diabolo (devil’s bridge), was our very own 14th Century palace, Palazzo Priuli.
Going through the mullioned-glass doors, it was like entering the Mary Celeste – the tables were laid but no one was home. And it was a bit sticky hot. We shouted “Hello”, knocked on a few doors, telephoned and finally emailed the hotel. 10 minutes later a man in full waistcoat appeared and offered to carry our bags next door. We were informed that sadly the aircon was officially dead and we would be staying in a fabulously modern room in the Palazzo San Lorenzo next door instead.
This was decidedly not the 14th century decor I had in mind, but once I got over this I could appreciate its madness. The walls were spongy, and flocked. The entire room was deep red, including the ceiling. Gold mirrors and bedsteads shone. It felt like a cross between an Indian restaurant and a Disney themed hotel. Different anyway.
The aircon was barely existant. We did ask if the air was mended in our original room in time, whether we could be moved back in space and time to our feature family room, but were told the part was on order and not due until after we left. Oh. Embrace the bling.
10. St Mark's Square
Venice with kids Tip 26: The rooftop walk at the Basilica museum is magnificent and only 5E.
Stepping outside our new hotel, we were confronted with Venice in her full glory. It was nearly 4pm and a visit to St Mark’s Square to check out the flooding seemed like an interesting expedition before tea. It was reputed to be 5 minutes away – but inevitably took us a good half hour to find.
There had been a vague plan to attend a service in the Basilica the following morning for the full cultural experience, but on arrival at the Plaza we found that although the St Mark’s Square was open (the flooding had clearly boiled off), the Basilica had chosen, like many businesses in Covid, to take the opportunity to have a bit of building work done and was closed to the public.
The Square itself was fabulous, edged with basilicas, palaces, old clocks and cafe life. A grand piano played on a pedestal. The emptiness exaggerated the startlingly white and excessively decorative architecture. It is the cultural and tourist epicentre of Venice, and with views out to sea unobscured by the usual international cruise liners, it perhaps felt a little more like its former self than it had for years.
10.1 Who is St Mark anyway?
I’d read that St Mark had passed through Venice stating his intention to die here. When he in fact died in lands owned by the Ottoman Empire, his body was hidden in pig fat and smuggled back to Venice, the whole basilica being constructed in his honour (in traditional over the top Venetian style).
10.2 Basilica museum
The upside to the Basilica being closed was that the queue to get into the Basillica museum, which was open, was tiny. With only 30 minutes left before closing we took and passed the heat sensor gamble/test, and entered the magnificent gold-ceilinged interior. Once again, we had done no research so had no idea what we would see in the museum but were delighted to find you get to tour the battlements of the Basilica itself.
Here you get to stroll amongst giant horses, practically within touching distance of the Doge’s Palace next door and survey the hot yet snowy-white St Mark’s Square below you.
Like the square below, the battlements were practically devoid of people. The sun reflected fiercely off the baked marble. Tired children slumped in small porticos as I clicked happily away.
Another unexpected bonus of the museum tour is that you get to look down into the interior of the Basilica – eerie, dusty and deserted. Atmosphere enhancing silence is demanded quietly by signposts.
10.3 The world travelling horses who lost their carriage
Venice with kids Tip 27: Check out the real deal Roman horses hiding inside the museum
Inside the museum was an identikit version of the horses standing guard over the main entrance outside. On further investigation it turns out that these are the original Roman horses, those on display on the battlements being replicas.
ROMAN HORSES: The real Roman bronze horse statues originally perched on top of a Roman monument, drawing a chariot behind them. After a Venetian raid in 1204, the horses took up residency on the roof of the Basilica where they stood proudly until Napoleon came along and nabbed them in 1797, taking them off to Paris. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the horses made it back to the Basilica where they now sit safely inside the building, while their doppelgangers (created in the 1980’s), bear the brunt of the elements outside.
11. Rialto Bridge
Venice with kids Tip 28: Stop for an Aperol at the foot of the bridge (and take a hat).
In danger of using up all our must-see icons in one day, we struck off in search of the Rialto Bridge. Not only did we find it fairly quickly (for us) we even found a free table right in front of it.
We were probably fairly lucky to get one seat, let alone 4. As a Covid silver lining, Venice turned out to be pleasingly crowd-free. Without the international tourists, most of the people were Italian, which again made it feel more authentic than usual.
It was hot as mustard in the sun, but the location was so perfect we had to stay for 2 drinks whatever the weather. We took it in turns sharing the shade of the lamp post and umbrella poles.
It had been a cracking start to our Venetian trip – we’d covered day 1 and day 2’s plans and it was still the first evening. Under the searing glare of the sun, a new day 2 idea was born – the beach.
RIALTO BRIDGE: In 1444 the Rialto Bridge collapsed under the weight of spectators to a wedding ceremony. Venice has been the home to party people for 500 years.
12. Family eating in Venice
Venice with kids Tip 29: Gen up on how easy it is to break a Venice tourist rule. Then try not to.
In search of food, we passed a sign showing us what the tourist police have outlawed. Seemingly innocent pastimes are simply not allowed. Mary Poppins’ bird lady would not have been welcome here.
As eating supermarket food on the street was clearly a no no, we decided we ought to find pizza restaurants for our evening meals. (Watch out for the cover charge which many places add just for sitting down).
The quality varied with price, some pizza and pasta was clearly straight out of the freezer and cost about 5E a head, others were the real deal. The canopied Gransapor Ristorante in front of our hotel was friendly and at 12E for a calzone, worked for us. When we staggered past after a hot walk one day, they were happy for us to buy an ice cream from a shop next door and eat it at their table while the adults tucked into a welcome icy beer (a large is 13 Euros but almost un-liftable).
We did find a local bakery selling mini-pizzas for 1 Euro, which we bought for breakfasts/lunches and to eat on the hoof in back streets away from the gaze of the police. As the buildings are so tall and the lanes so narrow, you are mainly protected from the sun as well as they eyes of the law.
13. Lido - the beach option for Venice with kids
Venice with kids Tip 30: The Lido beach is not that great but for hot children it was a winner. Arrive early for a parasol.
So, our first full day had duly been voted beach day, the children having had enough of the city heat already. We boarded a boat from St Mark’s Square, with about a hundred other beach goers, to visit the strip of land frequented by generations of Venetian royalty for their weekend getaways. I had high hopes.
Walking down the main boulevard from the ferry port to the other side of the island where the beaches lie, we passed some pretty spectacular former palaces. Many hotels have bought beach front acreage and the front is lined with beach huts and loungers. We were unsure if these were available to the day tripper, and being budget conscious, followed signs to the free beach.
The free beach is a hot 800m walk along the road and through a very inauspicious wire fenced entrance. Weeds spring through gravel to waist height. Right next to the entrance, a queue had formed for deckchair and brolly hire. It was 33 degrees and with no other form of shade to be seen, these were going to be essential.
We joined the shade-free queue of about 20 people, not daring to imagine how long it would be in non–Covid times. It was slow. For each customer, the attendant had to extract a new umbrella and chair from a box and thread on the seat cover. There only seemed to be one box left, and a very empty cupboard behind it. We inched closer. The last chair went to the people in front of us. There was one brolly left. We were told to wait “maybe 10 minutes?” in the sun for a chair and possibly a second brolly. The rest of the queue melted away behind us in unhappy astonishment. Eventually a deckchair and brolly combo was brought across the burning beach by a very athletic old lady and laid at our feet. We now just had to carry 4 beach bags, 2 umbrellas and a deckchair another hot 500m to the sea front. We could do this. Just.
On arrival at the sea front we were faced with this sign:
Yes, no swimming allowed as this was a shipping lane. Everyone was ignoring this, of course. Was this really the choice of kings?
The sand was not, to my mind, really fit for princes either, being more of a builder’s brown and spiky variety, but the water was pretty clear in a beige kind of way. I judged it on my beach sand scale as more Bournemouth/Pendine sands than St Ives.
But we were here for the day, with thousands of others, and we had shade. And then a man wheeled a mobile party bar next to us and all was well with the world.
My advice, if you are going for a beach holiday, Venice is not for you. The kids loved being out of the city heat, but the city is kind of the point. I did enjoy my beach day but declined it as a repeat day 2 activity.
14. Burano - paintbox houses
Venice with kids Tip 31: An absolute highlight is the pretty house photo shoot on the island of Burano. Go early and bring a portable phone charger (or 2).
Day 2 was my turn. I had anticipated that the colourful houses of Burano would fill my photo album pages this year (and it was looking pretty empty so far – so lots of pages to fill). The guide books advise getting there early to avoid the throng, but we translated this in Covid times to a more family friendly 9:40am ferry from Fondament Nove and were rewarded with a half empty boat.
The ticket lady had taken pity on my lack of boat research and suggested we buy a day pass each for 20E for unlimited boat travel, so we could stop at Murano on the way back more cheaply. We’d read in the Lonely Planet that you can take a public ferry along the Grand Canal, so decided to fit this in later in the day on our all-you-can-eat boat ticket.
As Burano is 50 minutes away, the ferry is larger than usual and we were able to nab an outside chair at the back. Taking a few selfies on the way, we realised that these days all photos are just you impersonating the invisible man/woman.
We arrived to find the place pretty empty, perfect for taking the thousand photos I had in mind, although not early enough for the fabulous reflection shots of the jaunty houses in the canals that I had seen taken by the professionals.
I couldn’t choose which one to showcase so I may have gone a bit overboard here. In my defence I ask, could you pick a favourite?
We stopped for cola in one of the cafes in the main square, which I have since learned is nearly impossible to do in times of normal crowd size.
My phone camera being virtually full and dying on its feet (much like the rest of the family), I managed to tear myself away from this colour saturated world of toy town homes and board the boat to Murano.
15. Murano - home of glass(es)
Venice with kids Tip 32: Turn ogling the crazily over-the-top glass art into a game.
We marvelled at the oversized glass, created with various degrees of artistry and played hunt the wildest, ugliest and biggest specimen. So many contenders for each category. The enormous glass swirls are generally mind blowing but there was a very weird unstriped grey tiger clearly crafted by a beginner in the field.
Finding a bar on the edge of the canal, we used the excuse of blending in culturally by having an afternoon Aperol, then bought impractical glass fruit souvenirs by the basketful.
You can get free tickets to see glass blowing but, as practically the only visitors in town, we thought there might be too much pressure to purchase an eye wateringly expensive large glass object, and so declined.
After catching the boat back to town, the family’s 8 legs collectively gave up and the will could not be summoned to hunt out the Grand Canal ferry. Next time…
16. Shopping in Venice with kids?
Venice with kids Tip 33: Great for real and window shopping - antiquities, glass and masks (both fabulous and grotesque).
The last day was dedicated to wandering the streets and shopping. Venetian shops are out of this world, ranging from small artisan glassware to international couture by way of Venetian costumes and ancient wooden bookshops. Handily there are loads of pocket money trinkets available to facilitate shopping in Venice with kids. Exploring was going to be hot but fun.
VENICE FASHIONS: Venice has always been known for its extravagant lifestyle and fashions. Ladies would wear 50cm platform boots, and sport manly hairstyles which were frowned upon by the Church. Chests were exposed to the waist. The only way to tell the ladies form the courtesans was that one sat behind a window.
Venice with kids Tip 34: Do not miss the fabulous Venetian take on the corner shop.
Always needing biscuits, husband popped into a fancy looking shop bearing the “Spar” logo, a former theatre according to the writing on the outside. When he returned, I was instructed in no uncertain terms that I needed to see this Spar. I was not disappointed. Never has there been such a flamboyant corner shop – statues, high frescoed ceilings and velvet curtains to exit. Very Venice.
Venice with kids Tip 35: Go for the 2E gondola taxi!
We had photographed many a gorgeous gondola, and stripy t-shirted gondoliers but knew that the 80E half hour fee was too rich for our commoner blood.
Walking though the local produce market next to the Rialto Bridge, we saw what looked like a group of people queuing to get on to a Gondola. This was unusual as most gondoliers were struggling to drum up any trade. We realised we had stumbled across the local taxi service where for 2Epp you can cross the Grand Canal in style. It was like the Venetian Holy Grail. We had read about it but had not expected to find it, yet here it was. We piled on last and got gondolier’s view for our 5 min trip across. Brilliant.
18. The Ghetto
Venice with kids Tip 36: Check out the original Ghetto.
On our final day we found ourselves heading in the direction of the ghetto. Passing traditional Jewish food outlets and ancient street signs, we arrived in the centre of the original Ghetto itself. A Rabbi wandered out of the museum and a few tourists rested under shady trees in this dusty high sided square. We sat for a while overlooking the wall of remembrance and felt the weight of the past, as we read up on its history.
THE ORIGINAL GHETTO: In the 15th century, during the times of the inquisition, Jews were hounded out of many countries in Europe. Venice was happy for them to earn money by day but they were required to be confined by curfew in the foundry (“ghetto” in Italian) over night. Persecuted by Mussolini in the war, plaques remember them today in this Jewish quarter.
19. Venice life
Venice with kids Tip 37: Walking in the midday heat you are saved by the shade cast by the narrow lanes, and the abundance of stop off cafe options. Follow the city walls at your peril.
19.1 Walking around Venice with kids - narrow alleys and dead ends
Exploring the maze of narrow alleys and canals is, to my mind, the best way to spend time in Venice. Abandon the map and let the children decide which back street looks the most interesting to explore. At the end of the day, Googlemaps your position. It’s all gorgeous and you are bounded by water on all sides so you can’t really go wrong.
Still having a good portion of our last day left, we decided to investigate a metal walkway attached to what looked like castle walls forming the edge of the city. The metal grille was suspended above the water and walking along it was fun. Disappointingly, it ended with a “do not enter” zone which looked straight out of a zombie movie featuring both barking dogs and high wired fences. We toyed momentarily with the idea of squeezing through a hole in the fence to avoid having to go all the way back round but decided this may not end well. The sun had moved and the now scalding walkway was less exciting when retracing our slowing steps back along it to civilisation. Dead ends are a quirk of Venice wandering, and make exploration all the more interesting (not sure the kids bought this line, and ended up having to buy them a compensatory ice cream).
19.2 Adapting to the water
Venice with kids Tip 38: Play spot how many ways the city has adapted to its watery location.
During our 4 days we noticed the extent to which water rules life in the city. I started to play spot the difference with myself, which in hindsight might have been a good game to play with the kids (as a distraction technique if their feet are getting hot or sore).
Taxis, gondolas and ferries whisk you around the ancient watery roads (no marks for this one – too easy).
All the emergency services are aquatic. Sirens screech from water ambulances, carrying the sick to the boat docking area outside the A and E. We saw fire and police boats. There was even a funeral speedboat carrying a coffin, guarded by 2 burly suited and shaded mourners, to be buried on the cemetery island next door.
Parcels, petrol and picking up litter
Refuse: As there are no cars, binmen don’t have lorries. Instead, they go house to house with a handcart taking away the city’s rubbish.
Post: DHL make water borne deliveries.
Fuel: Boat-only petrol is dispensed on docksides.
ITS A SAILOR’S LIFE: Historically, as colonising menfolk tended to be off sailing the seas, their wealthy lady folk would seek company elsewhere and only 40% bothered to marry. The number of highly patronised illegitimate orphans in the town was off the scale and the streets rang with the music from well funded orphan choirs. The water even affects the singing!
20. Grand Canal Grand Finale
Venice with kids Tip 39: Catch a ferry down the Grand Canal.
Our Venice stay was at an end.
The airport ferry runs less regularly in Covid and from limited stops, so watch out for this . The ticket office at the airport had given us an amended paper schedule on our arrival and I was glad I hadn’t thrown it away. Venetian ferry schedules are notoriously difficult to navigate at the best of times.
We arrived in good time at the St Marks’ ferry port and the lady there directed us to Giardina landing area, about a 10 minute walk away, as we were in time to catch an earlier boat. Lugging the backpacks in the heat, we arrived to find the Giardina office was closed. We were pleased we had already bought our return tickets.
There are several docking areas at each stop and finding where to wait for the boat was not going to be easy with no one to ask and with no other tourists to follow.
We hovered between 2 landing stages then ran to each boat that came in until we got the right one. There has to be an easier way, but I’m not sure what it is. (Maybe check the night before.)
There was a final holiday treat waiting for us, as boarding the right ferry (yay), not only was it empty but it was much more flashy than our outward journey boat – pretty much like a water taxi in fact. As we stood on deck, it was our turn for our hair to be blowing in the wind, as it took us down the Grand Canal!
As an unexpected last minute bonus we were transported in style for 2 and a half miles down the grandest canal in the world, through heart of this aquatic city past the many palaces that line its banks.
Venice with kids Tip 40: Don't forget to research the flight rules for returning to your own country in Covid.
The only tricky part now was the return flight Covid documentation. I’d dutifully completed the forms sent by Easyjet for the way out, which no one in Italy had seemed interested in seeing. I had also filled out the counterparts for the way back anyway, just in case. No one asked for them.
On arrival in the UK however, we were greeted by loud and tell-y off announcements about another 6 page online UK entry form that needed completing immediately. What form was this? I had no idea, and neither apparently had many of the other passengers. We were instructed to step aside and complete the process before proceeding any further on pain of some punishment or other. With patchy internet and nearly dead phones, booking references, seat numbers, passport details all had to be sought and entered. We crouched in corners for the best signals. The children started to do their own forms but half way through the process I found that an adult had to enter all children’s data. They were told to stand down as the grown ups completed the administrative marathon against the clock.
We downloaded the results and, on the ethers of phone batteries, showed the official the scannable QR code to prove it, only to be waved by saying they didn’t yet have the technology to scan it. Grr.
Lessons learned - Veneto and Venice with kids in Covid
Glamour is and has always been Venice’s middle name and you cant help but fall in love with its fabulousness. This is what I take away from this summer’s Veneto trip of water and fire:
- A 2 centre holiday makes you feel like you have been on 2 holidays.
- Make sure your insurance covers Covid cancellation and self isolation to make it a stress-free experience.
- Bring water proofs – it will rain, possibly quite shockingly at some point.
- Don’t forget your mask or you will have to hoik up the neckline on your dress to indecent leg levels.
- Go to Burano first and early for the best shots even in Covid.
- Catch the gondola taxi by Rialto Bridge and save yourself a fortune.
- Watch out for the tourist rules in Venice, only eat like a criminal in a deserted back streets.
Travel during Covid does have a silver lining. We saw families of fish swimming in the canals and only Italians in the empty streets of Venice. Maybe the best time to go? I’d love to hear about your experiences of travel during Covid in the comment section below!
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