Last summer we took the fast train from Rome to Venice, one of our favorite cities. We left Rome on the Frecciargento #9406 at 07:50 and arrived at the Mestre Train Station by lunch time.
The kids love taking trains around Italy. The seats are comfy and the passing scenery is beautiful. The dining car helps too!
Train travel in Europe is fun and can be economical with train passes. I always buy ours on Italia Rail. You can get several types of passes for 1st. and 2nd. class seats. I always check their specials before I buy passes, sometimes it’s less expensive to buy point-to -point tickets, specially if you will mostly be taking the Eurostar or fast trains. Seats on those trains require you pay a 10 Euro reservation fee per person per train ride. If you have a pass you must buy the reservation before you board the train, city-to-city ticket prices already include the fee.
A trip to Italy wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this magnificent city. From its opulent mansions to the grandiose Basilica, Venice is a city of Byzantine splendor.
But a trip to Venice does not come cheap. Hotels, even the lower rated ones cost a pretty penny. If you feel like a splurge the Danieli, Cipriani (where George Clooney and his guests stayed on his wedding weekend), or the San Clemente Palace are high end luxury hotels.
I love the San Clemente Palace , built in the late 1700’s as a monastery, the hotel is located on a private island in the lagoon. It retains the ancient atmosphere and some rooms have awesome views of San Marco. The hotel, as all other hotels in the lagoon, have their own private boats to ferry guests to San Marco Square.
A more family budget friendly alternative are hotels on the mainland in the town of Mestre. This year we stayed at the Novotel Venezia Mestre Castellana located just 4.3 miles from the city center of Venice. It has larger rooms that accommodate 2 adults and 2 children. Kids under age 16 stay free in their parents room and breakfast in included. The hotel has a small pool and playground as well as a couple of video game stations in the lobby for kids to use. The hotel is around the corner from the bus stop where you can hop a Venice bound bus for the 15 – 20 minute ride.
Another plus to staying in Mestre is that you don’t have to drag your luggage on the cobble stoned streets of Venice, or hire a porter, to your Venetian hotel. Cars are not allowed in Venice. Buses drop you off at the Piazzale Roma which is a short walk from Venice’s Santa Lucia train station.
Where ever you decide to stay here are kid friendly things to do in Venice. Some can be done for little costs, others not so little. Approximate costs are given to help you plan and budget.
1. Buy a 1 Euro bag of corn nuts from one of the feed vendors in Piazza San Marco and feed the pigeons. The kids love it! You get great pictures. The Piazzetta di San Marco is right off the main square towards the lagoon, try feeding the pigeons there it is usually less crowded. Keep away from and do not feed the big seagulls, they can be very aggressive and will “bite”.
2. Visit San Marco Basilica to see it’s magnificent mosaics. When inside you can visit the Treasury, Museum, loggia, the tomb of St. Mark, and the spectacular high altar – each attraction has its own entrance fee, I believe we paid about 5 Euro per person for each attraction..
Entrance to the Basilica is free, but you will have to stand in line for a long time. Skip the que, make online reservations for a 2Euro service fee per person, kids 6 and under are free.
You can get some great photos out on the loggia, you have an awesome view of the piazza in front and the piazzetta and lagoon from the side. Photography is not allowed inside the Basilica or in any of the attractions, having said that I will share some photos my kids took in spite of my scolding. To be accurate they took them in full view of staff, everyone else was taking photos, and at least they did not use flash.
3. Ride a gondola in one of Venice’s side canals. A must do for first time visitors although it is a bit pricey. About 100 Euro for a gondola that seats 6. Otherwise you can book a shared gondola tour for 30 Euro per person.
4. Hop on the slow moving Vaporetto #1 (public “bus”) for a scenic cruise down the Grand Canal, this is the best deal in Venice. It cruises by many landmark buildings. Get on at one end, I prefer getting on in front of the train station Venezia Santa Lucia, and getting off the other end at Piazza San Marco. You can buy a one way ticket or a 24 hour pass if you will use it to get around during your stay, or want to go to other islands such as Murano and Burano.
5. Make your own mask. Visit Ca’ Macana one of the oldest and finest mask making workshops in Venice. They have mini-mask making courses, at the end you get to take home the mask you made.
6. Hop on a Vaporetto to visit a glass blowing studio on the island of Murano. These fine craftsmen having been making beautiful glass jewelry, figurines, and more for 700 years. You can also pick up strings of glass beads here at half the price as those in the shops and vendors in the city.
7. Take a day trip out of the city to the Brenta Canal (towards Padua). Take a bus to Stra or Mira, you can rent bikes (they will deliver the bikes to any bus station) and bike alongside the canal to Villa Pisani, its hedge maze in the gardens will surely interest the kids. You can get lost in one of the most difficult hedge mazes in the world, Il Labirinto. The maze is made of a dozen concentric rings of tall hedges that surrounds the tower in the center. The tower is climbed by a double-spiral staircase — someone is usually posted there to direct those who are hopelessly lost.
8. Walk up to the center of the Rialto Bridge for classic views of the Grand Canal. Then wander thru the shops and markets around the bridge.
9. Enjoy a gelato and listen to music in Piazza San Marco. If you feel like a splurge have at seat at Caffe Florian or GrancaffeQuadri they’re located in the Piazza across from each other. Their outdoor diners are entertained by the orchestra, my husband calls them the dueling orchestras. Both are iconic landmarks in the piazza having been around for over 300 years. My husband usually grabs a table and sits with the grandkids while the rest of us go shopping. The good thing is once you’re seated you can occupy the table for the whole day.
A pleasant surprise we found in the Cafe Quadri ladies’ room was a nice clean IKEA baby changing station. These are hard to come by in Italy in general.
10. Have a nice meal by a quiet canal, away from the pricier places along the Grand Canal. Try Trattoria da Giorgio ai Greci or one of the restaurants behind San Marco at the Fundamente ai Greci. Or Trattoria Pizzaria da Roberto on Campo San Provolo not far from St. Zaccharia church.
Whatever you decide to do in Venice I’m sure you will have a memorable vacation. Venice is truly a magical city.A word on restrooms, this is crucial when traveling with kids! There are public restrooms located throughout Venice. Look for the sign that says “W.C.” there will be arrows pointing you to them. Some may have a small fee of about .50 cents Euro to use.
Most cafes and restaurants have bathrooms, they are usually very nice about letting tourists use them even if you aren’t purchasing anything from them. I found Italian shop owners very helpful when you have kids that need to use their bathrooms. But ask first to avoid problems.