An Italian vacation conjures up visions of gondolas, medieval cathedrals, renaissance art, and sunshiny days at the beach. Throw in a taste of authentic Mediterranean food and focus on some activities for the kids, to make the perfect getaway. A family vacation in Venice is the ideal plan, a memorable holiday which is so easy to do. Follow this 2 day Venice itinerary to discover the top sites, great cuisine, and fun things to do with the children.
Culinary Highlights of Venice
Veneto is the fertile region in north-east Italy known for the select seafood cultivated in the Venetian Lagoon, for undulating hillsides covered by Prosecco vines and the ancient rice fields south of Verona.
Venice is the place to enjoy a platter of fresh fish, or a tasty appetizer accompanied by a glass of orangey Aperol spritzed with iced sparkling wine. Spaghetti with anchovy sauce is a simple traditional dish while a wood oven baked pizza topped with a local cheese and herb topping is a favorite with children.
What to See and Do in Venice on a Family Vacation
First Evening in Venice
Dining on a waterfront table beside the canals of Venice is a must do on any Italian trip. Elegant ristorantes beside the Grand Canal or overlooking St Mark’s Bay are the most coveted, but families may like a quieter eatery beside one of the smaller waterways, for an affordable and unique meal in the legendary water city. Inky black sepia rice is the local speciality.
Day 1 – Historical Venice
This ‘floating city’ was built on wooden stilts in the Middle Ages just off the Veneto coastline in the shallows of Venice Lagoon. Fishing has always been, and still is, an important piece of Venetian life.
Begin day one with a visit to Rialto fish market where generations of local fishermen have been offloading their nightly catch for centuries. Rialto Bridge is minutes away, spanning the Grand Canal magnificently, a picture-perfect place for a quick selfie shot. A typical street market on the opposite bank is great to browse or pick up gifts.
Now head for Piazza San Marco, the heart of old Venice. The little ones will want a photo with the lion statues who guard the public square. Visit St Mark’s Basilica and get a ticket to the museum and roof terrace. Glimpse the golden mosaic domed ceiling on the way up. The kids will love seeing the bronze horses (original statues on show inside, replicas on the façade).
The panoramic views to the Campanile, Doge’s Palace and to St Mark’s Bay are a gorgeous backdrop for more holiday pics. The huge plaza fronts the lagoon, so occasionally at high tide waves gently lap in, which usually just adds to the fun, slopping through the puddles at ‘Acqua Alta’.
This is a chance to capture a Gondolier on film, standing nonchalantly by their gleaming black vessels waiting for a tourist to punt across the waters. A gondola ride is actually quite affordable for six passengers, a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed. The trip glides along the waterfront, cuts behind the opulent palace and under the legendary little Bridge of Sighs, then meanders through narrow channels lined by ancient mansions, out into the wide Grand Canal, before weaving back to St Mark’s.
Stroll along the towpaths, up and over umpteen humpback bridges to discover the essence of Venice. Colorful, succulent Mediterranean fruit and vegetables are sold from canal boat ‘greengrocers’. Watch the elderly housewives as they pick out some goodies for lunch, and then follow suit.
Talking about lunch, wander towards ‘sestiere’ Dorsoduro a less touristy district and stop for a bite to eat in Campo Santa Margherita, the large square near Venice University. Try a platter of fried and battered morsels of fish.
The afternoon can be spent visiting the myriad of ancient churches, each one with its own unique tale, or seeing the international art galleries and museums. Ultimately, making a glittery carnival mask at a craft workshop may appeal more to the children.
Day 2 – Venice Lagoon Islands
Straight after breakfast on day two, it’s time to take a vaporetto to Venice Lagoon Islands. Purchase a 24-hour ticket from the authorized kiosks, which allows unlimited journeys on the public water bus. Catch the boat over to Murano Island first, sailing past the cemetery isle, Isola di San Michele, on the way.
Murano is world famous for glass – the priceless chandeliers in the palaces of Venice were crafted here centuries ago. Everything from lamps, to tableware, to decorative artwork, and bright bead bracelets. Take the family to one of the historic factories to see how the glass is hand blown.
Sit at a street table along the pathway beside Murano’s Grand Canal for a cup of espresso or a gelato. Carry on to the main square, where there’s a huge glass Xmas tree opposite the island’s cathedral. A stand-up lunch of genuine ‘cicchetti’ antipasti (shrimp and polenta, creamy cod spread on crusty bread, or sardines and onions cooked in a sweet balsamic marinade) in a tiny ‘osteria’ would complete an unusual morning.
Otherwise, wait for a culinary experience at the next island on the itinerary. That is the colorful isle of Burano, a short vaporetto ride away. Burano of ‘Insta’ fame is a setting for the perfect selfie on the wooden Tre Ponte bridge, with the cute fishermen’s dwelling reflecting on slow moving canal waters in the backdrop.
Burano is famous for lace making. While the kids may not fancy a lengthy lesson, the girls will be sold on the cheap lace parasols, which make great photo props!
Apart from tourism nowadays, the islander’s traditional occupations have always been fishing and intricate lacework. Sit outside an ‘osteria’ in the sunlight in the town square or thereabouts and enjoy eating seafood brought in from the lagoon only hours ago. Nearby, the leaning spire tower beside the old church is an unlikely sight.
Board the vaporetto back to Venice late afternoon and ride into San Marco’s Bay at sunset for the most stunning scene imaginable – the spires and domes of Venice backlit by a holy orange glow.
But that’s not all! The boat cruises right past the back of the cathedral as it lights up at dusk, and continues up the Grand Canal in the twilight when chandeliers sparkle from the palaces and mansions. It is like a scene from an epic film or Shakespearian novel.
Day 3 – Lido Beach
Wondering about the beach? Well, it’s a push to fit this into 2 days with the above itinerary. You then may consider a full day in Venice for a trip on the water bus over to Lido. Or, consider staying a week to see more of the whole Veneto region.
Where to Stay in Venice with Kids
For a 2-day food-focused Venice itinerary, it’s best to stay in historical Venice itself. Prices vary from super star luxury in medieval palaces overlooking St Mark’s Bay or the Grand Canal, to modest ‘locanda’ (original merchant traveler’s inns) hidden in the labyrinth of atmospheric back street waterways.
As an alternative, book a waterside apartment to live like a Venetian family for a few days. Shop for groceries at the local markets and cook up a culinary treat in the evening. Otherwise, just order a takeaway from a trattoria and eat on the terrace while enjoying those awe-inspiring views.