Do you catch a gondola? Ride one? Get one? I don’t know. I just know that I Googled ‘how to do gondola ride Venice’ and ‘Venice with kids’ a fair bit before we went to Italy in June, and didn’t quite find the info I was looking for.
So, here it is. Here’s what we figured out from our own trip to Venice with our two young children – aged 2 and 4 – as part of our holiday with Eurocamp. We were staying at Camping Ca’Savio (not actually camping, despite the name), so there’s a section at the end specific to how to get to Venice from there. Regardless of how you’re getting there, though, here’s how to get the most out of a visit to this incredible Italian city with small people in tow.
1. Ride a gondola
I’d read up about taking a gondola ride in Venice lots before our trip, and a lot of people said it was an extortionately-priced tourist trap, and to take a public vaporetto instead as it was cheaper. We paid 80 euros for a 40-minute trip, so it certainly wasn’t cheap. But it was the best 80 euros we spent the whole time – the kids absolutely loved it, and we’ll cherish the photos forever. Plus, as we stuck to the main San Marco area, it meant we got to see the Grand Canal and the beautiful Rialto Bridge, which we’d have missed otherwise.
We wandered around for a bit beforehand, unsure of the etiquette, but soon noticed lots of gondola stops dotted around alongside the canals. We saw an empty gondola bobbing on the water, hung around by the sign with gondola prices on, and sure enough a gondolier (they all wear either red-and-white or navy-and-white striped tops) came and found us. When I asked for the price – expecting to have to haggle – he pointed to the sign and it was all spelled out in official prices. There was no issue with us taking the kids, so it was just a case of telling them to sit still and not lean over the side. There are no lifejackets or anything like that, but they were absolutely fine. Looking at the colour of the water, I don’t think either of them fancied ending up in it.
2. Don’t bring a buggy
If it’s at all humanly possible, leave your buggy or stroller at home. We took a buggy away with us – the Joie Aire twin stroller, which was absolutely brilliant in the airport and elsewhere in Italy (more about that in my next post about our family travel road trip essentials). But we left it in the car for our trip to Venice and I’m really glad we did.
Our water bus to Venice from Punta Sabbioni dropped us about a 5-minute walk from the Doge’s Palace and Piazza San Marco, the main square. And although there are ramps over the (millions) of bridges you’ll need to cross on the way (including the famous Bridge of Sighs), they’re crowded with hoardes of people, plus there aren’t any ramps when you get deeper into the network of little alleys and canals in the heart of Venice itself. We took our Ergobaby carrier for the littlest, and the eldest walked, and although I did end up piggy-backing him a lot of the time as he got so hot and bothered, it was still preferable to navigating a buggy.
3. Wear decent shoes
While it’s nice to dress up a bit for a visit to Venice (we picked out ‘special’ outfits for the day, having spent the previous week in swimwear), it’s worth leaving the flip-flops by the pool. Venice is widely considered the world’s best pedestrian city – there are no cars on the streets whatsoever – which is what makes it so great for visiting with children. But that also means you’re going to be clocking up a lot of steps, so it’s worth thinking about what’s on your feet (and your kids’). We visited in June, when it was baking, but bear in mind St Mark’s Square often floods off-season.
4. Take a travel potty
If you’re mid potty-training, it might be worth bringing a travel potty (we have the Potette one but forgot to pack it) or putting your little one in pull-ups for the day. We spent ages and walked miles following the WC signs to try and find a toilet, and when we did finally find it we realised you had to pay. In the end we ducked in to a little pizzeria advertising gluten-free pizza, had some lunch and used the toilet there.
5. Pick up a souvenir right at the end of the day
There are loads of shops in Venice selling some lovely souvenirs, including some amazing Venetian carnival masks. To save you carting things around all day, pick up a souvenir on your way back to the boat – there are endless stalls along the route with lots of cute Pinocchio puppets at not-ridiculous prices. My kids were (mostly) on their best behaviour all day because they’d been promised a little Pinocchio on the way home if they were good. Can’t beat a bit of bribery.
6. Go early in the morning
It’s easier said than done with young kids, but if you can get there early in the morning you can enjoy the place before it’s baking hot. We arrived about 11.30am so we did indeed get baking hot, but we’d packed some snacks and plenty of water, plus sun hats and suncream. If I went back, I’d make every effort to try and get out earlier, or perhaps come later in the day as I’m pretty sure the place would look even more incredible in the evening. Head over to our YouTube channel to see the video of our trip and gondola ride.
7. Escape to the park in Castello
It’s really hard to find any green space in Venice – it’s very compact, the streets are narrow, and there are a lot of people to contend with. We picked up some amazing rolls and pastries from Rosa Salva in San Marco and looked around for somewhere to stop and sit down, but it was so busy we struggled to find even a small space or a bench. It just feels like everyone is constantly moving. In the end we ducked into the pizzeria and saved our picnic for tea, but I later found out there’s a huge fenced-in park on the waterfront back where the boat dropped us in the morning – at Giardini, in the Castello area.
How to get to Venice from Punta Sabbioni or Camping Ca’Savio
We drove from our Eurocamp parc, Camping Ca’Savio, to Punta Sabbioni. It cost 7 euros to park for the day, and we paid a man issuing tickets in the car park so it’s worth having change. We then queued up and bought return tickets for the four of us, then hopped on a boat that was already waiting. They run every 30 minutes, and the lady at the desk gave us a few options of times to come back about an hour apart each. We chose 4pm, which was printed on our return ticket, although she said it would be fine to take any of the return boats if we changed our minds.
The boat was pretty full by the time we got on, so we sat inside, downstairs, but the kids looked out of the windows and loved the 40-minute journey. On the way back we took the boat from the same place we were dropped off and this time sat on the open-air deck upstairs for a better view as we waved goodbye to the city. There’s some handy info on the Ca’Savio website, although some of the details were slightly different when we visited (we did have to pay for my daughter, for example).