If I’m honest Venice has never really been on our radar but we thought whilst we were in Italy we’d better go and check out what the fuss was about. I’m so glad we did as it’s been one of our favourite places. It offers so much more than the overpriced romantic weekend away we thought it was and it’s a great city to explore with kids.
Venice isn’t built for cars let alone motor homes. This coupled with the fact most of the camping grounds are closed until the end of February meant our options were limited. Our original plan had been to stay in the camperstop out near Parco San Giuliano however Doug and I took one look around and left. It wasn’t for us and I wouldn’t recommend for families but each to their own.
Plan B was Camping Fusina on the other side of the lagoon. As it turns out it was an excellent choice, and with an ACSI card, for the same price as the camperstop, we got access to excellent showers, knowledgeable staff, hours of fun watching the cargo ships go in and out and beautiful views into Venice. In high season, it has a swimming pool, various restaurants, kids club and a tourist information bus but these were all closed while we were there. It also has it’s own ferry between the campsite and Zattare.
Venice is the original car-free city and a good pair of walking shoes is the first thing that should go in your case. For Issy, the maze-like warren of tiny streets, canals and squares was a dream come true. Armed with the map, a camera and her scavenger hunt (see below) we set out to explore what Venice had to offer.
The other budget option is the water taxis or valporettas. At the time of writing, the prices range from 7.50 euros for a one-way ticket to 60 euros for a 7 day ticket. We opted for a 24 hour ticket (20 euros) and used this to cruise the Grand Canal and island hop to Burano, Murano and Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore. This is considerably cheaper than a boat tour to cover the same islands.
The 2019 rates for gondola rides are 80 euros for 40 minutes for up to 6 people (100 euros for 40 minutes after 7pm). Whilst being, quintessentially Venetian for us it was a budget buster.
A cheap alternative remains the traghetti which at 2 euros per person for a crossing give you the bragging rights of riding a gondola on the Grand Canal without breaking the bank.
What to do when you get there
When I said to Issy we were going on a lion hunt in Venice, she didn’t know whether to be scared or just back away slowly. However, as those of you in the know can attest there are winged lions everywhere due to it being a symbol of St. Mark, one of the city’s patron saints. If the lion is holding an open book then the building or sculpture was built at a time of peace and if the book is closed the building or sculpture was built at a time when the Venetian Republic was at war.
St Mark's Square and St Mark's Basilica
When it comes to famous squares, St Mark’s square is up there with the world’s most recognisable and it certainly didn’t disappoint in the flesh.
Whilst pigeon chasing is a fully accepted sport, pigeon feeding is not, and I understand that the penalties for doing so are high. Both they and the enormous albatross-like seagulls are a pest and need no encouragement to bully or pester anyone who dares to sit down with lunch.
Entry to St Mark’s Basilica is free. The queues tend to be at their lowest at lunchtime and we took our opportunity. As a result, we only queued for the security check which took about 10 minutes (off-season). There is a small fee to go into the museum and climb out onto the Loggia (balcony) but it’s definitely worth it for the views over the square, and to be able to look down into the Basilica itself.
We didn’t do it, but the other viewpoint in the square is St Mark’s Campanile (belltower). I chose an alternative viewpoint so as to include St Mark’s (see the Chiesa di Georgio Maggiore).
Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and The Bridge of Sighs
When I put a post out saying we were in Venice this topped the list of recommendations and I would agree.
The Doges basically ran Venice whilst it was a republic. Apart from being an iconic bit of architecture, the history of Palazzo Ducale is fascinating. Whilst investigating how to get tickets, I stumbled across the secret itineraries tour and I highly recommend it. This “back stage” takes you into the secret world of the Doges’ and their administrative staff via prison cells (including those of Casanova), torture chambers and the offices of Venice’s rich and powerful. Due to the physical nature of the tour (there are loads of steep stairs), it’s probably not one for families with small children but Issy (aged 8) thoroughly enjoyed it and of course put all the adults to shame!
You can cross the Bridge of Sighs from the Palazzo Ducale into the prison. So named because of the sighs of the prisoners as they crossed from the newer municipal prison to the interrogation rooms and court rooms of the Palazzo Ducale.
Another one of the must-do sights in Venice. The Rialto bridge is the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal and is generally considered to be the heart of Venice. It connects the areas of San Marco and San Polo.
Islands hopping (Burano, Murano and Isola Di San Georgio)
We used our Valporetta tickets to go island hopping catching the number 12 from Fondamente Nove out to Burano and Murano.
Burano, a traditional fishing island, is about 40 minutes from Venice central and is famous for two things; it’s colourful houses and lace making. The houses and beautiful canals are a photographer’s dream. Apparently the tradition originates from a desire to demarcate property and so that the fisherman could easily identify their houses from the sea. Whilst the men were out fishing, traditionally the women of Burano made lace and whilst most of the lace on sale is machine made there are a few places which still specialise in handmade lace on the island. A word of caution, global warming is taking a toll on this outlying island and in winter it suffers from severe high tide flooding. Visit whilst you still can!
Murano, is slightly closer to Venice, and is famous for the colourful glass produced here. In a forward-thinking move the glass-makers were banished from the main Venice hub in 1291, in the name of health and safety, due to the fire risk from their open furnaces.
Another island worth visiting is Isola Di San Georgio with its beautiful church and viewpoint Chiesa di Georgio Maggiore. I caught the number 2 valporetta from Zattare. Entry into the church is free but people really come here for the viewpoint which costs 6 euros. This makes a great alternative to St Mark’s Campanile for families with young children as there is an elevator to the top.
Other quirky things to do in Venice
The Libreria Acqua Alta (high tide bookshop) is reminiscent of something out of Diagon Alley with it’s books piled high on or in anything that comes to hand from an old gondola to a bath tub.
The area of Dorsoduro remains the home of the gondola workshops in Venice. We stumbled across one by accident whilst trying to find something for lunch and just watched the painstaking work of the gondola craftsman at work. However, I understand that the place to go if you want to investigate this properly is Squero di San Trovaso.
Mention Venice and masks come to mind. Whilst Issy found some of the masks a bit scary and sinister, the artwork involved in making them is something to behold. They are sold in the shops throughout Venice and there are also mask-making workshops if you have an artist amongst your group.
There are a number of tour companies that do kid-friendly tours and many of them do scavenger hunts but the cost of these was prohibitive on our budget. So with the help of Pinterest and Google, I made my own for Issy to complete, and she seemed to enjoy it. Please feel free to download a copy from the link below.