A Perfect 5-Night Itinerary
From my own experience and the sage advice of experienced travel agent colleagues, I always remember this admonition: do not overschedule! As tempting as it is to try and cram in as much sightseeing as possible in a short time, you will find that approach has diminishing returns, especially when traveling with kids, whether they suffer from ADD or not. I arranged only one pre-paid tour for this trip (see details below.) We stayed at two different hotels for professional reasons, but I recommend choosing one home base for a trip of this length.
Before we left, I did some research and made a list of the absolute “musts” for this trip and then tailored our daily schedule with no more than 2 activities per day, plus meals and free time. I gave my daughter a lot of options so she was included in the planning process. This worked perfectly, and we actually fit a lot in without getting stressed out and there was virtually no whining.
Another important thing to remember is to always factor in jet lag. In our case, we arrived at our first hotel and my daughter was so tired, she slept for 16 hours! So I did not schedule anything for that first day, and she was well-rested and up for adventure. Early Spring is a perfect time to visit Venice; it was warm enough to walk around in light jackets but not so hot that the canal smelled bad, and it was not horrendously overrun with tourists as in summer.
Arrival: Friday & Saturday
Departed from New York JFK and arrived in Venice. For these overnight trips, I highly recommend booking—with money or points (I used Amex Skymiles on AirFrance)—business class seats. Flying with kids is so much less stressful when they can be decently fed and get some actual rest in lay-flat seats, and it is so worth the extra money.
We took the public ferry (€30) from the airport right to the S. Zaccharia stop near San Marco and checked in at the legendary Hotel Danieli, just steps away. It could not have been an easier way to arrive and the hotel is truly the perfect location. Ask your travel agent to book you in a canal-view balcony room; it will make your trip extremely special and Instagrammable.
After checking in to our beautiful room, we unpacked, sat on our balcony and discussed our itinerary for the week. Kids really appreciate being included in trip planning and like knowing what is going to happen each day. When you are staying at a property like the Danieli—which is a destination in itself—just exploring the art inside the hotel, seeing the famous Bridge of Sighs (right next to the hotel and NOT named for romance, as I previously thought) and eating at the hotel bistro was a wonderful start to our journey.
Italy is, of course, food heaven. And while there is no shortage of fresh and delicious pasta and gelato, traveling is a great opportunity to encourage kids to break out of usual food habits and try something new. In Venice, four local specialties were a big hit with us:
- Roasted local baby artichokes, grown on San Erasmo island were crunchy and delicious.
- Cicchetti (with a glass of prosecco for mommy): these little snacks—like Spanish Tapas—are a perfect introduction to Venitian cuisine. At 1-3 euros, order a variety at an authentic osteria to make a great lunch. Tramezzini (tea sandwiches with incredible cured meat); fried zucchini flowers; grilled polenta and many more delicious bites await.
- Risotto is a wonderful alternative to pasta and the lemony shrimp with fresh asparagus and parmesan version we had was addictive.
- Finally, Venice being an island has a great variety of seafood, which is fresh and delicious and includes kid-friendly preparations such as soft-shelled crabs, baccalà (tell them it is mashed potatoes and not whipped cod, lol) and baby prawns.
Be sure to research and mark on a map the best places to eat in Venice and AVOID the horrible tourist traps that are everywhere, especially around the main attractions. Prices will go down and the quality will go up the more you stick to residential neighborhoods like Cannaregio or Campo Santa Margerita. We had a wonderful meal on a quiet street in the Castello district at Il Nuovo Galeon. Time your walk there over 6 bridges from S. Zaccaria at sunset; you will not be sorry.
A note for those avoiding gluten: My Protravel colleague Katie Defillips has a lot of experience and writes about gluten-free travel to Italy here.
Sunday: Art Museum
After a delicious (complimentary, because we booked through Protravel) breakfast at the hotel, we went on our first walk to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This is a great museum for kids because it is small, intimate, bright & airy, includes an outdoor sculpture garden and is right on the water. The walk over the Accademia Bridge was really wonderful. Mariska decided to follow the sound of street musicians (and give them Euro coins from her pocket), so we took a very winding path that doubled the travel time but tripled the fun. We were in no hurry.
My daughter enjoyed looking at the art, but got bored after about 30 minutes, so I parked her on the beautiful terrace and I got to enjoy 20th-century modern masterpieces by Calder, Arp, Braque, Picasso, de Chirico, Basaldella, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Miró, Giacometti (one of my favorite sculptors), Modigliani (one of my favorite painters), Ernst, Hofmann, Rothko, Gorky, Moore, and others.
We wandered back enjoying many sights and some gelato (her: hazelnut/nutella and me lemon.) We then explored the area around the hotel, including the famous Palazzo San Marco, where my little New Yorker wondered why other tourists think having a pigeon (“flying rat”) perch on them for a photo-op is a good idea, lol.
Monday: Cultural Heritage
Whether you are of Italian Catholic, Ottoman, African, Asian or Jewish origin, you will find Venice is drenched in history — both triumphant and tragic. Once a crossroads between East and West, the culture, architecture, language, and cuisine of Venice is forever marked by those who conquered — and were conquered — by it.
When we speak of immersive experiences and the way children absorb knowledge, the multi-sensory nature of travel is a perfect complement to their formal school studies and teach them about their heritage. There are few better ways to remember historical facts than by tracing the steps of your ancestors in person!
After breakfast, we took the Vaporetto to S. Marcuola and used Google maps on my iPhone to locate the entrance to the Jewish Ghetto. We learned that the word “ghetto” (“foundry” in Italian because it was formerly an industrial part of the city) comes from the Venetian Jewish Ghetto, one of the oldest in the world, founded on 29 March—my daughter’s birthday—1516. It was a very moving experience to see the crowded, gated conditions under which Jews were forced to live (only doctors were let out at night.) We took a brief tour of one of the four synagogues and museum and bought some gifts for family and her Hebrew teacher. The Murano glass menorahs, goblets, seder plates, and mezuzahs were especially beautiful. Today, there are only 450 Jews living in Venice. After that, we spent the day riding around on the vaparetto to see different areas and had Venetian Cicchetti (tapas) for lunch.
Tuesday: Murano & Burano
Wikipedia tells us that Murano’s reputation as a center for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their furnaces to Murano in 1291. Murano class is still considered the finest in the world. Today, the artisans of Murano still employ these centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass jewelry to chandeliers and wine stoppers.
Two tips: (1) Be sure to visit the amazing historical displays at the Museo del Vetro in the Palazzo Giustinian. (2) There are a lot of “Murano glass” fakes on sale in tourist shops. Be sure to only buy pieces bearing the trademark that certifies glass products made on the island of Murano.
Burano: A center of lacemaking since 1500, the craftsmanship is prized across the globe. Today noteworthy works are exhibited in the Lace Museum located in the Piazza Galuppi, seat of the famous Burano Lace School from 1872 to 1970.
Wednesday: Lion Hunting & Gondola Ride
The one pre-arranged activity we did was through a wonderful tour operator that Protravel partners with that has a team of highly-skilled and engaging local guides in cities around the world. The private tour we did was a children’s “lion hunt” in which our fabulous guide Giovanna—a naive of Venice with degree in Art History, trained in inquiry-based learning techniques (and mother of two boys)—gave my daughter a pencil, a compass necklace, a clipboard with a map and 12 photos of winged lions from around Venice and we spent 3 glorious hours together looking for them. In the process, we both got a great education about many aspects of Venetian art and history and experienced all kinds of hidden treasures (and fabulous pastry), lead by a local that would have been hard to discover on our own.
After that, we had lunch at a local (non-touristy) place our guide recommended and since our feet were a bit tired, we took an enchanting 30-minute gondola ride across the city. This is the kind of thing (like a horse-drawn carriage ride in New York City) that a native would never do, but I am so glad we did because it is a relaxing and truly magical way to experience Venice, even if your gondolier does not sing.
Then we returned to our hotel and splurged on a “couples” massage at the Gritti SPA by Sisley Paris, which is the perfect way to end an intense week spent discovering the wonders of Venice.
Our last night was spend enjoying yet another fabulous dinner, without iPhones, talking and watching the sunset over the Grand Canal.
Thursday: Farewell to Venice
I have to say we really lucked out with the weather and every detail of this trip came together perfectly. I believe my daughter will remember this experience and the things she saw, heard, tasted and learned for the rest of her life. And for me, it was another beautiful chapter in our mother-daughter story, and hers as a world traveler. #EnjoyRespectVenice