When you think of Venice, Italy, with it’s aged beauty, art, canals, romantic gondola rides and pasta dinners, you may not initially think of it as a “family” destination; however, I assure you that, with kids or without, you should never deny yourself the pleasures (or the family-friendly fun) she has to offer. (If you read a previous post titled, “Venice, Italy — Part I: The Love Affair,” you’ll know how I feel about her.). If you’re planning to visit Venice with your children, though, there are a few things to know before you go, and a number of these next few posts will guide you through each.
When it comes to traveling to Venice for the first time with your family, and based on my research regarding transport from Venice Marco Polo Airport, I recommend that you minimize the chaos and arrive by train. I’m fairly certain that you won’t regret it.
Read on to find a (very) detailed account of why, how, and what to expect.
The Arrival: E’bellissimo!
By far, the most impressive arrival into any city that I have ever experienced has been from the Venezia Santa Lucia train station. Most train stations, and the tracks that lead up to them, are like other transportation hubs: They’re often located amid a city’s more industrial locales. Venice’s main train station appears no different as you arrive.
The small station seems fairly standard as train stations go, with shops, restaurants and both scurrying and lounging travelers. Then, you emerge from the front, and it is glorious. E’bellissimo! (It’s beautiful!)
Just ahead of you, the stairs lead you towards the bustling Grand Canal and the water bus (s. vaporetto; pl. vaporetti) stops. As you stare across the water, you’ll see the 300-year-old Chiesa di San Simeone Piccolo (Church of San Simeon Piccolo) with its green metal roof and columned front facade, dominating the view. The other buildings lining the canal are nearly as impressive in their unique color, design and architecture, and the milky, aqua green water that ripples and laps against them makes it all the more dramatic.
If you let it, this view, this reality, could very well overwhelm you. After all, this is Italy. This is Venice. You have arrived at a place you’ve only seen in photographs, in books, or on postcards, and I daresay, one’s first thought is inevitably, “Holy sh**! I’m in Venice!” (Or at least some variation of that.)
Getting to Your Lodging (& Around Town)
Once you’ve recovered from your awestruck state, you’ll need to get your water bus tickets so you can get to where you’re staying as well as around the city while you’re there. To do this, you’ll want a Venezia Unica City Pass for each applicable family member and a map of the water bus routes (but don’t buy one, just have one available on your phone or printed from home). You’ll also need to know that while you may all be standing in front of the Venezia Santa Lucia train station, you are at the “Ferrovia” water bus stop.
Venezia Unica is just for tourists, and you can get a great deal of information about Venice and things to do on the website. The Venezia Unica City Pass works for public transportation, as well as entrance to some museums and churches, and can help you save money while you’re there.
You can purchase your City Pass online and take the PNR code they email you to an electronic kiosk, or even the sales booths where an actual human can help you out. The great thing is, if you purchase it ahead of time, you can save yourself the headache of having to make choices in the moment, when you’re already travel weary and may have hungry, restless spouses and children with you.
Conveniently, Venezia Unica allows you to tailor your pass to suit your needs, allowing you to add transport services, museum and church admissions, and airport transfers. It seems simple enough, and maybe in some ways it is, but I find it overwhelming, especially when you are traveling with children, because sometimes they are free, sometimes they are not, and it all depends on their ages.
Luckily, most of the information you need is provided under each item’s “Offer Details,” but the downside is that you actually have to read it to find it. It’ll be worth it, though, to not spend more than you have to.
You’ve found the kiosk and sales area where you’ve used your PNR code to print your city passes, and you’re ready to put them to good use and get to your lodging. If you’re like me (on a good day), you’ve also likely mapped out the correct vaporetto stop and directions to your hotel or homestay (or your host or hotel has provided you with it). Using your route map you can figure out the numbered water bus you need to take; then, you’ll have to locate which floating station you need to get on to board your vaporetto.
The floating vaporetto stations, lettered from A to E at the Ferrovia stop, are positioned along the canal at either end of the Venezia Santa Lucia station. Check signs to see which one offers service for the numbered vaporetto line you need, and when you’ve found your station, each pass-carrying family member will need to scan his/her activated Venezia Unica card before ascending the ramp.
Each water bus’s number will be located on both the very front tip of the boat as well as on a route placard on the side of the boat where you get enter and exit. Most vaporetti travel in both directions, so be sure to pay attention as it pulls up, not only to see that it’s the correct number, but also that it’s facing in the direction you need to go.
Once others have exited and you all step on, go as far in as you can and out of the way of the doors. If you have large backpacks on, you will be asked to take them off. As the boat begins to move, make sure you’re standing steady or seated because, depending on weather conditions (and maybe even the driver), the ride on these water buses can be bumpy. Then, all you have to do is keep an eye out and an ear open for your stop.
The best part of taking the vaporetto when you first arrive: The first cruise down the Grand Canal. The views are amazing, and you will have the urge to start snapping photos immediately. Don’t. You’ll have more than enough time during your stay. Instead, take this time to enjoy the moment. Listen to those around you speaking Italian. Smell the salty, and maybe even sometimes slightly stinky, air. Look at the faces of your family as they, too, absorb the experience. After all, you are in Venice. You are no longer looking at a photo, you are in the photo.