Child in Venice looking at a canal from a small bridge
Italy with kids

Mini-guide to Venice for kids: fun and interesting facts about Venice (+ top things to see) you’ll love

A travel guide and introduction to Venice for kids! Fun and interesting facts about Venice, top Venice landmarks and Venice curiosities to learn about the city and become your own Venice travel guide!

If you are about to visit Venice with your family, let me start by saying: I am so happy for you! I wish I could come with you!

Venice is one of my favorite places in the world and a cool, fun, unique place to explore, no matter how experienced a traveler you may already be.

It is that special! 

My children and I have been to Venice more times than I can remember and each time we go, we learn something new about it.

We have taken guided tours of the city, studied books and maps and we are so enthusiastic about the city, we’d love to show you around ourselves.

Unfortunately, we can’t!

However, we can help in other ways!

In a previous guide, we gave parents tips and suggestions to visit Venice with kids, a travel guide for the planning stages of your trip.

Today, we want to go a little further and share some facts and background information about Venice that can help you make the most of the city.

Venice is guaranteed to get a wow out of you as soon as you arrive (literally!); however, it is the kind of place that comes into its own when you learn a little bit about it!

Seeing the canals is cool, but knowing how the Venetians live on the water, why the gondola is a specific shape, and why people say you can spend a lifetime in Venice and never know it all, will make it even better!

In this travel guide, I want to give you the info you need to understand more about Venice, a sort of introduction to the city.

While short, I trust it will tell you enough to pique your curiosity and will enable you to be your own tour guide for the day!

In this guide, you will find information about Venice’s peculiar location in water, its history, its landmarks and its most characteristic elements.

How to use this guide to Venice for children

This guide is an introduction to Venice to get kids excited and ready to visit Venice.

Parents can read it out before going and use it in conjunction with our Venice printables for children – I wrote it thinking of it as something your family can use while on the train to Venice but of course, you can also use it as reference for facts and curiosities about the city. I hope you enjoy it!

Facts about Venice’s location and geography

Venice is a city in the North of Italy.

It is the principal city in the region of Veneto and lies just off the eastern coast of Italy, in the Adriatic Sea.

More precisely, Venice is in a lagoon and is an island: the island of Venice!

On one side of the lagoon, there is mainland Italy, connected with Venice by a long bridge; on the other side, thin strips of land protect Venice from the extremes of the open sea.

The lagoon surrounding Venice is called Laguna di Venezia (the Lagoon of Venice or the Venetian Lagoon).

The lagoon has over 60 islands, but the most famous are Venice, Murano, Burano and Torcello.

In administrarive terms, Venice is Veneto’s regional capital, ‘capoluogo di regione‘ in Italian.

It is also the capital of a smaller administrative structure, the Venice province, provincia di Venezia.

You will see this on the reg plates of cars from this area and Venice addresses: the letters VE on cars and addresses mean you are looking at something from the province of Venice.

Fun fact: you won’t see many cars in Venice at all as the city is almost entirely car-free! More about this later!

The Venice Lagoon and its tides (Acqua alta)

The Venetian Lagoon is salt water and has tides, just like the rest of the Adriatic Sea.

When the tide is very high, the lagoon waters rise so much to flood parts of the city. This happens more commonly in the winter.

Venetians call this phenomenon Aqua Alta, High Water (Acqua = water. Alta = high).

They are well used to it and take it in stride: when high water arrives, they just assemble boardwalks and stay dry walking on them!

To prevent the water from reaching problematic levels, Venice is now protected by a mechanism called Mose, a sort of dam that kicks into operation when the tide rises, protecting the city and making high water less high. 

Venice map and shape

At first sight, Venice may look like an island and people normally refer to it as the island of Venice.

However, it is more accurate to describe it as a cluster of islands, often connected by bridges.

Venice islands gather around a meandering canal called the Grand Canal (Canal Grande), also the city’s main waterway.

If you look at the shape of Venice from above, you will quickly see that Venice resembles a fish!

Look at it carefully: in the drawing below, can you see the fish’s shape?

Drawing of a map of Venice, vintage style

The fish seems to be looking left: it has a big head and a narrowing body and tail.

Under its belly, you can even see a thin strip of land that resembles a fin!

The body of the fish is made of the six neighborhoods that make up Venice.

The names of Venice neighborhoods are:

  • Cannaregio
  • San Polo
  • San Marco
  • Castello
  • Dorsoduro (includes the island of Giudecca, which is that extra bit of land under the fish)

Since there are six neighborhoods in Venice, they are called Sestieri (in Italian, this word recalls the number sei = six)

Venice canals

Venice is a cluster of 118 islands: between them, there are over 170 canals which people cross with the help of over 400 bridges!

The largest of all Venice’s canals is the ‘Canal Grande ‘ (lit., the big canal)

 If you look at the map, you may think that the Canal Grande resembles a snake and indeed, the Venetians think this too!

So much so, that they have a legend about it.  

In medieval times, when superstition was rampant, the fact that the Grand Canal looked like a snake posed a big problem to the inhabitants of the city.

What if it meant the city was controlled by evil?

They came up with a solution: a church, in honor of the Saint known as a snake slayer: St George!

If you look at the map again, you will still see it: follow the Grand Canal from its head (top left of the map) to its tail (top right).

On the tail of the snake, you find the church of St George, slayers of serpents, and therefore protective force over evil!

Venice, its connection with the mainland and its peculiar transport system

Despite being an island, Venice is connected to mainland Italy by a bridge called Via delle Liberta’.

The bridge allows cars and trains to get to the city. 

Cars follow the bridge up to an area called Piazzale Roma / Tronchetto, where they must park.

Trains arrive at the Venice train station called Venezia Santa Lucia.

While cars and trains can get to Venice, once you are at the parking area/train station, you must leave your vehicle and explore with other means of transport; cars, mopeds and even bikes are illegal in Venice!

Due to its particular geography, there are only two ways to get around Venice: on foot and by boat! 

Types of Venetian boats

In Venice, you will see several types of boats.

The gondola: this is the most famous and characteristic vessel in Venice.

It is unique to the city and has a long and fascinating history.

Venice gondolas are now almost exclusively for tourists and not used for transport, with only one exception (see below)

Gondolas are made and repaired in places called ‘squero‘ and they cost as much as an expensive car!

Gondola in venice Dorsoduro

The vaporetto / vaporino: vaporetto or vaporino are Venice’s water buses.

These are larger motor boats that operate just like buses do in standard cities.

Venetians call them vaporino, but the most common name for them in Italian is vaporetto.

Water taxis: water taxis are speed boats that operate as taxi services.

They are pricey and very much a luxury means of transport, so don’t expect to see people having them from the side of the canals as you may see in normal cities!

They are a lot of fun and if you get one, savor the ride as it is a real treat!

Other types of boats: a little bit like in cities, you see different kinds of cars.

In Venice, you see different types of boats parked along the canals.

Some are rowing boats; some are speed boats of different sizes and power. Many Venetians own a boat and a car: the boat is parked in the canal, the car in Piazzale Roma!

Two fun facts about Venice gondolas

Gondolas are almost exclusively for tourist tours now.

However, there is an exception!

Along the Grand Canal, in dedicated spots, you find a special type of gondola service called ‘Gondola Traghetto

A gondola traghetto is a real gondola that is still in use as a form of public transport: It costs 2 euro per person and crosses the Grand Canal, allowing people to get on the other side in areas without bridges!

The gondola traghetto, like all real gondolas, is black, narrow, long and operated by a gondoliere, who uses a long oar to drive it.

Each gondola has an iron prow-head called ‘fero‘. Feros are all the same and have special meanings:

  • A gondola fero is long and curved, to symbolize the Grand Canal
  • They have 7 parallel bars, one for each sestiere, plus one for the island of Giudecca
  • Their top part is shaped like the headpiece of the Doges, the ancient rulers of Venice!

A very quick history of Venice

Venice is an ancient town, the first documents about this area dating as far back as the X century BC.

However, the foundation of Venice officially falls on the 25th of March, 421 AD.

On this date, the church of San Giacomo di Rialto, the oldest in the city, opened, and the city was officially born.

The 25th of March is still nowadays considered Venice’s birthday. 

Over the century, the city of Venice grew in power and importance.

Thanks to its ability to navigate the sea, the Venetians became excellent traders and Venice became a significant and powerful trade center and a departure port for explorers (Marco Polo) and Crusaders. 

Venice’s unique food and architecture still bear witness to the wonderful multicultural influences and international vocation of the city.

You can read here >>> what to eat in Venice (don’t think pizza, pizza is not from Venice, although you do find it here!!

For most of its history, Venice was a republic, Repubblica di Venezia.

The Republic was officially founded in 697 by Paoluccio Anafesto, who was also Venice’s first Doge aka Venice’s ruler. 

The Republic grew in importance and power and reached peak power between the XI and XIV centuries, a time when three other important Italian maritime centers flourished: the Repubbliche Marinare of Amalfi, Pisa and Genoa.

The XVIII century, however, brought trouble to Venice.

In 1797, Napoleon conquered Venice and handed it over to Austria. This signed the end of the Venetian Republic, which officially ended on the 17th of October 1797, when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campoformio.

Despite belonging to Austria, however, Venice never stopped feeling Italian: they managed to join the newly formed Italian state at the end of the XIX century and they have been Italian ever since.

St. Mark’s lion, the symbol of Venice

The symbol of Venice is a winged lion holding a book: you’ll see quite a few as you stroll!

The lion has a peculiar story, that connects it to the history of Venice but also the city’s most important church: St Mark’s Basilica.

Legend tells us that in 828 AD, during their travels across the Mediterranean, two Venetians called Bono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello arrived in the city of Alexandria, in Egypt, and took a momentous decision.

They decided to take from Alexandria the remains of the evangelist Mark, buried there, and bring them to Venice!

This was not easy: like all big trade centers Alexandria has customs controls; so, so sneaking out something without being caught, was a bit of an undertaking.

But they came up with a strategy: knowing that the Muslim officials could not touch pig meat, they hid St Mark’s body in a large basket and covered him with pork products. When the officials opened the basket, they turned away in horror and waved them and their cargo through!

Activity idea: stand in front of St Mark’s Basilica and look at the scenes on its facade. Can you see one, with two people wearing turbants, looking disgusted? This scene is a depiction of this story!

Once back home, they made sure the relic had a home in a church devoted to St Mark, Mark became the Patron saint of Venice and the winged lion, his symbol, became the symbol of Venice.

The lion of Venice is usually depicted:

  • Always with feet in the water and front paws on land, to symbolize that Venice rules both the sea and dry land
  • Always with a book, sometimes open and that read ‘Pax tibi Marce Evangelista Meo’ Latin for ‘Peace to you Mark, my evangelist’
  • Sometimes the book is closed, possibly to symbolize a time of war
  • With a sword, a symbol of authority

Activity idea! Winged lions are everywhere in Venice! How many can your kids find? Look for them on flags, doors, on tops of columns, in souvenir shops….

Venice’s peculiar architecture – how Venice houses are built

Venice is unlike any other island city as its houses are not built on land surrounded by water but directly in the water.

Looking at the houses, you will notice that their foundations are inside the water and that doors open right onto canals rather than dry land.

Tall wooden trunks go all the way down into the bottom of the lagoon, to solid underground soil, and support the houses that, therefore, are literally emerging from the water!

The wooden trunks need regular maintenance.

However, the peculiar saltiness of the Venetian lagoon means that they are more resistant and less prone to rot than we may expect.

Not all houses open up onto water, and many streets and piazzas in Venice are fully dry and do not open onto canals.

Some of these roads were naturally dry, and some were artificially covered and transformed into walkable roads.

There is a way to know if you are walking on a real road or a road that used to be a car: look at its name!

In Venice, streets are not called Via or Piazza, like in the rest of Italy. Rather, they are called:

Campo / campiello = piazza / small piazza = square
Rio tera’ = interred road
Fondamenta = road along a canal with docking stops
Calle = road
Ruga = street with shops
Salizada = paved road

If you are on a Rio Tera’, you are on a road that used to be water!

One of the main characteristics of Venice is the city’s incredibly narrow streets: the narrowest one is only 53 cm wide!

The reason for this is that roads never needed to be wide in Venice, since the main routes of communications and transport of people and goods are the canals.

Venice landmarks

Venice is like an open-air museum so, in many ways, it is a landmark itself! However, there are some buildings that are the most famous and that are often considered Venice’s must-sees.

Venice’s main landmarks are:

Piazza San Marco / St Mark’s Square

Piazza San Marco: this is the only piazza in Venice.

Do you remember what we said above? Squares in Venice are called Campi or Campielli, this is hte only one actually called ‘piazza’!

Piazza San Marco in Venice in winter

Piazza San Marco is immense and it is considered the center of the city. Here you find:

  • St Mark’s Basilica, the important church with the remains of St. Mark’s. Notice the mosaics on its facade, their incredible colors and the curved lines of the church and its domes. No other church in Italy looks like this one!
  • St Mark’s belltower: this is the belltower of the basilica and it is 99 meters high. You can get to the top of it: the views from there are wonderful!
  • Palazzo Ducale / Doge’s Palace: Doge’s Palace is the ancient seat of the government of the Venice Republic, where the Doge, the ruler of Venice, used to live.

Nowadays it is a museum, with elegant rooms and artwork. As well as art and meeting rooms, the palace had prisons and a court of justice; if you visit, you can go all the way to the dungeons!

  • The Bridge of Sighs: The Bridge of Sighs is a suspended bridge that connects the ancient Court of Justice with the prisons. It is called ‘of sights’ as prisoners condemned to jail would walk it to get to their cell, sighing in despair!
  • Clock Tower: On San Marco Square you also see the clock tower, a Venice landmark. On it, you can notice the Venice lions and two Moors on the two sides of a bell, one symbolizing the hour gone and one the hour yet to come!
  • Pigeons: OK, not a landmark, but piceons are typical of Venice! Rumor has it that there is a historical reason why pigeons are here in large numbers. According to this legend, in 1202 Doge Enrico Dandolo, sent 2 pigeons from Constantinople to Venice to announce Venice’s victory and the end of the Constantinople war.

The population, happy about the announcement, adopted the birds and took care of them so well, that the two pigeons had chicks and created a massive colony!

For the longest time, feeding pigeons on Venice was a great pastime for locals and tourists.

However, now there are so many pigeons everywhere, that feeding them is illegal!

Florian Cafe: in St Mark’s Square you find an elegant cafe called Cafe Florian, the first cafe’ in Italy!

Ponte di Rialto / Rialto Bridge

Ponte di Rialto is the second main landmark in Venice and a bridge you may have seen in photos of the city.

The bridge connects the two sides of the Grand Canal and it is unique because it is made of stone.

The architect who built is Calle Antonio da Ponte (fun fact: da Ponte means from the bridge!) and his vision was to create a bridge so beautiful, unique and ornate that it could become the symbol of the power of the Venetian Republic.

Considering how famous the bridge is, he succeeded!

You can read >>> fun facts about Rialto Bridge

Fun fact: close to Rialto Bridge there are several things you may like. A famous fish market, a fantastic free terrace with views, called Fondaco dei Tedeschi, and the Hard Rock cafe!

Rialto bridge in venice

Arsenal / The Arsenal

The Arsenal: the arsenal is the area of Venice where the famous Venetian boats were built and armed. This area is still now guarded by two huge statues of lions, among the biggest in Venice!

Arsenale in venice with huge statue of a lion

Punta della Dogana and Madonna della Salute

Punta della Dogana: we know that Venice was a great trading center and like all trading centers it needed customs controls.

The customs house in Venice is called Dogana, and Punta della Dogana, Custom’s Point, t is in a wonderful spot that offers great views of Venice, just in front of San Marco.

Be careful here as there is water almost all around you!

Close to Dogana, you find Santa Maria della Salute, one of the main churches in Venice.

It is called this way because it was built to celebrate the end of the Plague epidemic, in 1630.

Important Venice’s bridges

Venice has hundreds of bridges, but some are more famous than others. Three you may like are:

  • Rialto Bridge, which we mentioned above
  • Accademia Bridge: a very tall and long bridge, from where you can stunning views over Venice
  • Ponte dei Pugni: this is a small bridge in Dorsoduro that you will recognize because of the marking of feet on it.

The bridge used to host fights: opponents would stand on the markings and try to throw the other off the bridge!

Venice Carnival

Venice is famous for its carnival, an event with a long history and is still celebrated in Venice each February.

Carnival in general is a time when things ‘reverse’ and normal rules seem to come to a standstill.

At this time, with the aid of masks and costumes, servants could dress like their masters, the poor and the rich could mingle together and social interactions in general were free from rigid class divides.

Carnival is not unique to Venice but Venice surely brought it to the next level, as it has been celebrating it for over 900 years!

First of all, the carnival in Venice used to last months (elsewhere it was just a week!).

Also, Venice developed unique asks and costumes that are typical of the city and still now are in use during the carnival. In the 1700s especially, Venice Carnival grew to become a time of elegant events, balls and a celebration people come to experience from all over the world!

venetian carnival mask

A few more fun facts about Venice

  • Venice is also called La Serenissima, which in Italian means: the most Serene.
  • The narrowest road in Venice is called Calle Varisco, and it is only 53cm wide (this is just a little wider than two adult hands!)
  • They say the Italian word ‘ciao’ was born in Venice. It comes from the Venetian word ‘sciavo’, slave and originated as a way to tell the other person you were at their service. This, in time, became a generic respectful way to greet a person and, eventually, an everyday greeting.
  • High tide in Venice can be a problem if very high, so now the city has built a dam to limit how much water arrives in the city. The dam is called: Mose.
  • In Venice, there is a peculiar bookshop that has made of high tides its strength. To keep the book dry, they keep them on high shelves, but also in a gondola and in a bathtub! The bookshop is called: Libreria dell’Acqua Alta. High Water Bookshop!
  • If walking around Vence you notice sculptures of a pinecone: stop and go rub it with your hand! Pinecones are often included in decorations in Venice and they are said to bring good luck!
  • The first cafe in Italy opened in Venice! It is called Cafe Florian and it is still operational! You find it in Piazza San Marco
  • The most famous gelato in Venice is by Gelateria Nico, a Venice institution! You find this gelateria in le Zattere, in the Dorsoruro neighborhood
  • Venice architecture is very peculiar: notice the pointy, narrow windows of its historical buildings. No other place in Italy is like this!
  • Venice is famous for three important crafts: mask making, glass blowing and lace. In particular, glass blowing comes from the island of Murano and lace is made in the island of Burano, a short bus ride from Venice.
  • If you want to participate in the Venice carnival, there are shops where you can rent out really cool outfits! It is called Atelier Nicolao, it is in Cannaregio and it is a Venice institution Even if in Venice at a different time, you can go see its window and marvel!

Venice food

What can you expect to eat in Venice? Let’s see!

Pasta – well, of course! You can always find pasta in Italy but with what? In Venice you can find pasta with squid ink, bigoli in salsa (a local type of pasta with anchovies), bigoli con l’anatra (duck sauce) and of course lots of pasta with seafood, as well as more standard plates such as ragu (bolognese) or even pesto (which is from Gena, but you do find here too)

Pizza – yes but pizza not from Venice so there is no special reason to have it here. Pizza is from Naples and Rome!

Fish – of course, of all types!

Polenta – made of corn flour, warming and smooth

Risi e Bisi – rice with peas

Baicoli – Venetian biscuits

Xaeti -spices biscuits (Fall only)

Fritole – fried sweets typical of the carnival season

Important people from Venice

Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) – explorer

Jacobo Robusti, aka Tintoretto (1518 -1594) – painter

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) – composer

Carlo Goldoni (1707 – 1793) – writer

I hope you enjoy this quick introduction to Venice for kids and helped you give them some background about the city. Safe and fun travels!

Additional Resources to visit Venice as a family

Venice with a toddler

Venice with a 10-year-old

Family hotels in Venice

Family-friendly rentals in Venice

What to eat in Venice

Venice packing list

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Marta Correale is an Italian mama of two. Born and raised in Rome, Marta has a passion for travel and especially enjoys showing off Italy to her kids, who are growing up to love it as much as she does! A classics graduate, teacher of Italian as a second language and family travel blogger, Marta launched Mama Loves Italy as a way to inspire, support and help curious visitors to make the most of a trip to Italy and learn about Italian culture on the way.