Venice with Children, the Olivia Way

My children have wanted to go to Venice ever since they read and re-read Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer.  In this charming book, Olivia, a precocious little pig with a passport and a passion for life gallivants through Venice with her family.  The book not only showed my children the Venetian landmarks but impressed upon them the notion that Venice has got endless gelato on tap.  So, of course, they really, really wanted to go to Venice.

Olivia goes to Venice cover
Olivia Goes To Venice by Ian Falconer

Venice is one of our favourite cities in the world and so we were only too happy to oblige with a family trip.  We did all the things that Olivia did – such as take a gondola ride, visit St. Mark’s Square, clamber around bridges, and eat lots of gelato.  We stopped short though of destroying a famous landmark and being chased out of town by a baying mob of angry Venetians (you’ll have to read the book to understand that reference!).

the bridge of sighs

We found lots of ways to amuse the children in Venice that Olivia may have missed.  For example, my children really enjoyed the water buses.  They could stand in the front and watch Venetian buildings go by in the canals.

Venetian buildings

Another unexpected (cheap) pleasure was checking out all the different store fronts along the side streets.  There were more masks and tourist tat than I thought possible in such a small area and the children enjoyed finding new and different ones.  Once you are off the main strip, the tourists just dissipate which make letting children explore easier.

Venice back street canal
Image credit: David McSpadden

We also went to the Venetian island of Burano, Torcello and Lido which were all easily accessible by the water bus.  Burano is so colourful it didn’t even seem real.


We should have gone to Murano on the water bus but fell for the charming tout who said we could take a free water taxi.  My son is a sucker for speed and the water taxi really blazed a trail on the water much to his delight.  Of course, the water taxi took us straight to a Murano glass factory from which there was no escape, except through the store. It would’ve been cheaper just to hire a water taxi to zip us around for half an hour.

Venetian water taxi
Image credit: Martin Sojka

Of all the Venetian lagoon islands, the biggest hit with my children was the Lido.  The Lido is famous for its beach which is not far from where the water bus stops.  After a pit stop for a gelato (naturally), we spent a lazy afternoon on the beach on hired beach loungers.  It was a perfect rest stop in between sightseeing.

Venice Lido
Image credit: Stephan Wita

Venice is really easy to travel with children.  The food and the transport are guaranteed children pleasers. The little side streets are easy to meander along with lots of interesting store fronts.  You will walk so much, they will be really tired by the evening.  And, you can top off the cultural sightseeing with a trip to the beach!

gondola ride

As for Olivia Goes To Venice, I know there have been negative reviews from critics who think the book is a far cry from the simple charcoal sketches which characterize the previous Olivia books, that perhaps Ian Falconer has sold out for money, yadda yadda.  My children absolutely love the book and can pretty much quote it verbatim.  As a mother, I know that is enough for me!

Tips on visiting Venice with kids

Have you ever been to Venice with children?  What did you think?

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I am an American expat based in London with my travel-loving family. I write at Just Go Places Blog about luxury, cultural and family travel.

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