It goes without saying that a gondola ride will be the thrill of a lifetime for any child or adult. If that's too expensive, consider the convenient and far less expensive alternative: a ride on the no. 1 vaporetto. They offer two entirely different experiences: The gondola gives you the chance to see Venice through the back door (and ride past Marco Polo's house); the vaporetto provides a utilitarian -- but no less gorgeous -- journey down Venice's aquatic Main Street, the Grand Canal. Look for the ambulance boat, the garbage boat, the firefighters' boat, the funeral boat, even the Coca-Cola delivery boat. Best sightings are the special gondolas filled with flowers and rowed by gondolieri in livery delivering a happy bride and groom from the church.
Judging from the squeals of delight, feeding the pigeons in Piazza San Marco (purchase a bag of corn and you'll be draped in pigeons in a nanosecond) could be the epitome of your child's visit to Venice, and it's the ultimate photo op. Be sure your child won't be startled by all the fluttering and flapping. When I was 11, my parents had me do it; all I remember is the scrabbly little feet of the pigeons.
A jaunt to the neighboring island of Murano can be as educational as it is recreational -- follow the signs to any fornace, where a glass-blowing performance of the island's thousand-year-old art is free entertainment. But be ready for the guaranteed sales pitch that follows.
Before you leave town, take the elevator to the top of the Campanile di San Marco (the highest structure in the city) for a pigeon's-eye view of Venice's rooftops and church cupolas, or get up close and personal with the four bronze horses on the facade of the Basilica San Marco. The view from its outdoor loggia is something you and your children won't forget.
Some children enjoy the Museo Navale & Arsenale, with its ship models and old vessels, and the many historic artifacts in the Museo Civico Correr (Correr Civic Museum), tangible vestiges of a time when Venice was a world unto itself.
The winged lion, said to have been a kind of good luck mascot to St. Mark, patron saint of Venice, was the very symbol of the Serene Republic and to this day appears on everything from cafe napkins to T-shirts. Who can spot the most flying lions? They appear on facades, atop columns, over doorways, as pavement mosaics, on government stamps, and on the local flag.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.