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 far cheaper 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 high point 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.
A jaunt to the neighboring island of Murano can be as educational as it is recreational—follow the signs to any fornace (kiln), where a glassblowing performance of the island’s thousand-year-old art is free entertainment. But be ready for the guaranteed sales pitch that follows.
Take the elevator to the top of the Campanile di San Marco for a scintillating view of Venice’s rooftops and 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. Scaling the Torre dell’Orologio or the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore is also lots of fun.
The winged lion, said to have been a kind of 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. Keep a running tab of who can spot the most flying lions—you’ll find them on facades, atop columns, over doorways, as pavement mosaics, on government stamps, and on the local flag.