by Paige Conner Totaro

Venice is magic. Venice with kids is perhaps not the same kind of magical as it might be with your one true love, but it is magic nonetheless.  Here are 5 things you can do with your kids to make it unforgettable for them.

Feeding the birds in Piazza San Marco (c) 2011 Jane Hoeffner

1 – Feed the birds

Yes, it’s cliche, but kids dig this.  Buy a handful of birdseed in Piazza San Marco and see how long it takes for pigeons to roost on your shoulders.  I have no idea how the locals feel about this, but I do hear pigeon is a popular menu item in Europe.

2 – Find parallels to their interests from home

Some people might go to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) to see the masterful works by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, but if you’ve got kids with you, they may not be so impressed.  But persevere on up to the top floors with them (follow the signs for the prison rooms and Bridge of  Sighs) to find an astounding exhibit of weapons and armor.  Even our girly-girls were fascinated with the, well, reality of the items in the cases.

In the Basilica of San Marco, it would be hard for anyone, even a kid, to NOT be impressed with the golden mosaics, but it can be a little overwhelming.  Make sure you get up to the galleria where you can find some kid-sized models (a must for junior architects), and the four oversized and stunning gilded bronze horses, which date from the second or third century A.D. and were brought to Venice from Constantinople as war booty in the thirteenth century.

The littlest fashionistas in the crowd will no doubt enjoy window shopping in Venice, and perhaps a visit to the Palazzo Mocenigo, the 18th century home of the prominent Mocenigo family.  The home is now a small museum with displays of period clothing, where your little ones can imagine themselves traipsing around Venice in yards of handmade lace.

3 – Show them some magic

Watch the transformation of hard glass rods to molten magic in the hands of glass artisans in Venice and the nearby island of Murano.  Kids will be wowed by this process, so be sure you get to see some artisans in action.   If you don’t have time to visit Murano, try glassmaker Mauro Vianello, who will demonstrate the craft for you in his Rialto-area studio, without the hard-sell that you will find at some other glass workshops.

4 – Navigate the human-sized maze that is Venice

Venice is the perfect place to practice following a map.  It’s very compact, and even if you do get lost, you will soon find a signs on the walls pointing to the Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco, or Ferrovia (train station), and you can start fresh from there.  Have the kids help you map a route, and see how well you can follow it.   Try to cross all five bridges one day, or take all seven traghetti across the Grand Canal, or just try to find one particular place without consulting the map.

5 – One word: gelato

The Italian ice cream is welcomed by kids at any time of day, and can be used to bribe even the crankiest little tourist over that great big bridge looming between you and your destination.  Favorite spots include Alaska in Santa Croce, with some unexpected flavors like avocado and fig, Da Nico in the Zattere area and Grom (a chain now found throughout Italy and even in New York) in Dorsoduro.  But you won’t get far without spotting a gelateria (kids have an especially keen sense of direction about these things), and you probably won’t find a bad one in the bunch.  Try Italian favorites like gianduja or gianduiotto – a chocolate/hazelnut, and stracciatella – chocolate chip.

6 – Don’t forget to go potty!

Before you leave home, download the most useful app in all of Venice: Toilette in Venice. It will tell you where to find all the public restrooms and water fountains in the city. And because “public” doesn’t always mean “free,” the app tells you just how many euro coins you’ll need for everyone’s relief.