When Eurocamp invited us to stay with them at Marina Di Venezia last month, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to incorporate some sightseeing into our week and at the top of our list was a day trip to Venice. Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamed of visiting Venice, swept away by the tales my Nan and Grandad would tell me from their holidays each year and, with every Venetian mask I added to my collection, I would tell myself that one day, I’d go there and see it for myself.
Marina Di Venezia is just a short walk from Punta Sabionni where you can buy tickets for either a one day excursion or a pass to use over the course of the week to travel by Water Taxi. We decided it would be memorable to make our visit on Harry’s 5th birthday, which unfortunately turned out to be a day of torrential rain, but not one to let the weather stop our plans, we bought a couple of umbrellas, booked onto the next boat over, and off we went.
Ticket prices vary, but for a one day return trip you can expect to pay around 10 Euros for adults and 6 Euros for children aged four and over. We chose a local company Marco Polo but there are so many kiosks with different offers so it’s worth shopping around and comparing prices before your trip.
We were up and out by 9.30am but were told that later in the day the boats become very busy and in the Summer season you can be waiting for a long time unless you are booked onto a specific tour. Luckily for us (or not so lucky depending on how you look at it!) it was very quiet due to the rain and we practically had the whole boat to ourselves.
It took around 30 minutes to cross the lagoon to Venice, a journey which I imagine in the sunshine would have been lovely to sit outside and enjoy the view. But we were determined not to let the rain dampen our spirits and as we saw the first glimpse of Venice ahead we were so excited for a day of exploring.
As we got off the boat at the port we were instantly swallowed up by huge swarms of people carrying selfie sticks and cameras, posing for photographs at every opportunity. I had heard that Venice was busy but had been in no way prepared for just how much!
Thankfully as we continued to walk the crowds parted a little and we were able to spot our first glimpse of a Venetian canal. One of the things we had heard from others was that Venice has a very specific odour, and not a particularly nice one if I’m honest, but we personally didn’t deem this to be the case and yet perhaps in the Summer in the warmer temperatures it may differ.
To the side of the port you can find row after row of Gondolas for hire, although they are also available further into the city, and after seeing the children’s excitement we promised them that before the day was over we too would ride in one together.
There are also small motorboat rides for those who prefer to shelter from the rain but for me, if you’re going to go to Venice it would be a real shame not to enjoy a Gondola ride – even if it means getting wet!
Our first historical spot was the Bridge of Sighs connecting the court and the prison. The name was bequeathed by Lord Byron in the 19th century to suggest that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice before being taken down to their cell and even though, in reality, that fact is disputed, it has remained a popular tourist attraction and one we were pleased to spot!
It soon became apparent that Venice is every bit as grand as we had seen in pictures and, with our first glimpse of the Piazza ahead, I had to pinch myself that after 39 long years of waiting I had finally got my dream come true!
St Mark’s Square is probably the most well known landmark in Venice and is home to St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge Palace and the Clock Tower. The square is surrounded by cafe’s and restaurants which we had been pre-warned to avoid as they do tend to be expensive.
St Mark’s Basilica is beautiful to look at and I would have loved to go inside but the queue was already right down the square and into the streets and with four very impatient children that was never going to happen. For those wanting to go inside you can pre-book tickets on line to beat the queue time, something we only learned about after our trip!
With the children getting hungry we found ourselves in a maze of narrow lanes, winding in and out of the centre, lined with with designer shops, restaurants, bars and cafes, all of which smelled amazing!
Regardless of the tourist attractions, you could just spend the whole day wandering around the shops, looking in the windows and enjoying all of delicious or unusual offerings. Despite the crowds in the main squares, the actual lanes seemed far quieter and were much easier to navigate with four children than I thought!
It’s so easy to get lost in Venice and so many times we found ourselves going rough in circles with no real sense of direction. Some of the lanes are so narrow that you can touch both sides with your hands and we struggled to even get the umbrella down them! It all adds to that Italian rustic charm and actually, it’s exactly as I had imagined it to be!
We must have wandered around the shops for a good couple of hours just drifting in and out, taking our time, and after grabbing some lunch from one of the local cafe’s we decided to make it our mission to find a gelato which, considering we were in Venice, was harder than I thought it would be!
Given all the warnings we’d had about how expensive it was to eat and drink in Venice I was actually really surprised by how reasonable the prices were away from the main squares. Gelato was around two euros per tub and let me tell you, it was worth every penny!
Even in the rain you can’t beat Italian gelato and, although we may have eaten it with our hoods up, sheltering under the eaves of a building, it was one of my favourite moments of the day to look back on and remember how we had laughed each time a raindrop fell from the tips of our noses! Plus there are worse views than this to stand in the rain and look at, that’s for sure!
As we made our way back down towards the canals we discovered a traditional Venetian costume shop – Ca’ Del Sol – and ventured in for a look around. The shop was bursting with colourful masks and extravagant costumes and the girls eyes grew bigger by the second!
On seeing the girls looking longingly at the costumes the owner, a lovely Italian lady, beckoned them over and began to dress them in soft satin capes and beautiful velvet masks and as they admired themselves in the mirror I could have cried at how happy they looked!
As I was busy photographing the girls I didn’t realise that poor Lewis had been accosted behind me and before he knew what was happening he had been dressed head to toe in mask, hat, cape and cane! As he made desperate “Help me!” eyes from behind his mask both Gaz and I had simply stood there, crying with laughter!
For anyone visiting Venice, popping into Ca’ Del Sol is a real must. It’s a beautiful shop and the lady was so welcoming, something I found to be the case from the majority of Italians, especially when it came to the children.
Back out by the canals we decided to take the advice we had seen in every tourist book and see Venice via the bridges. With a map we had picked up earlier we were able to follow a circular path around the city, stopping at every bridge to take a photo of course!
As well as viewing Venice via the bridges I’d recommend for anyone to explore the little side streets too. Often, purely by accident, we found ourselves out of the centre and discovered quirky little spots and interesting buildings, all oozing that rustic Italian charm.
By the end of the day it was finally time for the children’s wish – a gondola ride! Gondola ride prices differ in Venice but you can expect to pay around 60 euros and upwards, especially in the high season when prices are cranked up even higher. That said, for our first trip to Venice, and in honour of Harry’s fifth birthday, it was such a lovely memorable moment for us to enjoy as a family.
The majority of gondolas do a similar route around the smaller canals and then out onto the Grand canal to the parts which are only accessible via the water. The Grand Canal is a great place to just sit back and watch all of the boats sail by although by this point it was absolutely torrential with rain and we were glad of every bridge we sailed under just to shelter for a split second.
As grey as the skies were, and as drenched as we were afterwards, to sit in a gondola sailing down the Grand Canal in Venice, with my favourite people in all the world, will go down as one of my all time favourite moments of my life so far. I may have waited a long time to experience that moment but I’m so glad my first time in Venice was with these five.
And just like that our day in Venice had come to an end and it was time to get the ferry back over to Punta Sabionni. As we took one last look at the canal below us and picked up a few souvenirs to take home and remember our day, however wet we were (and cold if I’m being honest) I knew that this was a day we would always remember. Still, as the ferry left the port and we huddled up to get warm, I promised the children that, one day, we would come right back and do it all again but next time……in the sunshine!!