No one really knows how many lions there are in Venice. It’s a funny thing because the more you look, the more you’ll see. They’re truly everywhere—on buildings of all sizes, in tapestries, on the Venetian flag and then some. My daughter and her friends, whom we were also traveling with in Venice, counted nearly 400 during our private, hosted Lion Hunt tour with Context Travel. And we only roamed a small—but significant—part of the city.
Truth be told, I was a bit nervous that the kids wouldn’t be into a 3-hour walking tour. Venice summers are quite hot and busy. Gelato and sweets shops galore can be distracting. With only pedestrian streets in the city center, it’s not like we could Uber home when they got tired. And I wasn’t sure if the subject matter would even interest them.
But alas kids ARE intellectually curious travelers, too. Our gang was totally into the experience. I credit our docent, Sara, who was able to integrate facts and history in a manner that held the interest of 9- and 10-year-olds. In fact, during our tour, a few people who overheard her talk to the girls asked me for tour booking details.
Why so Many Lions in Venice?
Lions are the city’s most important icon. The winged lion represents the disciple St. Mark who is the patron saint of Venice. He became associated with lions in Mark 1:3 where he describes hearing the voice of John the Baptist crying out like a lion upon hearing the Word of God. St. Mark’s remains are thought to be buried under the altar of St. Mark’s Basilica (though there is some modern debate about whether they’re really his).
Context Travel’s Lion Hunt
We met Sara at a designated spot near Piazza San Marco that was away from the crowds. She carried an iPad to showcase further detail and historic photos along the way. Each girl received a sheet outlining 20 lions they needed to find with space to write location and tidbits about them.
I thought to myself, “There’s no way they’ll find all of these.” I was totally wrong. Totally.
As we rounded the corner to the Doge’s Palace and Piazza San Marco, one of Europe’s most beautiful public squares, the girls got the hang of lion spotting. Each of the lions on their sheet was deliberately chosen because of its story or that of its host building.
We spent quite a bit of time in Piazza San Marco as many of the city’s most famous and recognizable lions are here.
The St. Mark’s Campanile bell tower showcases a winged lion toward the top. Lions also grace the tops of these red flag poles as well as the St. Mark’s Clocktower below.
This ground-level lion near St. Mark’s Basilica makes an excellent group photo location.
We wound our way out of Piazza San Marco, through many quaint walkways and over canals. Though the tour is lion-themed, we learned a lot about how the canals are used for transport of everyday things (spotting refrigerated gelato boats, trash boats and more along the way), Carnivale, why the city is sinking and so more kid-friendly facts.
At one point, the girls needed water (and we needed coffee) so a cafe stop was in order. Flexibility is one of the major benefits of private tours.
Side Tour to a Hidden Gem in Venice
What kid doesn’t like run up a centuries-old spiral staircase? We took a side detour to a hidden gem in Venice called Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. It was well worth the admission we paid to scale up to a viewing point with a spectacular view over the city, which included one of Venice’s leaning towers (not pictured).
This was the only attraction we actually went inside. In the end, I’m glad for that because roaming the beautiful, historic streets was a better use of our time with her. It was absolutely the perfect introduction to Venice for the kids.
I was also pleased that the girls out of nowhere were able to recite what Sara had told them about the Doge, St. Mark and more as we continued to tour Venice over the next few days. They enjoyed it so much that I will look into another Context Travel family tour when we’re all hopefully in Beijing together this coming summer.
Tips for this Venice Family Tour
They are not kidding when they say plan plenty of time to meet your docent. We’d arrived in Venice the day prior and had not quite figured out the lay of the land. Google Maps failed us multiple times so we were late to meet Sara at our designated time.
The upshot to scheduling this Venice family tour on our first full day is that it did orient us with the city. It made exploring Venice more meaningful to the kids in the following days.
Questions about Venice? Ask your guide. Sara was an amazing wealth of information. We happened to mention an interest in mask making for the girls as well as a glass blowing demonstration without a day trip to Murano (we were short on time). She gave us stellar recommendations for things to do in Venice with kids that I’ll tell you about soon.
In my opinion, private tours are the way to go with kids. I think they (as well as parents) learn more because the topics are catered to their interest and more one-on-one attention is received. You won’t hold up the entire group if someone needs a snack or stops to look at a statue for a bit longer. The list goes on.
About Context Travel Tours
Context Travel offers private and very small group tours (maximum 6 people) for intellectually curious travelers worldwide. In addition to family tours, one might choose a tour based on art, cuisine and a myriad of other specialized topics. I don’t have any hesitation recommending them or booking again on my own dime.
*Thanks to Context Travel for hosting our tour.