Italy

Teen Spirit: from Milan to Venice on an Italian city break with teens

Last updated 4th July 2024

How do you turn the idea of a city break with teens into reality? Jane Anderson recommends a Milan and Venice combo along with a few other crafty tactics.

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Fin and Quinn on Duomo roof, Milan

Secret weapons to plan an Italian city break with teens

The dynamic of family travel shifts as your children grow, and none more so than when they reach their late teens. Is it even feasible to take my 17-year-old son Finlay on a Milan and Venice city break? Happily, as the setting for The Duchess of Malfi, Milan fits into A level English studies. And my other secret weapon? Inviting his girlfriend Quinn!

As we drove from Milan airport through the ‘burbs, oversized Valentino ads took up entire building facades and old trams were plastered with Gucci logos, impressing on us just how important fashion is to this city. Luckily our hotel, the newly opened Avani Palazzo Moscova Milan, offers a vintage shopping tour.

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Adani Palazzo Moscova Milan Hotel

Vintage chic and lot of mess: a teen city break standard

Housed in the city’s former first train station, close to the Garibaldi Station and near the lively Porta Nuova district, Avani Palazzo Moscova Milan has a re-loved vintage feel itself.

Our suite was a light-flooded, split-level room with French doors leading to a bijou balcony with the views of the oversized Campari advertisement on the building opposite. The pretty lounge area was screened off from my double bed, whilst Fin and Quinn headed upstairs to their mezzanine with double bed, TV and desk. It was soon littered with clothes, luggage and general teen detritus. Although, I wasn’t worried, we were here to enjoy ourselves.

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Duomo di Milano

A sunset tour of Milan’s Duomo and some crazy gargoyles

Keen to make the most of our time, we headed straight out to the famous Duomo, at the epicentre of the city, and I was happy to let Fin and Quinn take the lead finding the Republica subway station.

After just three stops, we emerged right into the main square for a knockout view of this colossal church. We all agreed that when it was built in the 14th century, it would have been enough to make you believe in God.

We’d booked tickets to climb onto the roof at sunset, and it could not have been more spectacular. I felt happy for my smoochy teens to experience such a romantic place, hanging back so they could enjoy it for themselves. However, we all loved seeing the crazy gargoyles up close, and the huge statues on spires reaching up from the cathedral with a tangerine orange sunset firing up over impressive city vistas.

Every teen city break needs a shopping trip and a posh dinner

Next day we headed on the first of our Avani-devised local experiences – a vintage fashion tour.

Our first stop was Humana Vintage on Via Edmondo de Amicis, absolutely perfect for teens with its rails of affordable preloved clothes. Fin came away with a vintage blue Fila sweater, cleverly spotted by Quinn, and later reposted on Instagram by Humana Vintage as Fin modelled it along with a grey silk scarf. I found the coolest tailored tweed trousers for just €19.

Next up were Cavalli e Nastri and Bivio Milano where Fin and Quinn were less engaged with the high-end vintage fashion which was out of their price range. I barely had time to try on a gorgeous pair of patent leather Miu Miu slingbacks, a steal at €180, before being bustled on to the next of many brilliant stores.

That evening we indulged in a posh dinner at the Avani hotel’s Forte fish restaurant, where an impressive bed of ice in the style of a fishmongers, showed off everything from oysters to langoustine caught earlier in the day in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

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Bargain hunting, Venice

Scenic trains through Frank Lloyd Wright’s favourite station

All too soon, our time in Milan was up. We caught a cab to Milano Centrale train station, revered by architect Frank Lloyd Wright as the most beautiful station in the world, to catch the train to Venice. I’m not sure whether my teen couple noticed the grandeur, but they were very laid back about which platform to head for.

Our easy two-and-a half-hour journey took us past Lake Garda and the snow-capped Dolomites and on through Verona. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world other than Venice where you arrive by train through a lagoon, with the milky green water looking almost surreal as the train seemingly floated towards the city.

I could tell when we got off the train at Venice’s Santa Lucia station that the teens were wowed by the site of 500-year-old palazzos sunken into the canal, and there were huge grins all round, even as we lugged our suitcases over stepped bridges to the nearby Avani Rio Novo Venice.

Standing out from the crowd as one of the few modern buildings here, the hotel is inspired by Venetian cinema with film books galore in its relaxed lounge area. Our smart inter-connecting rooms had floor to ceiling windows overlooking Venetian rooftops.

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Cinema-themed Avani Rio Novo Venice is great for a city break with teens

Cicchetti bar ‘bacari’ tour and the Guggenheim

Again, the hotel had organised a series of local experiences for us.

First up, a cicchetti bar tour with local guide Vanessa Dal Zennaro who led us to her favourite hangout, Vini Al Bottegon, where she used to come with her granddad, who would let her dip her finger in the wine to taste. We all soon learned the simple but brilliant art of the cicchetti – bite-sized wonders with a bread base and toppings as varied as swordfish with escarole or cream cheese with marmalade. Locals call this bacari – meaning ‘to party’. As Vanessa told us, it’s a way of winding down after work before you head home for dinner.

Waving goodbye to Vanessa, we made it to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and I loved that the teens got to hear about such as liberated woman as Peggy, a visionary collector of 20th century art and daring socialite.

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Finished masks on Guidecca Island

Getting crafty with Venetian masks on Giudecca Island

Although it was a tough call, the final two Avani experiences really made the trip for us.

First up, mask making on the island of Giudecca. We caught the vaporetto across the lagoon to this less touristy but no less beguiling island clutching the address of Mr Augusto’s Venetian masks laboratory: a huge old palazzo that turned out to be a former brewery. Just when we thought no one was around, this master mask maker appeared – black hoody, baseball cap and thick framed glasses – and ushered us into his cool studio, crammed with hundreds of masks, paint and crafting equipment.

It all felt pretty magical, swept up in the energy of this creative soul who has made masks for films and TV series including Gossip Girl, 50 Shades of Grey and Spiderman 2. As well as skilfully showing us how to choose an eye mask to fit the shape of our face, he introduced us to the art of  customisation using rubbery shapes from cherubs to roses, glue gunned on. Then next up came the paint: a base colour first, followed very effective highlights. Finally, a contrasting ribbon round the back and we were done and be-masked.

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Add the Island of Murano to a city break with teens

Magical Murano is the perfect end to a city break with teens

Our final Avani adventure took us by private water taxi right outside our hotel to the island of Murano. We all sat up front near the captain to take in the thrill of zooming down back street canals before speeding off into the lagoon, the fog soon enveloping Venice. It wasn’t long before Murano, the heart of Venetian glass making for centuries, appeared out of the gloom. We felt like true insiders as master glass maker Cristina Fiore welcomed us right on the canal side and took us to meet her equally talented husband Andrea Penzo in their modest studio.

The making of imperfect Murano glass beads

She proudly showed us experimental pieces of jewellery inspired by Murano chandeliers they’d recently created for a Fendi catwalk show, before leading us into their workshop with a work bench ready and waiting for each of us.

It was here Cristina revealed how glass beads are created from long thin rods of coloured glass, made molten in an intense flame and wrapped around a thin metal stick covered in vermiculite so it can be removed easily, leaving it with a thin hole through the middle. Then Andrea demonstrated working different coloured glass together in the flame, and rotating the melted glass to keep a round-ish shape.

Although it looked like an impossibly skilled task, we all had a go and actually did quite a decent job of creating imperfect Murano glass beads.

This twin city break with teens was such a myriad of new experiences. Back home, Quinn reminisced about her highlights and Fin even said he’d love to live in Venice someday. All in all, a triumph. Thank you Italy.

How to plan this Milan / Venice city break

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Milan from 1 hour, 30 minutes

Milan to Venice by train from 2 hours, 30 minutes

Where to stay

Avani Palazzo Moscova Milan, Family Suite (2 adults, 2 children) from £279 per night

Book Avani Palazzo Moscova Milan

Avani Rio Novo Venice, Junior Suite (2adults, 2 children) from £472 per night

Book Avani Rio Novo Venice

Good to know

Vintage shopping in Milan from £50 per person; mask making on Giudecca from £52 per person; glass bead making on Murano, from £30 per person

Train from Milan to Venice from £20 per person one-way

Find out more at Trainline

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