Venice has a habit of captivating its visitors with its charm. How could it not – it’s a city of canals winding its way into our hearts. Most people visit on sunny days when Venice is bright and shiny, but I am here to argue that Venice in winter is truly the best time to come.
There’s a melancholic romance in the air and a gondola glides through the mist-filled canals. There are no day-trippers, no groups of cruisers, only you. This is why I recommend visiting Venice in winter. You can discover the real city in a way you’ve not seen before. Venice is yours to enjoy!
The weather in Venice at that time of year in the colder months can vary from mild winter weather to foggy days. Sometimes it does rain and you might experience “acqua alta” or high water which is when the high tide causes the water to spill out into the Piazza San Marco and other spots throughout the city.
Don’t worry – the city is quick to put up walkways, but make sure you throw wet shoes into your bag. Still the average temperature is about 38/40 and, sometimes if you are lucky, it snows!
Not only are there fewer tourists in the winter months, the hotels also consider it low season so you might be able to take advantage of the lower prices of some of the most luxurious hotels that Venice has to offer.
From late November and early December, the holiday spirit descends upon the entire city. Christmas lights go up everywhere and Christmas decorations make a gorgeous city even more splendid. There is even a Christmas tree which goes up in Saint Mark’s Square in front of the Doge’s Palace. Nativity scenes are set up in most of the beautiful churches throughout the city. Don’t miss the Christmas market in the Dorsoduro for picking up little Venetian stocking stuffers.
Hanukkah celebrations are held in the synagogues which you can visit in the Venetian Ghetto located near to the train station.
Midnight mass is also held in St. Mark’s Basilicata and throughout the many churches as well.
Teatro La Fenice
A must-do activity in Venice is attending the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Concerts at the Teatro La Fenice, one of the world’s most famous opera houses. If you can’t make the New Year’s celebrations, check out the winter season and choose an opera performance, concert or ballet.
You can take a tour of this iconic landmark, built in 1792, as well. You simply cannot get over the jaw-dropping interiors of Teatro La Fenice. It’s a jewel box right in the heart of La Serenissima.
Carnevale di Venezia (The Carnival of Venice)
Pretty much the only time during the Venetian winter when tourists throng the streets is during the Venice Carnival. It’s like a city waking up from hibernation with over the top costumes and masks everywhere you look.
Held yearly for two weeks in February, the Carnival always ends on Shrove Tuesday, so prepare now. You get to feast your eyes on period costumes and have fun wearing one of the many of Venice’s ornamented masks.
Try and get yourself invited to a masquerade ball and one of the carnival parties held during the two weeks, but don’t worry you can always take part in the Regatta and the Flight of the Angel which you don’t need invites for!
Sip on Hot Chocolate at Caffè Florian
There’s nothing like a cup of hot chocolate to warm your insides on a winter day, but having it at Caffè Florian in St Mark’s Square is other worldly.
This iconic café, established in 1720, is also the oldest in the world. Since that time, they have been serving cocktails, coffee, and treats to locals and tourist from all over the world. While bars all over the city provide good espresso or your choice of beverage, this is THE place to visit.
The creamy, ganache-like hot chocolate in a lovely porcelain cup and biscotti to dip into is all you’ll need to feel warm. I recommend Cioccolata Casanova – a hot chocolate with mint cream, topped with generous chocolate shavings. If you are sitting outside, just remember there is an extra cost for the music!
Also don’t miss trying the seasonal specialties of frittelle (fried doughnuts) at the famous Pasticceria Tonolo and sugar-dusted galani during the Carnival.
Enjoy a Gondola Ride
I can never resist a gondola ride in Venice, and to glide through both the narrow canals and the Grand Canal, past Gothic and Renaissance palazzi in winter time will astound you.
This is really the best way to get to know the city. You can relax and enjoy the views covered in blankets to keep you warm. Don’t forget to bring a tipple with you if you are so inclined.
Of course, there are the vaporetti (water bus) as well. Take the #1 and go from the Lido to Rialto Bridge to the train station all up and down the Grand Canal.
Visit a Museum or Art Gallery
For a city so rich in history and culture, there are plenty of museums and galleries to visit. You can admire beautiful artwork or learn about this enchanting city’s history while spending a few hours out of the cold.
If you are a Modern Art lover that what better place to start than Venice’s own modern architect Carlo Scarpa’s work at the Olivetti Shop in St. Mark’s Square, plus the fabulous Fondazione Querini Stampalia! Then the Peggy Guggenheim Collection? I suggest reading The Unfinished Palazzo before heading there. The story of the palazzo which houses her collection is as intriguing as the art!
For Old Master painting’s then the Accademia delle Belle Arti is a wonder from start to finish holding some of the greatest works of art by the homegrown talents of Bellini, Veronesi, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo. For Tintoretto fans, the Scuola San Rocco is also must see.
In Cannaregio, The Jewish Museum, with its valuable artifacts, sacred furnishings, and silverware, is dedicated solely to history of the Jewish community in Venice.
Here are a few others not to mis:
- Campo dei Frari – In this square are two wonders of Venice: Scuola Grande di San Rocca – this is Tinteretto’s masterpiece – really worth a visit and Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the largest church in Venice, is a wonder. Wander around and find the unexploded bomb hidden in the Frari.
- Santa Maria dei Miracoli – find your way here through the tiny calli of Castello. It’s so lovely with its different colors of marble throughout. A favorite for weddings. There are so many others, like San Giovanni & Paolo, San Giorgio Maggiore, San Moise, etc…if you see an open door – go for it.
Go Inside St. Mark’s Basilica
Italy’s most famous Byzantine cathedral, Saint Mark’s Basilica, can be better experienced in all its glory in the winter. You can take all the time you want to marvel at 40,000 square-feet of golden mosaics and ancient life-sized bronze horses here and study the details, skills, and craftsmanship of centuries ago.
If the ornate exteriors didn’t mesmerize you enough, the lavish Pala d’Oro (the golden, jewel-studded altarpiece), the glittering cupolas, and priceless relics will do the trick.
A visit around Christmas time will give you the chance to attend the Midnight Mass here on Christmas Eve, an unmissable event for the locals.
6. Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)
A visit in winter to Doge’s Palace without the summer queues, allows you to view the sumptuous, gilded rooms to your heart’s content. Of course, you can linger over the Globe Room and look at the breathtaking staterooms too, one of which has the largest painting on canvas in the world.
The Gothic masterpiece is also home to the Ponte dei Sospiri (aka the Bridge of Sighs.) where prisoners housed in its dungeons would take their last breath before being executed.
Head out to the other islands
Don’t miss exploring Murano, Burano and Torcello. These outer islands are a joy in winter time. At this time of the year, you can explore the glass factories of Murano con calma e tranquillita – at your own pace.
Eat at the world famous Il Gatto Nero – their risotto is other worldly. Stop and see the Church of Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello, a five minute boat ride from Burano.
Shop, Shop, Shop
I always say Venice is for you if you are a glass lover or a jewelry lover. Venice in winter is the perfect time to weave in and out of the shops you love without hordes of other people looking over your shoulder or cramming in and making the whole shopping experience hell. The staff will give you all the time and attention you need.
Here are a few places to start with:
- ATTOMBRI, Campo San Maurizio, S. Marco 2668/a (tel. +39-041-5210789)
- RIALTO 79 – PERLE VENEZIANE, S. Polo, 79 after the Rialto Bridge Tel. 041-5220647
- NICOLA TENDERINI – ART & POSTCARDS
Campo Bella Vienna-Erberia – nr. the Rialto Fish Market – 041 5226532; 1183/b Ramo Toletto – 041 523 8691 (on the way from the Accademia to the Frari)
- And there are too many glass places to limit it to a few!
Eat, Eat Eat
Don’t be surprised when you can get a reservation everywhere you call! This is Venice in winter, need I say it again. All the places that are booked up in the summer months are now ready and waiting for you!
Or in if you are in a rental, head out to the Rialto Market every morning (except Sunday and Monday) to find the freshest fish and produce. Some of which you can only find in winter.
Here are a few of the best places in town:
- Alla Testiere: Calle del Mondo Novo, 5801 30122 Venice, Italy+39 041 522 7220
- Acqua Pazza: Campo Sant’Angelo
- Harry’s Bar: Lunch here!
- Other delicious restaurants: Corte Sconta, Osteria Da Rioba, Alla Madonna, Alla Carampane
- Where to eat cicchetti – Venetian tapas: I have a whole post all about these great places: Top Ten Venice Cicchetti Bars)
- Bars: check out Lush Life’s Guide!
Best Bits to leave you with
If you thought Venice in winter wasn’t worth visiting, you might want to reconsider. The magical aura of this historic city multiplies several-fold at this time of your. For all you know, this might become your favorite winter-time destination.
Here are some more Best Bits of Venice to read about:
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