Things to do in Venice in Winter on a romantic break

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Venice in winter is an absolute delight. Watching the gondoliers appear through the mist along the canals on a morning is a beautiful sight. Venice is stunning at any time of year, but in winter I think it excels!

A friend gave me a book quite a few years ago and in it was the most enchanting picture of Venice in the winter. Since seeing that it had firmly been on my bucket list to go to.  

Our wedding anniversary is in winter so I started to concoct a plan to tick this place off my list for our 10th anniversary.  It would be magical and romantic wouldn’t it?  Or would it just be wet?

Gorgeous winter light in Venice

If you’re planning a getaway you might be wondering what the best things to do in Venice in winter are – I hope my post gives you some ideas and inspires you to visit out of season!

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If you’re already attracted to visiting Venice in these less busy times then let me just share with you a couple of things that I think you need to know about winter in Venice.

Is Venice busy in winter?

Venice is still busy!  Yup, afraid to say that when we were there, which was before the busy Valentines weekend, wasn’t Carnival and wasn’t Christmas and New Year – it was still busy!  Now I haven’t been any other time of year so I can’t compare it, but it certainly wasn’t a ghost town.

St Marks Square in Venice at winter time.
Misty weather looking out on the Grand Canal in Venice

What is the weather like in Venice in winter?

Venice is also prone to flooding in the wetter months so be aware of that and dress accordingly.  The city is quite good at building ramps for people to walk on when it happens.

We had a mix of weather when we were there – one day it was a stunningly gorgeous bright day and the next it was misty, drizzly and damp.  We had planned to do a boat trip but in the end cancelled our plan because it was so dreary and we didn’t feel we’d see it at it’s best.  

My top 10 things to do in Venice in Winter

I’m a big believer in seeing the big sights if that’s what you want so you’ll find them all in here!  It’s easy to get away from the hordes of people in Venice if you need and want to be a bit more away from them – just head out early to the big places and seek out smaller sights in the busier times.

Getting lost

Easily accessible by everyone I think!  Venice is a great place to just wander, just be and just explore.  There are so many canals, alleyways and small streets to go down that if you stick to the main routes you’re really just scratching the surface.  I definitely recommend trying to get away from the main crowds and seeing what you can find.

Don’t worry about really getting lost though as nearly everywhere has a sign directing you to the main destinations in Venice – either St Mark’s Square, the Rialto bridge or the bus station depending on where you are.  You shouldn’t get yourself too lost if you can get back to the main thoroughfare.

Take ALL the photo opportunities!

Venice is truly a photographers delight and the magical winter light can really help that.  If you get a good day go on a walk snapping everything you want as the next day might well be drizzly and grey which is what we experienced.

Photographers might also like this 2-hour photography tour (I’m bookmarking this for our return!)

view from rialto bridge venice italy
View from the Rialto bridge in February

Rialto bridge

A visit to Rialto bridge is probably on the cards whether you like it or not.  The bridge, which in it’s current form dates back to 1591, spans the Grand Canal and is a main route when navigating round the city.  It was especially useful in early years as the market was in that area.  

Nowadays there’s still lots of shops and a food market nearby too.  We found it got really busy later on in the day, but if you want to catch it without others there then definitely try going early in the morning.

You might also like: What to see in Genoa in a day

st marks square venice in winter
Blue skies in Venice but still cold!

St Mark’s Square

Another of the must see places is St Mark’s Square or as it is known in Italian, Piazza San Marco.  As I mentioned above, it’s really easy to find as it’s signposted from almost everywhere.    It’s a great place to people watch as so many people come here.  Again, like with many of the other big attractions in Venice you probably want to explore early in the morning if you like it more to yourself, or maybe even in the evening which has a different feel to it.

You’re not allowed to eat your own food in the square so don’t be thinking about having a picnic (will probably be too wet and cold for that anyway) but there are a host of establishments ready to sell you that perfect Italian coffee with a perfect view.  Cafe Florian is one of the most well known as it’s apparently the oldest cafe in the world having been established in 1720!  If you want to experience some luxury, with a price tag to match, then you’ll likely find it here!

St Mark’s square has a number of sights within it that can be useful to explore if the weather isn’t on your side.  We were quite lucky so we only visited one of the following,  but I’d definitely be interested in exploring the rest if we return.

St Mark’s Basilica

The Cathedral of Venice is an amazing sight with some beautiful and intricate artwork on the outside of the building and inside too.  If you like churches then this will not disappoint.  An audio or guided tour would be a good addition to your day if you want to be sure of getting the history and the facts about the place.

The cathedral is free to look round but there’s also some extra bits that incur a charge and a museum up some stairs too as well as the view over the square to see.  It’s not indicated that there’s a charge upstairs and once you climb up you find out there is!  It’s not very expensive though, around €5, and it’s an interesting little place to enjoy and look round.  The views are pretty good too and you can see the replica horses on the top of the cathedral (the originals are in the museum).

When we went there weren’t big queues but it can get quite busy later on in the day.

doge palace venice in winter
St Mark’s Square in winter

Doge’s Palace

The Doge’s Palace looks stunning from the outside and has some amazing history.  It was the home of the Doge who where the most influential and important people in Venice’s history until it was turned into a museum in the 1920s.  We didn’t manage to look around inside but I’ve heard great things about the guided tours like this one.

You can also get skip-the-line tickets here

Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs is part of the Doge Palace and connects it with the prison.  It’s said to have been named so because the prisoners would sigh at their last sight of Venice as they were to be led away.  You don’t need to go inside to see the bridge and it can be seen from near the Grand Canal.  It does get very busy round there so as always get there early if you want the photo opportunity without other people crowding you.

Food markets

I love Italian food markets and Venice is no different for having them.  It’s a bit of a break from the Renaissance history and a good opportunity to see the locals and also get some fresh food too!  We looked round a small market near the Rialto bridge – it’s signposted and there’s a fish section and also a fruit and vegetable section.

There are other markets around too so do check if there’s one near where you base yourself.

If you’re a foodie there’s plenty of things to try and traditional Venetian foods to sample – a food tour might well be a good idea to make sure you don’t miss anything!  Plenty include time around the markets.

Day trips to Burano and Murano

One thing we missed that I was really sad about was a visit to the islands of Burano and Murano.  They are stunningly beautiful but also with an interesting history.  Each island is known for a certain thing – Burano for lace making and Murano for glass blowing.  If you want to get a unique and beautiful piece of Venice to bring home as a souvenir then heading here might be a good idea!  There’s still a heap of the ordinary souvenirs to look past, but there’s some really nice gems if you look for them.

If you like your seafood then these islands are good for eating out with lots of options that are better than the main Venice eateries (and cheaper too).

You can get to the islands on the water bus, line 12, or you can take a tour.  

Be aware of the diminishing light during winter though and leave yourself plenty of time to visit!

Walking tours around Venice

I’ll admit that I find Italian history to be a bit complicated for me – it’s not something I know a great deal about, so if you’re the same and want to get the low down on the city and everything that went on there then I really recommend a walking tour.  There are many depending on what you want to do – some are about the general history, some show you the less touristy areas and there’s even some that will enlighten you on the real Casanova!

 
St Mark's Basilica in Winter in Venice
Still plenty of people around at St Mark’s Basilica in winter

Romantic things to do in Venice in Winter

If you’re looking for that extra special thing to do in Venice here are a couple of extra ideas:

Find an intimate place to eat

Find a small back street place to eat. There are lots of places to eat in Venice and if a romantic meal is on your list then I suggest staying well away from the tourist spots near St Marks. Find somewhere quiet and out of the way for the ultimate in a romantic evening.

Gondola Rides

What about Gondola rides?  Lots of people diss them and as a romantic activity in Venice it’s a bit cliche, but if done right, perhaps on an early morning ride it could be a romantic thing to do. The problem is that many people watch others taking the Gondola – you’re a bit of sight to see yourself, so if you can miss the crowds it’s worth trying.

If you do want to do one then I recommend booking in advance to avoid paying extortionate prices – this one is a good deal.

Explore at night

Since you’re in Venice in winter it’s going to get dark early so that means plenty of time to explore as the sun is setting and while it’s dark.

The main areas of St Marks Square are a real sight to see in the evening, incredibly romantic to stroll around and it’s all lit up beautifully.

Attend the opera or a classical concert

For a romantic evening with a difference how about spending some time at the opera? Or if that’s not quite for you, how about listening to a classical orchestra? It’s a very Italian thing to do and high on the romance scale!

Check out this Dinner and Concert deal or this unique opera show

Events when visiting Venice in December, January & February

Christmas

Christmas in Venice can be a really special time and many worry that everything will be shut – not so.  Although you might find that some attractions are closed over the Christmas period many are still open so you’ll be able to sightsee as normal.  Likewise many restaurants and even shops will be open for business as usual and the water buses also run (do check in advance as the timetable might be limited).

If you’re planning to come for Christmas then I suggest you book somewhere for your meal in advance or if you’re in an apartment then get your food in ready just in case.  You don’t want to risk being without on this day.

My top tip if you’re coming at this time of year is to plan what you think you’ll want to do each day and check with individual attractions as to whether they are open.  By the 27th of December life is generally back to normal.

New Year

There’s a big fireworks show, countdown and celebration from St Mark’s Square at New Years Eve.  There is no ticketing for the event, but it does get extremely busy so get there early.  The fireworks are set off from a barge on the grand canal so you can probably find a much quieter spot if you so desire which will have a very different atmosphere.

If you’re looking to eat out at this time then definitely book in advance as it’s really busy.

Valentines Day

Many people travel to Venice for Valentines Day in search of the ultimate romantic break.  Which does mean that it can be incredibly busy!  Apart from the hordes, it will be like any other day in the city.  If you’re looking for something romantic to do, check out some of the less busy areas and just wander around and get lost!

Again, booking your meal might be worthwhile on this day if you have somewhere special in mind to eat.

Carnival

Carnival takes place every year in February with dates changing to coincide with Lent – unfortunately we were there just a little early for it, but we did see things getting built in St Mark’s square and also all of the masks around in preparation.

Carnival dates back a long time – possibly to 1162 in honour of a victory of the Venice republic from the Patriarch of Aquileia however it was outlawed in 1797 and the use of masks was also forbidden.  It’s current format was brought back in 1979 and it has helped tourism enormously at this time of year.

Many people dress up, some just wear masks and it’s an amazing spectacle to watch.  There’s lots going on too with classical music concerts, parades both on water and on land and much more.  For up to date information take a look at the official website for it.

It is a very busy period in Venice so accommodations and flights can be expensive – if you want to come and experience Carnival it’s a good idea to book early.

A great activity for Carnival is a workshop to make your own mask!

Where to stay in Venice

Looking for hotels in Venice can be really overwhelming if you’re not familiar with the parts of Venice you might want to stay in. There are lots of different areas of the city, many that have accommodation and of course your budget will dictate where is best for you.  

My recommendation for a winter Venice vacation is being as close to the sights that interest you as possible.  If it’s a wet day, or cold, it’s good to have the option of being able to head back to your hotel for a warm drink while any bad weather passes over.  

If you’ve chosen somewhere far away, or over on the mainland, then you’re kinda stuck sightseeing whatever the weather throws at you.

The Liassidi Palace hotel was just what I wanted – a bit of luxury for our anniversary!  It was a mix of luxury modern boutique hotel with the splendour and history of Venice added in.  We found it extremely affordable and really enjoyed our stay there.

They have canal views from some rooms and everyone can enjoy the breakfast canal views!

Venice liassidi hotel canal view
Breakfast overlooking the canal was amazing

If you do want the canal views do bear in mind that with it comes the noise of the city.  

I use Booking.com all the time as they have a great cancellation policy and they are so easy to use – see Venice hotels here.  Check out their map view to see where in Venice the hotel is and how close or far from where you want to be is.

Getting to and from Venice

You have quite a few options on getting to Venice and it’s a really easy place to visit.

Air

There are two airports that serve Venice – Marco Polo which is nearest and Treviso which a bit further out and is where the cheap flights land.

From Marco Polo you can get to Venice via a shuttle bus or even a water taxi.  

There are also shuttle buses from Treviso which are fairly easy to use – we travelled back from Venice with a cheap RyanAir flight and used the shuttle bus to get to the airport.

Bus

Venice is well served by buses which arrive at Piazzale Roma which is right next to the train station and connects you directly with the Venice water buses.

Train

We arrived by train from Paris  after I heard it was a magical way to arrive in the city (for best results arrive in day time!)

If you do arrive by train be sure to get off at the Santa Lucia station and not at Mestre.  Santa Lucia is right next to the Grand Canal so it’s easy to get the Vaporetto from there or walk to where you need to go.

Car

Of course there are no cars in Venice so you can’t bring your vehicle – but you can park in a large designated lots outside the city.  The main one is Tronchetto which can also accommodate vans and motorhomes.  The cost is quite high at around €21 for a whole 24 hours but options are kinda limited!

See our guide to driving to Italy from the UK

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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