A friend gave me a book quite a few years ago and in it was the most enchanting picture of Venice in winter and since seeing that it’s been on my bucket list to go to. I mean, Venice has always been on it but this made me completely disregard any other season – I had to see it in winter!
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Our wedding anniversary is in winter and as our kids were getting to an age we could leave them home while we went away 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?
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What you need to know about visiting Venice in winter
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.
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.
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. Will save it for a return visit!
Top attractions – what not to miss
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, but many people take the tours like these which give some time on each island. Be aware of the diminishing light during winter though!
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!
What to miss
Gondola rides? I feel bad dismissing these, because some people love them – they must do or they’d have died out as a tourist attraction a while ago. They do have a long history as a waterway transportation in the city and they do look pretty fab. But unless you have a real bucket list yearning to do one, I’d probably skip it and save your money for something else. The cost is quite high for the time in the gondola (around €80 for 30 mins if I remember rightly) although this could be justified if there are a few of you.
If you do want to do one then check out the Get Your Guide site as there’s often some good deals on there.
Special events in Venice in winter
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.
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.
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 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.
What to take to Venice in winter
We’re talking wet, damp and cold weather in winter so I’m going to suggest that the main thing you take with you is a good waterproof jacket. But, we’re in Venice so let’s try to at least look stylish while we’re at it! Something like this would keep you dry and looking good while doing so.
You’ll want some layers underneath your clothes as well which means you can keep warm without compromising on your style! I like these base layers.
Umbrellas are good to have too although less so in very crowded areas. If you’re standing in queues you’ll be glad of it.
A cross body bag with plenty of zips is my day bag of choice because they look normal, but they are less likely to be a target of thieves – we didn’t have any issues in Venice ourselves, but it’s a huge hotspot for tourists so with that inevitably comes risk about pickpockets.
Where to stay
Looking for hotels in Venice can be really overwhelming and I don’t normally have too much trouble in deciding where to go (I’m a sucker for a view which narrows it down!). There are lots of different areas of the city that have accommodation and of course your budget will dictate where is best for you. What I will say is that I really recommend being as close to the sights that interest you as possible, especially in the winter time. 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 then you’re kinda stuck sightseeing whatever the weather throws at you.
I really wanted to have a room with a canal view but I’m afraid our budget didn’t stretch to that at the time. I went with the next best thing which was a lovely hotel with breakfast canal views. 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 – no views from our room though. Sob. But the breakfast views were great.
Actually, that’s a good point – if you do want the canal views do bear in mind that with it comes the noise of the city. We didn’t really miss having them. Well, not much!
If you’re not sure where to start with searching for hotels then I recommend HotelsCombined who will scan all the booking sites and show you the best places to book what you have in mind for the best price. I use them all the time to get the best deals – see Venice hotels here.
Getting to and from Venice
You have quite a few options on getting to Venice and it’s a really easy place to visit.
There are two airports that serve Venice – Marco Polo which is nearest and Treviso which 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.
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.
We arrived by train from Paris after I heard it was a magical way to arrive in the city – what I didn’t count on was that it would be dark when we arrived so we didn’t get the best effect!
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.
See this article if you need more info about getting around Italy by train – it’s super easy.
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!
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