Planning your next winter break? Here’s why you should consider visiting Venice in winter…
Venice. It’s beautiful at all times of year, right? It’s probably one of the most beautiful places in the world at any given time. So why visit Venice in winter?
There are many reasons why you should visit Venice at this time. I could wax lyrical about the mist coming off the canals, the stillness in the air, and the sleepy, deserted alleyways for hours on end, but let’s be pragmatic and kick things off with the practical reasons for travelling to Venice in the off-season.
One of the best reasons to visit Venice during the winter months is because the city is pleasantly affordable out of the peak season. A quick look on go-to travel site Skycanner shows return flights from the UK for less than £100, which is pretty good. In fact, I’ve included it as one of the best winter city breaks if you’re on a budget!
- London to Venice £48 return
- Manchester to Venice £87 return
- Edinburgh to Venice £53 return
There are less tourists
Another sensible reason to visit Venice in winter is, of course, the crowds. Or the lack thereof, I should say. It’s much, much quieter in Venice in winter than it is during the peak summer months, so if you want this beautiful city to yourselves then November to January is the time to go. All those pictures of the crowds spiralling out of St Mark’s Square or pouring out of the cruise liners which dwarf the skyline just make me shudder. Everything feels a little bit more still, a little less frantic, and a lot more enjoyable in winter. If you’d prefer a slightly more low-key experience then visiting Venice during the winter months is best.
The carnival comes to town
And here comes a biggie – and one that I didn’t know before I travelled to Venice. Yes, one thing you may not know about Venice in winter is that that’s when the carnival comes to town! While some European cities might look a little stark and bare at the beginning of the year – in comparison to the twinkling festive charm they’ve worn in the build-up to Christmas – Venice is just the opposite. It comes to life at the end of January when the Carnival of Venice arrives, bringing with it a real sense of magic and flamboyance!
What is the Carnival of Venice?
With a rich history that stretches back hundreds of years, the carnival is one of the most famous in the world. And why wouldn’t it be? Expect a vibrant celebration of costumes, masks, and a sprinkle of magic over the course of the festivities. There’s a wide array events for visitors and locals alike to enjoy; masked parades, events and performances, and exclusive masquerade balls. It sounds like something out of another century.
If you really want to soak up the carnival spirit in style then you can buy or hire your own mask and cloak and be a living, breathing part of the festival. What could be more fun?
To my previous point, however, if you’re looking to visit Venice to escape the crowds that would normally be there in the summer months then don’t visit during carnival time. The streets will be packed out with a reported three million tourists visiting each year!
When does the Carnival of Venice take place?
The Venice Carnival begins on 31 January and continues until Shrive Tuesday on 16 February. It lasts around two weeks in total, which is plenty of time to book a holiday around. You could even make it a romantic Valentine’s day trip if you like.
Unfortunately, I visited Venice in late November and so I didn’t get a chance to experience it for myself but it’s something I would like to do in the future. It looks incredible!
OK, now back to reasons to visit Venice in winter…
It’s effortlessly beautiful
So those were the practical reasons to visit Venice in winter. Now it’s time to channel the more subjective side of your brain. As I touched on at the start, the fact is that Venice just wears the winter really well. Some places look drab and dull during the winter months, but Venice somehow comes out looking even more beguiling than before. The colour palette is gorgeous, all moody blues and greys, and then there’s the soft blur of mist, which just adds to the mysterious charm. If you’re looking for fairy tale stuff, this is it right here.
Let’s be honest, winter is just another filter to enhance all those perfectly proportioned features, right?
But back up a second. There’s me getting all carried away with the romance of Venice. I bet what you actually want to know is the important stuff, like how cold is it exactly? What should I pack? And what is there to do when it’s wet and miserable? Keep on reading…
How cold is Venice in winter?
Good question. The average temperate in Venice in December is between 1°C and 7°C – so definitely on the chilly side for sure! Essentially, Venice is cold, damp and grey during the winter months, with December and January being the two coldest months of the year.
|High temperature||Low temperature||Average temperature|
|November||11 °C / 52°F||4°C / 39°F||8°C / 46°F|
|December||7°C / 45°F||1°C / 34°F||4°C / 39°F|
|January||6°C / 43°F||0°C / 32°F||3°C / 37°F|
|February||8°C / 46°F||1°C / 34°F||5°C / 41°F|
|March||12°C / 54°F||4°C / 39°F||8°C / 46°F|
So, you might not be able to sit in St Mark’s Square and eat gelato with the sun beating down on your skin as you would in summer, but you can wrap up and walk the length and breadth of the city, stopping off at the occasional pub for fresh pasta and a glass of red to warm up. And who am I kidding, you can still order gelato, freezing cold or not. I certainly did! Nothing was keeping me away from that mint chocolate ice cream!
Here’s what you should see and do in Venice in winter…
1) Walk around. That’s it.
I’m keeping it simple to start with. One of the great things about Venice is that it’s one of those cities that’s small enough to walk around. And if you can get away with not having to jump on a metro or a bus then you definitely should. In short, walking the streets of Venice is one of the easiest – and cheapest – ways to soak up what the city is all about.
It’s only when you meander through all those tiny alleyways and cross one bridge after another that you get to see the city up close. It’s faded grandeur at its most charming, with flaking paint on the walls, gorgeous still greeny-blue canals in every direction, and rows of gondolas just waiting to take you on an adventure. If you’re anything like me you’ll get lost a million times over – we had to turn back so many times when we realised we’d taken a wrong turn – but it’s all part of the fun. Trust me, you’ll turn a corner and be confronted by another startling view that’s completely unexpected – and totally disarming. I was pretty much in awe of how beautiful Venice was by the time we had to say goodbye to it.
If getting lost doesn’t really float your boat and you’d prefer to be more purposeful then you can join a walking tour in Venice. A Venetian guide will take you around all the key sights and help you feel like a local… and I imagine they’ll stop you from getting lost, too. I had a quick nosy on TripAdvsior and there are plenty of guided tours that look great!
2) Visit the Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal in Venice, and possibly the most famous out of all the bridges in the city. It joins the San Polo district to the San Marco district and sits very much in the heart of Venice as one of its most famous landmarks. The name Rialto is derived from ‘rivo alto’, which means high bank.
Built in the 16th century, the Rialto Bridge was built to replace an old-fashioned draw bridge that was in place at the time. Numerous architects submitted designs for the new bridge as part of a competition – with big names such as Michelangelo even being in the mix – but in the end it was the design of Antonio da Ponte was chosen. And that’s what we see today.
Of course, everyone wants to visit the Rialto Bridge, and it’s incredibly busy. You’ll probably have to wait your turn to get a half decent photo of yourself. And that was in winter – goodness knows what summer is like! My advice: make friends with the other hundred or so tourists there jostling around trying to get a perfect selfie and take turns taking photos of each other. Voila, no awkward selfie poses with the camera pointing up your nose.
As you would expect from such a busy tourist destination, there are lots of restaurants lining each side of the river. I should probably tell you not to visit them because it’s such a tourist trap and it’s really not the way to experience the real Venice, yada yada yada. Truth be told we got dinner here one night and it was actually one of the nicest meals I had here. It’s a pleasant area. I enjoyed eating dinner in the open air with gondolas bobbing along in the canal, the twinkle of fairy lights, and the lap of the water in the background.
3) Drink hot chocolate at Cafe Florian
Café Florian is a mood. It’s the oldest coffee shop in the world and has been an iconic establishment in Venice since all the way back in 1720 when it first opened. To me, it pretty much epitomises the mood of Venice. From the outside it’s all faded grandeur and flaking paint which, while beguiling, doesn’t really reveal its full hand. It’s only when you go inside that you’re transformed into a world of ceilings that glint with gold, seductive red velvet seats, and wall décor that’s so intricate it feels as if you’ve stepped into a living, breathing Renaissance masterpiece. Or something like that. It’s just astonishingly beautiful.
Located on St Mark’s square, Café Florian has served a glittering clientele over the centuries. As this article puts it, the café was always a haunt of the “rich, famous, and erudite” with everyone from Charles Dickens, Henry James and Lord Byron said to have dined here. Casanova is rumoured to have visited too – he did get around! Nowadays, it’s the perfect place to step back in time and people watch – who knows who you might spot?
So now onto what to order. I need to be straight: this place is pricier than most. If you’re visiting Venice on a budget then don’t for a moment consider actually ordering food at Café Florian – certainly not an actual meal – because that would obliterate half your spending money. However, you’re in luck. Café Florian is also famous for its traditional hot chocolate, which gives you a great out and is probably just as filling. It’s also incredible. It’s thick, molten and rich, comes served in a teacup, and is practically a meal in itself. If you’re looking for a way to really soak up the history of your surroundings in style, this is it.
One final note for when you’re visiting Café Florian. Don’t put your umbrella on the table, as I did, as this will most definitely ruin with the ambience of the experience and will be swiftly moved by the waiter. What can I say, you can’t take me anywhere…
4) Visit the Bridge of Sighs
Make sure you stop by another one of Venice’s famous bridges, which is the Bridge of Sighs. I remember making a joke at the time about it being called the Bridge of Sighs because of all the tourist sighing as they queue and jostle around just to be able to take a selfie on it. Yes, just like every other bridge in Venice it does get pretty crowded. I have to say this was one of the busiest spots we visited in the city over the whole trip! However, the real story behind why the bridge is called the Bridge of Sighs is actually a lot more interesting…
Built out of limestone in the 16th century, the Bridge of Sighs is a completely enclosed bridge that connects Doge’s Palace with the Prigioni, which were the prisons that were built across the canal. The bridge actually got its name because prisoners were led along it on their way to the cells. The prisoners would get one last peek at the outside world through two very tiny latticed windows… before they were forever consigned to the fate in the prison.
The bridge has also become mythologised over time, and also has also been imbued with a big swooning romantic narrative that doesn’t seem to quite match up with the prison account. Apparently legendary lover Casanova once crossed the bridge, which may be part of the reason, and Romantics poet Lord Byron wrote about the Bridge of Sighs by name in one of his books. However it happened, it’s now said that if you take a gondola ride with your other half and pucker up as you pass under the Bridge of Sighs, your love will last forever. It’s all probably a bit much for a cynic like me but, hey, give it a shot and see!
5) Eat tiramisu at Tre Mercanti
Right, now onto the really important stuff: what to eat in Venice. Italy is known for many things when it comes to food. Pasta, pizza, wine, are a few, but one of the most important is its famous dessert, tiramisu. This coffee-flavoured dessert is pretty much heaven on a stick – or a plate, bowl, or takeaway tub! That’s why I would definitely recommended stopping by to try some flavoured tiramisu at Tre Mercanti in Venice.
I always make a point of ordering tiramisu in Italy. And as someone who practically inhales the stuff when I do it would have been silly to not schedule in a visit to the place that reportedly serves the “best tiramisu in Venice’”, wouldn’t it? Because the thing is, it’s not just regular ol’ tiramisu. Nope, it’s tiramisu in a huge variety of flavours that you’ve probably never tried before. They also change it up every day, so you never really know what to expect. You can keep it classic with their signature tiramisu, which is made fresh every day. Or you can opt for one of 25 ‘fusion flavours’ which include everything from:
- Chestnut & vanilla
- Apricot & liquorice
- Coffee & Sambuca liquor
I actually think that deciding what to order was probably the toughest decision of the whole trip. After much deliberation, I ended up opting for an Amaretto flavoured tiramisu. My other half went for a chestnut and vanilla version. Both were absolutely delicious, so nice in fact that I’m really mad we didn’t go again for another one. We just got takeaway versions and enjoyed them from the comfort of some steps just outside. However, if it’s cold and wet or you just want to really want to sit down you can also sit in at Tre Mercanti.
If you’re not sure it’s a trip worth making then I can reassure you: it most definitely is.
Tre Mercanti address: Castello 5364 Ponte della Guerra, 30122 Venice ItalyMap
6) Visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
One thing I always like to do when I’m in a new European city is to go and see some art. In Venice, your best pitstop for art is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection house museum. It’s a private collection of art located in Peggy Guggenheim’s former home. I think anything with ‘Guggenheim’ in the name makes your ears prick up and as a History of Art graduate (from many years ago) I was intrigued to see what the exhibition was like.
Some of the biggest names in the modern art world are included in the collection, including Picasso, Kandinsky, and Jackson Pollock. It was also super cool to see work by some of the surrealist masters, including Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. However, for the most part I wasn’t that familiar with the art work on display, which came in the form of paintings, sculpture, photographs and mixed media displayed across a number of rooms.
It is private collection rather than a museum and so it does retain that personal feel. However, while there were some pieces I was intrigued by, if I’m being really honest the art here didn’t really speak to me. It just wasn’t entirely to my taste. In some ways I preferred the sculptural work and the neon pieces in the gardens. They’re a bit more ‘instant’, right? However, you may find that the art really speaks your language in which case – great!
I also have to say that it was really quite busy when we visited. The gallery space isn’t the largest and it was crowded with large-ish tour groups. That’s all fine, but it does mean that getting around may be at a slower pace – or more disjointed – than you want it to be.
Peggy Guggenheim house museum address: Just East Accademia Along Gran Canal, 30123 Venice Italy
Tickets: €15 for adults, €13 for over 65s, €9 students under 26
7) Explore the Jewish Ghetto
One thing I really enjoyed doing on our trip was exploring the Jewish Quarter in Venice, which was once home to what was known as the Jewish Ghetto. It’s a really fascinating slice of Venetian history to dive into – and one that I wasn’t familiar with before my trip. Between the 16th and 19th centuries the Jewish people in Venice were completed segregated and forced to live in the Ghetto Novo area. They had to wear a marker of identification, were heavily taxed, and were only permitted to work in certain professions.
The ghetto was connected to the rest of the city by only two bridges, which were locked in the evening and opened by up in the morning by the ringing of the bell in St Mark’s Campanile. There were curfews in place and areas that were exposed to the canal were walled up so that it really was impossible to leave without the right authorisation. For me, it was a harrowing but incredibly important part of Venice’s story to learn about.
We visited the Jewish Museum of Venice, which was what really helped bring the history of this area to life. Founded in 1954 by the Jewish community in Venice, the museum tells the story of the Jewish people who have lived in Venice from the middle ages all the way to the present day. You can even visit the synagogues as part of the guided tours they offer.
This felt like a change of pace – but one that was very much welcomed.
8) Take the Murano, Burano, Torcello boat trip
One of my favourite things we did over the course of the whole trip to Venice was the Murano, Burano and Torcello boat tour. One day, a boat ride, and three drop dead gorgeous Venetian islands that are all totally unique from the other… what more could you want?
They’re all rather lovely. Murano is famous for its glass-blowing. We were able to watch some of the men at work which was pretty cool. Torcello has a cathedral – as well as a very nice Italian lady selling sandwiches and ice cream outside it – but I would say that was the island that it felt like there was the least to do. The stand out island by a country mile is Burano. It’s famous for its gorgeous rainbow coloured fishermen’s houses that look like something out of a dream. No pressure at all to get a great shot for the gram. At. All.
How do you get to Murano, Burano and Torcello? Well, there are two options. You can either go for the half day tour or the full day tour. The half day tour lasts around four and a half hours in total and costs around £18, while the full day tour is around six hours and costs around £20. I would go for the full day tour TBH as there’s not much in it price-wise. It also means you have a bit more time to wander around and explore the islands.
Should you do the Murano, Burano, Torcello boat tour?
I have read some comments from people saying that there isn’t that much to do on Murano or Torcello, and that they would have preferred to have had more time in Burano. As it stands you only get around 50 minutes. I think there is a degree of truth in that. I really enjoyed seeing all of the islands but I would agree the Burano was my favourite, and it did feel we had to hurry through it a little bit. It would have been great to have a bit more time to wander the streets at a more leisurely pace, eat lunch at one of the cute little cafes we spotted, and had a bit more time to really explore every last corner of those gorgeous rainbow-hued streets. It did feel like a bit of a rush to get back to the boat on time!
It’s always easy to say these things in hindsight, though, and I still had a great time on the day trip as a whole. However, it’s just one thing to bear in mind. If you’d prefer to book a water bus or water taxi to Burano from Venice then here are the details below…
You should catch the Fondamente Nove to go to Punta Sabbioni along Line 12, which stops at Murano, Mazzorbo, Torcello, Burano and Treporti. The good news is it even has toilets!
Is a gondola ride in Venice worth it?
You’ve probably noticed that there’s one thing I haven’t talked about doing in Venice. That big gaping omission is, of course, a gondola ride. Should you take a gondola ride in Venice? Is it an essential part of your trip? I’m not sure I can answer that. All I can say is that I didn’t do one when I was there… and I’m actually totally OK with that. There were a number of reasons why we didn’t take a gondola ride in Venice, which I’m going to dive into now.
The first reason we didn’t do a gondola ride in Venice is because it was absolutely freezing most of the time. While floating along the canals during the summer months sounds like a really magical thing to do, in November, it didn’t seem so inviting. I just wasn’t feeling it! The boats looked cold, the blankets were probably damp from the chill, and I knew I would just get even more cold if I was just sitting down in a boat doing nothing for half an hour.
The second reason is just the experience itself. I know some people will think being serenaded on a boat in one of the most romantic cities in the world is up there as one of the coolest experiences you can have. For me, not so much. It just makes me cringe a little bit. Is that terrible to say? I’m sure if we did jump on a gondola it would have been lovely – or at the very least a memorable experience. However, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do at the time.
The third reason was of course the price. How much is a gondola ride in Venice? Well, you’re looking at €80 for forty minutes as a base rate. Really expensive. You also may have to barter with the gondolier (not my forte) and may end up paying nearer €100 for half an hour. There are loads of people who say it’s totally worth it. To be honest, if I’d done it I would probably be the same. However, it just felt a bit too much, so we swerved it.
What to pack for visiting Venice in winter
A hat, coat and scarf
For some reason I underestimated how cold it was going to be in Venice in November and didn’t have a scarf with me. What was I thinking? Luckily I was able to buy one on a stand just off St Mark’s Square, but don’t make the same mistake I did. A warm winter coat is also a must – it does get cold pounding all those beautiful pavements.
It rained when we were in Venice, but of course there’s possibility that it might flood at any time – you’ll get used to hearing the sirens ring out every morning at high tide. There were also the crazy floods in Venice about a year after we visited! I’m not suggesting you bring your wellies with you – who’s got room for those, right? – but a good pair of waterproof boots are a good addition to your suitcase. Trust me, you want to be toasty and warm. There’s nothing worse than schlepping around with wet feet all day.
I’m from Scotland so it’s a rare day that I head out without an umbrella, but it’s a good idea to have one in your bag just in case the heavens decide to open.
Sunglasses for those sunny moments
As I mentioned it was freezing cold for most of the time I was in Venice, however, on the day we took the boat trip to Murano, Burano and Torcello boat trip it beamed with sunshine all day. It was just a whole different vibe completely! So make sure you’ve got sunglasses for those days when the sun decides to make an appearance – it’ll save you having to wade through lots of photos of you squinting into the sun.
And finally… don’t pack too much
You’ll have to wheel your suitcase along narrowed cobbled streets, crowded bridges and probably multiple steps. So in short, you’ll want to make sure your it’s as easy to manoeuvre as possible.
Where to stay in Venice
We stayed at the Hotel Saturnia in Venice, which is a family run hotel which has been in operation since 1908. I loved it. It’s cosy, traditional and packed full of character. Expect enchanting wooden beams, ornate rugs and lots of original features – including a stained-glass window in the lobby. If you’re a fan of sleek and really contemporary design it might not be to your taste. But for me, I thought it was utterly charming.
If you’re looking for a hotel in the heart of Venice then Hotel Saturnia is ideal. It’s located five minutes-walk from St Mark’s Square so you’re close to the centre of the action. There’s also a restaurant and bar on-site! We didn’t manage to squeeze in but is a great option. Particularly chilly night outside and you don’t want to venture very far. All in all, I loved the Hotel Saturnia in Venice and I’d definitely go back!
Hotel Saturnia address: Calle Larga XXII Marzo, 2398, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
The tourist tax in Venice
One final thing – bear in mind that you have to pay a tourist tax when you stay in Venice.