Planning to visit Venice in winter? Here’s why I think it’s even more magical than summer and what to do when you come.
Back when I was home in the U.S. and feeling a massive winter rut coming on, my friend, Elissa, invited me to come join her for a week-long trip to Italy. She had a break from school, and I figured – why not? I jumped on the last minute invite and not even a week later, I was boarding a plane headed to Venice. (Well, Milan, technically, but I’ll get to that later).
While I was packing for Venice and Florence, I was surprised by how warm the temperatures were for early February! They were easily high 40-50F (4-10C), which meant you could just layer a few pieces and wear a light jacket instead of bundling up.
I wound up loving visiting Venice in winter. With the mild weather and softer sun the city was absolutely beautiful. Plus we were there during Carnevale, and it added a whole festive atmosphere to the city!
Below I’m breaking down why it’s better and what to do and expect when you visit.
Quick Venice Travel Tips
- Getting in: Venice has an airport, but I remember it was significantly less expensive to fly to Milan and then take the train down to Venice. If you do fly into Marco Polo Airport, get the water taxi transfer!
- Money Matters: I used my credit card most places, but you’ll need some euros on hand to tip guides!
- Stay in Touch: eSims are the future! Get this one ahead of time – it works for all of Europe.
- Where to Stay: Stay within walking distance of the train station. Like I’m talking max 20 minutes. Thank me later.
- Getting Around: We got around on foot and occasionally by water taxis (vaporetto).
Read this post all my Venice travel tips
Is it worth visiting Venice in winter? YES, and Here’s Why
Here’s the section you show your friends and family to convince them why it makes more sense to visit Venice in winter rather than the summer like everyone they know probably has! Preface by saying, “See? A professional travel blogger who has been to Italy on her own dime so often she even has a speeding ticket says winter is better!” (That’s a story for another day lol).
1. It’s not crowded at all
Winter is low season for Venice, so you won’t have to deal with the crowds that pour in during when the weather heats up. Looking at stats, December sees 610K people, January sees about 585K, and February sees 700K. Meanwhile each summer months sees at least 1.5 million!
The only exception to this would be during Carnevale, which changes every year based on Mardi Gras. This can get pretty busy with some stats saying the city can swell to 3 million+ for the week of celebrations.
Even so I’d take dealing with fellow tourists with cooler temperatures that same amount in the hotter, sweatier temperatures of summer!
2. You Generally won’t need to worry about acqua alta
If you’ve never heard of it, acqua alta (tall water) is when Venice floods. All of the canals fill up, and you’re standing knee (sometimes waist) high in water. Piazzas and pathways can become shallow swimming pools.
While the season for acqua alta is from October – March, it tends to happen more towards the beginning and the end of the season. This means later December, January, and February are fairly safe bets.
Here’s the other thing, even if you do happen to come during a flood season, it still kind of seems magical. Like imagine being in Piazza San Marco during an acqua alta moment?
Plus, it’s not like Venice isn’t already prepared for it. This has been happening for years, and they even have a daily forecast. Unless flooding is unusually bad, they don’t last for more than 1-2 hours, there are designated pedestrian routes, and all public water transport will operate on time. You can check their whole acqua alta page for more information.
3. You won’t have to worry about shade.
From what I noticed while visiting Venice in winter and seeing photos of people’s trips in summer… there’s not a whole lot of shade in this city. There is, however, a lot of walking because you can’t just grab a taxi when you want to. You should also expect to pretty much always climb some stairs to cross over bridges.
That’s all to say – would you rather not have shade in 40-50F winter sun or 78-82F summer sun?
4. The weather isn’t too cold and there’s no sweat
I don’t know, nothing feels worse than feeling like a sweaty blob walking around one of the most romantically stunning cities in the world, and frankly that’s what I’d be if I came in the summer. (In fact, I was in Tuscany later that summer and can confirm, I melted).
And lest you forget – alcohol is cheaper than water and there is no real concept of iced coffee anywhere. (And no Starbucks!) So don’t plan on too much icy relief mid-July.
5. The winter light is so soft and beautiful
I feel like my biggest reason for preferring winter is that the lighting was so incredibly beautiful at all hours of the day that every single photo and video I took just looked perfect even in RAW form.
And for those of you that don’t care about photos or video, it even feels like that in person. Trust me, there’s just this lovely light that seems to envelope the whole city (even on a gray 7AM morning run) that’s just not there in hotter, sunnier months.
6. Really, not much is different in winter vs. summer.
While some places really come alive in summer, I don’t think I noticed anything particularly different with Venice in the winter. The same amount of restaurants, tours, and museums were open! In fact, one of the bonuses of going in winter is that hotels are significantly less expensive.
Winter Weather in Venice
Does it snow in Venice?
In general, I would guess no, don’t count on it’s snowing while you’re here. While it’s happened before, it rarely gets and stays cold enough for it on average.
What are the average temperatures?
The temperatures range from lower 30s F and can get up to mid 40s F. Keep in mind, though, the area is more humid so it’ll be that damper kind of cold. I highly recommend some kind of undershirt to help combat it – I wore my UNIQLO heattech tops under heavier sweaters and was fine.
What to Expect Visiting Venice in…
Oh, I imagine Venice in December is all about Christmas and New Year’s! Think Christmas markets, ice skating, festive decorations, concerts… Just be careful because aqua alta is more likely in December than other winter months.
January seems like the month for lowest possible tourist turnout. So if you’re dead set on seeing as few fellow tourists as humanly possible, I feel like this is your month to do it. The only big holiday is Epiphany on January 6th. Apparently during the night before you’re supposed to hang up stockings and Befana the witch will come by on her broom to drop off sweets for those that have been good and coal for those that have been naughty. Might want to bring your stocking if you come for this holiday. ;)
Of course, February is for Carnevale. We accidentally came during this season, but travel wasn’t 100% back to norm, so I feel like we had a really unique experience. They city was definitely bustling, but it didn’t feel overwhelming in the least bit (I highly doubt we reached 3 million visitors) and it was so fun to be in the middle of all the festivities. We ate frittelles almost every day, checked out a multitude of ornate masks, and people watched everyone decked out in their finest! If I ever went back, I’d love get dressed up and maybe even go to a dinner like this one.
Obviously, Carnevale is probably a crazy time to go, but it sounds like after, the rest of the month is relatively quiet. Crowd-wise it felt like it was mostly concentrated in San Marco’s Square and waiting for the vaporettos to Burano and Murano.
Tips for Venice in Winter
Where to Stay in Venice
Like I said in my quick tips section, if you’re coming in via train or bus, stay within walking distance! Think maybe 20 minutes at most. There are no taxis in the city (no cars period), so if you pick a hotel 20+ minutes away on foot, you have no choice but to walk all of it. This will include many, many bridges with those wide apart, awkwardly shallow sort of stairs. You know what I mean and if you don’t, you’ll soon find out.
One of the nice things about going to Venice in winter is that prices are much lower for hotels than they would be in summer. For example, if you book where we stayed, Palazzo Odoni, it’s just under $300 a night in winter while it’s over $400 in summer.
What to Pack & Wear
I said this in my Venice travel tips post, but I’ll reiterate it here – pack light and ONLY do a backpack or carry-on only. Trust me when I say you do not want to try to navigate Venice’s many bridges and paths with a heavy suitcase. Everyone will hate you, but no one will hate you more than yourself!
Since February wasn’t that chilly, and I don’t get super cold easily, I decided to layer up instead of bringing a coat. (Actually I did bring a snow jacket since I was going to Tromsø, Norway after, but it was both too warm and too sporty for casual sightseeing in Venice).
As I mentioned above, I had a simple uniform of undershirt, heavier sweater, jeans, wool socks, and sneakers or ankle boots.
Is it harder to get around Venice in the winter?
If there is, Elissa and I didn’t notice a difference with the vaporetto (water buses). There was a vaporetto that never came when we were leaving Burano, but honestly that’s par for the course when traveling in Italy.
As I mentioned above and am reiterating here – expect a lot of walking. Even if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to walk, tough luck. This is a city of canals and walking. If regular taxis exist, they can’t even go to any of the main parts of the city. And do you really want to pay 7.50€ to cross to the other side of a canal?
The only thing I would caution is checking Google Maps before you start walking to your destination. The app gets kind of confused once you’re moving around, and sometimes part of the walking route involves getting on a vaporetto instead of crossing a bridge. Just make sure it doesn’t look like it’s leading you into open water in any of the route.
Finding Places to Eat in Venice in Winter
While I don’t think we had the most incredible meals in Venice, I also don’t think we thought anything was bad either considering we didn’t really do any research. My favorite was the pasta I had the first night at Osteria Fanal del Codega and the fritelles we got at Majer Bakery.
The key to eating well in Venice is to make reservations! This goes for pretty much all of Italy; you need reservations especially for the more popular dinner spots. It’ll also let you know that the restaurant is still open. We had one or two spots that seemed opened but were very much closed once we arrived!
Things to Do in Venice in Winter
Go for a stroll…
My absolute best advice for Venice in the winter is to drop your bags and immediately go for a stroll. Every single corner, building, and alley feels like something out of a Gothic fairytale. I remember getting there before Elissa, so I just took my camera with the golden hour light and walked from our hotel to San Marco and back.
…Or better yet, go for a morning run
Yes, I promise it’s worth it! Elissa mentioned she wanted to see San Marco completely empty, and our best shot was to go right at sunrise our last morning. I mentioned I had to get some sort of run in anyway since I had a 10k in Tromsø in June and was building back my leg strength, so she said she’d run with me.
The route to San Marcos from our hotel was about 2.5km, so we ran a 5km loop in all, and we really did have the whole square to ourselves! Unfortunately, it was also pretty gray that day, so not quite as pretty as it could’ve been but still worth it. I ran with my camera and my bright red snow jacket, so I’m sure we made quite a vision lol.
Do a walking tour away from the main sights
One thing Elissa always does in new destinations is one of the free walking tours. It’s one of those things I always think I should do more and don’t do enough, so I’m glad I went with her on this one. Our guide was awesome and obviously local, and we got a crash course in Venetian history while wandering around lesser known piazzas and canals (and spotting TWO cats!) .
** Just remember free tours aren’t free – you absolutely are expected to tip your tour guide! I would say minimum 10 euros. **
Because they’re inexpensive, tours can be pretty crowded. If you prefer something quieter, you can always get a private tour so it’s one-on-one.
But also don’t skip the main sights
Really anywhere in Venice feels straight out of a postcard, but don’t skip the main sights just because they get crowed. Like, yes, San Marco and Rialto Bridge are the busiest hubs by far but they’re still absolutely worth seeing. There’s a reason they’re Venice’s center!
Spend the morning in the Doge’s Palace
One big attraction you should do is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). It’s right next to San Marco’s Square and is just a gorgeous building. It’s all Venetian Gothic and dates back to the 1300s, so just imagine how ornate all the decor is!
Hop on a boat to see Venice’s cemetery…
This is one of those things I probably wouldn’t have thought to do on my own, but Elissa loves visiting cemeteries, so we decided to wander around and see where exactly Venetians go to rest.
Turns out it’s on the island of San Michele. The island is on the way to other islands you’ll want to see in the Venetian Lagoon, so it makes for an easy stop. Just remember to be respectful, and note there’s no photography permitted on the island out of respect for mourners.
Then go over to the island of Murano for its glass…
After Isola di San Michele, get a vaporetto over to Murano! It’s known for its glass, so pop into the glass museum and then shop for some unique souvenirs. I love my black bead necklace from Manuela Zanvettori.
Another fun activity would be to do a glass blowing experience. Ever since my RenFaire visits in middle school, I’ve been fascinated by the art and even “made” a glass pumpkin while in Corning, New York!
…And the island of Burano for its lace!
The final island you shouldn’t miss is Burano. Burano is known for its exceptionally colorful facades as well as its lacemaking. Elissa and I picked up handkerchiefs here, and I want to go back because I’ve lost mine now.
As a side note – I found quite a few friendly cats towards the end of the night!!!
Don’t forget to catch the sunset in Burano.
It’s seriously gorgeous right by these colorful buildings! The line getting back to Venice was pretty long when we were thinking of heading back for the day, so we decided to just meander a bit and enjoy the sunrise before waiting.
Try a frittelle or two (or three)
Frittelles are fried pastry dough made specially during Carnevale season. Since we were there for Carnevale, I’m not sure if they sell it other weeks, so someone will have to let me know. But if you see one in a bakery, stop in to try it!
The originals are just dough and raisins but I liked the ones with any sort of creamy filling.
Eat allll the pasta
I mean, you are in Italy. If there’s ever a time to overdo it on pasta, this is it. As I mentioned, I don’t remember having any of the best meals of my trip in Venice but I also don’t think I was disappointed by anything either.
A standout was this vodka sauce pasta I had our first night. It has kicked of a multi-year long love of vodka sauce! And to let you know how warm it felt – we ate outside at night. Yes, we did get a little cold by the end, but still! Imagine eating outside in February without one of those fire lights right next to you!
Celebrate the holidays!
I mean take your pick – Christmas, New Years, Epiphany, Carnevale… Despite the low season, it’s actually pretty festive in Venice all winter long.
Get your custom mask made
Something I’d like to do if I go back is to get a custom mask made. Back when I was in high school, my school did an Italy trip that always included Venice and I dreamed of getting a mask just like all the Flickr and WeHeartIt fashion bloggers did. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to Venice when I went, but I did get a tourist-y souvenir mask in Florence that I was obsessed with.
Anyway that’s all to say, I’ve always been a fan of these ornate masks. Now that I’m older and have more time and money, I’d like to get a custom mask made or maybe even do a mask-making workshop.
And there you have it – all you need to know for visiting Venice in winter. I hope you love the city as much as I did!! And if you’re one of those people who visited during peak season and hated it, I hope this convinces you to give it a second go!
For more Italian travel, read these posts next:
- Emilia Romagna
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