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10 Things to Do in Venice at Christmas

If you want to spend Christmas in Venice you are in luck. The city lives all these holidays intensely, with a lot of celebrations and traditions that you can join.

Joaquín Montaño

Joaquín Montaño

10 min read

10 Things to Do in Venice at Christmas

St. Mark's Square, Venice | ©Michele Ursino

The whole of Venice is transformed during Christmas, from the historic center to its less touristy neighborhoods. The lighting and decorations make the city look different from the rest of the year and its classic romantic atmosphere is enhanced even more.

The lighting is not the only great reason to spend Christmas in Venice. The usual attractions of Venice, which can still be visited without any problems, are joined by a series of festivals, markets and traditions that transform its streets into a magical world to be discovered more calmly than in summer.

1. Welcome St. Nicholas when he arrives in his gondola

Santa Claus in Venice| ©Ajax News & Feature Service
Santa Claus in Venice| ©Ajax News & Feature Service

If you want to see the arrival of St. Nicholas in an original and different way there is no doubt that Venice is the right place. Every year, on December 23rd, the saint arrives in the city in the most typical way possible: by gondola. If you go to Venice with children, they will love this experience, especially if they stay to enjoy the hot chocolate and sweets that are distributed among the little ones.

The arrival of St. Nicholas takes place in Campo San Vio. To welcome him, all the gondoliers wear red hats and decorate their gondolas with cushions and other Christmas items. It is also one of the most endearing moments to take a stroll along the canals of Venice while soaking up the Christmas spirit.

Book your gondola ride in Venice

2. Shop and stroll through the Venetian Christmas Markets

Christmas Market in Venice| ©Plaza Mayor.
Christmas Market in Venice| ©Plaza Mayor.

One of the best activities to do in Venice in December is to stroll through the Christmas markets that are installed in various parts of the city. In them, in addition to admiring the beauty of its decorations, you will be able to buy a lot of typical products, both decorative and food. Some of them include attractions for children to have an even better time.

Venetian markets are full of Christmas spirit and human warmth, with an interesting mix of locals and Italian and international tourists. The best known is Campo Santo Stefano, although those in Campo San Bortolo, Campo dei Santi Apostoli and Mestre are not far behind in interest.

Those looking for a gift or a treat will be able to choose from a wide range of products, from panettones to wines, Christmas ornaments and Murano glass objects or Burano fabrics.

Book a glassblowing workshop in Venice

3. Go to a different Christmas market at Palazzo Ca'Zenobio

Palazzo Ca'Zenobio at Christmas time| ©MDC
Palazzo Ca'Zenobio at Christmas time| ©MDC

Not all Christmas markets in Venice are set up outside. If you want to know one located inside a palace of the late seventeenth century and browse the stalls dedicated to high-end crafts, the one at Ca 'Zenobio, is the best choice.

In this palace, and for a few days in December, high-level artisans gather to offer their products. Obviously, the price is much higher than that of the open-air markets, but the quality of the products on display is worth the price.

At the Palazzo you will not only be able to make these purchases. During the Christmas season they organize everything from Christmas-themed cinema sessions to a perfume workshop, as well as animated readings for children and a Venetian mask workshop.

Book a Carnival masks workshop in Venice

4. Stroll under the Christmas illumination throughout Venice

St. Mark's Square at Christmas| ©Erin McCormack
St. Mark's Square at Christmas| ©Erin McCormack

The Christmas lights in the city of Venice, in addition to their own beauty, achieve a spectacular effect when reflected in its canals. Strolling through the squares and streets while looking at the historic buildings becomes a tourist attraction in its own right.

Although the place with the most fabulous lighting is St. Mark's Square, the rest of the city is not far behind. Don't miss, among other sights, the image of the illuminated Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal.

To see this illumination from a different point of view I recommend you to hire one of the small cruises on the Grand Canal. From the boat you can see how the Christmas decorations adorn the best bridges of Venice, churches and palaces.

Book a cruise on the Grand Canal

5. Take an excursion to Murano to experience the "Natale di Vetro"

Murano at Christmas| ©Leandro Neumann Ciuffo
Murano at Christmas| ©Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

Those who are going to spend about 3 days or more in Venice should plan an excursion to the nearby islands of Murano and Burano. If the stay occurs at Christmas, the first of these locations will surprise you with an intense list of activities related to its most famous activity: glassblowing.

This festival, called Natale di Vetro, has been held for several years. The whole town is filled with events, exhibitions, sculptures and workshops on glass craftsmanship.

Several of its main squares are adorned with the most beautiful sculptures made with that material and several workshops in the area give small classes for those interested in learning something about the traditional glass blowing.

Book your excursion to Murano and Burano

6. Go to one of the Christmas concerts in Venice

Teatro La Fenice, Venice| ©Erin McCormack
Teatro La Fenice, Venice| ©Erin McCormack

One of the most established traditions in Venice during the Christmas season is the celebration of concerts. It does not matter if you are a fan of classical music or not to attend one of them, because just looking at the places where they take place makes it worthwhile. If you dare to attend any of these performances you should be proactive and buy tickets well in advance.

Some of these concerts are held in churches in the city. In these you will be able to choose from traditional Christmas music to, in some cases, more modern music.

Undoubtedly, the most important concerts are those offered at the Teatro La Fenice, a reference in the world of opera worldwide. Although performances are continuous throughout the Christmas period, the high point comes on New Year's Eve, with a special concert.

In some palaces of the city it is also common to find concerts or in some squares, such as the square of St. Mark's Basilica, where you can listen to unique Christmas compositions.

7. Put on your skates and dare to go ice-skating

Skating at Campo San Polo| ©lermont51
Skating at Campo San Polo| ©lermont51

After visiting the most famous monuments of Venice you can enjoy a fun activity that will also allow you to warm up: ice skating. From the first days of December, a large skating rink will be installed in the second largest square in the city, Campo San Polo, for children and adults to enjoy a good time.

Although the rink does not close very late (on the 25th at 20:00 and the rest around 19:00), spending a good time there can be a great start to enjoy the Venetian night.

In addition to the skating itself, those who dare will be able to admire the beauty of the buildings that make up the historic square. Stalls selling food and drink are also set up in the area. So, when you leave the rink, you can try some good sweets accompanied by a vin brulè, a good mulled wine with spices.

8. Have fun watching or taking part in the Santa Claus race

Santa Claus Marathon| ©Santa to the Sea
Santa Claus Marathon| ©Santa to the Sea

You may be strolling around Venice in mid-December and start to see a lot of people dressed up as Santa Claus (or Babbo Natale in Italian). Don't think there's anything strange going on: it's just the race that takes place every year in the city and in which, if you want, you can participate.

This race has been held for a few years now, but it has already become a must during the Venetian Christmas season. Its success has led to the participation of about 1000 people, both professionals and amateurs (including children and sometimes even dogs in costume). The idea is simply to have fun running around the city center in this fashion.

Even if you don't dare to participate, the atmosphere in the street is fun enough to make it worth joining the party. Usually the finish line is located in St. Mark's Square, next to the basilica, and the image of hundreds of Santa Claus arriving there is a photo to show all your friends.

9. Say goodbye to the year in St. Mark's with some good lentils

Lentil Stew| ©Alesia Kozik
Lentil Stew| ©Alesia Kozik

There can be few more special end-of-year celebrations than spending the end of the year in Venice. Many may not consider winter the best time to travel to Venice, but experiencing the countdown in St. Mark's Square and then watching the fireworks reflected in the waters of the canals is an experience you'll be hard pressed to forget.

To start the evening there is nothing better than listening to the choirs of St. Mark's Square in a totally festive atmosphere. Then, if you have taken the precaution of booking in advance, you should dine in a restaurant in Venice without missing the traditional lentils with which Italians welcome the new year.

Around midnight, the best place in the city is once again St. Mark's Square. There, surrounded by hundreds of Venetians and tourists, you will witness the countdown that marks the beginning of the new year. Between congratulations and kisses, a stupendous fireworks show will begin, illuminating the sky and the canals.

If you have been able to stay awake all night or if you are up early, the traditional thing to do is to take the vaporetto or a water cab to the beaches of the Lido. There, the bravest take the first swim of the year in defiance of the low temperatures.

10. Don't miss the Befana's regatta

Regatta of the befana| ©Mondo Del Gusto
Regatta of the befana| ©Mondo Del Gusto

Another spectacle not to be missed during Christmas in Venice is the famous regatta of the Befana. This is held on January 6, although you'll really notice when you start to see a large number of adults and children dressed up as an old lady.

La Befana is an Italian tradition related to Epiphany. It involves a witch who, flying on a broom, leaves presents for children who have behaved well and coal for those who have behaved "less well".

As could not be less, Venice has adapted this tradition to its particular urbanism and every year a regatta is held in which all participants are dressed as Befana. The regatta, truly spectacular, takes place on the Grand Canal. Of course, there is no shortage of food and drink stalls, music and a festive atmosphere.

On the same day you can attend an exclusive event that only takes place twice a year. Around noon, the bell mechanism of the Torre dell'Orologio in St. Mark's Square is activated and the side panel opens. Through that panel appears a carousel of wooden statues depicting a Christmas pageant, with the Three Wise Men parading in front of the Virgin Mary.

What is the weather like in Venice at Christmas?

Acqua Alta at Christmas in Venice| ©Francesca Cappa
Acqua Alta at Christmas in Venice| ©Francesca Cappa

The truth is that the Christmas weather in Venice is not one of the most attractive for travelers. For starters, temperatures are low, with a cold sensation that increases due to humidity and wind.

During this time of year, don't expect highs to rise above about 8º, while lows will be close to 0º. Of course, these are the most common averages, but I recommend that you always check the weather forecast shortly before traveling.

The Acqua Alta

On the other hand, in December and, therefore, at Christmas, there may be an episode of acqua alta, that is, a rise in tide that floods part of the city. Most of the time, these floods do not exceed a few centimeters and the city is more than prepared for them.

Only on those occasions when the acqua alta is particularly damaging, with flooding that does affect the daily life of the city, visitors have to stop their tours until everything returns to normal, in just 2 or 3 hours.

There is a website that warns of the possibility of this event and the degree of severity. Unfortunately, it is only reliable 72 hours out, so from then on you will have to rely on your luck. When flooding is going to be high, the city warns by sirens that sound in the morning.

How to dress in Venice at Christmas?

Venice at Christmas.| ©Pierpaolo
Venice at Christmas.| ©Pierpaolo

Prepare your warm clothes if you are going to visit Venice at Christmas. You should bring a thick jacket (waterproof, if possible), several sweaters, a hat, gloves and a scarf. The coldest ones should also bring a thermal T-shirt.

Footwear should be comfortable, waterproof and warm. In any case, it is a good idea to bring a pair of wellington boots just in case.

Advantages of traveling to Venice at Christmas

Christmas in Venice| ©Juanedc
Christmas in Venice| ©Juanedc

Despite the weather, Venice remains a very attractive destination for Christmas. The advantages go beyond the price drop on flights and hotels and will be felt during your stay.

For starters, the atmosphere you will find at Christmas is much less touristy. It is the Venetians who will fill the streets and enjoy all the events, something that in summer in Venice is almost impossible to find.

This smaller number of tourists brings another important advantage: avoiding the huge queues to enter the main tourist attractions. Thus, you will be able to stroll through St. Mark's, visit the basilica or the Doge's Palace without large crowds.