The whole of Venice is transformed during Christmas, from the historic center to its less touristic 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 discover more calmly than in summer.
1. Welcome St. Nicholas when he arrives in his gondola
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 23, 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 put on red hats and proceed to 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.
2. Shop and stroll through the Venetian Christmas Markets
One of the best things 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 decoration, 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 who are looking for a gift or to buy a treat will be able to choose from a wide range of products, from panettones to wines, from Christmas decorations to Murano glass objects and Burano fabrics. Of course, there is no shortage of Venetian masks typical of the carnival.
3. Go to a different kind of Christmas market at Palazzo Ca'Zenobio
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 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.
In the Palazzo you will not only be able to make these purchases. During Christmas a multitude of activities are organized, both for children and adults. Thus, you can attend Christmas-themed film sessions, a perfume workshop or a ceramics workshop.
There are also animated reading activities for children and, as a special activity for those who intend to attend the carnival, a Venetian mask workshop.
These types of classes on masks are not exclusive to the Palazzo and can be booked elsewhere. However, add to the tips for visiting Venice to study the place well and to be taught by a master craftsman of the city.
4. Stroll under the Christmas illumination all over Venice
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 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.
5. Go to one of the Christmas concerts in Venice
One of the most established traditions in Venice during Christmas 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 the performances are continuous throughout the Christmas period, the high point comes on New Year's Eve, with the special concert that takes place in this spectacular theater.
In some palaces of the city it is also common to find concerts. In general, you will be able to attend throughout the year, but at Christmas there are usually some special pieces for all Venetians and visitors who want to enjoy the best music in an incomparable setting.
Finally, some squares are also the scene of small concerts by some local choirs. If you can, go to St. Mark's Basilica to listen to the Christmas compositions performed in front of it.
6. Put on your skates and dare to skate on ice
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.
7. Have fun watching or participating in the Santa Claus race.
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.
8. Say goodbye to the year in San Marcos with some good lentils.
There can be few more special end-of-year celebrations than spending the end of the year in Venice. Winter may not be considered by many to be 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 must 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.
9. Don't miss the Befana Regatta
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 will 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 the participants dress up 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 click here in St. Mark's Square is activated and the side panel opens. Through that panel appears a carousel of wooden statues depicting a Christmas parade, with the Three Wise Men parading in front of the Virgin Mary.
10. Take a trip to Murano to experience the Natale di Vetro (Glass Night)
Those who are going to spend 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.
What is the weather like in Venice at Christmas?
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 feeling of cold 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?
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
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.