10 Things to Do in Venice in the winter

A vacation in Venice during the winter can bring many surprises. In addition to the carnival celebration, the city is also decked out for Christmas and offers endless activities.

Joaquín Montaño

Joaquín Montaño

12 min read

10 Things to Do in Venice in the winter

Fog in Venice | ©Alexandra E Rust

Winter can definitely be a great time to enjoy all there is to see and do in Venice. In addition to the usual attractions offered to its visitors, this time of year includes two of the city's great festivals: Christmas and, of course, its fantastic carnival.

Another point in favor of spending a few days in winter in Venice is that the tourist influx is much lower than in summer. This will allow you to stroll more quietly and appreciate every detail at the pace you want. If we add to this the possibility of witnessing events such as the arrival of the Befana or the Festa Veneziana sull'acqua, the trip is sure to be unforgettable.

1. Visit the Christmas markets and enjoy the illumination of the city.

Campo Santo Stefano Christmas Market| ©Plaza Mayor.
Campo Santo Stefano Christmas Market| ©Plaza Mayor.

Winter in Venice is undoubtedly one of the best times to visit the city. In December, for example, you will only need to stroll through its decorated and illuminated streets and squares to feel immersed in the Christmas spirit, a feeling that will increase when you go to one of the markets.

The most outstanding Christmas market in the city is the one in Campo Santo Stefano. With the church of San Esteban as a luxurious background you will find all kinds of decorative items in the many stalls that are installed there. Along with these products, there are also toys for children, Venetian masks and the most beautiful Murano glass objects.

While you are browsing through the stalls of this market you can also try some specialty grappa, such as the one with a delicious chocolate flavor. Of course, you can opt for a good sparkling wine and accompany it with some of the gastronomic specialties sold there.

Other markets you are sure to like are those of Campo San Polo, the one in Palazzo Zenobio or those set up in the Mestre.

However, the one in Santo Stefano also has the advantage of its proximity to the Grand Canal. In fact, my advice would be that after leaving the market you cross that canal and approach the Rialto Bridge area, a perfect place to buy some gifts or have a bite to eat in the bars and restaurants that abound there.

Book a tour of Venice

2. Go to one of the many concerts in the Venetian winter.

La Fenice Theater| ©Benh LIEU SONG
La Fenice Theater| ©Benh LIEU SONG

Lovers of classical music or simply those who want to enjoy one of the most beautiful settings in the city should know that the winter season in Venice offers a wealth of options, from those that take place to bid farewell to the year to those held in the prison of the Doge's Palace.

To begin with, the great opera season begins in winter at the Teatro La Fenice. During the following months all opera lovers will have the opportunity to attend performances in one of the cradles of the genre in the world.

Special events include the Concerto del Capodanno, the traditional New Year's concert held every January 1st. However, the same repertoire can also be heard on the preceding days, between December 28 and 31.

Another great venue that hosts concerts throughout the summer season is the church of San Vidal, just a few steps from the Grand Canal. Many of these concerts are dedicated to the music of Vivaldi.

The Scuola Grande San Teodoro, as part of its cultural program, also offers Venetians and tourists a large number of concerts. The most outstanding is its traditional carnival concert in February.

If there is a place that, in principle, could be considered unsuitable for musical performances, it is the prison of the Doge's Palace. However, for a number of years now, it has been the setting for several spectacular concerts of Baroque music.

Finally, the city organizes concerts in some palaces that you can attend. You just have to hurry to get tickets before they sell out.

Book tickets for the concert of I Musici Veneziani

3. Only for the brave: start the year with a swim at the Lido

Visiting Lido| ©Gary Houston
Visiting Lido| ©Gary Houston

After spending New Year's Eve celebrating the arrival of the year, the most intrepid Venetians still have a tradition to fulfill: the first swim of the year. If you want to join in (or just be in the area and enjoy the atmosphere) you have to keep in mind that temperatures are usually quite low.

This tradition takes place on the beaches of the Lido, where hundreds of daring bathers come to take a brief dip in the icy waters. Of course, the activity is open to anyone who dares, but I advise you to measure your abilities and your state after a night of festivities.

After the swim, the area becomes a small party. Panettones, wine and lentils are distributed to those present, all free of charge (although it is customary to leave a small tip). Since there are usually not many tourists, this activity is one of the best ways to get into the authentic atmosphere of Venice.

To get to the Lido it is best to use the Venetian vaporetto. In this case, you should look for the stop at Piazzale Roma. Another option is the train, since from Venice there are several lines that will take you to your destination.

4. Experience the Epiphany and the arrival of the Befana like a child

Befana witch costumes| ©Promonautica.
Befana witch costumes| ©Promonautica.

On the 12th day of Christmas, January 6, Italians celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. On that day, a witch called Befana leaves presents to all the children who have behaved well, as well as coal to the less good ones. In Venice, in addition to the official events, you can enjoy the markets that are set up that day and eat traditional sweets accompanied by chocolate.

However, what will catch your attention if you spend that day in Venice is the way to celebrate the arrival of the Befana (here I leave the legend in case you go with children to Venice and want to explain it to them). For starters, Venetians dress up as old women and walk around the city and, in addition, two interesting events are organized that are worth watching.

The first is a race, the Corsa dea Befana, on the island of Lido. This event involves athletes and fans chasing the witch on a motorcycle around the city.

The second event is even more interesting. It is the Regatta delle Befane, in which the best members of one of the **city'**s rowing clubs take part. The start is located in San Toma, but I advise you to find a place between the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge (one of the most beautiful bridges in Venice) to watch it.

Book a gondola ride on the Grand Canal

5. Take part in the opening of the carnival at the Festa Veneziana sull'acqua (Venice Water Festival)

Festa Veneziana sull'acqua| ©Karen C
Festa Veneziana sull'acqua| ©Karen C

Find a mask, get a costume (no matter how elaborate) and jump in to enjoy the first events that open the popular Venetian carnival. If you're in town in February you can't miss the activities that take place during the two-day Festa Veneziana sull'acqua, with great shows and an interesting regatta.

The Festa Veneziana sull'acqua takes place on the Cannaregio canal (a good place if you're looking for inexpensive restaurants in Venice) during the first weekend of carnival. On Saturday there is a fabulous water show in which several artists offer their best performances dressed in their costumes and masks.

The next day takes place the first regatta of the carnival, the Regata delle Columbine. It starts on the Grand Canal, but the most interesting place is at the finish line, in the Cannaregio itself. Numerous food and mulled wine stalls are set up there, all enlivened by music.

The popularity of these events attracts a large number of Venetians and tourists. For that reason I advise you to go well in advance to the places where they take place to get a good place.

6. Enjoying the Venice Carnival

Carnival in Venice| ©Enrico Strocchi
Carnival in Venice| ©Enrico Strocchi

Venice in February equals carnival. Activities begin weeks before the festival officially opens and continue non-stop for the entire 10 days or so of the festival. Leave shyness behind and actively participate in the events that take place, as I assure you that you will not forget them.

During the days of the carnival it is traditional to take a gondola ride and listen to a serenade, as well as participate in the dances in the palaces or, if you are not lucky enough to attend, in the city's squares. The Ducal Palace is dressed up with two large masks to welcome these days of fun.

The first thing that may come to mind when talking about the carnival in Venice are the private balls and masks. Many of these private parties have a centuries-old history and have continued to be held in the same palaces where they were held in the 18th century.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to attend one of them. You can only try to attend those that charge an entrance fee and if you buy your ticket almost a year in advance. Don't forget that there is a very strict dress code: haute couture costume with a historical theme and mask.

Simpler and less formal is to attend any of the parties that take place in St. Mark's Square. With a mask and a flashy costume you will pass as a Venetian without any problem. In addition to enjoying the party, you can't miss the gastronomic specialties sold in the street, especially the sweets.

7. Get to know the traditional Festa de la Marie

Procession of the Festa Marie| ©Claude Schildknecht
Procession of the Festa Marie| ©Claude Schildknecht

The best time to admire the most traditional costumes of Venice is the Festa delle Marie, an event in which young women are chosen to participate in one of the most important parades of the carnival and in the traditional Flight of the Lion.

The selection process begins several weeks before the opening of the carnival, when a pre-selection of candidates is made. One of the requirements is that they all reside in Venice.

Once the 12 Marie are chosen, a parade takes place from San Pietro di Castello (where the city's ancient basilica used to be) to St. Mark's Square. There, each of the Marias is presented to the people of Venice. This parade is visually impressive, as representatives of many historical associations participate in elaborate medieval costumes.

The tradition of the Festa de la Marie was born more than 10 centuries ago. Legend has it that all couples who were to be married had to receive a blessing on the day of the Purification of Mary, February 2. Twelve of the poorest brides were selected from among the poorest, who were given beautiful borrowed dresses and jewels to adorn themselves. Afterwards, the Doge himself received them in the Doge's Palace and a lavish feast took place.

The tradition was broken in 973, when the city was attacked by pirates during this celebration. The 12 brides were kidnapped, but the Venetians managed to rescue them soon after. To commemorate this event, the celebration of the Festa de la Marie was established.

Buy your ticket for the Doge's Palace

8. Say goodbye to the carnival with the Svolo del Leone - Flight of the Lion

Svolo del Leone in St. Mark's Square| ©Gary Houston
Svolo del Leone in St. Mark's Square| ©Gary Houston

Whether you've had the immense fortune to spend the entire Carnival in Venice or you've only arrived for its finale, the Svolo del Leone ceremony is a must-see. Not only is it a truly beautiful celebration, but it is also a very evocative event loaded with symbolism. Of course, you can't miss the festive part with music, drinks and food.

The winged lion is the symbol of the city and was already so in the time of the Serenissima Republic. For this event, the lion is represented on a huge flag of San Marco that is hoisted up to the bell tower of the basilica of the same name. Just before, in a crowded square, the winner of the Marie contest is announced.

While this happens, the musicians of La Fenice play the Hymn of St. Mark. When the flag arrives at its place, a stupendous fireworks show begins to put an end to the festivities.

Buy your ticket to St. Mark's Basilica

9. Escape from the cold by visiting the city's undergrounds

Prisons of the Doge's Palace| ©Depositofotos
Prisons of the Doge's Palace| ©Depositofotos

It is possible that if the cold is biting you don't feel like being outdoors. A different activity that will allow you to escape the low temperatures for a while is to go down to the city's subway to discover some of its most unknown attractions. Although it may not seem like it, under some of the buildings of Venice are hidden interesting crypts and passages.

Walking through these tunnels is definitely a different experience. Normally, visits are made only with the light of a torch or a small flashlight that will illuminate from almost forgotten crypts (such as that of San Simeon Piccolo or San Zaccaria) to some frescoes made underground. There is also a niche filled with skulls in the style of the catacombs.

10. Taste the Venetian winter sweets

Variety of Fritelle| ©Terry
Variety of Fritelle| ©Terry

Winter in Venice is accompanied by a series of gastronomic specialties typical of the season, especially sweets. In order to fully enjoy the experience of traveling to the City of Canals at this time of the year, it is essential to try some of these dishes, either in the streets or on a gastronomic tour.

The first great Venetian specialty is closely linked to the carnival. It is the fritelle, a recipe that seems to have been around for centuries. It is a fritter that is sold in street stalls a few weeks before the start of the city's big festival. Nowadays, you can find innovations such as nutella or rum.

Another typical dessert of the city is the galani, a type of fried dough similar to castagnole. The main difference is that the latter is served with powdered sugar on top.

Book a gastronomic tour of Venice

Weather in Venice during the winter

Venice in the Snow, San Sebastiano| ©Drew de F Fawkes
Venice in the Snow, San Sebastiano| ©Drew de F Fawkes

Admittedly, those who hate the cold will find the Venetian weather in winterquite unpleasant. In addition to the low temperatures, the wind chill is made colder by fog, humidity and winds such as the sirocco or bora. In any case, it is always advisable to consult the forecastbefore traveling.

Even so, there are some differences depending on the date of travel within the winter season:

  • December: the second coldest month of the year, with highs of 8º and lows of 1º.
  • January: the coldest month. Maximum temperatures barely exceed 8º on average, while minimum temperatures are around 0º. It is also the period with the highest probability of snow.
  • February: the second fortnight brings a small change in temperatures. The maximums begin to approach 10º, although the minimums remain close to 1º on average. In its favor, it is the least rainy month of the year.
  • March: the temperature begins to rise and highs reach 13º. At night, however, it is still quite cold, with an average of 4º.

Traveling to Venice in the high water season

Acqua alta in St. Mark's Square| ©Javier Valero Iglesias
Acqua alta in St. Mark's Square| ©Javier Valero Iglesias

Although the risk of acqua alta (high water) begins in the autumn months, December is one of the months when this phenomenon is most common. It is, in short, the rise of the tide to levels that cause the streets and squares of the city to flood.

An official website collects warnings about possible acqua alta, but the forecast is only reliable three days out. However, most of the time this phenomenon only involves a small flood that does not prevent almost normal life and, moreover, usually lasts between 2 or 3 hours.

Quite different is when a more serious episode of high acqua occurs. When that happens, the city sirens sound as a warning and the water can seriously flood some areas.

In addition to consulting these forecasts, my advice is to wear boots suitable for water and, above all, to take it easy.

Is it worth traveling to Venice in winter?

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

Visiting Venice in winter means, in its most negative aspect, having to endure the cold. In addition, the daylight hours are quite reduced, so you will have to plan your tours very well.

However, this season also has advantages that outweigh the disadvantages mentioned above. For starters, the influx of tourists is much lower (with the exception of Carnival), which means you can visit the city more comfortably and avoid the crowds. This, in turn, goes hand in hand with lower prices on flights and hotels.

In addition, winter in Venice has some really interesting activities. To name just two, in December the Christmas festivities take place, while in February the city's most famous festival, the Carnival, is celebrated. For these reasons alone, it is definitely worth the trip.