Venice in Winter: Misty, Magical—and Manageable

venicegondolasMost people I know who have been to Venice, Italy, are ambivalent about it. Sure, it’s nice, they say. It stinks, though. Or: Ugh, it’s so crowded. And smelly. Or: It’s super-expensive. Oh, and it smells like low tide.

What can I say? It may all be true in July and August—but nothing could have been further from our experience. That’s because Nicole and I visited Venice in winter (mid-January to be exact). And this special city has become one of my new favorite places on earth. I liken it to a wrinkled old woman wearing rouge and lipstick: aging, a little decrepit, but still unabashedly glamorous.

Planning a trip to Venice? I strongly encourage you to think outside the tourist box and go during winter. Here’s why.

Fewer crowds. One of the biggest complaints I hear about traveling in Italy involves the crowds. Both Nic and I hate big crowds, so we were a little hesitant about some of the stops on our itinerary, including Venice. Well, great news: Unless you’re skiing, Northern Italy is not a big winter destination! But that doesn’t mean it’s dead, either. Almost all the attractions we wanted to see were open—and while there certainly were other tourists around, there was nary a line. The same held true for most restaurants and shops.

St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy

Much smaller crowds in St. Mark’s Square.

Cheaper flights. Several years ago, Nicole and I had begun planning a trip to Italy in May. We had to cancel it when flights started topping $1,000—I don’t want to pay that much for a flight unless I’m going to Asia. So when we were brainstorming ideas for our January trip, Italy didn’t even cross my mind at first. On a whim, I plugged a few itineraries into Yapta. And surprise: A roundtrip flight to Rome was less than $700!

Venice carnival masks

Cheaper flights to Italy mean more money for souvenirs!

Decent weather. We assumed we’d be sacrificing great weather for budget prices by visiting Italy in January, but this wasn’t the case. We knew Rome would be in the 50s (balmy compared to a Boston winter), but I expected colder climes and rain in Venice. I’m not going to lie: It did get cold—but not bitter. I was comfortable in a winter coat, gloves, and sometimes a hat. It was probably too chilly for a gondola ride (we skipped it because of cost), but the vaporettos (water taxis) were fine.

venice gondolas in winter

Venice in winter: cold but not freezing.

bridge of sighs in venice italy in winter

The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy

Unbelievable ambiance. Every time I see photos of someone’s Italian summer vacation, I shake my head. Blazing sun, unbearable heat? This was not how I experienced Venice. Instead, the city was foggy, mysterious, atmospheric, and incredibly romantic (I need to return with Devin). Getting lost in Venice—and you will get lost—is even more sublime when there’s a light mist in the air.

venice shops in winter

Moody and magical alleyways in post-holiday Venice

colorful venice canal in winter

The canals are still vibrantly colorful in winter

No signature stink! Simple: Less heat = less smell. In fact, the canals and lagoon just smelled like saltwater. I wouldn’t want to take a deep breath in August, though.

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9 thoughts on “Venice in Winter: Misty, Magical—and Manageable

  1. Think thats a great idea… if we ever plan a trip back.

    We found Venice too full of tourist tat – it almost didn’t feel like a ‘real’ place anymore. But at least we didn’t have any smell to complain about :)

    I still stand by the idea that I would get a guide for next time – we spent our whole time lost – and not quaint lost, ‘where the hell am I going or have I come from…oh crap, nearly fell in a canal again!’ lost!

    Love your picture of the bridge of sighs, we never found it! Or if we did cross it while we were lost we missed it!

  2. Hi and thanks, we are going to Venice from Corfu mid January 2014, I was looking forward to it but after reading your blog, I am really excited. It is a wonderful and unique place.

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