Reasons to Love Venice in Winter


What comes to mind when you think of Venice? Gondolas on the canals? Drinking a bellini al fresco? Most likely you're picturing Venice in the Spring or Summer. But what about Venice in winter? For over 10 years now, we've made it a habit to take a trip for Thanksgiving. Our very first venture was a whirlwind four days in Venice from New York. Now that we're living in Dublin, we decided to repeat the experience (minus the jetlag!) and head to Venice for Thanksgiving. Read on to learn about what it's like to visit Venice in November. 
St. Mark's Square in Venice in Winter

Why Visit Venice in Winter

Venice is known as one of the most touristy cities in the world. Whether you plan to spend a few days in Venice or visit Venice as part of a one or 2 week Italy itinerary, expect crowds that will only get worse with each passing year. Taking a winter trip to Venice in November gives you the chance to avoid the hordes of tourists. Venice’s main touristic attractions are still buzzing in November, but it is possible to get off the beaten path and feel like you can claim Venice as your own when you visit in the winter.

Getting from the Airport to Venice

Upon touchdown at the airport, we collected our bags and hopped on the public bus to the city. The bus dropped us off a short walk away. We hiked over a single bridge and were in Venice proper which is a car free haven. We drank in the amazing views over the Grand Canal. We could see a nearby vaporetto station. 
Grand Canal in Venice in Winter
One of the fun things about Venice is that the buses are boats. Grand domes reached to the sky. Faded poles marked the local 'taxi' ranks. We caught a glimpse of the everyday logistical challenges to making Venice work embodied in a small supply boat. We also saw evidence of the regular flooding that plagues the city. Record '100 year' floods had passed through the area about two weeks before we arrived. We were lucky and timed our visit with generally low waters. No need to pull out Venice’s signature elevated platforms to get around. 

We were intrigued by a sweet shop called Dal Mas and stopped in for a look. Chiseled chocolate heads in various shades were on display. Delicious nougat with all sorts of fillings was also for sale. Even better, we saw nougat covered in dark chocolate - so decadent! Crispy cookies ideal for dipping in coffee were nicely packaged on the shelf. Another nearby store sold chocolate salami! 
Venice in November: lion accent
Continuing on our way, we marveled at the extremely narrow passages so common in Venice. Many of the small squares featured cisterns that the pigeons found irresistible. We admired the gargoyle heads dotting a bridge leading into the old Jewish Ghetto. We followed the signs in Hebrew to the Jewish quarter. The buildings were reflected into the still waters of the canals. We spotted another cistern and stopped to get our bearings. We were indeed in the heart of the Jewish quarter. A plaque on a nearby building memorialized those Jews that had been killed in World War II. Rather grim images of victims succumbing to a firing squad ensured that those visiting would never forget the atrocities that had occurred in Venice and across Europe during World War II

Exploring Venice’s Cannaregio Neighborhood

We walked on to what would be our neighborhood for our stay in Venice - Cannaregio. We were a bit off the tourist track close to the Madonna dell'Orto. We browsed all sorts of delicious looking and quaint restaurants. We discovered a small grocery store on Calle del Forno. About 10 different Italian wines were on tap. We couldn't resist and bought an amber 500 mL bottle and asked the clerk to fill it up. The wine was frizzante, very drinkable, and best of all, only about 2 euros. We came back again and again to try different varieties. We based ourselves at Hotel Ai Mori d'Orient. We were upgraded to a room overlooking the canal. Amazing luck! After getting settled in, we continued our tour of the Cannaregio neighborhood. We passed a boat repair shop and looked toward steps leading down to the water. Fortunately, the water didn't rise too high during our visit. We rounded out the afternoon by picking up some treats at a local bakery (also on Calle del Forno). I loved Venice’s incredibly flaky cream filled eclairs. With great food and wine, what's not to love about this corner of Venice!
Venice in Winter: A canal in the Cannaregio neighborhood
We set out and drank in the old world charm of Venice's Cannaregio neighborhood. Beyond the grandeur of the buildings themselves, we also appreciated the smaller embellishments. Homes and businesses zigged and zagged along the canals. Some of the stately homes had a pull-up entrance for boats. While very romantic and naturally touristy, we were reminded of how 'real' Venice is when we saw laundry hanging out to dry. We spotted a stately harbor with docks delineated with sharpened, colored poles. A water fountain stood alone in a lonely courtyard.

We stopped at Goppion Cafe to recharge with an espresso. The espresso machine was large and impressive. I'd expect nothing less in Italy. We sat inside the window and stationed ourselves for a spot of people-watching. Across the street at Nobile Pasticcerie, we opted to try a small pizzetta. Emerging from the cafe, we again appreciated that Venice is a 'real' city when we saw someone walking her dogs. We spied more laundry out to dry at the crossroads of 2 different canals. Some of the side alleys narrowed even further. At one point, I could stand hands-on-hips and touch both sides with my elbows! We made a quick stop at a relatively large supermarket and had a look around for interesting products to try. Orange-flavored spaghetti was one thing I picked up. We were impressed by the sheer number of varieties of packaged ham. Emerging from the grocery store, the sun was starting to fade into dusk. We retraced our steps back to Hotel Ai Mori d'Orient to get ready for dinner.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: If you have more than three days to spare for your visit to Venice, consider visiting nearby Trieste for 3 days. Trieste is about 2 hours by car or train from Venice. Did you know that Irish writer James Joyce once called Trieste home as did the Emperor of Mexico?

After dark, we decided to check out the 'nightlife' in Cannaregio. Our first stop was Paradiso Perduto where we tucked into an aperitivo. We sipped our drink and enjoyed the decor before heading out to dinner. We dined at Ostaria da Rioba, a popular cafe in our neighborhood. We got there early enough (at 7:30 pm when they opened) to snag a table without a reservation. However, most times reservations are essential. We admired the fine Murano glass used to serve up water and wine. We tried artistically presented scallops au gratin. We also tried mushroom topped polenta before trying two fresh fish dishes. Overall, it was a satisfying evening of food and entertainment.

Venice in November: Gondolier

The Most Popular Sections of Venice in Winter

We awoke to sunny November skies and set our sights on the Rialto Bridge. As we were winding our way through the narrow canals, we let ourselves get a bit lost wandering down various side alleys. At one point, we actually encountered a dead-end. The street literally led into the canal and we had to turn back. We soon found our way to the Grand Canal and admired the gondoliers maneuvering their vessels amidst a lot of 'traffic'. Every once in a while, we would stumble upon a historic church or museum and just marvel at the grandeur of it. The Venetian buildings really shone in the sun. We stopped at a nearby bakery and tried a Golosesso, a huge cookie covered in pecans. Eventually, we reached the foot of the Rialto Bridge. The path up and down the bridge is lined with tacky tourist shops. We bypassed the shops but took time to drink in the views in both directions at the top. The decorative embellishments on the bridge are quite grand. Sadly, vandals have defaced much of the exterior of the Rialto Bridge. We climbed back down and admired the Rialto Bridge from water level. Crossing back over, we popped into the local produce market. Marinated artichokes and palm hearts seemed quite popular. We discovered a batch of what seemed like the world's tiniest strawberries. An impressive variety of fish were on sale as well. The fish stalls continued under the market dome. Emerging from the other side, we took our leave and continued on toward Piazzo San Marco.
Venice in Winter: Piazza San Marco
We walked from the Rialto Bridge to Piazzo San Marco and joined the throng of tourists drinking in the sights. The Campanile stood out above the square. The Basilica of Saint Mark was an impressive anchor to the square. Ritzy shops ringed the piazza. Having our fill of classic Venice, we made our way to the vaporetto station to catch the water bus to Lido.

From Venice to Lido

We left behind the holiday-goers in Piazza San Marco and cast off for Lido, a beach island adjacent to Venice. The odd gondolier paddled alongside our vessel. We spotted a car ferry in the vicinity. Unlike Venice, Lido does allow vehicles. We alighted in a quiet harbor lined with 3-legged posts. We wandered through the streets and onto the free beach. We practically had the place to ourselves, another advantage of visiting Venice in the winter. An elevated boardwalk dominated the landscape. We stopped at a local cafe (the only one open in the off season) for a coffee and panini. Afterward, we took a walk along the beach and admired the ripples in the thin sand. Small but very cool shells dotted the beach. We walked back to the street and skirted around the beaches. We spotted an area of cabanas in the distance. Each beach seemed to have a different pattern of roofs. We walked back toward the vaporetto station through a sleepy residential neighborhood. Even in Lido, the canals were plentiful. Oranges spilled from a nearby tree. We returned to the harbor as the sun was starting to set. The majestic buildings of the islands surrounding Venice were backlit by the setting sun and made for an impressive scene. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.
Venice to Lido in winter: Venice skyline views

Sightseeing Venice’s Grand Canal by Vaporetto

Our vaporetto ticket for the return trip from Lido to Venice cost the same to disembark at any stop along the Grand Canal so we decided to get our money's worth and take a bit of a tour. The late afternoon light made the water and buildings shine. As we approached the Grand Canal, we spotted a majestic yacht. Hello money! We passed St. Mark's Square. A huge number of gondolas were parked along the shore. We passed the Bridge of Sighs where convicts would pass on their way to prison. We passed some gorgeous Venetian domed churches. The lights outside the church seemed to glow pink. Gondoliers followed our progress up the Grand Canal. Impressive artwork graced the facade of this canal-side building. Smaller, narrow canals branched off the main passage. The vaporetto pulled in near Ca' Rezzonico and we made our way toward the museum. It had been a magical afternoon on the water getting to know Venice's charms.
Post and gondolas along the Grand Canal in Venice in winter

A Winter Visit to Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice

Ca' Rezzonico is an old Venetian palazzo turned art museum. We wound our way from the Grand Canal through the back streets of the neighborhood in search of the museum. Stores selling all sorts of gifts like Venetian masks lined the street. We watched a man and his dog making a delivery along a narrow canal. We soon arrived back along the Grand Canal at Ca' Rezzonico. No pictures were allowed inside but both the architecture and works of art were stunning. It's definitely worth checking out for an hour or two. As we were departing the museum, I smiled at a bust protruding from the facade with quite the hairdo! Not far away, I spotted a similarly well-coiffed lion. The sun was setting along the canals of Venice. We made our way back to Cannaregio and popped into a Middle Eastern inspired restaurant. We tried a plate of Afghan inspired noodles. A variety of aromatic dishes from different countries were on offer. Bellies full, we headed back to Hotel Ai Mori d'Orient and called it a night.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for inspiration for other great places to visit in Italy? Check out Bologna, Emilia Romagna, or Sicily for great food.

Venice to Padua for One Day

Padua is a university town and easy day trip by train from Venice. How far is Padua from Venice? Venice to Padua takes about an hour by train. Upon arrival, we made our way by foot into town. We crossed a small misty canal, paced alongside the historical town wall, admired the whimsical scalloped architecture, and soon found ourselves in the heart of the city where we discovered something unexpected: a chocolate festival! We followed our noses to stalls of fresh baked pastry. We moved on to vendors selling chocolate shaped liked everyday objects (chocolate high-heeled shoes, anyone?) We perused additional stalls overflowing with truffles. Waffles and bananas were available for dipping in molten chocolate. Hard nut brittle was laid out in piles of irregularly shaped bricks. Our mouths watered when we caught a glimpse of soft nougat with nuts pressed into the top. We finished our introduction to Padua by popping into a local coffee shop for a quick espresso. On to Padua's signature markets!
Day Trips from Venice: Food Markets in Padua
Padua is known for its outdoor markets which rank among the best food markets in Europe. The picturesque setting made them even more memorable. We explored stalls selling herbs, handbags, meats, cheeses, chicken, and gorgeous produce. The artichokes were so pretty, I felt like you could wear one as a boutonnière. We indulged in a bag of seedless clementines. We paid less than 2 euro for a huge bag. They were delicious and addicting. 

Lunch in Padua

We wandered the streets of Padua looking for a good place for lunch. En route, we enjoyed admiring the details of the ornate facades. We finally chanced upon La Lanterna Pizzeria which was nearly full with a lunchtime crowd. We tried mushroom and ham pizza plus one with onions only. Outstanding! We nearly ate two pizzas between us! We passed the pizza ovens on the way out. I'm not sure what they do in there but man it's a good way to cook a pizza! Fortified for the afternoon, we headed to Piazza Prato Della Valle, a very down to earth market in a very regal looking place. Huge stalls set up under tarps sold everything from shoes to underwear to pajamas. The market invaded a huge green circle filled with statues and fountains and was quite a sight. It was soon time to head back to the train station. We were excited to see that Padua was getting into the holiday spirit with their Christmas market. Padua is definitely a great spot for a day trip from Venice, especially on a Saturday market day in winter.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: A weekend in Bergamo including a day trip from Bergamo to Lake Iseo is another idea for an city break in Northern Italy.

Dinner in Venice at Osteria L’Orto dei Mori

Venice was bathed in fog when we returned from Padua after dark. The streets were quiet and eerie. We had made a reservation at Osteria L'Orto dei Mori and it's a good thing we did. As we were waiting to be served, several couples were turned away because they were full up. We enjoyed a basket of bread to take the edge off our appetite. The decor of the restaurant featured wire frame sea creatures hanging from the ceiling. We tried gnocchi with pesto, fish steamed in a plastic parcel, and pork wrapped in bacon. We capped off the meal with a glass of dessert wine and some grappa. The grappa was so strong, I felt like it might make my hair fall out! As we left the restaurant, we passed a statue of a man with a prosthetic nose. I wonder who it is? I did a bit of research and the only historical figure I could find with a fake nose was astronomer Tycho Brahe. Could it be him? We pondered the question as we wandered off into the mist of this quiet Venetian night.
Venice in November: Ornate buildings on the Grand Canal

Getting Lost in Venice in Winter

On our final day traveling in Venice, we took a stroll across the city to steep a bit in the atmosphere. I spotted three nuns walking arm-in-arm along a narrow canal in Cannaregio. We followed signs for the S. Marcuola traghetti, one of the boat outfits that ferries passengers back-and-forth across the Grand Canal. I loved a little pooch in chic sweater on a walk with his owner. The church bells were ringing to call people to Sunday service. Continuing along, we emerged onto the Grand Canal and discovered that the particular traghetti we were seeking wasn't operating at the moment. Only slightly discouraged, we hopped onto the vaporetto instead. We spotted a traghetti operating further upstream but alas we'd already made our transportation choice. We passed under the Rialto Bridge and near waterside palaces. We passed dark brick churches. We cut inland along a smaller canal and let ourselves get a bit lost. Our final stop before hitching a ride on the bus back to the airport was Giardino Papadopoli, a surprising green space in the heart of Venice. Pigeons frolicked like crazy through a stagnant fountain. Soon, we were back on the bus and then flying over the Alps on our return flight to Dublin. We appreciated the opportunity to do a Thanksgiving reprise of our original visit to Venice in November.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Reasons to Love Venice in Winter
Reasons to Love Venice in Winter
Find out what it's like to visit Venice in winter. Explore Venice in November. Experience things to do in Venice in the off-season. Enjoy three days in Venice Italy in winter.
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