Traveling in Italy’s Off Season: Venice

November 06, 2012

Visiting Venice in the winter, out of the main tourist season, can be wonderful! The crowds are fewer, the lines are shorter, and the more “authentic” side of Venice (read: the one not overwhelmed by millions of tourists) tends to be much easier to find.

Before you book, though, there are some things you should know about visiting Venice in the off season! (This post is part of a series; check out our earlier post on Italy’s lake district in the off season, including Lake Como, Garda, and Maggiore!).

When is the off season in Venice? November to Easter, excluding Christmas, New Year’s, and (of course!) Carnevale.

Even on a sunny day, Venice's Grand Canal in February is relatively tranquil!

Even on a sunny day, Venice’s Grand Canal in February is relatively tranquil!

What to expect in the off season: Make no mistake—there are thousands of visitors to Venice, year-round. And even if you come in the coldest days of January or February, you won’t be the only English speaker on the island! That said, February’s crowds and lines simply don’t compare to those you see in June, July, or even early October. Come out of season, and you’ll benefit from shorter lines, fewer crowds, and the ability to spot the “authentic” Venice that so many high-season visitors miss… the Venice made up of real Venetians!

(Plus, Venice can be downright beautiful in the winter. Don’t miss our gorgeous video of Venice in the snow, below!)

Weather-wise, Venice in winter can be a love-or-hate experience. There can be a lot of rain, and the city (thanks to its position both on the sea and in the north) can be bone-chillingly cold.


Acqua alta of Venice

One visitor to Venice in the acqua alta! Photograph by Joanna Penn.

Most importantly, there’s a high chance of flooding! The island tends to flood several times every winter; when it does, water (called the “acqua alta,” or “high water,” by residents) can be several feet high in St. Mark’s Square, for example. (Don’t miss our survival guide to Venice’s acqua alta!) Visitors sometimes have to use elevated walkways to get from Point A to Point B. Depending on your perspective, this can be a unique way to experience Venice as the locals do… or it can be a cold, wet frustration!

Venice in February: chilly, foggy, and beautiful

Venice in February: chilly, foggy, and beautiful

Another part of visiting Venice in the winter is the thick mist that often settles on the canals. This makes for surprisingly lovely, atmospheric pictures! Still, you might not get that view from the top of St. Mark’s Basilica that you were hoping for.

A Venetian gondola in winter, waiting for passengers!

Meanwhile, Venice is a year-round destination, so you don’t have to worry about hotels, restaurants and sights closing in the winter (unless they’re flooded). The traghetti, or water buses, also run year-round, although some summer-only lines, like to the Lido, are, of course, not functioning in the winter. And yes, you can take a gondola year-round (the gondoliers provide you with blankets)… just make sure to dress warmly!

If you come out of season: Pack your warm clothes and layers, keeping in mind that Venice is a city where you get around either by boat or by walking (both of which are cold options in the winter!). In case it floods while you’re there, don’t forget your rain boots and—most importantly!—your sense of humor. The Venetians have to deal with this every year… so consider the experience a glimpse into how the locals really live!

by Walks of Italy

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