Discovering a city that I once thought I would never visit again
I consider myself someone who is well traveled in Europe. With a trip after graduating high school, and studying abroad for 5 months in Cork, Ireland, I feel like I know what I like and do not like in Europe. And with all of the romanticizing about Venice and people claiming it to be one of the most beautiful destinations in Italy, I ended up going there twice. Both times I had the same result: I hated it. It felt dead at night, overcrowded during the day, and each and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It just was not for me.
So when planning to meet up with my brother and sister-in-law, and seeing that Venice was our only option, I was bummed. Anywhere else but Venice! Regrettably, I agreed to go back…and you know what, I loved it this time around. Venice in winter is everything I have always wanted it to be and more. While Venice can be done in as little as one day, we stretched our time here over a full three.
Venice gets the reputation as an incredibly touristy city–that reputation is absolutely true–but during the winter, it is severely less crowded and everything feels a little bit easier. Both of my non-enjoyable trips were over the summer and the overcrowded feeling was very real. In the winter, there are still many people at St. Mark’s Cathedral and riding gondolas, but you do not feel like you are going to fall into the canal every time you step outside.
In addition, there are no lines in the winter! It was so quick and easy to go up to St. Mark’s Cathedral–a truly beautiful site that should not be missed during any visit to Venice. There were many available gondolas and we easily got one to take us on an hour-long ride. It was a beautiful way to see this unique city.
One of our highlights was the canal wine bars that we found on Fondamenta Nani. This little street was right on a canal and there were three wine bars that were all very busy during apertivo time. For those of you who do not know, apertivo time is almost like a happy hour in the United States — except it is SO much better. All of the bars had spritz, cheap wine, and delicious little crostini. We went every night and it was the perfect way to start your evening.
With all of this being said, there were some things that were not ideal during our winter visit.
Visiting Murano is one of the things you should absolutely do during your time in Venice. Bonus: this is also a great activity when traveling with kids. It is a short ferry ride away, and it is a much more tamed island in terms of people and crowds. However, if you are looking to see a glass blowing exhibition, the winter is not the time to do this. Only one of the shops was doing exhibitions on a Saturday, and even then, it was a short little show.
Funny enough, with it being offseason from Christmas to February and our visit being in January, we were surprised to see that getting a table at restaurants was not easy. Not at all. Typically, throughout Italy, you can walk into most osterias and trattorias and get a table without a wait. There are so many that there is always a table.
Visiting Venice during the offseason, half the restaurants are closed, and most of the open restaurants only do one seating. Therefore, even though there are significantly fewer people, you need to make a reservation otherwise you are not eating anywhere. This caused us a night of walking in the cold for over an hour just looking for anywhere to eat.
Even with these few negative points, Venice in winter is the best way to see this city. The canals are quiet and beautiful. You can get to the top of St. Mark’s without having to climb on top of a small horde of children. And most importantly, you just can feel the history in this incredibly different city as you can listen to the water pass you by on the ferry or simply by walking the streets.
This was a city I was ready to put on the “DO NOT RETURN” list and my mind completely changed by seeing it in the winter. Now, every time I go to Italy, I want to make sure to have Venice on that itinerary. Yes, it is a city full of tourists, but get here at the right time, and it’ll be the perfect canal filled getaway.
Need help planning every detail of your trip? Check out this full Venice itinerary.
Where We Stayed:
Palazzo Venezzo: On Grand Canal, easy to get to from the train station by ferry. The hotel overall was ok, definitely overpriced. We had a corner canal view room but it only overlooked a small canal, not the large one. Staff was not overly friendly. It is in a great neighborhood though. Within 5 minutes walk of two ferry stops and around the corner from a cute street with wine bars that we stopped at before dinner every night.
Where We Ate:
Osteria Antica: A great atmosphere of this tiny restaurant. The owner gave us champagne when we arrived and limoncello before we left. It only had one sitting and the restaurant did fill up to capacity. Food was pretty good, mixed fried seafood plate, cuttlefish with polenta, and a few kinds of pasta. Nothing special but the atmosphere was worth it.
Hotel Gritti: A gorgeous restaurant in a historic hotel that used to be a palace in Venice. Very expensive. Food was good but just a very fun experience overall, everything is very luxurious and regal, sterling silver bucket, glasses, ect. Beautiful plating. Great place if you want to be over the top fancy in this city.
Street Snacks: Hot wine and little panini were plentiful on the streets in little carts. We often were very full from breakfast so we did not snack as much as we usually do.