13 February 2018

Ten Reasons to visit Venice in winter

I often write about how great Venice is in winter - in case any reader hasn't already got the message, here are ten good reasons why this is a really good time to visit.

 1. No crowds

Since I first fell in love with an empty winter Venice a decade ago, tourism has increased all year round. You won't ever find the city empty of tourists now. But the quietest times are still in winter, when you'll find residents outnumbering visitors, lanes which you can stroll along without queueing, and a low-key 'local' feel to the city. The sights are easily visited and admired, and you can enjoy Venice at your leisure. If you get off the beaten track you might go a long time before you see other outsiders.  As well as lower tourist numbers, there is a very noticeable difference in types of visitor. In the winter there are very few cruises, and fewer day-trippers, meaning that most of the tourists in town are overnight visitors, spread more evenly through the city, and with more of a feel for how to behave.

 2. Cheap accommodation

There is a vast and ever-increasing volume of tourist accommodation in Venice. In winter, places to stay outnumber visitors. So you'll find good value as businesses compete for custom. If you have your heart set on a special place to stay, book in advance. But if you're looking for the lowest prices, and are prepared to gamble, you could risk leaving it until the last minute, and watching as apartments and hotels drop their prices on Booking.com in the days before you arrive. I've seen some excellent deals in the lowest season, such as a comfortable 2-person apartment for €450 a week.

3. Cheap flights

There aren't so many flights to Venice in winter, but some routes, like London-Venice, are still busy enough that you get a good choice of flights each day. Prices are at their lowest, and you can usually still find cheap flights at short notice. This week I've found hand-baggage-only fares with British Airways for £36 each way.

4. More comfort

There are many reasons why travelling to Venice in winter is more comfortable. You'll get better service and more of a welcome than in summer, when Venice groans under the pressure of tourists. You're more likely to find good restaurant tables without booking, to find space in a cafe, to meet shorter queues at the airport, to get an outdoor seat on a boat, to find an empty bench to enjoy the view.

5. It might snow

Venice is cold in winter, the city's humidity giving an extra sharp chill to the air. There will probably be a few snowy days each winter, and although snow doesn't usually settle for long, while the snowflakes are falling, Venice is magical. It's a great photo opportunity, too, as snow briefly settles on gondolas or flutters down past Gothic windows.

6. It might be sunny ... or foggy

Snow may be magical, but you're more likely to encounter sunshine. Venice gets a good amount of winter sunshine, and there are glorious brisk sunny days when laundry flutters against a blue sky, the city is at its best, and hardy diners and drinkers might brave a sheltered outdoor table in the sun. Another typical condition is the atmospheric Venetian fog, so characteristic that it has its own local name in dialect. When it comes creeping in is a great time for taking moody photos of a Venice that summer tourists will never see.

7. Hot chocolate

Casanova swore by it, and rich Venetian hot chocolate is one of the great pleasures of the winter. You can drink a small cup for a couple of euros on your feet in a busy steamed-up cafe or pastry shop, or you can settle down with a luxurious and expensive glass in one of Venice's finest cafes. I love the mint hot chocolate named after Casanova in Caffe Florian.

8. Shopping and fun

As well as designer and high-street shops, Venice has a good range of small artisan boutiques where you can buy jewellery, leather goods, carnival masks, shoes, cloaks, stationery, ceramics and more. It's great for Christmas shopping, or just buying lovely mementos for yourself. And although the city is quiet in winter, in the run-up to Christmas there are festive markets, Christmas lights and special events (including a boat race of Santas), while in Carnival time there is lots to do - although there are also crowds and high prices for that particular fortnight. You'll usually find a small ice-rink in Campo San Polo for most of the winter.

9. Frittelle, panettone and other delights

Unlike the sweltering days of summer, when eating becomes an effort, winter is ideal for tucking into hearty lunches of risotto or pasta accompanied by local wine. Before Christmas the bakeries are full of speciality Italian cakes like panettone, and the popular version at Tonolo known as focaccia da Tonolo. Leading up to Carnival, frittelle (also known as fritole and fritoe) are everywhere, and each cup of coffee or hot chocolate is accompanied by one of these small doughnuts. Produced with a range of fillings including raisins, pastry cream, chocolate, apple and zabaione,  these are hugely popular and are a real, cheap treat of the season.

10. Nuisance-free living

By the middle of winter you're unlikely to encounter one of Venice's nastiest little hazards: the mosquito - and any surviving mosquitos are unlikely to penetrate winter layers of clothing. This unpleasant creature plagues the lagoon and can make summer and autumn painful and unromantic, so winter comes as a relief for the tender-skinned. The sun is also no longer the same threat, and you can explore the city without anticipating sweat or sunburn. Without sun-lotion, after-sun, insect repellent and all the other hot-weather necessities, winter permits much lighter packing.
Other nuisances you're more likely to avoid in winter include the pickpockets who descend on the city in crowded periods, and the ill-mannered trippers who block bridges and alleys and, of course, the crowds described above.

Winter in Venice lasts from December till February; Venice is briefly busy at New Year and is busy for the fortnight of the Venice Carnival. Winter won't suit everyone, of course. You do need to dress warmly - hat, coat, scarf, gloves - and the weather can be unpredictable. High water can be an occasional problem - or an attraction - depending on your perspective. But for many Venice-lovers, this is the very best time of year to be in the city and appreciate its marvels.
> When to visit Venice (a fun quiz)
> More about winter in Venice
> Find somewhere to stay

No comments: