Preparing for our four day trip to Venice in late November reminded me how much there is to research when you've never been to a place before, even with great help from sites like TripAdvisor. What to see and when? Is it best to book things ahead? And what are the best timeslots?
Here are my top tips for experiencing Venice in the winter months:
1. Travel light
Pretty much anywhere you stay in Venice you will need to carry/pull your luggage some distance, and with the walking and getting in/out of boats (where you may pay extra per piece) you really don't want to be struggling with heavy suitcases. There is wonderful cashmere and Murano glass to buy here too – another reason for packing light and saving some room in your case.
2. Comfortable footwear is essential
There is lots of walking required to see this city's sights, so comfortable footwear is a must – but make it stylish if you can. Bear in mind there are no cars, bicycles or taxis (except water taxis) so you really will walk a lot. However the streets are paved not cobbled, so walking is easy even in small heels (although I wouldn't recommend stiletto heels). Wedges work well, especially in the evenings.
3. Buy your Vaporetti (water taxi) passes when you arrive rather than ahead of time
They cost the same and it's easy to buy them at any kiosks by the boat. If you buy in advance you will be given a voucher to exchange at one specific place which is more hassle. If in doubt about buying a 1 or 2 day card, buy the 2 day one. For some sights like Salute it's really the only way to get there easily. We bought a 24 hour pass and ended up buying a second one; if we had bought a 2 day pass in the first place it would have been a lot cheaper.
4. Prepare for flooding
From October onwards the risk of high tides means there is a real possibility of flooding. If you don't take rainboots you can buy cheap knee-high plastic shoe covers. The high tides are managed very well with walkways, and usually by mid-afternoon the water has receded and it's easy to walk everywhere again.
St Mark's Square is the lowest point and therefore the most likely to be flooded; the walkways get very crowded in the mornings, so wait until the tide goes down in the afternoon and you'll find it a lot easier to move around the Square.
5. Tours not necessary in winter
The “beat the queue tours” for the Doges Palace or Basilica San Marco are unnecessary at this time of year, especially if you go in the afternoon after the morning rush has died down. You can buy audio guides inside the Doges Palace which is much cheaper. You also don't have the hassle of trying to find the meeting place, which isn't easy if St Mark's Square is flooded.
6. Avoid buying souvenirs at St Mark's Square
Buying items around St Mark's Square is seriously more expensive than going to other districts a few streets away. Ditto the bars and restaurants.
7. Immerse yourself in a Vivaldi concert
To experience a Vivaldi concert in his home city is something wonderful, but again at this time of year you don't need to book ahead.
8. Indulge in fresh fish in Burano
Take the Vaporetti to Burano and enjoy a wonderful fresh fish lunch – trust me it's a must. And allow plenty of time to explore the dazzling streets of Burano – our morning trip turned into a leisurely full day.
9. Explore Rialto Market
Make the effort to go to the Rialto Market where you will see fresh fish and a huge variety of types, plus many vegetables. This is where the locals come and it's a great way to see Venetian life.
10. It's all about the Cicchetti
Head for the back streets of Carrienegio for Cicchetti (Venetian tapas) and wine. They serve a huge selection all by the glass. For our first night, we booked a Cicchetti Tour which was a fun way to orientate ourselves in the city and to spend time with a Venetian. Really you could do the tour on your own, but the guide gave us more of an insight and the confidence to go off and explore on our own the next night.
11. Travel in style in a Traghetto
Ride a Traghetto (gondola ferry) across the Grand Canal. The trip is quick, but it costs almost nothing and it's the best transportation deal in Venice. Traghetti cross the canal at half a dozen points, and the routes are marked on most good maps.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Venice, and this seemed a great time of year to visit with far fewer crowds and more pleasant temperatures for sightseeing (summer can be unbearably hot). Although the floods can be inconvenient, it all added to the experience and if you're forewarned you can plan around them and still make the most of your time in the city.
Written by Helen