Christmas is coming, and you’re ready to soak up all of that tasty festive cheer. You need twinkling fairy lights, hut-based markets, and traditions too weird to do more than once a year. When it comes to planning the ultimate Christmas getaway, there’s always the usual suspects. Sure, you could head to New York, or London, or Paris, but how about something a bit more original? How about somewhere with plenty of holiday atmosphere, incredible scenery and fewer crowds? How about… Venice?
Seriously, if you think the city looks impressive in the springtime, wait ’til you see it in the winter. Mist-covered canals, beautifully-decorated buildings and Christmas lights reflected in the water; there’s no way you’ll be disappointed. And once you’ve had your fill of exploring the city’s sights, you can warm up inside a cosy traditional bar. It’s pretty much everything the festive season should be.
Want to know more? Well, wrap up warm and prepare for maximum jolliness – here’s what to do in Venice at Christmas.
Venice… at Christmas?… really?
Abso-frigging-lutely. There are so many reasons why a festive trip to Venice makes perfect sense. The sheer beauty of the city, for a start. Venetians take their Christmas decor very seriously, and the homes, shops, historic buildings and piazzas are made all the more magical; even the gondolas get in on the festive action. Still, while Christmas in Venice is a big deal, it has a more cosy, authentic feel than places like New York. It’s much less commercial, and wandering around you don’t have that feeling that all of it has been done just to entice tourists into shops.
Another great reason to visit at Christmas: fewer tourists. There’s no fighting for a photo spot on the Rialto Bridge; the city is much quieter, while still feeling full of excitement. Most hotels stick to low season rates during the holiday too, so it’s often cheaper than visiting at other times of the year – more money to spend on fabulous presents (and maybe even some for other people).
Things to do in Venice at Christmas
You’ve decided to visit Venice during the Christmas period (great choice by the way), so what now? Happily, there are plenty of sights and attractions to keep you busy and full of cheer, as well as some uniquely Venetian traditions that you can only experience at this time of the year. Here’s our pick of festive things to do.
Attending the Christmas mass at St. Mark’s Basilica is a really special experience. With the grand Byzantine architecture, fine choral singing and magical atmosphere, it’s a festive must-do. Everyone is welcome to attend, but you do need to get there early if you’re heading over for midnight mass – queues often stretch right across the square. The service usually starts at around 11:30pm. If you don’t make it to the Christmas Eve mass, there’s also one on Christmas morning, generally a quieter affair. The Frari Basilica is another nice (and popular) option for midnight mass.
What would a visit to Venice at Christmas be without some traditional gift buying? There are plenty of opportunities across the city, including, of course, Christmas markets. Your first stop should be the Christmas Village at Campo Santo Stefano. The largest of all the markets, the buzzy atmosphere here is amazing, and you’ll find all of the essentials; wooden huts, scrumptious food and decorations galore. Another good option for buying Venetian souvenirs is the smaller Christmas market at Campo San Polo; this is the one to visit for traditional decorated masks, and with Carnival coming in the new year, the shops around this area will also be full of them.
There are other Christmas markets dotted around the city, including those at Campo San Salvador and Campo San Luca. Keep in mind that some of them will finish on Christmas Eve. If you want to buy some of the famous local glassware, a trip over to the island of Murano is in order.
See the sights
One of the best things about visiting Venice at Christmas is that the city doesn’t shut down over the holiday period. While most shops and attractions are closed on Christmas day, you’ll find that it’s pretty much business as usual the rest of the time. Even St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace are open on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day (26th), so there’s plenty of chances to see all of the city’s major sights. The other good news is that, while these attractions are open, they’re generally a lot quieter than usual, so there’s no horrendous queues to suffer through – more time for exploring!
If you’re visiting the city for a few days, why not add some excursions to your itinerary? Take the Vaporetto over to Murano to see the world’s largest glass Christmas tree, or visit colourful Burano, now also beautifully lit. A day trip to Verona is also a very feasible and worthwhile option, too. The Christmas market here is spectacular, as is the giant shooting star sculpture added to Piazza Bra every year.
Even if you’re just strolling around without much of a plan, you’re likely to come across a Christmas concert at some point. And let’s face it, is there anything that is more festive than hearing the sounds of bells and a full choir in the distance? Follow your ears to the origin and you’ll be treated to a warming scene at one of the local churches – be sure to take a look at the nativity scenes set out in each of them, the one at Frari is particularly nice.
If you don’t want to risk leaving the Christmas concert viewing to chance, you’ll find most of them are advertised in advance across the city. The ones held at La Pieta church, St. Mark’s Basilica and La Fenice Theatre are especially magical, though the latter can be tricky to get tickets for.
Santa Claus Run
If you’re on the hunt for rather more quirky things to do in Venice at Christmas, here’s your answer. Usually taking place in mid December, the Santa Claus run is a charity event organised by the Venice Running Club. Around 1,000 people dressed as ‘Babbo Natale’ descend on the city centre every year, for a race starting next to the Rialto Bridge. There’s even a shorter run for little ones; because what’s cuter than a bunch of three-year-olds dressed as santa? You can take part yourself (advance registration required) or simply show up with your camera to snap the surreal scene as it unfolds.
If you want to show off your majestic skating skills (or give it a go for the very first time), head over to the ice rink at Campo San Polo. This much-loved spot is a big hit with locals, and both beginners and pros are welcome. Rent your skates, fuel up at one of the food stalls nearby, then hit the ice while festive music plays in the background. Warm up (and possibly nurse your wounds) with a hot chocolate at the famous Caffe Florian after.
Ready to spend your Christmas exploring the canals of Venice? Send the Orbzii app to your phone now and dream, plan and book the perfect holiday packed with festive cheer.