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The best guide to a winter holiday in Venice in December celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Day
Visiting Venice in December is a magical experience made of Christmas lights and winter charm.
December in Venice means: panettone and pandoro, chilly mist and fog, the occasional acqua alta, Christmas street food like mulled wine and hot chocolate, Christmas lights and Christmas shopping. It also means rainy days and the rare chance to witness the snow in Venice, early darkness, quiet streets and the warm coziness of cafés and pasticcerie all around the city.
December in Venice is considered low season and this makes the trip even more unique
With its narrow canals and picturesque architecture, it is no surprise that Venice is such an iconic city. A city the is a masterpiece in itself, Venice’s lavish past is still reflected in its intricate, cobbled-stone streets and marbled churches. The whole area of Venice and its lagoon has been declared a UNESCO Heritage site, for multiple reasons.
So there is no wrong time of year to visit and learn more about its history. If you chose a winter vacation in Venice, you are going to experience it in the best possible way, feeling like a local. December is considered low season here: a quiet time between the busy months of summer and fall, and the beginning of the Venice Carnival. Visiting Venice in December you will not see the typical summer crowds and you will be able to enjoy all of the best locations with peace.
If you are traveling to Venice in December, keep in mind that the humidity in the air makes you feel the cold in a very intense way.
When you plan your visit in Venice in December remember to include a lot of indoors experiences: museums, shops, a glass factory in Murano. Once you get tired of walking around and explore, you can easily find amazing restaurants and osterie for a gastronomical exploration. The elaborate Venetian cuisine has a layered and interesting history, that can be explored with a food tour or a cooking class.
Acqua alta, rain and fog can be difficult but also interesting when it comes to the photographic perspective.
The fog enveloping all monuments is fascinating and extremely romantic when used as a background for couple photographs. The sunsets are glorious and very often colored in red and pink. A photoshoot in Venice in December is a great way to make memories. You can have photographs taken or even plan a photography tour to capture some of these magical elements with your own gear.
Now let me answer some of the questions you might have when you plan on visiting Venice in December:
What is unique about visiting Venice in December?
- A great reason to visit Venice in December is to fully enjoy the charming winter magic the city exudes at this time of the year. You will be able to ice skate at the San Polo ice rink, sip chocolate at a café in Piazza San Marco, buy Christmas decorations in Murano. Whether you are traveling alone, with your partner, or with family, you will feel like living inside a Christmas movie.
- December can be extremely quiet and peaceful in Venice. Less tourists around, more Venetians. You will be able to take your time and enjoy the iconic monuments, museums and locations all around the city without the summer crowds. At this time of the year you are more likely to strike a conversation with a local, and see the true spirit of the city. Just order an ombra (a glass of wine) at a bar in Campo Santa Margherita, and see what happens.
- December is cold, humid and very misty. It feels like living in a dream: the fog is completely normal at this time of the year, all day long, but the sunsets can be magnificent. And everything looks great in pictures.
- Acqua alta is less common in December, compared to November, but it is a possibility. You can find more information on the acqua alta forecast and what to do in case of acqua alta at this website.
- The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th marks the beginning of Christmas time in Italy. It is a religious celebration and the day Italians dedicate to decorating Christmas trees and setting up the presepe, (nativity scene or crèche). These representations of the Holy Family in a stable in Bethlehem waiting for the Birth of Christ can be found inside most churches in Venice, but also on the water in Burano.
What’s the weather like in December in Venice?
Venice in December can be very cold, and humidity makes the low temperatures feel even colder. December means chilly temperatures and some rainfall, with heavy fog. Expect an average high of 7°C and lows of 0°C throughout the month. December in Venice sees about 8 hours of daily sunshine and an average of 54mm rain over 10 days in the month.
When you book a photoshoot in December in Venice with me, prepare your warmest coat!
We will have to make sure that you have a change of shoes if you want to have heels, and a very warm coat, especially if we meet in the early morning. We will also check out the weather forecast for rain (if it rains, the photos can still be magical, don’t worry) and acqua alta. In the rare case of snow, it would be the most magical occasion for photographs.
Best Things To Do In Venice In December
- Go ice skating in Campo San Polo
Campo San Polo, one of most beloved Venetian squares, houses a skating rink and small Christmas market. Between a mulled wine and some activity on the skating rink, you’ll get over the freezing temperature. Ice skating is fun, healthy, and could be the perfect way to spend a very romantic winter day. The rink is open every day, with skate rental service.
- Enjoy the Christmas markets
There are many Christmas markets in Venice, making the city festive and offering drinks and food to warm you up during your stay. One of the main Christmas markets in Venice is Natale in Laguna in Campo Santo Stefano. Another highlight is Natale di Vetro (Glass Christmas) on Murano Island—the event features spectacular glass decorations including a 20-foot-tall glass Christmas tree.
- Plan a romantic photoshoot in Venice
Having a photo session in Venice in December is not only a way to bring memories home, but it can also be a creative way to make memories. My offerings as a photographer in Venice are dedicated to couples, solo travelers, and families. The editorial photoshoot is the most exclusive of my services and it focuses on creating together a visual narrative that tell your story. Larger-than-life landscapes, impeccable styling and authentic love stories as unique as the couples telling them, imagery that’s full of life and adventure. The result are photos fit for the pages of a magazine. If you need some more reasons to do it, check out my journal post on the subject.
- Have the most romantic marriage proposal ever (I can help you plan it and document it)
December is an exceptionally popular time for engagements and I, as a couples and wedding photographer, personally planned and documented a lot of marriage proposals in Venice in December. According to wedding experts and social media sites, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the most popular days of the year to pop the question, followed by New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. One of the most romantic marriage proposals I witnessed was an after-hours private tour of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. The garden was filled with candles and incredible pieces of art, and the proposal I filmed was absolutely magical (and the perfect end for such a unique proposal was a private dinner inside the museum).
- Experience the magnificence of Italian Opera at Teatro La Fenice.
Experiencing a show or two at Teatro La Fenice is highly recommended. The theatre isn’t just loaded with architectural gems, it also has wonderful acoustics. Teatro La Fenice is the cultural center of the city. The name of the theater has the word “phoenix” in it as it was rebuilt from ashes twice during its existence. The theatre has once hosted the likes of Verdi, Donizetti, Abbado, Muti and Chung, Rossini, Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, and Bellini. You can buy a ticket for an evening show, or you can also book a tour of the theater to learn more about its history. Another very special option can be to buy tickets for the New Year’s Concert.
- Explore the canals with a gondola ride
The city of Venice is lined with narrow canals. Gondolas are one of the most recognizable symbols of Venice and a gondola ride is an unmissable experience for anyone visiting Venice. A winter ride can be especially cold, but gondoliers will be happy to help you warm up with a glass of wine, if you ask (with the right gondolier, your ride can be a luxurious experience).
- Go shopping at Fondaco dei Tedeschi and see Venice from above
Fondaco dei Tedeschi is the only shopping center in Venice and it is a 500-year-old palace recently restored to serve a luxury clientele coming from all over the world. Close to Canal Grande and a few steps from Rialto bridge lies this former trading house of German merchants in Venice. This imposing building houses luxury boutiques with the best Italian brands as well as a delicatessen area with exquisite wines and regional products to bring home. The highlight of Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is the Rooftop, a wooden roof terrace with a fantastic view over the roofs of Venice. You can book here a free visit.
- Visit all of the best museums in Venice with almost no queues.
In December in Venice you will not find too many queues. The basics are: Doge’s Palace, Saint Mark’s Basilica and Accademia if you are interested in learning more about the history of Venice; Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection if you want to see the best modern and contemporary art selection. You can also visit Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art, with its collection of prominent modern Italian works spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, but also masterful works by Gustav Klimt, Auguste Rodin, Medardo Rosso and an important Oriental Art Collection. Check the Museum’s websites for special openings or closings because of the Holidays. Here is all the info on Musei Civici of Venice and Palazzo Grassi.
Calendar of Events in Venice in December
Visiting Venice in December means visiting off-season, far from the crowds and the biggest events. But you will easily find something to do! Important religious events are celebrated in Venice in December, as well as Christmas and New Year’s eve. As a tourist, these events can be an interesting way to see how Italians celebrate the holidays.
– Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th
December 8th unofficially marks the beginning of the Christmas period in Italy.
This Catholic feast celebrates the Immaculate Conception, which many may imagine was Mary’s conception of Jesus. In fact, it actually marks the conception of Mary herself. Her mother Saint Anne became pregnant in the usual, biological way, Catholics believe, but the conception was ‘immaculate’ because God intervened, absolving Mary of original sin.
While the event has been marked since as early is the seventh century, December 8th was first officially declared a holy day by the Vatican in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.
For most people, this date means a day off work and getting together for a big family lunch.
It is also the day dedicated to decorating the house with a Christmas tree, lights and creative nativity scenes. Special masses and public ceremonies are held in towns and cities across the country to mark the occasion.
There are plenty of other celebrations creating a festive atmosphere in streets and squares in Venice with food, music and street entertainment. Because the holiday falls during Advent, many shops in bigger towns stay open to allow for Christmas shopping.
Make sure you check transport before trying to go anywhere, as most bus and rail routes will be running on a limited service. As usual, government offices, post offices, banks and schools are closed for the public holiday.
– Christmas Eve on December 24th
According to Italians Christmas Eve or ‘La Vigilia’ is the most important day of the Christmas period.
Christmas Eve was traditionally a day of fasting and celebrations usually only started after evening mass. Nowadays, not all Italian families observe this, but they do usually continue the tradition of purify themselves before Christmas Day by only eating simple food or fish and wait for December 25th to eat meat.
At midnight on December 24th, church bells are rung throughout the city to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. Most Catholics attend the Midnight Mass to wait for this moment and officially give start to the celebrations. The nativity scenes all around Venice are finally completed by laying baby Jesus down in his crib in the presepe. Children can go home and open the gift
– Christmas Day on December 25th
The joy of this time rises on December 25th, a day dedicated to family. This is the perfect occasion to sit around the table all day long and enjoy a delicious menu. The charm of this day lasts until late, while playing board games, tasting Italian delicacies and good wines, and unwrapping all the presents. After all the good cheer of this day, the festivities go on.
Santo Stefano on December 26th is also national holiday in Italy, and it is obviously another occasion to gather with your loved ones and taste other homemade specialties.
– New Year’s Eve on December 31st
New Year’s Eve in Venice means fireworks on the water
On December 31, at midnight, the city of Venice organizes one of the most beautiful fireworks show you will ever see. The fireworks will light up Saint Mark’s Basin. Venetians brave the cold to see this show and drink in Piazza San Marco. Before Covid, the square hosted concerts and music all night long.
What to eat and drink in Venice in December
The pillars of Venetian cuisine to try in December and any other month
In the Veneto region unlike other parts of Italy, pasta is not the staple – that role is played by the double act of polenta and rice. You can find yellow and white polenta, served as a side dish for meat in its liquid form, or in its hard form, sliced and toasted. Risotto is a very common first course in Veneto, and it is commonly fish risotto in Venice.
Many of Venezia’s traditional dishes are fish-based.
Bigoli in salsa (pasta in an anchovy sauce), risotto al nero di seppia (risotto cooked with cuttlefish ink) and sarde in saor (sardines preserved in a sweet and sour marinade) are amongst the most famous dishes. A very unique recipe is moeche: fried small green crabs fished out of the lagoon in the spring, when they moult and lose their shell.
Ironically, for a region with a large coast, baccalà, dried fish from the north Atlantic, is very popular. In baccalà mantecato, it’s soaked, cooked in milk and then pounded with olive oil to make a kind of pâté, eaten with disks of white or yellow polenta.
Risi e bisi is a kind of risotto made from peas and pancetta. Pasta e fasioi is a winter warming dish consisting of a bean soup with small pieces of pasta in it.
Most people in Venice enjoy a glass of wine after work with a couple of cichèti.
Cicheti are small plates served in bacari, the city’s traditional wine bars. Anything you can eat while standing with a glass in your hand is a cicheto.
Mozzarella in carozza (deep fried mozzarella sandwiches) are a local speciality, with the best ones said to come from the Rosticceria Gislon in Venice.
Among the most famous Venetian desserts are fritoe, a kind of donut made during the carnival season and pinza, a pudding made from dried bread, milk, sugar and sultanas. Baicoli are a kind of thin biscuit, often eaten dipped in coffee with zabaglione or crema al mascarpone (cream cheese mixed with sugar, eggs, and rum).
Traditional Venetian cuisine for the Holidays
Christmas traditions in Venice: Seafood on Christmas’ Eve
Since the 15th century the Catholic Church has set a big distinction on what you are allowed to eat on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day. This is why, in days bygone, Christmas Eve’s lunch would have been the only meal of the day.
By decree of the Church, Venetians were supposed to fast from morning till evening with the exception of midday, when they were allowed to have a small meal of Bigoli in salsa.
Nowadays the tradition continues and in Venice we usually only eat vegetables and fish on Christmas’ Eve (La Vigilia), in the evening, a “light” (if we can call it that) dinner. Venetian Christmas Eve’s tables are full of traditional fish based recipes. Eel is one traditional component, with cod, octopus, king prawns, oysters and other types of shellfish all popular choices.
Recipes like Risotto de Pevarasse (Venetian Clams risotto), Branzino al forno (oven cooked Seabass) or Anguilla (Eel), mixed fried fish together with some grilled or stewed vegetables are the most common choices. No matter that they will be smothered with mayonnaise and other sauces, the perception that you re having a light meal still persists!
Christmas Day traditional food in Venice: pasta and meat
A typical Venetian Christmas meal usually starts with an antipasto made of cicheti but also cold meats like soppressa, salame, prosciutto served with grissini (breadsticks) and pickled vegetables (onion, gherkins, peppers, carrots).
Three main traditional dishes have been served on Venetian Christmas tables : Capeeti or Ravioli in Brodo di Cappone (Ravioli in Capon broth), Cappone lesso (boiled Capon) and Musetto (boiled salame) with mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Cotechino is made using the rind of the pig together with lean and fat pork meat. Musetto is made using the meat from the head of the pig (previously boiled) which is minced and then mixed with lean pork meat and spices. Musetto is then cooked in boiling water for a few hours and served in slices.
Capon and Musetto are always served on a bed of mashed potatoes and spinach together with different sauces like horseradish sauce, mayonnaise, mustard. Sometimes there will also be hot creamy polenta, either yellow or white.
Christmas desserts: Panettone, pandoro, torrone, mostarda
At the end of a huge Christmas meal, Venetians will have some dried fruits like nuts, walnuts, peanuts, figs, dates. Then they will have the real dessert, which would have come either from a local baker or patisserie, but they might also have torrone (nougat) or mostarda con mascarpone.
Mostarda is a condiment typical of some Northern Italian regions, dating back around the year 1300. Not to be confused with yellow mustard, mostarda is a mix of candied fruit and mustard essence. Mostarda allowed people to keep extremely perishable fruit for a long time.
A typical mostarda is made with sugar, mustard essence and whole fruits, but Venetian mostarda is made with different types of candied fruit and finely chopped quince as well as mustard essence. The combination with mascarpone cheese makes it a really tasty and delicate dessert.
The most lively Christmas debates are usually centered on food, in Italy. And there is no debate hotter than: panettone or pandoro?
These desserts have a strong personality and very few people like both.
Pandoro is a traditional Italian sweet bread, a Veronese product, traditionally shaped like a frustum with an eight-pointed star section. It is served dusted with vanilla-scented icing sugar made to resemble the snowy peaks of the Italian Alps during Christmas.
The first citation of a dessert clearly identified as pandoro dates to the 18th century. The dessert certainly figured in the cuisine of the Venetian aristocracy. Venice was the principal market for spices in the 18th century, as well as for the sugar that had replaced honey in European pastries and breads.
And it was in Verona, part of the Venetian territory, that the formula for making pandoro was developed and perfected. The modern history of this dessert bread began at Verona on October 30, 1894, when Domenico Melegatti obtained a patent for a procedure to be applied in producing pandoro industrially.
Panettone is a traditional domed Christmas cake made from sweet bread, usually studded with pieces of candied fruit and raisins. Historical accounts of panettone invariably state that it originated in Milan.
The word panettone derives from panetto, a small loaf cake. The beginnings of this cake appear to date from the Roman Empire, when ancient Romans sweetened a type of leavened cake with honey.
Christmas wines and warm cocktails
All of this opulence must be paired with the best wines the Veneto region can offer. First of all a lot of Prosecco, then Raboso, Merlot, Manzoni, Soave or Verduzzo. And to end it all the best of dessert wines, like the worldwide famous Cartizze, the Recioto or the Moscato.
All around the streets of Venice you will find mulled wine and in the best bars you might want to ask for a bombardino. Literally translating as “the bomb’” this tasty drink is basically Italian eggnog. It’s made up of brandy, zabaione (egg cream), whipped cream and cinnamon.
Originally from the Lombardy region, bombardino is often the after-ski drink of choice at Italy’s ski resorts. But it’s also perfect for a cosy Christmas afternoon by the fire.
To close a perfect Christmas feast, ask for a caffè corretto: espresso with a drop of something strong, usually grappa, or sambuca.
Tips for visiting Venice in December
- Bring shoes that can resist water. You are probably going to encounter a lot of rain, or acqua alta at some point during your trip, so be prepared.
- Note that December 8th, 25th and 26th are public holidays in Venice and some services might be unavailable.
- If you get to Venice via plane, once you are at Marco Polo Airport remember to buy 48hours, or 72hours travel tickets: this will give you access to all transport networks in the city. You don’t need the vaporetto (waterbus) everyday if you are staying in the main island of Venice, but you need them if you want to explore Murano, Burano and Giudecca.
- If you are looking for a coffee, be aware that in Venice there are two ways to have coffee. Since coffee is seen as a necessity, and espresso if a very short coffee, most Italians will have it while standing at the bar. If you want to sit down and sip it, remember the the pricing will be different.
- If you want to keep warm during a long day in Venice, taste some hot chocolate, or mulled wine in December to make the best of the extreme weather.
- Look for deals on hotel and flight rates as December is not a peak tourist season.
- Locals in Venice follow some basic rules such as walking on the right side of the street, especially when the streets are narrow, make sure you respect the same as well.