When you plan a trip to Venice, the first question is “when is the best time to visit Venice?” Venice is always a beautiful place full of infinite charm, yet in different seasons the city can be appreciated in unique ways. Luckily, Venice offers marvelous sights, tourist attractions and joyful festivals throughout the year. As it is well known, the summer months are the most expensive when it comes to accommodation and flights, there are huge crowds, long lines at tourist attractions, and the heat in July and August can be exhausting. On the other hand, the winter months offer a magical experience, if you are up for romantic albeit chilly walks through the deserted alleys of the city. One thing, however, must be remembered when planning a visit to Venice: all moving around is done by foot, or by taking a ride, most often in Vaporetto (Venetian water bus).
Starting in late April to early May, the weather tends to warm up, and visitors start flocking in from every corner of the world. This may be the best time for visiting Venice. The tourist lines are not so long, streets and attractions are not yet overcrowded, and the climate makes long walks nice and enjoyable. Another good thing is that most tourist attractions at that time are fully open for the public since many of them are usually closed or have restricted visiting hours during winter. It is also possible to witness the famous gondola races, such as the Festa Della Sparesca on May 1st, women-only Regatta di Sant’Erasmo, Regatta di Santi Giovanni e Paolo open to oarsmen under 25, Festa della Sensa, or the Vogalonga.
If art is your main interest when visiting Venice, the city’s famous Biennale or Venice Biennial Art expo is a great event to visit. The Venice Biennale of Art takes place every other year from June to November, with amazing art exhibitions hosted in the national pavilions in the Giardini of Castello, as well as the Arsenale, and many palazzos and galleries throughout the city. This event always brings in a big crowd of art connoisseurs, dealers, curators, and artists to the city.
In June of every odd year Venice becomes a busy city full of fancy yachts and boats, not to mention the large crowds of distinguished guests. Unfortunately, June also brings in the first heatwaves of the season, making long walks very uncomfortable and tiring.
From the beginning of July to the end of August, Venice experiences its highest temperatures and frequent heat waves, along with the worst tourist crowds of the year. These are probably the least convenient months to visit the city. Many foreigners have heard stories about the city’s bad smell during summer, but this is rarely the case, as the city sewer is very well taken care of, and the water in the canals is not stale, as the canal system is connected with the Lagoon, which in turn opens up into the Adriatic Sea. However, those rumors though may not be the worst concern of the season.
The heat and immense crowds filling ancient narrow streets make walking around the city rather difficult, mosquitoes tend to be everywhere, and the city’s population is practically replaced by tourists. The historical city of Venice has a population of only about 60,000, and most of them tend to leave the city because of Ferragosto (a season of month-long August vacations all over Italy). During Ferragosto Italians leave their cities for almost the entire month, resulting in closed businesses and empty streets in the cities. If you are still compelled to travel to Venice in July, there is a festival that may offset some of these negative points: the Festa del Redentore. This is the Feast of the Redeemer, it happens on the third weekend of July, and it includes the most marvelous fireworks show in Saint Marc’s Basin while closing the celebrations with an exciting race of gondolas along the Grand Canal.
Venice becomes more authentic and romantic in September, with local Venetians returning from holidays and the world-famous Venice Film Festival kicking off. This is the time to visit if you want to see the Grand Canal filled with luxurious water taxis full of movie stars and starlets. The weather starts cooling down and smaller tourist crowds make the city a quieter place. One of the most famous of Venetian regattas, Regatta Storica, takes place on the first Sunday in September and is a sight not to be missed. Gorgeous historic vessels and richly adorned gondolas are rowed by oarsmen in fine historic costumes, carrying the “Doge” and “Dogaressa” along the Grand Canal.
The winter cold starts sneaking in during the first weeks of October, meaning layering is probably the best option when choosing a wardrobe for this transitional weather. Evenings tend to be chilly and foreign visitors are not very common. October also brings with it the first rains of the season, sometimes resulting in floods, or acqua alta, as Venetians call it. The “high water” may be an interesting event for tourists, but it is, in fact, a hard condition Venetians have had to live with for a very long time. The water may sometimes reach knee level or even higher, which is why it is advised to travel with rain boots. To facilitate movement within the city, elevated wooden runways are installed in key streets and piazzas, including Saint Marc’s Square (the lowest and most frequently flooded area of the city). For those who still want to or have to walk through the city during Acqua Alta, special very tall rain boots are sold in shoe stores, small boutiques and convenience stores throughout the city. The prize for those tourists brave enough to visit in the winter is the most authentic Venice you can find, devoid of tourists and offering lots of opportunities to meet and mingle with the locals.
From November to January one is likely to experience Venice at its most magical. This is the time to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, gather up in cozy bars, and see Venice through the fog and rain, reminiscent of ancient paintings. Throughout these months the city offers its most picturesque sights and romantic atmosphere. Snowfalls are rare but do occur, and rain may turn out to be not so comfortable when riding on the vaporetto or walking the streets with no cover in sight, but this is also the season when hotel prices drop sometimes to half of their usual rates.
The Christmas Market in Campo Santo Stefano is not to be missed; here one can find delicious Christmas treats, artisan toys and traditional Italian handicrafts, including Venetian masks and Murano Glass. There are many more Christmas-time attractions: the Christmas mass in the city’s churches is magical; the elaborate Christmas scenes are displayed everywhere, and New Year’s celebrations on St. Marc’s square are the most amazing you will ever experience. After the New Year’s on Epiphany Regatta delle Befane is the favorite event for children and adults alike, where oarsmen dressed as Italian good witch La Befana row along the grand canal. La Befana traditionally brings small gifts and sweets to nice Italian kids and drops them into the stockings hung on the mantel.
February is probably the most exciting month in Venice. It’s time for Venice Carnival or Carnevale! This is the city’s busiest time, when as many as three million visitors flock to the historical center of Venice to take part in extravagant masked balls, music events, street performances, parades, and the show of rich costumes on every street. The main theme and the program changes every year and is usually published several months prior. It is advisable to buy tickets to the various Carnevale events well ahead of time due to huge demand. Accommodation may be quite expensive and hard to find, so it is recommended to book rooms and transport in advance.
Once the Carnival is over, then crowds abate, and one can experience a true Venetian winter, until the month of April, when evenings are cold but the sun warms up the city during the day. On April 25th Venice celebrates the Festa di San Marco and Liberation Day. This involves special festivities for the city’s patron saint and a gondolier’s regatta along the Canal.
As you can see, any time of the year is perfect for enjoying the magic of Venice, be it a gondola ride, an opera evening at La Fenice, witnessing a special Regatta, enjoying incredible art, or simply relaxing over aperitivo in a small local bar, or having coffee at Saint Marc’s Square. Venice’s beauty transcends time and seasons, and you truly need to see Venice in every season to appreciate its special atmosphere.