Venice is one of the most magical cities in the world, but at the height of summer—when colossal cruise ships dock alongside gondolas and flocks of tourist outnumber the flocks of pigeons in Piazza San Marco—that magic drops dead. That’s why my top tip for Venice is to visit in the winter, when the tiny streets are blanketed in swirls of fog, and the city is yours to get lost in. Yes, it will be chilly; you may need boots since the city suffers from acqua alta (flooding); and some places will be shuttered, but the romantic enchantment of winter will override any of these minor drawbacks.
First things first: Stay at The Gritti Palace, an elegant-but-cozy 15th century palazzo with spellbinding views over the Grand Canal. If you want to be super fancy, you can arrive by boat via their private dock. (Or you can opt for the the public water taxi, the vaporetto, which stops right next door). The Gritti, in all of its historic splendor, is perfectly positioned to explore Venice and because it’s off season, you’ll score a good deal too. Check out the Hemingway Suite, where “Papa” himself toiled away on his novel Across the River and Into the Trees. The recently refurbished suites and rooms are sumptuously adorned in jewel-toned velvets, damask walls, and Italian marble.
The Gritti also boasts a lovely little Aqua di Parma Spa (and Aqua di Parma toiletries), as well as The Club de Doge restaurant where upmarket Venetian food is served on highly Instagramable blue-and-white china. The Bar Longhi serves pretty (if expensive) cocktails, but more noteworthy than the cocktails are the delectable hazelnuts severed alongside your drink. (Honesty, those were the best hazelnuts I have ever tasted, and my husband and I still talk of them.) Even though it’s a little chilly, grab your coat and sit outside on the terrace under the strong winter sun. You certainly won’t miss the stench that the canals throw off in the summer.
Just across the Grand Canal, you’ll find the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (some say it resembles a wedding cake) and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum, both of which are open year-round. The fabled 1930’s cocktail bar, Harry’s Bar, will be open as well should you be in need of one of their legendary Bellinis.
Because it won’t be sweltering, take your time getting lost along the the famous streets and bridges including the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto, and the Accademia Bridge, where you won’t have to elbow your way to the front to get the perfect photograph.
Winter in Venice is also Carnevale season, where the city comes alive with masked revelers and festivities like midnight masquerade balls. But should you want to avoid crowds all together, hide away in the city’s nooks and crannies, like the charming bookshop, Libreria Acqua Alta, or the neoclassical opera house, Teatro La Fenice. In the winter, Venice belongs to you. Enjoy it.