Venice, the city of canals, where every narrow alley whispers tales of romance, every gondola ride feels like a journey through time, and every sunset paints a masterpiece across the sky. But at the heart of this enchanting city lies St. Mark’s Square, a place that’s more than just a collection of historic buildings and iconic landmarks. It’s the soul of Venice, a stage where history, culture, and Italian life play out in a spectacle that’s as captivating as the city itself.
So, you’ve booked your trip to Venice, and you’re wondering what to do when you get there. Let me tell you, my friend, St. Mark’s Square is where your adventure begins. Ready to dive into the heart of Venice? Andiamo!
In this St. Mark’s Square guide, you’ll discover:
- St. Mark’s Square is the heart of Venice and a place where history, culture, and Italian life come together.
- It is named after the city’s patron saint and has been the political, religious, and social center of Venice for centuries.
- St. Mark’s Square offers a variety of attractions, including Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s Campanile, and the Bridge of Sighs.
- Visitors can take guided tours of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace to learn about their history and admire the stunning architecture.
- Climbing St. Mark’s Bell Tower offers breathtaking views of Venice.
- A gondola ride beneath the Bridge of Sighs is a must-do experience in Venice.
- Other activities include visiting Museo Correr, watching the sunset over San Giorgio Maggiore and Basilica Di Santa Maria della Salute, exploring the National Archaeological Museum, and enjoying a meal at Ristorante Quadri.
- Tips for visiting St. Mark’s Square include arriving early or late to avoid crowds, pre-booking tickets and tours, dressing appropriately for St. Mark’s Basilica, and exploring beyond St. Mark’s Square to discover more of Venice.
Quick History of Piazza San Marco
Before we dive into the heart of Venice, let’s take a moment to appreciate the history of St. Mark’s Square. This isn’t just any old square, folks. It’s a place where history has been made, empires have risen and fallen, and the spirit of Venice truly comes alive.
Named after the city’s patron saint, St. Mark’s Square has been Venice’s political, religious, and social center for centuries. It’s seen everything from grand processions and public executions to high water and countless pigeons. But through it all, St. Mark’s Square has remained the beating heart of Venice, where the past and present collide in the most spectacular fashion.
What Is in St. Mark’s Square?
St. Mark’s Square is like the ultimate Italian platter – there’s a little bit of everything. From stunning architecture and historical landmarks to charming cafes and gondola rides, here’s what you can expect to find in St. Mark’s Square:
- Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale): The former residence of the Doge of Venice, this stunning palace is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It’s like stepping into a Venetian history book.
- Piazzetta: The little sister of St. Mark’s Square, this charming area is home to the iconic columns of St. Mark and St. Theodore.
- Columns of San Marco and San Todaro: These imposing columns stand as gatekeepers at the entrance to the Piazzetta. The column of San Marco is topped with the iconic winged lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of Venice, while the column of San Todaro features the statue of Saint Theodore, the city’s first patron saint.
- St. Mark’s Clock Tower: This Renaissance building not only tells the time but also the zodiac sign and the current phase of the moon. Talk about multi-tasking!
- St. Mark’s Campanile (Campanile di San Marco): The bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica offers stunning views over Venice. It’s a bit of a climb, but trust me, the view is worth every step.
- Museo Correr: This museum offers a fascinating insight into Venetian art, history, and culture. It’s a must-visit for any culture vulture.
- St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco): This stunning basilica is a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. From the golden mosaics to the Pala d’Oro, it’s a feast for the eyes.
- Bridge of Sighs: This iconic bridge offers one of the best views in Venice. But it’s also a poignant reminder of the city’s darker past.
- National Archaeological Museum of Venice: Home to a vast collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, this museum is a must-visit for any history buff.
- Biblioteca Marciana: One of the oldest public depositories in Italy, this library houses one of the world’s most significant classical text collections.
- Gondola Rides: No trip to Venice would be complete without a gondola ride. It’s the perfect way to see the city from a different perspective.
The Best Things to Do in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square
Now that we’ve got our bearings let’s dive into the best things to do in St. Mark’s Square. Whether you’re a history buff, an art lover, or just a curious traveler, there’s something for everyone in this iconic square.
Walk Around St. Mark’s Square
First things first, take a walk around St. Mark’s Square. This might seem like a no-brainer, but trust me, there’s nothing quite like strolling through the famous square, soaking up the atmosphere, and watching the world go by. From the street musicians and bustling cafes to the stunning architecture and the ever-present pigeons, there’s always something happening in St. Mark’s Square.
Take a Guided Tour of St. Mark’s Basilica
One thing you must do in St. Mark’s Square is take a guided tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. Now, you might be thinking, “I’ve seen churches before; what’s so special about this one?” Well, let me tell you, St. Mark’s Basilica isn’t just any church. It’s a masterpiece of Italo-Byzantine architecture, a treasure trove of art and history, and a symbol of Venice’s past glory.
On my last trip to Venice in 2023, my family and I decided to take a guided tour with Get Your Guide, and it was one of the best decisions we made. Our guide, a native Venetian named Federico, was knowledgeable and passionate about the basilica and its history.
He brought the basilica to life, weaving stories of its construction, its treasures, and its role in Venetian history. It was like stepping back in time, walking in the footsteps of the Doges, the craftsmen, and the countless worshippers who have passed through its doors over the centuries.
The basilica is adorned with stunning mosaics, each telling a story from the Bible or the life of St. Mark. The level of detail is astounding, from the tiny pieces of gold leaf that make the mosaics shimmer in the light to the intricate patterns on the marble floors. And then there’s the Pala d’Oro, the basilica’s golden altarpiece. Adorned with thousands of precious gems, it’s a testament to the wealth and power of Venice in its heyday.
But the tour’s highlight, at least for me, was seeing the basilica’s treasury. This is where the basilica’s most precious relics are kept, including the supposed relics of St. Mark himself. It’s a bit eerie, a bit awe-inspiring, and totally fascinating.
And let’s not forget the view from the rooftop. After climbing a narrow staircase, you emerge onto the basilica roof, with a panoramic view of St. Mark’s Square and beyond. It’s the kind of view that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world, or at least on top of Venice.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Venice, make sure to take a guided tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. It’s more than just a tour of the most famous square; it’s an experience, a journey into the heart of Venice and its history. And trust me, it’s a journey worth taking.
Take a Tour of the Doge’s Palace
Just a stone’s throw away from Saint Mark’s Basilica, you’ll find another of Venice’s iconic landmarks – the Doge’s Palace. This isn’t your average palace. It’s a labyrinth of grand halls, opulent apartments, masterpieces by the greatest Venetian Renaissance Painters, and eerie prisons. It’s a place where you can walk in the footsteps of the Doges, the rulers of Venice, and get a glimpse of the city’s past power and glory.
On our guided tour of Basilica di San Marco also brought you into the Palazzo Ducale. And let me tell you, it was an experience we’ll never forget. Our guide led us through the royal palace, weaving stories of the Doges, the Council of Ten, and the infamous Casanova, who was once imprisoned here.
The palace is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with its ornate façade, pink Verona marble, and the iconic Bridge of Sighs. But it’s inside where the palace truly shines. The grand halls are adorned with works by some of the greatest artists of the time, including Tintoretto and Veronese. The golden staircase, the massive paintings, the intricate details, and every corner of the palace are a feast for the eyes.
But it’s not all grandeur and opulence. The palace also houses the old prisons, a stark contrast to the splendor of the Doge’s apartments. Walking through the dark, damp cells, you can almost hear the whispers of the prisoners who once languished here. It’s a chilling reminder of the darker side of Venice’s history.
One of the tour’s highlights was walking through the Bridge of Sighs. Despite its romantic name, the bridge was anything but romantic for the prisoners who walked through it. It was their last glimpse of Venice before they were locked away in the prisons. Standing there, looking out at the view, you can’t help but feel a chill run down your spine.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Venice, make sure to take a tour of the Doge’s Palace. It’s more than just a palace; it’s a journey into the heart of Venice’s history, a glimpse into the city’s past glory and its darker side. And trust me, it’s a journey you won’t want to miss.
Climb St. Mark’s Bell Tower (Campanile San Marco)
For the best views in town, climb St. Mark’s Bell Tower. It’s a bit of a climb, but trust me, the view from the top is worth it. You can see the whole of Venice spread out before you, from the red rooftops to the shimmering lagoon. It’s the kind of view that makes you fall in love with Venice all over again.
Planning on going to the top of the bell tower? We wrote an article about climbing St. Mark’s Campanile with some history about this historic structure.
Take a Gondola Ride Beneath the Bridge of Sighs
No trip to Venice would be complete without a gondola ride. And what better place to start than the Bridge of Sighs? As you glide under the bridge, take a moment to appreciate the view. It’s a poignant reminder of Venice’s past but also a symbol of its enduring beauty.
Watch the Bronze Figures Atop St. Mark’s Clocktower
While you’re in St. Mark’s Square, don’t forget to look up. The bronze figures atop St. Mark’s Clocktower are a sight to behold. Every hour, on the hour, they strike the bell in a centuries-old tradition. It’s a small piece of Venetian history in Saint Mark’s Square that is easy to miss but worth seeking out.
See the Artwork in Museo Correr
If you’re an art lover, be sure to visit Museo Correr. The museum houses a vast collection of Venetian art and artifacts, offering a fascinating insight into the city’s history and culture. From Renaissance paintings to ancient maps of Venice, there’s something for everyone.
Watch the Sun Set over San Giorgio Maggiore and Basilica Di Santa Maria della Salute
As the day comes to a close, find a spot to watch the sunset over San Giorgio Maggiore and Basilica Di Santa Maria della Salute. It’s a truly magical experience that captures Venice’s romance and beauty. As the sun dips below the horizon, painting the sky in shades of pink and orange, you can’t help but fall in love with Venice all over again.
Explore the National Archaeological Museum
For the history buffs out there, a visit to the National Archaeological Museum is a must. The museum houses a vast collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, offering a fascinating insight into the ancient world. It’sa bit like stepping back in time, a chance to walk in the footsteps of the ancients.
Eat at Ristorante Quadri
After a long day of exploring, there’s nothing quite like a good meal. And let me tell you, Ristorante Quadri does not disappoint. Located right in St. Mark’s Square, this restaurant offers a taste of Venetian cuisine at its finest. The seafood is fresh, the pasta is homemade, and the tiramisu is to die for. It’s the perfect way to end a day in Venice.
Tips for Visiting Piazza San Marco in Venice
Alright, now that we’ve covered the best things to do in St. Mark’s Square, let’s talk about some tips for visiting. Because let’s face it, visiting Venice can be a bit overwhelming. But with a little planning and preparation, you can make the most of your trip.
Show up Very Early or Very Late
First things first, timing is everything. St. Mark’s Square can get crowded, especially during the peak tourist season. So, try to visit early in the morning or late in the evening. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you’ll also get to see St. Mark’s Square in a whole new light.
Pre-book Your Tickets and Tours
Trust me on this one, pre-book your tickets and tours. St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace lines can be long, especially during the peak tourist season. By pre-booking, you can skip the lines and make the most of your time in Venice.
Wear Proper Dress Code
Remember to dress modestly if you plan to visit St. Mark’s Basilica. No shorts or revealing tops. And don’t forget to leave your backpack at the hotel. The Basilica has a strict dress code and bag rules, and trust me; you don’t want to be turned away at the door. There is a section to leave your bags, but it is unguarded, and I wouldn’t trust it.
No Video in St. Mark’s Basilica
While we’re on the subject of St. Mark’s Basilica, remember, no video inside. You can take photos, but video is strictly prohibited. It’s all about respecting the sanctity of the place.
Acqua Alta Season Is in Winter
If you’re visiting in winter, be prepared for the possibility of acqua alta, or high water. It’s a unique Venetian phenomenon that can result in flooding in parts of the city, including St. Mark’s Square. But don’t worry; it’s all part of the Venetian experience!
Don’t Spend Your Whole Trip in St. Mark’s Square
And finally, don’t spend your whole trip in St. Mark’s Square. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, there’s a lot to see and do. But Venice has so much more to offer. So, get out there and explore. You never know what you might discover.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Saint Mark’s Square Famous For?
St. Mark’s Square is famous as the heart of Venice. It’s home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and St. Mark’s Campanile. The square has been the city’s political, religious, and social center for centuries, making it a must-visit for any traveler to Venice.
Why is St. Mark Pictured with a Lion?
St. Mark is often pictured with a lion because the lion is his symbol in Christian iconography. The lion represents the strength and courage of the Gospel message. In Venice, the lion is also a symbol of the city and is often depicted with wings, representing the spiritual nature of the Gospel.
Why Does St. Mark’s Square Flood?
St. Mark’s Square floods due to a phenomenon known as “aqua alta” or high water. This occurs when high tides combine with certain weather conditions, causing the sea level in the Venetian Lagoon to rise. St. Mark’s Square is one of the lowest points in Venice, making it particularly susceptible to flooding. For a more in-depth look at why Venice floods and how the city is adapting to this challenge, check out this detailed article on Venice flooding.
What is the Best Time to Go to St. Mark’s Square?
The best time to visit St. Mark’s Square is either early in the morning or late in the evening. This allows you to avoid the crowds and experience the square in a more peaceful setting. It’s also a great time to take photos, with the soft light adding a magical touch to the square.
What Time Do the Bells Ring in St. Mark’s Square?
The bells in St. Mark’s Campanile ring on the hour, every hour. There’s also a longer bell ringing at noon and at midnight. The sound of the bells echoing across the square adds to the charm and atmosphere of St. Mark’s Square.
What is the Tower in St. Mark’s Square Venice?
The tower in St. Mark’s Square is known as St. Mark’s Campanile. It’s the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Venice. The tower stands at nearly 100 meters tall, offering stunning views over the city and the lagoon.
And there you have it, folks. Your comprehensive guide to St. Mark’s Square in Venice. But remember, this is just the beginning. Venice is a city that’s meant to be explored, to be experienced. So, get out there and make some memories. After all, that’s what travel is all about. Buon viaggio!