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St. Mark’s Square in Venice: a handy guidebook to fully discover it

Take a stroll through St. Mark's Square and feast your eyes on its incredible buildings, monuments and history.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

8 min read

St. Mark’s Square in Venice: a handy guidebook to fully discover it

St. Mark's Square, Venice | ©Claudio Schwarz

St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) is an open space that connects the south side of the square with the lagoon. The Piazza is located between the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) and the Biblioteca Marciana. The area is incredibly beautiful and interesting, and certainly a must-see, even if you spend only one day in Venice.

St. Mark's Square is the largest and most important square in Venice and one of the most famous in all of Italy, inspiring even Napoleon who ended up calling it the "Salon of Europe". However, it is not the square surface that gives the square its well-deserved fame, but all the monuments that surround it and the interesting plans to be made from the Piazza.

Visit the historical columns of St. Mark's Square

Columns of St. Mark's Square| ©Sean X Liu
Columns of St. Mark's Square| ©Sean X Liu

At the open end of St. Mark's Square are two large granite columns. At the top of the first column sits St. Theodore (the patron saint of the city before St. Mark), he is holding a spear with which he is believed to have killed a dragon (this is a copy of the original found inside the Doge's Palace).On the second column is a lion, the symbol of St. Mark. Both statues were believed to guard St. Mark's Square and the city in general.

The origin of these two statues is not very clear, the names of their artists were lost for a long time in history; however, and starting from the 12th century, these two statues began to become popular.

In the 18th century, public executions took place between the two columns, and because of that, if you wish to maintain the Venetian tradition while visiting St. Mark's Square, you should avoid passing between the two columns. These have had a lot of prominence throughout history, being the center of some public trials and the scene of several miracles.

Step inside St. Mark's Basilica

Entrance of St. Mark's Basilica| ©Mark Huguet
Entrance of St. Mark's Basilica| ©Mark Huguet

Incredibly beautiful and an absolute must-see, St. Mark's Basilica is the jewel of St. Mark's Square, and arguably one of the most beautiful churches in all of Italy.

Built with Byzantine touches, St. Mark's Basilica is full of incredible details. I recommend you see its fantastic mosaics, the relics of St. Mark himself and the four bronze horses (these have a very interesting history).

Touring the inside of the church is free; however, unless you show up early, be prepared to wait quite a while before entering: wait times regularly exceed 45 minutes!

To avoid this, I recommend queuing up before the basilica opens in the morning. St. Mark's Basilica opens at 9:30 AM, so I suggest being there by 8:30 AM, especially during the busy season of July and August.

Another more convenientalternative is to book a skip-the-line guided tour of St. Mark's Basilica. You will see how quickly you will have access to the inside of one of Venice's most important monuments.

Book your ticket for St. Mark's Basilica

Enjoy the view from St. Mark's Bell Tower

St. Mark's Bell Tower| ©Elliott Brown
St. Mark's Bell Tower| ©Elliott Brown

For a more emblematic view of Venice, from St. Mark's Square head straight to St. Mark's Bell Tower, the tallest building you will see from there and "part" of the structure of this iconic square.

From the tower itself, you will have a fantastic view of the Doge's Palace, St. Mark's Basilica, the Venetian Lagoon, the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.

And, unlike most views from the top, this tower does not include the exertion factor in its equation. Instead of climbing hundreds of stairs to the top, you can simply take the elevator.

For more information about St. Mark's Bell Tower visit the following website.

Enjoy a coffee in one of the beautiful cafes of Piazza San Marco

Entrance of Caffe Florian| ©CF
Entrance of Caffe Florian| ©CF

There are several beautiful cafes scattered along the edges of St. Mark's Square. I recommend you try both the Venetian coffee and the pastries served on the side. Plus, you're sure to hear live music while enjoying the spectacular views from the square.

The prices are somewhat eye-catching, as they include the location in the price. Breakfast at the Salon d'Europe (Napoleon's name for St. Mark's Square) has its cost.

Caffe Florian is by far the most famous coffee shop in the square. It opened in 1720 and is considered the oldest coffee shop in Europe.

Enjoying an Italian coffee in a 300 year old café while contemplating the almost 1000 year old basilica and reflecting on all the milestones that have occurred in the area is something I highly recommend.

Visit the Correr Museum in St. Mark's Square

Correr Museum| ©Maria Codina
Correr Museum| ©Maria Codina

Located right on St. Mark's Square, the beautiful Correr Museum has a tendency to hide in plain sight (in large part this is due to how wide the square is and the many historic buildings that surround the site).

That said, if art is something you appreciate, this magnificent art and history museum is sure to quench your artistic thirst. Despite its relatively small size, it includes some of the most curious and sought-after works in all of Europe. For more information visit the museum's official website.

Don't miss the horses guarding St. Mark's Basilica

The Horses of St. Mark's| ©Alistair Young
The Horses of St. Mark's| ©Alistair Young

If you look near the front facade of St. Mark's Basilica, you will see four of the most famous statues in Venice: the St. Mark's Horses.

I recommend you stop to take a close look at them, as in the past they were one of the most prized riots, as they symbolized power and status.

In 1797, Napoleon took the horses and placed them on top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, until 1814 when they were returned to Venice, where they belonged.

It is worth noting that today the horses facing St. Mark's Square are replicas; however, you can also see the originals on the second floor of St. Mark's Basilica.

Don't miss the impressive St. Mark's Clock Tower

St. Mark's Clock Tower| ©Jean-Pol GRANDMONT
St. Mark's Clock Tower| ©Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

It's hard to look up walking through St. Mark's Square and not see the impressive St. Mark's Clock Tower (or in Italian, Torre dell'Orologio), with its beautiful blue face adorned with golden zodiac symbols. At 500 years old, its facade is still intact and just as striking as when it was first unveiled.

Although it may not look like it has much to offer from the inside, believe me that the interior tour of the Clock Tower of San Marco will show you a fascinating and secret side of this beautiful building.

Tours can only be guided, so you have no choice but to book a ticket on the tower's official website.

Watch out for the acqua alta in St. Mark's Square

Acqua alta at St. Mark's Square| ©Javier Valero Iglesias
Acqua alta at St. Mark's Square| ©Javier Valero Iglesias

The Acqua Alta is a phenomenon that occurs periodically in Venice when the Adriatic Sea rises in level. When this happens the city is slightly flooded, especially in its lower areas.

Venice's famous acqua alta (high water) often touches St. Mark's Square. If you visit Venice between November in Venice and February in Venice, you may see St. Mark's Square in a different light.

St. Mark's Square being the lowest point in Venice, when there is Acqua Alta, it is the first place to flood. When this happens, the authorities set up wooden walkways for locals and tourists.

Several times a year, the square is completely flooded; however, you have nothing to worry about as there is no danger. In fact, many visitors wish to see Venice in this state and walk around the square on the walkways.

Nightlife in St. Mark's Square

St. Mark's Square at night| ©Sean X Liu
St. Mark's Square at night| ©Sean X Liu

The square comes alive at sunset when the weather is no longer so warm. It is worth walking around the square among the famous cafes and listening to the various bands playing live music.

Also, St. Mark's Square is by far the best place to be at night in Venice. I say this not only because of its lights, its monuments and the pleasant temperatures, but also because of the ambiance, the atmosphere and the happiness that is contagious at that time of the day !

Tips for visiting St. Mark's Square

St. Mark's Square| ©Toa Herftiba
St. Mark's Square| ©Toa Herftiba

Here are some tips that will come in handy to make the most of this iconic square and not miss anything along the way. Pay close attention to the best times to enjoy the area and the rules to which this square, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is subject.

Start your tour of Venice at St. Mark's Square

While it is true that there is much to do around the city such as seeing the bridges of Veniceor taking a traditional gondola ride, do not forget that St. Mark's Square is the most famous area of the city and the place with the highest density of historical monuments to see and visit per square meter.

Starting your tour in the Square will allow you to spend the rest of the time moving around Venice to appreciate the other sights. In addition, starting by visiting the square is a smart move as you will be able to avoid the tourist crowds at late hours at some of the monuments in the square such as St. Mark's Basilica or St. Mark's Bell Tower.

Book a tour of Venice

Show up early or late

Personally I recommend you to visit Piazza San Marco from 8:00 PM onwards, regardless of whether you go to Venice in spring or in winter. This is because then you can enjoy a fully illuminated square, more beautiful than usual and with much less hustle and bustle.

If you are looking for the same feeling going to Venice in summer, the best thing to do would be to visit early in the morning (between 7 and 8 am). Not only because you will be able to appreciate every detail of the square with greater precision and comfort, but also because the temperatures in those early morning hours are also more comfortable.

Don't forget to take an evening stroll around St. Mark's Square

St. Mark's Square at night is at another level, not only because its iconic monuments are illuminated to captivate even more tourists, but simply for its nocturnal atmosphere.

At night you will appreciate how the music starts to resonate in almost every corner of the square, the street performers will make you enjoy a pleasant music even without paying absolutely nothing. And best of all, you can also recover your energy in some of the many places to eat near the Basilica of St. Mark (in the same square).

Rules to follow in St. Mark's Square

It is forbidden to eat and drink in Piazza San Marco. Littering and feeding pigeons is not allowed. If you bring food and need to recharge your batteries, I suggest you go to the Giardini ex Reali, a former royal public garden near St. Mark's Square.

Book your ticket for St. Mark's Basilica