Venice is known as the city built on water and was our first stop on our Italian Vacation. I don’t know if it was because it was my first glimpse of Italy or what but I fell in love! Some folks may fight me on this, but when trying to decide my favorite place we visited in Ital, Venice always seems to come out on top. We visited Venice during the colder, off season which may have helped eliminate the undesirable characteristics other travelers spoke about (smelly water from the heat, too many people, etc) but even with the negatives- Venice has my heart. It is such a magical place with its over the top fancy decor/architecture and charming canals (recap here); and although all parts of Italy seem to have their own ambiance, Venice’s is so vastly different that it will make you feel like you are in some other far away land. Other than getting lost in this beautiful city, exploring St. Mark’s Square ( aka St. Marco Square/San Marco Square) was truly memorable. There is so much to see in the Square and with space limitations and long lines, you do not want to waste your time and miss out on these sights! Below I will show you How to Conquer Venice’s St. Mark’s Square by seeing Dodge’s Palace, Bridge of Sighs, St. Mark’s Basilica, The Campanile (tower) and the details/charm of the square all in a day!
Spend an early morning taking in the Square
When we arrived to Venice it was about 2am local time. We were exhausted, grumpy and worried that our Airbnb host would not be there to greet us at the dock as promised (PS home addresses in Venice can be a bit complicated to find with all of the dead ends, etc). We arrived via ferry from the mainland Venice airport to the edge of St. Mark’s Square. Our host was friendly and briskly helped roll our luggage through the square (no cars allowed in Venice so pack lightly! I think this was also why we loved this place). As soon as we left the dock, our fatigue seemed to go away. ST MARK’S SQUARE WAS MAGICAL! The square was completely void of people and only some of the main sights were lit up. St. Mark’s Basilica had spot lights shining on it so you could see the marvelous exterior details. We were in awe, so much in fact that Wade and I decided to wake up super early (and grab coffee of course) the next morning and went to St. Mark’s Square to take it all in again before the hoards of people woke up! Our AirBnB was super close to St. Mark’s Square (in fact the title of the listing was called 50 steps from St. Mark’s Sq) which made popping in and out of the apartment super easy and a huge time saver.
I highly recommend getting up at dawn (or soon after) one morning and going to sit, relax and explore St. Mark’s Square. It is truly amazing how much detail the buildings have which can sometimes be overlooked when there are large crowds. This really made me appreciate it that much more! Head to the left of the Basilica to take a picture with the Lion Statue!
After you take it all in, walk around the inside perimeter of the square. You will see some of the shops start to open and will be able to observe the square from various angles. Grab a quick coffee (drink it like the Italians do at the counter- or take it to go) at a cafe right off of the square (the cafes within the square are over priced!) Walk out to the dock/water to see the gondolas all lined up and ready for a big day of rides. Here you can see some great views of Giudecca Island (which is on my to do list next time I visit Venice!). Soon the hoards of people will begin to appear and it will be time to head into the buildings!
Visiting St. Mark’s Basilica
Ahhh Basilica San Marco! How much I love thee. Seriously you guys- this is the most beautiful church I have every seen inside and out. The exterior carved details, arches and mosaics are breathtaking. The Basilica was completed in 1092 and was the church for the Doge (Venice City Magistrate). It is known for its beautiful Byzantine Architecture, five cupolas and over 800 sq meters of mosaics. Here you will find the longest of all lines. We are talking 3+hours long. Entrance into the Basilica is free but for 2 euros (yes 2 euros) and a little bit of planning you can get in and out in less than 20 mins! (or stay longer if you like- although the website states they only allow guests 10 mins each but we did not see anyone forcing folks to leave who stayed longer)
You can purchase skip the line tickets on the Basilica website and only pay for a reservation fee of 2 euros. (reserve your time slot here) I recommend knocking this out early in the morning. The Basilica is open 9:30-5Pm except on Sundays 2pm-5pm. You must arrive within 10 mins of your chosen time (hence why I recommend doing this first so you are not caught up in another museum and find your self late for your reservation)
THIS IS IMPORTANT- the skip the line entrance is the furthest left door of the front of the Basilica (check your voucher in case this has changed since I have visited). St. Mark’s Square regulation will not allow the Basilica to have large signs outside stating which entrance is which. After you enter through the door, you will go through security- note- backpacks, large bags, are not permitted. Video and Photography are also a no no. My interior photos are not inside the actual chapel.
If you are looking to see more within the Basilica you can purchase tickets at the time of your visit for access to St. Mark’s Museum + also includes visit to the top outside terrace of the basilica (€5.00), the Golden Pall (€2.00); and the Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica (€3.00)
The hours of these extras are:
- From 1st November to Easter day
St. Mark’s Museum: daily 9.45 am – 4.45 pm
Golden Pall: working days 9.45 am – 4.00 pm; Sundays and public holidays: 2.00 pm – 4.00 pm
Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica: working days 9.45 am – 4.00 pm; Sundays and public holidays: 2.00 pm – 4.00 pm
- From Easter Monday to 31st October
St. Mark’s Museum: daily 9.45 am – 4.45 pm
Golden Pall: working days 9.45 am – 5.00 pm; Sundays and public holidays: 2.00 pm – 5.00 pm
Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica: working days 9.45 am – 5.00 pm; Sundays and public holidays: 2.00 pm – 5.00 pm
PLEASE NOTE that if you want to visit the external terrace of St. Mark’s Basilica, you will need to buy the ticket to access St. Mark’s Museum; the opening times of the lodge are the same as St. Mark’s Museum.
If you have the Venice City Pass– you can skip the line at Doge’s Palace and save time. Here you will need about 2-2 1/2 hours but could spend half a day in here if you wish. Doge’s Palace was established in 1340 and was the home of Venice City’s Magistrate with various ballrooms and political meeting rooms. It is also the home to the city’s prison and the famous bridge of Sighs. Inside the Palace you can find the world’s largest oil painting (Il Paradiso) along with endless rooms with massive wall and ceiling paintings. I was blown away. Each painting was a way to tell either a fictional story or to document historic events (most of the time-battles).
Doge’s Palace is open from 8:30am-7pm, making it perfect to visit after lunch or late afternoon. If you do not purchase the Venice City Pass you can purchase single tickets- here for 20 euros which will also get you into the Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. (We did not get a chance to visit these other sights).
The Prison and the Bridge of Sighs
You can access the jail while inside Doge’s Palace. Here you can see the creepy cells where the prisoners of Venice were kept. This place is spooky you guys! You will also pass over the famous Bridge of Sighs which is an enclosed bridge over the Rio di Palazzo which lead from the interrogation room within Doge’s Palace to the city Prison. Story have it that those captured would take one last look at the outside world through the small windows in the bridge before heading to their cell and give out a sad sigh. (most times they would never return) You can view the outside of the Bridge of Sighs if you keep walking around the right exterior of the Palace along the water and look to the left up the narrow canal!
We did not go up to the top of the Campanile (the big brick bell tower) but it is on my list for our next visit. The original structure was built in the 12th Century and then rebuilt in the 16th century before collapsing in 1902. The new Campanile was inaugurated in 1912, stands 99 meters high and has a large gold angel on the top. The lines for this were also super long- so I recommend paying the 11 euros and getting a skip the line ticket! You can buy them through the Basilica- here. This skip the line service is available April 1st-October 31st and is open from 9:45-4:30. Make sure you arrive on the time you choose!
St. Marco Square at Night
After a delicious dinner (recommendations to come!) have a long stroll towards St. Mark’s Square. Lights and music will be everywhere. Grab a gelato and/or a bottle of wine and sit in front of the lit up Basilica. If you are feeling adventurous head over to the band and dance! Wade and I bought a bottle of wine and sat for what seemed like hours just enjoying the music and people watching. I highly recommend this! Venice, especially St. Mark’s Square fills with water either late at night or super early in the morning depending on the tide. You will see tons of mini walkway tables stacked on top of each other. When the water levels rise, workers come and lay out the walkways so people can still access the main areas of Venice. We were up late and early most days- I never saw this phenomenon (called Aqua Alta), but saw evidence of it with super wet grounds!
Wanting more Italy? Check out some of our time in Venice – here (more coming soon), visit to the islands of Burano – here and Murano – here, Climbing Florence’s Duomo- here, Tuscany’s Vignamaggio Winery- here, Tuscany’s Montefollonico, Tuscany’s Montalcino, Rosewood’s Castiglion del Bosco, Tour of the Vatican with Walks of Italy – here, Food Tour in Trastevere Rome With Eating Europe- here, the best way to see the Colosseum in Rome – here, Roaming the hidden gem of Aqueduct Park in Rome – here, a quick trip to the island of Capri- here; a Rainy Day in Positano – here , Exploring the Lost City of Pompeii – here, Sunsets at Ponte Vecchio- here and Our relaxing time in Sorrento- here.