Guidebook San Marco


San Marco

This is the heart of Venice. It takes its name from Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), the largest and most important square in Venice that’s famously been described as “the drawing room of Europe,” a quote attributed to Napoleon, notes Melanie Renzulli at Tripsavvy. It is surrounded by the stunning Basilica, the landmark Campanile, the Royal Palace (now a museum) and library, and the water-facing Doge’s Palace. Beyond the square, other significant sights crowd the neighbourhood, “which means that, while beautiful, it’s also now one of the most crowded, touristic, and expensive neighbourhoods in Venice,” says Walks of Italy.

“At times, it appears that much of Europe’s population is crammed into this great square,” observes Time Out. But its Basilica di San Marco, Doge’s Palace (once Venice’s political and judicial hub) and Torre dell’Orologio (a clock tower built between 1496 and 1506) are quite simply “some of the city’s main attractions.” View this 360-degree virtual reality video to get the picture.

A full day is needed to appreciate the charms of San Marco, so if time is limited, plot out your priorities. Here are some of the main attractions:

St Mark’s Basilica: “The most famous of the many churches of Venice and one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in the world … San Marco is a cathedral, but has not always been so: it was the Doge's chapel until it became the seat of the Archbishop of Venice in 1807.” (Sacred Destinations)

Campinale di San Marco: “First built in the 12th century and rebuilt in its current form in the 16th century. At the time, it was used as a lighthouse for ships as well as a watchtower during war times. Today the Campanile can be climbed up to its very top, where visitors can not only admire the largest of the tower’s five original bells but also enjoy a breathtaking view over the whole city.” (The Culture Trip)

The Bridge of Sighs: “Built at the beginning of the seventeenth century … a beautiful sight, stretching high above the canal. It is generally known as one of the finest examples of bridge architecture in the world.” (A View on Cities)

Palazzo Ducale: “Venice was all about shimmering exteriors concealing hard-nosed commercial or administrative activity, and the mainly 15th-century Doge’s Palace mirrors this perfectly … beyond immense meeting halls and formal reception rooms with acres of canvases by Tintoretto and Veronese lie narrow chambers in which city scribes and bureaucrats beavered away in cramped darkness.” (The Telegraph)

Shopping: “San Marco is also the shopping district of Venice, and its mazes of streets are lined with Venetian glass, fine clothing, and elegantly wrought jewelry … most of the famous Venetian glass producers have boutiques in San Marco, as do most Italian designers.” (Fodors)

Caffe Florian: “Italy’s oldest cafe has been serving coffee on a silver tray with a water chaser and a cookie since opening in 1720. Caffe Florian features a series of ornate gilded Neo-Baroque salons with frescoes and red velvet banquettes, as well as outdoor seating on the terrace -- perfect for people-watching across St Mark’s Square … the coffee house has been favored by literati over the years, including Casanova, Goethe, Byron and Dickens.” (AFAR)

And Sophia Karner has compiled a list of the top 10 things to do and see in San Marco for The Culture Trip.

  • Guidebook
  • Get all the latest - and best - about Venice

    Sign up for Guidebook's weekly collection of fresh stories and useful news about Venice for travelers. It’s free.