Venice connoisseurs argue about when this unusual metropolis in the sea presents its incomparable dream face in full beauty. But most agree that it is the last moment of the day because then all the magic of Venice unfolds and the city of cities loses itself in silky colors.
If you then stand in St Mark’s Square and look across to the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore with its historic Benedictine monastery, you can hardly escape the fascination of this moment. This is only one aspect of St. Mark’s Square, so let’s take a closer look at one of the most beautiful and famous squares in the world.
Location of St Mark’s Square in Venice
St Mark’s Square, or Piazza San Marco in Italian, is not the geographical center of the lagoon city’s historic core, but it is the tourist heart that no one can miss. The famous piazza is located in the San Marco district, which is bounded to the west by the Grand Canal and to the south by the Bacino di San Marco, loosely translated as St Mark’s Basin.
To the north and east, however, are the Cannaregio and Castello districts. San Marco also includes the aforementioned island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which is visible from afar. St Mark’s Square can be reached from Santa Lucia train station in about 45 minutes on foot, by public transportation, or by an expensive water cab or hop-on hop-off boat tour.
Some lines of water buses circumnavigate the island of Venice to get to St. Mark’s Square more or less quickly. For tourists, however, an absolute must is rather the romantic trip across the island on the Grand Canal with the Vaporetti lines 1 or 2. The Grand Canal crosses the island in several loops. The trip with line 1, which stops at all stations, takes about 45 minutes from the train station. A little faster is line 2, which serves only the larger stops. But the ride under the Rialto Bridge is always included with both lines!
If you don’t feel like walking, you can also get your tickets in advance.
Admission to St Mark’s Square
There are always thoughts of charging an entrance fee for the entire historic part of Venice. On the plans so far, there is the article Admission to Venice in this blog, which is also constantly updated. But for the time being, admission to Piazza San Marco is free.
The history of St Mark’s Square
Piazza San Marco was designed four centuries ago as it is presented today to visitors from all over the world. In the ninth century, there is said to have been a Christian church here on an open area of the lagoon. Fruits and vegetables were grown in the neighborhood of the church, and one of the numerous canals flowed through the terrain.
In 1174 everything changed there because the Venetians filled up this part of the lagoon and later paved it with bricks. There, where the first Carnival of Venice took place, palaces, and the all-towering Campanile were built. From then on, St Mark’s Square was one of the most impressive promenades in the world.
Importance of Piazza San Marco for Venice
In the 15th century, the Doges ruled not only the Adriatic but also the shores of the Mediterranean. This was the freest of all free cities south of the Alps and St Mark’s Square was considered the center of political power in those days. Serenissima was the name of the Republic, and behind it were qualities that characterized the lagoon city over a long period of time: serenity, tranquility, and calm.
It was the horse quadriga that the Venetians had looted from Constantinople in the early 13th century, which now symbolized Venice’s claim to power. And because it is so steeped in history, St Mark’s Square has been the heart of this city for centuries. You can also learn a lot of interesting facts on a guided tour around St Mark’s Square.
St Mark’s Square buildings
St. Mark’s Square measures exactly 175 meters in length and 82 meters in width.
It is lined with magnificent facades and populated by many tourists, locals, and famous pigeons. The “Caffè Florian” boasts the oldest coffee house in the world.
This is probably true, because it has existed since 1720, and there is evidence that Goethe, Wagner, and Thomas Mann have already indulged themselves there.
But even more than the restaurants and bars, the classic settings characterize St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
Sights in St Mark’s Square
Except for the Rialto Bridge, the most important sights of Venice are grouped around St Mark’s Square. Millions of tourists try to get admission to the two must-see attractions, St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. This is not possible without long waiting times, so be sure to get tickets with admission without queuing in advance!
St. Mark’s Basilica in Piazza San Marco
The Basilica San Marco was built in 1830, was destroyed several times by fires, and rebuilt again and again. Five large arches dominate the facade of this impressive church, and if you look closely at the colorful mosaics, you can see in them the transfer of the body of St. Mark to Venice. Above the entrance, the depiction of the Last Judgment cannot be missed.
The horse quadriga from Constantinople is one of the most photographed motifs of the lagoon city at St Mark’s Basilica, which can be visited for free. Medieval artists of world renown, such as Titian and Tintoretto, created religious scenes on the walls and ceilings of the church, as reported in the Bible. Admission to the Basilica is free, but you can get there faster with these tickets.
|St Mark's Basilica||Price*||Ticket|
|Only fast entry|
+ Terrace + Pala D'Oro
|25,00 €||Buy online ticket|
|Only fast entry |
Last-Minute Entry Tickets
|20,50 €||Buy online ticket|
|✅ Bestseller Venice|
St. Mark's Basilica + Doge's Palace
|59,00 €||Buy online ticket|
Especially in the summer months, although free, the access time for St Mark’s Basilica can be up to 2 hours. With the following ticket, however, you can bypass the queue without taking part in a guided tour. Details on the provider’s page – Skip the Line St Mark´s Basilica.
The Doge’s Palace on St Mark’s Square
The second highlight in St. Mark’s Square is undoubtedly the Doge’s Palace with its fifty-meter-long magnificent hall called the ‘Sala del Maggior Consiglio’. Here the history of Venice comes alive, because in this hall, once the largest in the world, the Doges were elected from among the thousand noble inhabitants of the city.
Tintoretto’s idea of “paradise” is impressive here. The painting in the Great Hall of the Council has an amazing measurement of 205 square meters. Single and combined tickets are available.
|Adults (30-64y)||30,00 €||Book online ticket|
|Students and Seniors||16,00 €||Book online ticket|
|Infant (0-5y)||1,00 €||Book online ticket|
|Entrance with Venice Pass||94,00 €||Book online ticket|
|✅ Bestseller Venice|
St. Mark's Basilica + Doge's Palace
+ Venice Audio Guide
|62,00 €||Book online ticket|
For your information, here are a few interesting combination tickets in conjunction with the Doge’s Palace Museum Pass & Ticket for Doge’s Palace, as well as The Venice Pass with Doge’s Palace and classic Gondola Ride, many combination tickets with St Mark’s Basilica in the individual sections.
The Piazzetta and the St Mark’s Tower
But St Mark’s Square also has a “little sister” – the Piazzetta. It is located between the Campanile and St. Mark’s Basin. The scene there is dominated by the two monolithic columns. They come from today’s Lebanon and were once looted by the Venetians.
On one of these columns, a winged lion is enthroned, on the other the patron saint of Venice, Saint Theodore with a crocodile. If you want to see the city of lagoons from the top, you should go to St Mark’s Tower.
The gondola rides in St Mark’s Square
Around St Mark’s Square, you can find dozens of gondoliers with their elongated black boats. Actually, a gondola ride through Venice on the quieter canals is a bit more romantic than on the crowded Grand Canal and you also get to know another side of the lagoon city. If you are looking for a private gondola a little away from St Mark’s Square, unfortunately, the price of about 100 € for half an hour is also due.
If you are traveling alone or as a couple and don’t want a private gondola ride through Venice, you can also share the gondola with other people. This saves a lot of money because you only pay €30.00 to €35.00 per person for half an hour. These gondola rides all depart from near St Mark’s Square but must be booked in advance.
|Classic gondola ride||34.50 €||Book online ticket|
|Gondola ride Venice Canals||33.00 €||Book online ticket|
|Gondola Tour with Commentary||36.00 €||Book online ticket|
Pigeons on St Mark’s Square
The photo with the pigeons in St Mark’s Square is certainly the most popular motif during a visit to Venice. There are hundreds of pigeons that are accustomed to people, eat the food from the hands of children, or sit on people’s heads and arms to the delight of the photographers. Nevertheless, it is forbidden to feed the animals for high fines.
Only in this way, it is possible to control the masses of pigeons, which, as already mentioned, are a popular photo motif, but nevertheless also cause considerable pollution.
It would be great if everyone respected the rules of conduct applicable to the unique Venice.
The best photo motifs in St. Mark’s Square
Photographing the pigeons is of course allowed. In addition, there are countless motifs for private and professional photos and videos, selfies, and Instagram photo sessions.
The play of light reflections of the domes of St. Mark’s Basilica at different times of the day alone should provide a lot of excitement.
Opposite the Doge’s Palace, not far from the shore of the Piazzetta, countless gondolas anchor, which is very good to photograph in the direction of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. On the Piazzetta are also the two aforementioned monolith columns with St. Mark’s Lion and San Todaro statue, also popular motifs for photographers.
Tip: Departure for boat tour on the Giudecca Canal, Riva degli Schiavoni.
When is St Mark’s Square a little emptier?
It starts already early in the morning. The first hotel guests, the day tourists, the cruisers, the group travelers, and many others populate St. Mark’s Square from now until late afternoon. It becomes crowded and lively but always remains somehow atmospheric.
In the summer months, on weekends and holidays, and during school vacations, it is now teeming with visitors.
When everyone, except hotel guests who have booked accommodation in the historic core of Venice, leaves the city again, there can be moments when you almost feel alone in Piazza San Marco. Like the rest of Venice, St Mark’s Square now exudes a charm all its own towards evening.
St Mark’s Square by night
Venice has a very special atmosphere at night, this also applies to St Mark’s Square, when the tourists have disappeared and you get to know the Piazza San Marco completely differently. Late in the evening or at night there is a wonderfully quiet atmosphere here and if possible every Venice traveler should see and enjoy this once.
If you are lucky, you can experience St Mark’s Square in the moonlight or the music of one of the cafes is still playing. Otherwise, walk across the square and linger a moment.
Guided tours in and around St Mark’s Square
Much has already been said about Piazza San Marco, a small wonder and an absolute must for every visitor to the lagoon city on the Adriatic. If you don’t have enough time to prepare for your trip to Venice, you can take part in one of the many guided tours in and around St Mark’s Square.
|Guided tours Piazza San Marco||Price*||Tickets|
|Historical City Walking Tour||27,00 €||Book online ticket|
|Grand Canal by Gondola|
and Secret Venice Tour
|55,50 €||Book online ticket|
Tip: St Mark’s Square – Casanova’s prison tour
Cafes and restaurants in St Mark’s Square
Especially the cafes on St Mark’s Square are very mystical places. Everything is a bit dusty, nostalgic, and outrageously expensive. While some say that no one needs the cafes, others enjoy listening to music, people-watching, and enjoying a special atmosphere.
- Café Florian – Here the espresso is served in style with a tray, water, glasses, sugar, and a small very tasty almond cookie (photo).
- Caffé Quadri – Things are also somewhat decadently Venetian at Gran Caffé Quadri, a historic café located under the arcades of the Procuratie Vecchie in St Mark’s Square in Venice.
- Caffé Lavena – Liveried waiter, café house music, and the very best view of the Basilica San Marco and the Campanile are from Caffé Lavena.
Somehow it seems to be part of it to sit down in the “Piazza San Marco”, have a drink, watch the action, and maybe even eat something. The service and the quality of food and drink are, contrary to expectations, generally rather good. That the prices are high, that one knows yes. At a reasonable 26,00 € for two coffees, however, the music surcharge is already included with a little luck! It’s already outrageously expensive and many people are almost speechless at the prices. A visit is nevertheless an experience. So who wants to enjoy the flair, for it must be called: Eyes closed and through …
The above cafes also offer all kinds of dishes, meals, and menus. The quality is good, but in relation to the expensive prices, everyone should decide for themselves where to stop.
Not exactly Italian, but just around the corner is the famous Hard Rock Cafe. A light lunch will be served in the Royal Gardens in a picturesque setting behind St. Mark’s Square – Light Lunch.
Tip: Spritz Aperitif on St Mark’s Square – Caffè Gelateria Al Todaro Dal 1948, Piazza San Marco 3
The souvenir stores in Piazza San Marco
To maintain the special ambiance of Piazza San Marco, the proportion of visible souvenir stands or kiosks is extremely manageable. Flying merchants do not catch my eye. That the prices are high goes without saying, but everyone has the right to buy the typical mask the round plate with the motif of St. Mark’s Basilica, or the Venice St Mark’s Square snow globe where he wants.
Despite all the enthusiasm for visiting St Mark’s Square with its surrounding sights, some important practical tips should be kept in mind, however.
Security in St Mark’s Square
There is no security risk for visitors in St Mark’s Square in Venice – except for the danger from pickpockets. However, this is true for all tourist strongholds and places where there are mass gatherings of people. Although pickpockets are mainly after cash, always keep your camera on your wrist. Always put the smartphone away safely after use. Never leave either on a table anywhere in a sidewalk café.
Also in Venice, you can pay almost everywhere without cash. So you should have at most a few euros for tips in your pocket. If possible, do not take original documents with you, copies are always sufficient for now. Be sure to read my article Safety in Venice.
Access for people with physical disabilities
On the one hand, Venice with its canals and bridges is of course not the ideal city for wheelchair users or people with other limited mobility. On the other hand, however, the lagoon city on the Adriatic Sea is far more barrier-free than one would expect. Many parts of the city are now accessible by wheelchair. Ramps have been installed on some of the major bridges and, above all, the public transportation system has been adapted for impaired passengers.
So the good news is, the sea is flat and much is accessible by boat. In addition, there is a cheap rate of € 1,50 for wheelchair users, including accompanying persons. St Mark’s Square is completely barrier-free. So nothing stands in the way of a visit. If it does not go with the wheelchair times, then it is rather because of the tourist crowds!
Temperatures in Piazza San Marco
Venice is located in the southern part of Europe and therefore it can be sunny and hot in the months from May to September. St Mark’s Square offers little seating and little shade. Those who have not booked suitable tickets without queuing for St Mark’s Basilica or Doge’s Palace must be prepared for long waits under the blazing sun.
For refreshments in the vicinity of the Piazza San Marco, horrendous prices must be paid.
So very important before you go: sunscreen, take plenty of water, and possibly book tickets at short notice without queuing. But above all, think of the children, who are often much more affected by the heat!
St Mark’s Square at high water
Everyone knows the photos when Venice visitors try to cross St. Mark’s Square dry-footed on hastily erected wooden walkways. This is the phenomenon of Aqua alta, a flood that occurs primarily in the autumn and winter months. You can find more interesting information about this in my articles Venice in Winter and Safety in Venice.
For many years there has been the MOSE project, an almost completed storm surge barrier consisting of movable flood gates designed to prevent the historic center of Venice, including Piazza San Marco, from being regularly flooded. It is installed at the three openings of the Venice Lagoon to protect the city from flooding starting in the fall of 2020. Initial tests have been more or less successful, but it is still too early to talk about sustained success. When traveling in autumn or winter continue to inform first in advance or watch for an update on this page.
Toilets near St Mark’s Square
First of all, for a better understanding. St. Mark’s Square is populated by thousands of visitors every day. If you get into trouble here and visit one of the noble cafes as a non-guest, you will experience an unpleasant surprise. So be sure to look directly for one of the public toilets, both with a disabled toilet and a baby changing station. Admission is 1.50 € (Venice standard price). The general opening hours are from 9:00 to at least 19:00.
- DIURNO SAN MARCO – This public toilet facility is, of course, not surprisingly the largest and most used in the city. It is located in Piazza San Marco near the Napoleonic Wing, numbers 1265-1266, that is, the façade facing St Mark’s Basilica.
- GIARDINI REALI SAN MARCO – The toilet is located in the Royal Garden of San Marco (Giardini reali San Marco).
In general, if you want to be well prepared during your stay in Venice when looking for suitable localities, you can also download the app Toilets in Venice.
Overall impression of Piazza San Marco
St Mark’s Square, a great theater for the world is unique in its appearance in the world.
And if it is not provided with footbridges for visitors because of the floods from the lagoon that spill over its banks from time to time, this place is suitable for dreaming and also for forgetting. Those who stay more than one day in Venice should visit the heart of this city in the evening hours.
Next to this square all the other squares not only in this city pale because this is a great theater for the world. Many a guest cannot escape the magic of the square, and there are said to be visitors who remain in one of the bars in St. Mark’s Square until the Marangoni, the midnight bell, rings.
Why is it worth visiting St Mark’s Square?
A place is full of magic and full of mystery. The Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer, who visited Venice in the early 19th century, once recorded his impression of St. Mark’s Square thus: “Whoever does not feel his heart beating there has none… “Even on an uncomfortable winter’s day, when a cold breeze blows from the Alps to the lagoons and the mist creeps into the coffee cups, this is a place full of magic and full of unsolved mysteries. St Mark’s Square is something like a stone witness to the history of a city that knew how to create beauty through wealth.